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Weeping for World Building

September 16, 2014 Leave a comment

There is one term that always makes me cringe when I hear it: world building. World building is the term that always comes out when someone is proactively making excuses for a flawed story.

“That movie wasn’t so hot.”

“Well, it’s the first in a trilogy so it’s mostly world building.”

You know how a world should be built? Through the story, and that’s why so many great films are great. They immerse you in a world without bogging you down in the details of what the world is. You know everything you need to. You can go in further in subsequent movies if called for, but focusing an entire film on building the world instead of the characters is a recipe for disaster.

Look back at A New Hope (1977) as one of the most obvious examples. Through this first stage of the journey of Luke Skywalker, how much time do we spend world building? Almost none. We learn the elements of the world that are relevant to our character and move on. We get the Empire is bad. The Rebels are good. The Jedi are legendary knights. We don’t spend a lengthy amount of time learning why a Jedi uses a lightsabre, we just learn that’s their weapon and most people don’t use it.

As the franchise moves on, we are able to delve deeper and deeper into what the world is. Some may argue too deep if you include the prequel trilogy, but we sat through that trilogy because of the subtle world that was built over the course of three movies originally.

A more modern example would be a film like Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl  (2003). We again learn about the world of this film as we need to. Initially it seems to be exactly the historical world we would expect, until we subtly realize this is a fantastical version of that reality. Take the scene where Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) steal a ship. The set-up is for them to take a boat out to the ship to steal it, but the execution is them using the boat to create a pocket of air as they walk on the bottom of the harbour out to the ship. Would it work in real life? No. That’s why it’s a beautiful, simple piece of world building. It serves the story and allows the expansion and belief of a world where these fantastical moments are possible.

On the flip side, there are far too many movies that sacrifice character and story to create a world. In many of these cases, the world created is spectacular and beautifully realized, but lacks staying power because the audience has no real entry into that world. You need character and story to make a world memorable.

So what do you think? What are some of the examples where World Building overtook story and character? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Zac Hogle is a producer/writer who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/zhogle.

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

 

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Categories: Movies, Writing

True to the End

September 10, 2014 Leave a comment

It’s been covered on this blog before: series finales are incredibly hard to pull off well. You’re trying to wrap up years of character development over the course of one season, or one episode in some cases. We’ve talked about All Good Things (1994), the Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) finale that is generally considered one of the best ever. Mash (1972-1983) is up there too, among countless others.

Of course, there’s the other side of the coin as well. Loved shows like Lost (2004-2010) ended with a whimper in their finales. And a rough finale can sour the taste of the entire series for a lot of people.

I bring this up because we just saw the end of a long-running hit show in True Blood (2008-2014). HBO’s vampire drama started out strong in 2008, heralding a new golden era of television as HBO would begin its total takeover of TV. But the ratings sagged and it limped to the end with a season finale in 2014 after seven seasons on the air. The question is, regardless of your thoughts on the series, how did the finale stack up?

There are a number of ways to go in a finale and it seems True Blood went with most of them. Spoilers ahead.

You want to talk about killing off major characters? True Blood did it throughout the final season, culminating in Bill Compton’s assisted suicide in the finale. Alcide, Tara, both gone. How about sending characters off to another city? Yep. Sam got a quick farewell as he went to Chicago with his girlfriend. I’m also still not sure how Chicago is considered a ‘stone’s throw’ from Bon Temps, but that’s beside the point.

What about a wedding? Oh yeah, Hoyt and Jessica get hitched. THAT Hoyt, the one we haven’t seen in a few years since he moved to Alaska. The same Hoyt that had a different girlfriend just a couple episodes ago. A girlfriend who was serious enough to travel to Louisiana from Alaska with him.

But what about wrapping everything up with a nice little bow? They went there too, hard. Nearing the end of the series, we jump ahead one year to learn Bill and Pam have made another fortune selling New Blood, the synthetic blood replacement that is a treatment for Hep-V. They also have Sarah Newlin chained up in the basement, selling the opportunity for vamps to directly drink her blood. Then we jump ahead another four years to find Sookie pregnant. Who’s the father? We’ll never know, but apparently Bill’s prediction of her fairy light continually bringing more vampire suitors to her doorstep was incorrect. We never meet the father of her child, but he seems like a nice, normal human. The partner she apparently deserves, though all signs through the series pointed elsewhere.

