Lessons Learned: Trilogy-writing Edition

Book one in the trilogy (image via JohnAugust.com)

In traditional project management, the last phase is closing. It means the project is accepted as ‘completed’ on some level of formality. Not only that, what with project managers loving to document things, they like to document ‘”lessons learned.” In other words, what will you do better next time? What might you try to avoid doing altogether? What definitely worked? While users of agile and lean frameworks may think of continuous improvement, a good concept to bear in mind, sometimes you only have the chance to really step back and evaluate what the heck happened at a bigger milestone.

“Post-mortems” in theater and film projects are where I first encountered “lessons learned,” so when I later crossed over into the office environment, they were not unfamiliar and something I’ve encouraged for both their pragmatic and cathartic benefits. This has also meant that I’ve always known it’s good and necessary to do lessons learned for creative projects.

So I was thrilled to see screenwriter and all-around storyteller John August detail some of his lessons learned after completing his foray into middle-grade fiction. (That’s the Arlo Finch series pictured above).

Long-time readers may recall I listen to the screenwriting podcast he and fellow scribe Craig Mazin do, called Scriptnotes. Long-time listeners of that podcast will already know August approaches most things with a thoroughly methodical, yet joyful frame of mind. You’ll see that on display in this list of 10 lessons learned. I’m not writing a trilogy per se, but a lot of the lessons here apply to my writing. Hope they work for you all as well.

International Legal Frameworks… IN SPAAACE!

Star Trek has influenced a lot of scientists and futurists, but recently, NASA namechecked the veteran sci-fi franchise when they talked about the Artemis Accords, a series of principles that they hope all spacefaring nations agree to, as covered by Ryan Britt for Inverse.

Good stuff.

(By the way, I was rather gratified to know that I already had the tag ‘Space Law‘ and also that there’s a novel called Space Lawyer, which I shall have to track down on principle).

Friday Movie Night: Cult Edition

What with my biennial Favorite Films sort, I have a soft spot for many an internet film list, especially when it’s clearly crafted with passion (as opposed to, say, the need to fill electronic print space on deadline).

So I was totally down with this list from the gang over at The Ringer detailing the top 50 cult films of all time.

Still from the wonderfully quirky UHF (Orion Pictures/Cinematographer: David Lewis)

Now, I would venture that the appear of cult films is often why they are not broadly popular: said films by definition have an unusual perspective. If they were foods, you’d take a bite and wonder what the heck you just tasted. And for some of these films, it’s a flavor profile and mouthfeel you just don’t like.

So don’t expect to love all the films in this list. I certainly don’t. But if this gives you something new to check out this weekend, well, that counts as a win.

Bringing the Real and the Imagined Alive: Remembering Michael Apted

Apted at the Peabody Awards in 2013 (Photo: Anders Krusberg)

When you talk with your filmmaking peers, it comes as no surprise they have always have a few filmmakers they follow closely, perhaps someone who isn’t necessarily a household name… or even necessarily an art house movie theater name.

Michael Apted was one of those filmmakers for me. He died at the age of 79, earlier in January (I’m just getting to writing this post now). You can read obituaries and remembrances from the BBC, the Guardian, Variety, and NPR among others.

One part of his career you see mentioned again and again is the Up series, documentaries made at seven-year intervals looking at a particular set of Britons starting in 1964. It has become –as I recall one reviewer putting it– “a time-lapse film of human lives.” It’s simple, straightforward, and extraordinary.

Apted continued to make fiction and non-fiction films for the rest of his career… and the fiction films included a James Bond spy film and an installment of the Chronicles of Narnia. His filmography is rightly described as “eclectic.” And with a background in both anthropology and theater, with a love of films and history, you can perhaps begin to see why he was one of the filmmakers I followed.

For those of you who have seen my biennial Favorite Films sort, none of his fiction films ever make it into my top 50 and –by virtue of me wanting each feature to stand on its own– that eliminates the Up series from competition (its heft comes from the whole package after all). But I would be hard pressed not to find something interesting an energizing about every single one of his movies. In part, I think it’s because he always finds ways to bring forward truth in the fiction.

