Does My Movie “The Barrier” Pass the Bechdel Test?

April 10, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Meera_and_LingThis week I came across a YouTube video: The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies.  The goal is to test for women presence in a movie. I applied the test to my movie “The Barrier”.

 

What is the Bechdel test?

The Bechdel test has been around for some time, but I wasn’t aware of it until I saw this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLF6sAAMb4s. When I did some additional research I came across a few sites that discuss the test.

The test is limited to the question of if women are in the movie, and does not address how well women are portrayed. There are three questions to answer.

1. Does the movie have at least two named women in it?

“The Barrier” has a total of 18 characters in. Of these 8 are women. Five of the women characters are named and speak during the movie. “The Barrier” therefore does have a positive answer to the first question.

There are six named male characters, so the gender balance is not too far off reality. There is one women character in the movie who is mentioned by name, but she does not appear.

2. Do Women in the movie talk to each other?

There are three times when a women character in “The Barrier” talks to another women character. The longest conversation is between Ling Pang and Meera Sharma. There are no other characters in that scene.

A short exchange occurs between Mayor Taylor and Councillor Stewart. This happens in a larger scene where other characters, all male, participate in the discussion.

The third conversation might be excluded because we don’t hear what the characters say. In the open house scene, Ling Pang talks to Zelda Zimmerman, but that happens in the background while Arthur Macdonald talks to George.

3. Do Women in the movie talk about something besides a man?

The conversation between Ling Pang and Meera Sharma covers a range of topics. The main topic is the technical issues with the barrier. They also talk about Ling’s career prospects and issues related to Arthur Macdonald and Brandon Baker. The discussion of the barrier does not involve men at all. Men are mentioned in the discussion of Ling’s career prospects, but they are not the main focus. The talk about Arthur and Brandon is of course about men, albeit Ling and Meera focus on office work issues.

The exchange between Mayor Taylor and Councillor Stewart is about the Glencoe development and if they should listen to what Arthur has to say. Although they do talk about Arthur, the issue they talk about is the development and Arthur’s analysis. They do not really talk about Arthur.

Since we can’t hear what Ling Pang and Zelda Zimmerman talk about, we can’t know for sure if they talk about men. However, given the context, it seems most likely that they would talk about Ling’s project, a traffic interchange. They do look at Arthur and George when they argue, so they might talk about that.

So, does “The Barrier” pass the Bechdel test?

This is not an easy question to answer. The answer to the first two questions is clearly yes. There are more than two named women and women do talk to each other.

The third question is less clear. It depends on how strictly you interpret what is meant by not talking about a man. In all of the conversations the women do talk about men, but they also talk about other things. I’m inclined to be generous and say that “The Barrier” does pass the Bechdel test.

Since there is a element of subjectivity to this question, and I am a little biased in favour of my movies, I can understand why someone else might conclude that “The Barrier” does not pass the test. I would like to hear if anyone disagrees with my assessment.

Does this make “The Barrier” a feminist friendly movie? I doubt that the results of this test would allow me to say so. The women characters do play a significant role in the story and some of them do come across as strong and independent. Again, I don’t think that allows me to claim it is a feminist friendly movie.

“2001: A Space Odyssey” and H. P. Lovecraft

April 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

A couple weeks ago I posted “What is “2001: A Space Odyssey” About?” (http://dynamiclethargyfilms.ca/what-is-2001-a-space-odyssey-about/). In it, I mentioned in passing that I saw some similarities between it and the works of H. P. Lovecraft. Since then I’ve delved a little deeper into that idea.

Arthur C. Clarke and H. P. Lovecraft

I was reluctant to make too much of the possibility that Lovecraft’s work dad an influence on “2001″, because I didn’t know if Clarke was familiar with Lovecraft. A quick search showed that he did.

In 1940, Clarke wrote “At the Mountains of Murkiness”, a parody of Lovecraft’s “At The Mountains of Madness”. In “Icons of Horror and the Supernatural: An Encyclopedia of Our Worst Nightmares” S. T. Joshi mentions the story and notes that both “2001″ and “Childhood’s End” both share some ideas with Lovecraft’s stories.

Lovecraft and “2001″ Similarities and Differences

Lovecraft’s basic idea is that extraterrestrials visited Earth far in the past and influenced the development of humans. The same idea underlies “2001″.

Lovecraft suggests that these extraterrestrials were the inspiration for the gods that humanity worships. This is not suggested in the movie or book “2001″, but Clarke does make the suggestion in his later novel “3001: The Final Odyssey”.