Jason is married to Brigit, a character we only met a few episodes ago. They have three children. The marriage we saw earlier between Hoyt and Jessica seems to be going well, and the entire town of Bon Temps seems happy as they have an outdoor dinner on the front lawn of Sookie’s house.

So, what do you say? Did they do a good job capping the series, or did they take it in the wrong direction? Are you satisfied with how the series ended, or did you hope for something else from the finale? Was Sarah Newlin a strong enough antagonist to deserve her fate? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Zac Hogle is a producer/writer who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/zhogle.

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

Categories: TV, Writing

Zac Hogle Teaches You Life Returns

April 11, 2013 Leave a comment

TYL Logo

It’s been a while since my online presence has been felt, so it was high time to post to ZacHogle.com. This post isn’t your traditional fare for this site, and is purely promotional for one of my passion projects: Zac Hogle Teaches You Life.

The show has returned from its winter hiatus and we just released our eleventh episode, Back from the Yonder. I’d love you to check it out, as well as our back catalogue at TeachesYouLife.com. The current episode can be found at: http://teachesyoulife.com/2013/04/11/episode-11-return-from-the-yonder/

Heck, if you like it you can even subscribe to the podcast in iTunes!

Don’t worry, with the end of winter this blog will also be returning from its lengthy hiatus with the same great film analysis you’ve come to expect.

With that in mind, what films are you looking forward to this spring and summer? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/zhogle.

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

Categories: Podcasts, Technology

The Top Films of 2012

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Well, the new year is upon us so I thought this to be the perfect time to look back at the films I saw in 2012. Below is a list from least favorite to favorite. I’m sure some choices will have people scratching their heads, but I do my best to explain my opinions. Also, Les Miserables isn’t on the list. I know. I haven’t seen it yet.

Enjoy, leave your thoughts in the comments below and have a happy new year!

23. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Just because it’s last on my list doesn’t mean I didn’t take something from this film. While it may not have been everything I had hoped it would be, Vampire Hunter does have its high points. Too lengthy a build-up and some flawed execution detract, but there are moments of pure camp glee; most notably a scene in which a vampire starts throwing horses at Abraham Lincoln and they then stage an elaborate chase scene over the backs of the same stampeding horses. But in the end some fun moments can’t save this movie from the bottom of my list.

22. Rock of Ages

I actually enjoyed Rock of Ages when I saw it in theatres, but I think it was more because of the star-studded cast playing the Broadway musical that I loved so much. In retrospect the story didn’t translate well to the screen and became more of a playground for on-screen personas as opposed to the driving plot of two young kids trying to make it in LA. As fun as it was to see many of these people (Alec Baldwin, Tom Cruise, Paul Giamatti to name a few) in this style of a movie, in the end many were miscast and couldn’t carry the weight. Take a pass on this one and go to New York to see the Broadway musical.

21. The Pirates! Band of Misfits

This one is the first disappointment of the list. I am a big fan of Aardman Animations work, but this one just fell a bit flat. I can’t say much more than that. It’s not a bad movie, but it falls down the list as I was expecting more.

20. End of Watch

Here’s the thing: End of Watch was good. It might have been really good. Excellent performances and a rock solid script had me anticipating every twist and turn. The problem was the combination of shaky cam and found footage. It’s a personal thing for me, and this movie may deservedly rank higher on other lists, but I found myself queasy from the filming style and the extremely visceral gore on screen. Had this been shot differently, End of Watch may very well have ended up in my top ten.

19. Prometheus

Described to my friends as the best movie I’ll ever be disappointed in, Prometheus is the unofficial prequel to Alien (1979) that we’ve been hearing about for years. In the end it turned out to be more Kingdom of Heaven (2005) Ridley Scott than Alien.

18. The Watch

IT had some laughs, but it ended up being much of the same trope that Ben Stiller comedies tend to trot out. Predictable and full of plot holes, The Watch would probably be a fine rental for some easy jokes.

17. Django Unchained

I for one can’t wait for Quentin Tarantino’s next film, if for no other reason than he seems to be following every stellar film with one that is barely watchable. See the Kill Bill (2003/2004) duology which was followed by the poorly executed Death Proof (2007), which was subsequently followed by the incredible Inglorious Basterds (2009). Three years later we get a bloated opus full of character flaws (see when King Schultz completely inexplicably kills Monsieur Candie), lengthy periods of redundant verbose dialogue (see when the slaves explain to Michael Parks the entire plot of the movie we have just watched), and repeated examples of Tarantino’s blood as art (see any number of shots where blood is splattered on something white and delicate). Django  plays as too much of Tarantino left to his own devices, and less of a strong film despite excellent performances from the cast. Unfortunately there is more taste of Death Proof than Basterds here.

