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Thread: Adapting To the Cinematic Sandbox

  1. drgerb Guest

    I gotta agree with Calvin here. I'm an aspiring comic book creator. While reading about comic- movie transitions is fine and all, and thinking my future comic book story may end up on the big screen is entertaining, the truth is I haven't even had that big idea yet. And I need help working it out in my medium of choice before even imagining it as a movie.

    I'm not making any Hollywood execs swoon in the near future, so right now I'm just trying my hardest to understand the comic book form and get a few new perspectives on it, from you Lee, and a few others who chime in quite often. Right now Hollywood isn't even on the horizon so I guess my two cents is I'm going to casually skip over and skim potential movie deals (I did read them, just didn't comment) in favor of working on my craft. It's like counting the eggs before they hatch. I understand how prominent the movie industry is, and how it's constantly in the back of your mind as a comic book creator... But the truth is I'm not even a comic book creator yet. I don't wanna be pulling my horses without the... Erm, I forget that analogy.

    Though I do dig your idea for alternating between lectures and discussions / question and answering times. I think if you drop the ball one week and just post, 'Okay, go. Talk about comics, ask questions, and let's start a free roaming discussion,' that then people will start coming out of the woodwork and making themselves heard. Sometimes I'd like to go on tangents or touch on ideas that you haven't presented yet. I think you should just take one week and go with it. Say anything can be discussed, any questions anybody wants to ask, you will answer to the best of your ability, with the best of your knowledge. We might be getting ahead of ourselves, but hey. You don't know until you try. You gotta put it on max power before pulling the plug. Don't get your toes wet, walk around the deep end of the pool, then go lay down for a suntan. Jump in. If we get confused, if we misunderstand eachother from time to time, hell. No big deal. I think everybody will be able to take something away from these series of articles. Calvin might take something else away from it than me. I might learn something someone else already knew or didn't. Or whatever.

    But yeah. I gotta go with Calvin. While it's all nice to hear about the movie deals and teams and Hollywood writers and all that... I'm just not there yet, and by the time I get there this all won't be fresh in mind. It'll be conveniently brushed under the carpet in the outter recesses of my mind. I'll have to reread it then and do some additional studying. But until then I'd like to concentrate on my comic book creating skills... Erm, lack there of. Gah, I'm rambling. Done!

    PS: Pumped for tomorrow's post.



  2. LeeNordling Guest

    Hey, Roberts.

    I appreciate your thoughts.

    I will offer topics for discussion, but folks can wander off topic everywhere else on the web; I am still operating from the perspective that this is similar to a classroom atmosphere.

    Playtime elsewhere; work here.

    I realize topics spin off onto tangents, but I want to discourage it.

    Here's why: when they have here, we've lost focus, and worse, haven't really explored the topic at hand.

    Anyway, tomorrow's a new and different day.

    --Lee

    PS. Comics Pro Prep's last two columns are critical for a working professional to understand what may or may not happen to their work. They weren't about learning to be a movie guy, there were a substantive contribution to what you and others may have to deal with.

    Like what you learned in grade school, jr. high, and high school, just because you didn't KNOW how they were relevant, doesn't mean they weren't.

    Well-rounded professionals learn their tangential industries.



  3. CalvinCamp Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by LeeNordling View Post
    I never thought you were skimming, Calvin.
    I didn't assume you did. But I didn't drive your Timemaster thread to over a thousand views by myself, either. And I don't believe people just came for the spectacle of me being dense. Folks were, I think, studying that article.

    As for whether comics to film is relevant or not... of course it is. But I was trying to explain that there's relevant stuff that is (or at least seems to be) easy to grasp and to file away for future use (like your last couple columns), and there's relevant stuff that takes some work to wrap your head around and can be put into use (or at least practiced) immediately. The later will, of course, generate more views and more questions. Not every thread will have a thousand views, or even half that, but that doesn't necessarily mean no one is paying attention to them. If you've got a hundred views, and even half of those viewers understood what you were teaching and learned something - that's still fairly significant, I would think.

