Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

If you like historical action films, or are into archery, I have a great movie to recommend.  War of the Arrows is a Korean film by director Kim Han-min who has won several awards over the last decade. It was a huge success in Korea with millions of viewers. The cinematography is amazing.

The story takes place during the Manchu War of 1636 (Joseon Dynasty vs Qing Dynasty). In order for the film to be as realistic as possible, director Kim Han-min brought back the Manchu language which today is spoken by so few people it is considered a dead language. For the film every actor who played a Manchurian had to take an extensive language course.

English: Map of Manchuria. See Manchuria for a...

Manchuria red areas. Korean peninsula labeled below. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Korean Archery Association helped create authentic bows and arrows from that time. The actors worked to become skilled in there use, so the action would move quickly when filming. All of this seems fitting as one of the heroes is a Robin Hood type character. Also because Koreans are some of the best archers in the world, check out how many gold medals they’ve won.


I enjoy seeing foreign films because they give an un-American view of the world. You learn about other cultures’ values.  Clearly, the same things matter to all of us: love, family, children, friendship, land, country. The same is true for the things that divide us: greed, power, lust, anger, fear. We are pretty much the same under our skins.

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Characters are critical components in movies or books. Experienced writers try to reveal who their characters are with subtlety rather than with obvious statements. One way to do that is by taking a clue from costume designers. They are hired not just to check for costume accuracy in period movies, but for their expertise in what clothes say about a person.

David Bowie bei Rock am Ring 1987/ at the Rock...

Singer/ actor David Bowie 1987/ at music festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Entertainment Magazine June 1/8, 2012 there is an article about dressing Tom Cruise for his role as Stacee Jaxx in Rock of Ages. The amount of thought and expense that went into his costume is amazing. He needed to look like a 1980’s rocker. That meant creating flair through attention to detail from hat band to belt buckle!

The Film Institute of Design and Merchandising states: “Costume Designers learn to read between the lines, searching the script for clues that will inspire them as they research, create, and source costumes. Whether the action takes place in Victorian England or 21st Century Los Angeles, the right wardrobe helps bring the character to life for the actor (and the audience) before the first word is spoken.”

Personalities like David Bowie, who have been around a long time in various aspects of entertainment, have reinvented their look many times. It keeps them interesting and fans  love it. But their professional look is often very different from their real life look.

Every character has their own personality traits. Authors can depict this by giving their characters a specific hairstyle and color, clothing style, birthmarks or tattoos, jewelry or other adornments, or a lack thereof.

English: Iman and David Bowie at the 2009 Trib...

Iman & David Bowie at Tribeca Film Festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Writers can also signal a change in personality, or outlook, by having a character change how they look to the world during the course of the story. Characters can also look one way at work and totally different when they go out at night, or stay home. This can say a lot about a person.

Think carefully about who your character is. Reveal their personality in a range of ways, including outward appearance. Your story will be richer for it.

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Stories need a premise and writers are often told to take an idea and turn it around to get something new. That’s what I thought of when watching the sci-fic movie, In Time. They take the idea of time and the hundreds of sayings we use when speaking about time and form it into a fresh look at what wealth is and what comprises it.

I once taught middle school kids some economic concepts. The one they loved best was bartering, because they brought in odds and ends from home and bartered them in class. They learned it is all about what is of value. In our real lives money, or gold, is the medium of exchange in terms of wealth. But in this movie they make “time” the medium of exchange and wealth.

Taqi al-Din invented a mechanical "observ...

"observational clock" with three dials for the hours, minutes and seconds. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the movie people work and get paid in so many hours and when they pay their bills, they pay in the time they have accrued in their bank accounts that they wear on their arms. Rich people have billions of hours, not dollars, and live forever. Poor people have so few hours they worry about running out of time, i.e. dying. This society doesn’t have police, they have timekeepers who act like police if someone steals time.

I loved the premise for this story. I’m always trying to think of how to turn some idea that is overused around and make it fresh. So take some idea or concept and play with it. See what happens if you turn that premise upside down and inside out. You just might have a great story.

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Most stories are either plot driven or character driven. In my opinion, the success of Mad Men is because viewers love the characters. The writers have done a brilliant job of creating many interesting, complex, and deep characterizations. The casting is also well done. People tune in not just to see what happens next, but to find out what happens to the characters we identify with and care about.

The base is a piece of black opaque glass. Und...

Over water coolers and in restaurants people talk about what these characters wear, what they say, and how they act. We speculate on what they may do next. We feel we know them that well. The reason is amazing writing.

Writers know that making a character come alive for readers is an important skill. If the characters are dull and boring, who wants to read the book even if there is a plot. If you give your character interesting quirks we are drawn to them and remember them. If we know enough about them to understand why they do certain things, it makes us closer to that character.

How can we not love Joanie? She is so sexy and adventurous, but she is also so sweet and nurturing. Or, how about that charming silver fox Roger, who we like, despite the fact he drinks, smokes, and gets around too much. Then there is Pete Campbell who is whiny and never thinks he gets enough attention, but he is a hard worker and a good man at heart. Even when he cheated on his wife, he couldn’t help but tell her.And let’s not forget Megan who just enriched her character with “Zou Bisou Bisou.”

These are complex characters who seem real because we all have a better and worse side. Even a bad guy probably has something decent he’s done at some point. To make a character more interesting and easier to relate to they need to be rounded.

If you write, take some time and look at your characters carefully. See how you can deepen their personality, make them more interesting and memorable. It will make for a much better story.

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