16. The Campaign

Seeing Will Ferrell and Zach Galifanakis as two small town politicians is enough of a concept to sell an 85 minute movie. The plot is a little weak but serves its purpose to move from seemingly sketch to sketch in a series of funny events leading to the election. This is a great example of a movie that new what it was and had the good sense to get out before it could wear out its welcome.

15. The Dictator

How about another political comedy? Sascha Baron Cohen is back with an original character in a comedy that plays on our sensitivity to terrorism and the general protectionism of the USA right now. There’s nothing new here, but the film is a logical extension of Cohen’s Borat (2006) and is well balanced between ironic political humor and complete toilet jokes. If you liked Borat, then you’ll enjoy this one.

14. The Amazing Spider-Man

Completely unnecessary remake, but a fun film overall. Emma Stone is fantastic as Gwen Stacy, while Dennis Leary and Andrew Garfield give solid if not exceptional performances. Subpar effects work detract a bit, but it’s a solid entry into the superhero genre.

13. The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games did exactly what it should for me: entertain me enough with fast action, witty dialogue, and strong performances to hook me into the series. While I wasn’t blown away, I’ll be back on the next opening night to see the next film.

12. Wanderlust

Paul Rudd and Jennifer Anniston are well paired as a couple who have to live on a commune while they try to get back on their feet. I’ve long been a  fan of the work of David Wain, and he has another solid and funny film here. Great performances from Justin Theroux, Malin Akerman and the always hilarious Joe Lo Truglio round out the film.

11. The Woman in Black

It’s been a while for a really good traditional horror film, so I was pleasantly surprised by The Woman in Black. Daniel Radcliffe is solid in the lead and the filmmakers do an excellent job of balancing suspense and actual scares. It follows my cardinal rule of horror films: don’t explain the villain. You only need to know the villain is out to get you, and sure enough The Woman in Black ends with the woman still haunting and killing.

10. 21 Jump Street

Remakes are always a hard sell, but the exceptional performance of Channing Tatum in this film makes it a great comedy. I knew Jonah Hill could pull off the film, but Tatum was surprising in his comic timing. Fun jokes and the surprising reveal of this as a sequel instead of a remake keep this one feeling original.

9. Lawless

Lawless is a fun ride with prohibition-era rumrunners in Virginia. Shia LaBeouf may be the star, but Tom Hardy steals the show as the eldest brother who is rumored to be invincible. Some moments feel a little cheesy, but the film wins over the audience with a strong Romeo and Juliet scenario while also building its own legend of the rumrunners.

8. The Dark Knight Rises

A fitting cap to the Christopher Nolan films, The Dark Knight Rises is not without its problems. Pacing issues, questionable motives, and a very dubious ending make this the weakest film in the franchise, but a must see to finish the trilogy.

7. Wreck-It Ralph

The very original and nostalgic Wreck-It Ralph is entertaining for the entire family. Well cast and solidly (albeit simply) written, this is a night out that everyone can get something out of. My personal highlight was the performance of Sarah Silverman as Venellope Von Schweetz.

6. The Hobbit

Some have complained of The Hobbit‘s simplicity but, based on the source material, I find it to be a fun adventure. Clocking in at nearly three hours, it is too long and the filmmakers have added in more material than necessary for the short book. But it has to be a trilogy and, once you get past that, an excellent score and the lovable Martin Freeman as Bilbo carry the film. The return of Gollum to the big screen is also a crowd pleaser.

5. Looper

Original and well thought out, this time travel tale overcomes the use of cheesy face prosthetics on Joseph Gordon-Levitt to give a fun sci-fi flick. They gloss over the time travel so that it isn’t an issue as it becomes for many time travel films, and the play of Levitt against Bruce Willis is fun to watch.

4. Skyfall

This is the blockbuster recovery that Bond fans were hoping for after Quantum of Solace (2008) missed the mark. Daniel Craig is as perfect as ever and the film brings an exciting close to the trilogy that began with Casino Royale (2006). Skyfall treads a lot of new territory into this grittier Bond, but also harkens back to some of the history that has brought Bond to this point. The reveal of the Aston Martin with the ejector seat brings a smile to the face of every bond fan, and the casting of Ralph Fiennes as Mallory leaves plenty of hope for the direction this series is heading in.