A major difference between Lovecraft and Clarke is the attitude of the extraterrestrials. In Lovecraft they are at best indifferent to people and can be very antagonistic. Clarke sees the attitude of the  extraterrestrials as positive to people. In Clarke’s earlier short story “The Sentinel”, which was the basis for “2001″, the attitude of the extraterrestrial is not so clearly positive. In “3001″ the attitude of the extraterrestrials is also not necessarily kindly toward people.

Is it possible that maybe “2001″ could be viewed as a Lovecraftian horror story? In the book Clarke does seem clear that the extraterrestrials are benign, but that might not be true of the movie. Like many of Lovecraft’s heroes, at the end, Bowman appears to become overwhelmed by what is revealed to him. The scene in the “hotel room” could be just a figment of his imagination after he has lost his sanity.

Robert E. Howard and the Monolith

An interesting parallel to “2001″ can be found in another Cthulhu Mythos story, “The Black Stone” by Robert E. Howard. In it the hero finds an ancient black monolith that was set up by ancient extraterrestrials. Although a different shape than the monolith in “2001″ (octagonal) it is about the same height and depth.

“2001″ and the Ancient Astronauts

In his book “Cult of Alien Gods” (http://www.jasoncolavito.com/cult-of-alien-gods.html), Jason Colavito makes the case that the ancient astronaut theory popularized by Erich von Däniken in his book Chariots of the Gods? was inspired by Lovecraft’s stories. A review I read suggested that the case is weak, but it convinced me.

The ancient astronaut theory predates “2001″, but I suspect that it could have played a role in the popularity of the ancient astronaut theory. In 1968, “2001″ was a very high profile cultural event, and even people who did not go see it were aware of some of the ideas in the movie. Chariots of the Gods? was published the same year and was more broadly promoted by a TV program in 1970.

Because of “2001″, the possibility of extraterrestrials visiting Earth in the past was an idea that was “in the air”. This could have made people more open to the idea when von Däniken book was released. I know that this was a factor in my own interest in the theory. I was completely sold on the idea then, although eventually my interest led me to the skeptic movement.

What Can We Conclude?

I don’t want to exaggerate the importance of the connections I found, but I think the comparisons do help me to understand “2001″. Arthur C. Clarke said that the book he wrote was just his thoughts about what the movie was about.

I suspect that “2001″ is more of a question than a statement. The explanations of the story suggested by comparisons with Lovecraft show that the “answer” to what “2001″ is about is not straight forward. I think it is the stimulation we gain from the exploration that is important.

Another Story

March 30, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

I started on a new story this week. That means I didn’t work on the rewrites of my other story. My life responsibilities also took me off my projects this week.

I have a bad habit. When I am stuck on a project, rather than getting down to work on it, I take a side trip into a new project. This has worked out for me a few times, but usually it just lets me procrastinate.

My top priority now is to complete the rewrite of “Felix”, but since I started on it, I’ve been side tracked a couple of times by other ideas. This week I started to mull a new idea I had for a detective story.

I worked on an outline and started to create the characters. The out line has a few gaps in it that I need to fill in. I also wrote about 600 words of the first part of the story. It was that first bit of the story that got me started.

Over the last couple weeks I have been busy with some personal responsibilities. That seems to have turned out well now, which is a great relief.

Maybe next week I will get back to work in earnest on my main project. I hope.

What is “2001: A Space Odyssey” About?

March 23, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The other day I watched a documentary about “2001″ on YouTube. It has been my favourite movie for a long time and the documentary prompted me to re-explore what the film means.

The documentary I watched, “2001: A Space Odyssey – The Making Of A Myth”, was made in 2001 by the BBC’s Channel 4. In a series of interviews the documentary explores how they made the film, and what it meant. You can watch the documentary here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpoPhQNrpjE

However, they didn’t talk about what I thought as an important aspect of the film: the parallel between the Monolith story and the HAL story.

Arthur C. Clarke often said that if you could understand “2001″, then they had failed. The film is meant to provoke us to contemplate the nature of the Universe and our place in it. Nevertheless, I still feel we can find value when we try to find meaning in the film. At least in part, my interpretation is based on the book.

The Monolith Story and the HAL Story

As far as I can recall, when people talk about the HAL subplot, they don’t relate it to main plot about the Monolith. I think that the two are related. Maybe people feel it is too obvious to mention. I’m not sure when I came to that view. It may have been a short time after I saw the film.

Initially, it seems that the subplot of HAL’s rebellion and downfall are not related to the Monolith story. But, let’s reconsider.

In the HAL story, HAL is a machine that people have created for their own purposes. As the story progresses, HAL develops behaviour beyond what the people who created it intended. When its behaviour threatens the existence of the people in its care, Bowman, the last survivor, has to shut HAL down. As he does so, HAL bit by bit regresses toward its infancy.