Nowhere is this more on display for me than the natural double-feature of Incident at Oglala and Thunderheart. The former is a thought-provoking documentary about shootings and subsequent trials at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. The latter is Hollywood mystery thriller with Val Kilmer, Sam Shepard, and Graham Greene, among others, oh so clearly inspired by the real events, but distinctly different.

There are always bits worthy of note in all of his films. For instance, in 2001’s Enigma, you get a good breakdown of how codebreaking actually works versus the typical “hack the Internets” silliness sometimes on display in films.

Still from 2001’s Enigma (cinematographer: Seamus McGarvey)

So while my biggest disappointment is how the Up series will continue or end (something several people are now wondering), there are plenty of other films, big and small, I was hoping might pop up there.

Time to revisit some films…

Video

On-Screen Death: Championship Round

As some friends and fellow filmmakers know, I have offered to be the DC-area Sean Bean –the National Capital Area “kirareyaku,” so to speak– is he really the man (or woman) we’ve see die the most on screen?

Find out the answer in this video where film spoilers abound:

Not Always Solemn with Possible Swearing: Inaugural Trivia

I don’t want ye olde blog to go without updates for too long, but I also gotta take care of some other stuff offline. I confess some of the delay in getting to those offline things has been checking out the many fun articles about all sorts of odd inaugural trivia. Enjoy! (there will be a test Thursday).

I’ve known some of the people involved with set-up and can confirm a bipartisan attention to detail. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

Little (Mobile) Theater on the Prarie

The events of last Wednesday are still dwelling on my mind, so it was nice to catch this article by Lia Kvatum in the Washington Post Magazine about an itinerant creative who’s connecting communities to their history through theater. It provides some much needed light and joy… and the notion that we can communicate with one another.

Theatrical portraits of Hanson in Granite Falls, Minn. (Caroline Yang via the Washington Post)

Reading about how Ashley Hanson has been traveling to different communities and talking with the people reminds me of both how the Federal Theatre Project had a whole “think national, act local” approach to productions as well as the more recent Playback Theatre‘s attempts to translate personal experiences into short plays.

When it comes to theater, I am biased, what with it being a “non-trivial” portion of my working life, to say nothing of participating in some of the “walking theater” mentioned in the article (although my part got to be on stage). I believe live theater has a way of connecting and impacting people in a way that will make it just as relevant 100 years from now as it was 1,000 and more years ago. So I wish Hanson and others great success in hundreds more towns across America, because it means connecting and deep listening.

2020, but still Boldy Going

As will surprise no one who’s read my exhaustive ranking of all the Star Trek series, I’ve been watching all the new stuff. And it’s not just because those are going into the sort soon enough. A lot of it has been darn enjoyable in a 4th season Enterprise kind of way. They’re making connections and widening the Star Trek universe into quite the multiverse.

(via CBS)

Ryan Britt over on SyFy Wire details some of the things that we say last year.

Video

Mirror Universe: Workflowy Edition

On Monday, I hinted at New Year’s resolutions and general yearly planning. How am I going to do some of that planning? With Workflowy, an online (and offline) organizer I’ve used and touted since 2012.

The short version of why I like it so much is that it’s essentially an infinitely reconfigurable checklist. Or checklist of checklists. Or checklist of checklists of checklists. You get the idea.

That short explanation touches on one of the traps people can find themselves in, where an item might fit in two categories: say, “Stuff to do Today” and “Items to Research for Blog Posts.”

Their new “mirror” function allows for not just copying a task, but making it so any update on one of the mirrors updates all the mirrors. So you can your organizer can now go all Kwisatz Haderach: be many places at once.

Part of my new year’s planning? Updating my jumble of “Workflowy filing cabinets” into a leaner set of mirrored tasks.

Video

A Short Guide to Successful Traits

I’m working on some longer pieces on New Year’s and resolutions, but in the meantime, while “success” might be a long journey, this TED video about traits researchers have found in successful people is under four minutes.

I mean, granted, that means there’s no time for nuance, but if you’re raring to jump into your New Year goal planning, this might help motivate you.