3. Lincoln

As one who dosen’t normally go for the lengthy, epic film, Lincoln blew me away. The man is masterfully portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis, and Day-Lewis is masterfully directed by arguably Hollywood’s most celebrated filmmaker in Steven Spielberg. Janusz Kaminski returns to shoot this beautifully crafted tale of Lincoln’s life, while a well-penned and self-admittedly heavy script from Tony Kushner seems to fly by in the blink of an eye.

2. The Avengers

A lot of why this film ranks so highly on my list has to do with hype. A movie that had taken years to develop and was previewed piece by piece in other Marvel films had a lot to live up to. Under the watchful hand of Joss Whedon, this film did just that and more. Well written, well performed, and never taking itself too seriously, The Avengers is a fun summer tentpole film that others will be trying to live up to for a while.

1. Argo

There is no doubt about it, Argo represents the finest in filmmaking this year. An incredibly original story along with Hollywood’s new wunderkind director Ben Affleck, Argo is paced perfectly and works on every level. Comic relief comes when it needs to, and is never too over the top to detract from the serious story. Affleck in the lead is also excellent, along with John Goodman and Alan Arkin.

That’s 2012 as I saw it. Do you agree? Let me know in the comments below. Happy new years to everyone!

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/zhogle.

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

Categories: Movies, Reviews

If at first you don’t succeed…

October 2, 2012 Leave a comment

One of the hardest things to deal with in this industry is rejection and failure. Those two go hand in hand as far as I’m concerned, since failure generally comes as a result of rejection. An executive rejects your premise, an audience rejects your finished product, etc. What makes it so hard is how common it is. More shows and movies get cut down than produced, so the question becomes how to deal with it.

If you believe in your product and think it still has a shot, then the answer is simple: repackage. Maybe it was your characters that didn’t work, go back and rewrite the characters to make them more compelling. Maybe the period piece was too costly, go back and move it to modern times. Analyze your work and change what you think failed it.

Obviously there are times when this wont work, your World War II drama might not have the same effect if set in a modern day NFL stadium, but the principle is sound. If you believe in your story, make it work. There are a lot of examples of this. Just look at Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012). While the rights to the Alien franchise couldn’t be secured, Scott believed in his story and this film so much that they made an unofficial prequel. While the film avoided any direct mentions of the other films, it clearly alluded to them at points throughout.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) almost didn’t happen due to different opinions in casting, while Toy Story (1995) is an example of characters needing to be rewritten because their original iterations were completely unlikable. In all of these cases the people behind the productions believed in the product enough to make the necessary changes and keep the story going. There might not be a better example of this than one of TV’s latest hits: Newsroom (2012).

Some of you may be wondering what was keeping Newsroom from the airwaves and, as far as I know, the answer is nothing. But Newsroom existed many years ago and was known as Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006-2007). When you pay careful attention, these two shows share a striking number of similarities. Newsroom definitely feels like Aaron Sorkin’s second attempt at his failed Studio 60.

Opening

Right from the opening we can see traditional Sorkin flare with somebody fed up with the way things have changed. Yes it draws inspiration from Network (1976), but I would argue this is one of the most effective openings in television history.

Now let’ take a moment to look at Newsroom’s answer to this, again happening in the opening of the first episode.

While the settings change, the sentiment remains the same. Both of these men work in television, and both are expressing their discontent with the current state of America. The difference in terms of the overall series is that Judd Hirsch’s character in Studio disappears after the pilot, whereas Jeff Daniels’ character in Newsroom becomes the main protagonist of the series.

Characters

Many of the same tropes appear in both Studio and Newsroom, creating a lot of parallels between the two shows. You have Matthew Perry’s character and Sarah Paulson’s characters, a writer and a star of the TV show with a relationship past.

And in Newsroom you have Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer, sexes reversed from Studio, but the star of the show and the producer with a romantic past.

Those are just two examples of how Aaron Sorkin creatively repurposed a show he believed in for a new opportunity. When the plot of a late-night sketch comedy show didn’t work out, he moved it to a newsroom and focused more on current events instead of comedy. He refined the characters, though retained their core values and characteristics. He took a show that failed, and turned it into a hit.