In the Monolith story, the Monolith is a representation of an advanced intelligence. The film does not say exactly what that intelligence is. In the first part of the film, the Monolith sparks the flame of intelligence in the pre-humans it finds on Earth. The pre-humans later develop into modern people, with great abilities, but also with a legacy of violence. In the last part of the film, Bowman, the people’s representative, is transformed into the Starchild.

I think that the HAL story helps understand what happens to Bowman at the end. In the Monolith story, Bowman takes the role earlier played by HAL. The Monolith, like Bowman earlier, is disappointed with how people have turned out. While they may not be as big a threat to the Monolith as HAL was to Bowman, the Monolith acts in the same way as Bowman with HAL. The Monolith regresses Bowman back to his infancy. The difference is that the Monolith is far more advanced that people and so the Monolith is able to restart (reboot) Bowman. The film ends as a new beginning, with hope for the future.

“2001″ and H. P. Lovecraft

While I worked on this post, I started to notice a parallel between “2001″ and some of the stories of H. P. Lovecraft.

In many of his stories, for example “The Nameless City” and “The Mountains of Madness”, Lovecraft’s protagonists are driven to madness when they come to understand the vastness of the Universe.

Bowman can be seen as similar to the Lovecraftian protagonists in that his search to understand the Cosmos seems to drive him to insanity. I don’t know if Clarke or Kubrick were that familiar with Lovecraft, or maybe it is just that I see something that isn’t there.

Maybe other people can explore this idea further.

How Can I Get More People to Watch My Movies? – Part 1

March 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

SeeMyFilmsFor some time now I’ve struggled with the best way to promote my movies. With millions of people all screaming for attention on the Internet, it is difficult to compete.

I find it very hard to articulate my thoughts on this subject. I don’t think I can cover the full range of the issue in one post, but I’ll take a first stab at it. Maybe people’s comments will give me more insight and I can write a part 2.

Last week a TV report and an article prompted me to write this blog post.

Generation Like

The TV report was a PBS Frontline report on the development of Internet celebrity called “Generation Like”http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/generation-like/

The report covers the growth in internet celebrity; mainly focussed on young people. Internet celebrity can be very lucrative. What bothers me is the ways in which they have become successful.

I am very uncomfortable with promoting myself and my movies. I have been tempted to use techniques like misleading and sensationalized titles, stunts and outrageous behaviour, and various Search Engine Optimization tricks, and have even tried some of them a few times.  Afterwards I always felt bad about what I had done, and so I now avoid anything that strikes me as pandering.

I am also unconvinced that these techniques will work for me. The kind of people who would find my work of interest are unlikely to be drawn in by tricks.

I have tried to build up followers on sites like Twitter. While it is fairly easy to gain followers, even if you don’t pay for them, it is much more difficult to gain followers who really support you. I have 1,558 followers on Twitter, but I doubt that more than a few dozen ever bother to read my tweets.

No one cares about your novel

The article was a Salon articled called “No one cares about your novel: So writers, don’t be boring!” http://www.salon.com/2014/03/12/no_one_cares_about_your_novel_so_writers_dont_be_boring/

This article looks at the difficulty writers have in gaining readers. An important issue is the need for writers to make money from their writing in order to be able to continue their writing career.

Again, there are many many writers who struggle for attention, but I get a sense that the goals are not the same as with the Internet celebrities. Writers seek attention so people will read their books and seriously consider what they have to say. With the Internet celebrity culture it seems that they want attention for the sake of attention.

When I read this article I was reminded of something I read about Alfred Hitchcock. He wanted his films to be successful as art, but he also felt that in order for them to be successful art, they needed to be successful commercially.

I believe that in order to be a successful creator you need to enjoy the activity of creation. But, unless other people appreciate your creation, the job isn’t done yet.

I’ve always thought that if what you create is good, then people will watch it. But, even if you do create something good, it is still hard to get people to pay attention to you. You can’t be successful without supporters. A few dozen supporters who really believe in your work are far more valuable than a few thousand who don’t bother to read your tweets.

I thin it is important to promote your work, but you must also continue to work to improve the quality of your work. With the technology available now it is much easier to make and distribute a film, but it is still just as hard to make a good film.

STATE as a Writing Tool for “Felix”

March 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

AstronautsInCave_sI continued to use the STATE animation program to help me rewrite “Felix” this week. I finished a couple of scenes.

I made a few changes to the scene I started on last week. In it the two astronauts explore “the target area”. Then I extracted the dialogue from the STATE file. STATE stores the dialogue and other information in an XML file. All I needed to do was open it up and do a little reformatting.