So my question for you is, what other similarities did you catch between the two shows? Far more exist than the two mentioned here. Supporting characters fill similar roles, and many plot points work out in the same order. What are some of your favorites? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

And, for our Canadian readers, I can’t go through this entire post and not mention the series Canadians think of when they hear the term Newsroom (1996-1997). Enjoy!

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/zhogle.

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

Categories: Writing

Tragedy

July 20, 2012 Leave a comment

I had initially planned to write about character versus story in regards to the upcoming Dark Knight Rises. It was going to be about the intertwined story from Batman Begins and the incredible characterizations from The Dark Knight. But in light of this morning’s events, that hardly seems appropriate.

In Aurora, Colorado a man thought he could become one of the characters from The Dark Knight. Now 12 people are dead and over 60 are injured. This man has taken away lives, security, and has damaged the perception of an entire industry. This is a tragic event and everyone’s thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the victims in Aurora, Colorado.

Categories: Uncategorized

Adaptation: Who Did It Better, Spider-Man or Rock of Ages?

July 11, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve talked about adapting source work for the screen on this site before, but I feel it’s a topic worth revisiting right now. That’s because we have two very big films out right now that were adapted from different source materials, but that have both been very hyped and carried big expectations for their respective studios. I’m talking about The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and Rock of Ages (2012).

These two couldn’t come from more different source material, with Rock coming from the hit Broadway musical and Spider-Man coming from a 60’s comic created by legends Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. But which adaptation was more successful?  So far, the box office has spoken pretty heavily in favor of Spider-Man, but I’d like to delve a little deeper than just the dollars.

Premise

Let’s start by taking a look at the premise from each film’s source material. Rock of Ages: A young girl moves to LA looking to succeed in music and meets the man of her dreams working in a legendary rock bar. The bar is in danger of being shut down, and they all must band together to keep the bar they love open.

Spider-Man: A teenage boy is bitten by a radioactive spider and is given spider powers, enabling him to climb walls and perform feats of superhuman strength. When he fails to stop a burglar, his Uncle Ben ends up dead forcing Spider-Man into a continuing battle against crime.

So, looking at both of these, the movies are very similar in premise to their source material. Spider-Man expands on the comic universe to fill out the movie, but does spend a surprising amount of time building up the origin story and setting up Uncle Ben’s death.

Characters

Here’s where the movies choose to go two different paths. Spider-Man chooses to stay very close to it’s comic book roots, with several differences from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002). First is the web shooters. Where the 2002 film gave Peter Parker organic web shooters, this year’s film makes the web shooters a mechanical creation, which is closer to the original comics. Probably the most noticable difference is the absence of Spider-Man’s longtime love interest Mary Jane. While Mary Jane is by far the most known of Peter Parker’s loves, Gwen Stacy is actually the first if you are following the comic mythology.

Rock of Ages takes a very different approach to it’s characters, possibly a consequence of the star-studded cast. The characters are not necessarily changed, but have been given very different roles in the film version. Rocker Stacee Jaxx, as played by Tom Cruise in the film, is given a far larger and meatier role than in the Broadway musical where he exists as an enabling character for others. The role in the film is more rewarding, but it comes at a cost. Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and Lonny (Russell Brand), leading and critical characters to the Broadway musical, are reduced to small bit parts. Yes, it is those two that have the most to lose in the film, but we still only see them as comic relief. In the Broadway musical Lonny actually serves as the narrator and pushes the story forward, allowing the other stories to revolve around and intersect at the Bourbon Room.

Overall

I enjoyed both of these films, and I had my reservations. Rock of Ages was coming on the heels of an amazing Broadway experience, while I felt that The Amazing Spider-Man was coming far too soon after the disappointing Spider-Man 3. But looking at them both with a little time under my belt, I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed Rock of Ages as much without the background of having seen the original material. Characters are overdrawn and campy. There are moments of legitimate fun, but they’re connected by forced musical numbers seemingly jammed in to show off the skills of a cavalcade of movie stars. The Amazing Spider-Man, on the other hand, feels organic and natural with a real connection between the cast members. I have a feeling you wouldn’t need a connection with the source material to enjoy the film. However, it does suffer from being released so closely to Sam Raimi’s trilogy which leaves a lot of moments feeling like we’ve been there and done this.

This makes it a very unique scenario: two films released in the same summer that have equal positives and drawbacks. So, it’s up to you: which film was adapted more successfully? Vote in the poll below and leave your comments in the thread!

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/zhogle.

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

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