I transferred the dialogue to Word, and then I used that as a basis to write the version for the story. I did make some minor changes to the dialogue, but most of the work was to add in descriptions of the location and the action.

I felt that it went quite smoothly. I feel that the text flows quite well.

I went on to do another scene. In it the astronauts explore a cave next to “the target area”. For some reason this didn’t seem to work as well. I’m not sure why. Maybe I tried to go too fast. I went through the same process to convert the dialogue into text for the story. Nevertheless, I felt that the process did help and the result was better than if I had just worked with the text and not the animation.

Next week looks like I’ll be busy with other things, so I won’t likely get much done on “Felix”.

My Computer, My Script and Rob Ford

March 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

I noticed a  similarity between a recent news story and a script I wrote years ago and had abandoned.

I upgraded my computer from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1 this week, and spent the rest of the week fixing the problems that created. I didn’t get anything done on “Felix”. That left me with nothing to talk about in my blog, so I thought back to an old script.

Back in 2010, I wrote a script that I called “My Detective Story”. Not a great title I admit. I meant to go back to it, but after a while I decided to abandon it

Nevertheless, from time to time I do think about it. Although, overall, I am not happy with it, it does have some good ideas. I often wonder if I should have another go at it. I think I have learnt more about writing since then and could do a better job of it.

The central idea of the story is that a very important person commits a crime. A lowlife happens to make a video of the crime. The detective learns about the video and for the rest of the story he tries to get it.

I was struck by the similarities to the case a certain Canadian mayor. Do you think I can sue for plagiarism?

“Felix” Inches Forward a Little

February 23, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Felix_Astronauts

Atronauts on Mars look for “Felix”

I actually got back to work on “Felix” this week. I think my idea to use the animation program STATE to help me write will work.

A couple of weeks ago I installed the animation program STATE on my computer. It is a hacked version of the Xtranormal program. I was reluctant to use it at first because of the uncertain legal status. Since Xtranormal shut down the program’s legal status is in limbo. That might be clarified soon, if the planned resurrection of Xtranormal happens. I decided that it would be OK for me to use STATE as a writing tool until the legal issue is resolved.

I also used STATE plus, which is an add-on that allows you to modify characters, sets and actions. I found that useful on this project.

I wanted to rewrite several scenes from “Felix” that I wasn’t happy with. In the first scene I tried the two astronauts explore a site on Mars and argue about what they find. STATE didn’t have a Mars set, so I modified the Moon set to look like Mars.

I shifted the colours from black/white/grey to pink/pink/red. I removed the lunar lander and the flag. I also duplicated the astronaut character, so I would have two characters. I gave them different helmet colours to tell them apart.

I tried twice to write a new scene. Both times went quite smoothly, but I wasn’t happy with the way I did it the first time, so I started over. I’m much happier with the second try and plan to build on that. I do find that it is easier for me to write with this approach, and I find that it does spark my creativity.

Unfortunately, I got distracted by experiments with the program. I didn’t really need to modify the set and characters like I did for what I planned to do. Even after I had something that looked like Mars, I continued to tweak it. It does look better, but it is hard to justify the extra effort.

On the other hand, maybe the extra work does help. The more appropriate it looks, the more it can “put me in the right mood” for the story. We’ll see how it goes this week.

I had thought my idea for this story was original, but then on one of the Lovecraft Geek podcasts (http://lovecraftzine.com/the-lovecraft-geek-robert-m-price-podcast/), Robert Price mentioned that someone had suggested that a new version of At The Mountains of Madness would have to be set on the Moon. I think Mars is a better choice.

Structure, Outlines and Formulas

February 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

StructureAs I learn more about writing, I have tried to develop my own approach. In this post I will try to organize my thoughts.

Many writers distain “formula” writing. I am not one of those. I look to formulas as a tool to help me write. I think that all writers use formulas, but great writers develop a new formula for each story.

Structure

In movie making the most common structure is three acts. When I’ve tried to use this, I find it doesn’t help me with the second act, which usually makes up 70% to 90% of the movie.

I found an approach that I find  works better for me through a study of the writers Lester  Dent and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Lester Dent’s article on his formula was particularly useful. (see: http://www.paper-dragon.com/1939/dent.html )

Dent formula is for a 6,000 word action story, but I have used it for other types of stories. I want to write stories  that are longer than 6,000 words. Since he divides a story into four parts, I developed a multilevel structure based on the four parts. My structure has three levels.

  • Acts – The top level I think of as parts, but they could be called acts. The story has four acts.
  • Sequences – The second level I call sequences. Most movie writers think of sequences as a series of scenes that build upon each other. This is how I use it in my formula. Each act has four sequences.
  • Scenes – The third level are scenes. By this I mean what most people think of a scene. Each scene will tell a little story that moves the main story along. In my way of looking at it, several scenes can happen at the same location and time. Each sequence has four scenes.

The final structure will have four acts, sixteen sequences and sixty-four scenes. This structure is used for planning the story. As you work through the story, you can add or eliminate scenes sequences and event acts as needed to make the story work.

Purpose of Each of Part

I deviate from Dent’s approach in how I see the purpose of each of the four parts of the structure. The different parts are:

  • Realization – where the protagonist realizes that he faces a barrier. Initially the protagonist doesn’t want to deal with the barrier, but then realises that they need to.
  • Weak Response – where the protagonist makes an initial attempt to over come the barrier. In general this attempt will fail. In cases where it succeeds, it will turn out that he has only succeeded with part of the barrier.
  • Distraction – where the protagonist is distracted from the goal to get past the barrier. This is a special kind of barrier, in that it is not directly related to the primary barrier, it only distracts them from their efforts to over come the primary barrier.
  • Strong Response – where the protagonist makes a more concerted effort to get past the barrier. This may, or may not succeed.

These four parts are repeated at each level. The four acts will be realisation, weak response, distraction and strong response. The four sequences within each act will have the same structure, as will the four scenes within each sequence.

The mistake I have often made in the past is to put too much effort into subplots. This structure forces me to concentrate on the main story. Any subplots would only show up in the distraction step.

Barriers

Each of the acts, sequences and scenes involves the protagonist meeting a barrier and either overcoming it, or failing to over come it. I start by brainstorming a collection of barriers and ways of overcoming them. We would need a total of 84 barriers for  the complete outline. However, it is wise to generate far more than that. Many ideas just won’t fit into the story when you need them.

My next step is to start identifying at which level a barrier is used. A locked door could be a barrier in a scene, or in a sequence or in an act. It might even be that the goal of the whole story is to open the door. The various barriers can then be slotted into a scene, sequence or act. I would start with the acts and then move to sequences and finally scenes.

Characters

I haven’t really put much thought into characters. Usually I focus on the plot and the character develops from that. Some times I come up with lines that I want the character to say, and then use them to define the character. This may not be a good way to do it, but I do find that characters will often begin to take on a life of their own.

Flexibility

As I said above, I see this formula as a way to get started with a story. When it comes time to write, I don’t want to be trapped by the outline. It needs to stay flexible. I often find it hard to rewrite because I have become attached to the story the way it is. Even when I am not happy with the story, I find it difficult to break out of the structure.

Writing

I see the creation of the outline (formula, structure, whatever) as the bulk of the work of writing. The actually writing of the story is much easier after a good outline has been done. That said, I still have difficulty with the actual writing of the story. In part this may reflect that I think like a movie maker, and the script is really just an outline you fill in with the help of others.

“Felix”, State and Diaspora

February 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

MarsI took another stab at my “Felix” rewrite, but got stalled very quickly. I started to look at ways to get started again. At least I have an idea how.

“Felix”, a science fiction story set on Mars, was inspired by a H. P. Lovecraft story.

What has me blocked is that there are several sections that I want to toss out and start over on. Everything I try sounds far too bland after a couple of lines. To a degree, I think I am still somewhat wedded to the earlier version.

When I did “The Barrier” I found it much easier to write when I did it directly in Xtranormal. I think that maybe that is an approach I should try. It may at least get me to think differently about the story.

I haven’t heard about anyone else who used Xtranormal as a writing tool. I can’t imagine I am the only person who thought of it.

Xtranormal is no longer available and I haven’t found anything that I really think is a good replacement. There is a “abandon-ware” version of Xtranormal available (State Plus/Forever), so I downloaded and installed that.

I ran into a couple of problems with the install, but I have most of them fixed now. Since it isn’t really supported, I can’t get any outside help. I hope to have it working in the next few days.

The program is different than the Xtranormal Desktop that I used. I’ll need to get familiar with the system before I can start to use it.

Diaspora

In last week’s blog post, I talked about an idea I had to replace Facbook. Well, it turns out that isn’t a new idea. One person on FaceBook suggested that I look at Diaspora. (diasporafoundation.org)

It isn’t quite what I had in mind. For example, it has been hosted at an on-line “pod” and not on your own computer. You can set up your own pod, but it comes across to me as a very geek-friendly system. In other words, not everyone can set it up.

I suspect that over time it will become easier to use so non techies can use it. I’ll keep an eye on it, and see what I can learn about it.

If you have had some experience with Diaspora, I would like to hear about it.

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