    Also, at the risk of annoying you and sounding unappreciative (which is not my intent) I also wonder if the continued complaints and dropped hints that "no one is listening," and "no one is doing the work," and (now) threats to delete posts that drift off-topic are the way to build greater participation - because, to be frank, I find it a little off-putting and I imagine I'm not alone. I can't really get enthusiastic about trying to engage in a discussion where I have to wonder if my comments will be either censored or judged inadequate participation (or both). That's not a friendly atmosphere. And, classroom or not, learning works better in a friendly atmosphere. Direct the discussion topic, sure. That's fine. But start giving your students orders and guilt trips, and I bet you'll really see your views drop off.

    Even the heavy emphasis to stay on topic may be reducing participation. If I'd had a burning desire, the last couple weeks, to talk about theme dictating story, and endings dictating theme, I might not have posted out of concern that they were off-topic - it does sound like they could be a column of their own, to me. So maybe loosening things up to a little controlled drift wouldn't be so bad. I mean, when you've had someone go off-topic, it doesn't seem like there's been any big problem in correcting it, just responding that it's a subject for another day and steering things back on course. I think that's something that's bound to happen, regularly, and worrying too much about it will probably just stress you out unnecessarily.

    Hope my thoughts help a little (and don't sound like bitching, because they're only meant to help).

    BTW:
    The new thread is clever. Hopefully that will help gauge interest. I've got some stuff to get out the way this morning, but I'll try and post something later today. Let me think about the theme & story stuff a bit, and maybe we can restart something in that thread too.



  4. LeeNordling Guest

    Perhaps you're right, Calvin.

    Perhaps the complaints, which I would call observations based on responses, is off-putting.

    And perhaps the threat to delete posts went too far.

    Perhaps this just isn't the right venue for focused conversation.

    And perhaps it is.

    Perhaps it isn't the place for a set of guidelines that define the sandbox I'm trying to get folks to work in.

    And perhaps it is.

    We will see...together.

    --Lee



  5. CalvinCamp Guest

    We will see...together.
    Sounds good, Lee.

    I think we're all kind of feeling our way through your column right now, still getting used to it, and to your approach and goals. After all, on the internet, one usually finds a "take it or leave it" lecture or a complete free-for-all discussion, so something in between might take awhile to "break in," as it were, before things get entirely comfortable.

    Just to try and clarify my earlier thoughts a little...

    I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't guide or focus the discussion in the direction you want it to go, or even establish "guidelines that define the sandbox." And I don't think it's the wrong place for it. I think that's all fine - I just think utilizing negative reinforcement to do it might be potentially self-defeating, depending on what you really want.

    I think that what you really want from your classroom is a very important question. Do you want maximum attendance? Or do you want the maximum effort from those who do attend? Because those are very different goals (that are, unfortunately, somewhat opposed to one another). Taking a hard, demanding approach would almost certainly whittle down the participants to just those that are willing to really work for what you can provide, but it will also, most likely, minimize views and participation overall. Perhaps it's a sad commentary on human nature, but this isn't a required course, so, if you want to maximize the views, you'll need to keep things enjoyable and positive. If you want to maximize the work put in by your viewers, then the stern and demanding approach might work better for that, but you'll probably find that views go down.

    As for "complaints" vs "observations"... maybe that was poorly worded. It's just felt, a few times, like you're coming in with the expectation that we're all just going to blow off what you're offering. That's the kind of thing I mean by "negative reinforcement." It's discouraging. And, honestly, I think you're selling people short. I doubt that anyone motivated enough to bother taking the time to read the column will simply blow off what you have to say in it. Even if they don't have additional questions at the moment, I would imagine they're thinking about the subject and looking at ways to implement the lessons later on.

    Of course, there's also the consideration of how you'll know if we're getting something out of it if you don't raise the question - so it might be a bit of a catch 22 for you. It might be as easy as asking for more feedback rather than "observing" that there hasn't been enough, or it might not. It may take some experimenting to see what works the best. I think talking about it, like we are, is a good start.

    Another suggestion that occurs to me, is to take an even more pro-active approach to directing the discussion, and to triggering a discussion in the first place. If you'd like to hear thoughts on, say, "theme dictating story" in your adaptation thread, why not end the column with a question... "What are your thoughts on theme dictating story, as it relates to adaptation?" (or whatever). Or maybe outline some areas where you'd be interested in expanding the discussion, which you are specifically indicating as on-topic (so people don't have to wonder if their question will be taking things somewhere you don't want them to go). Maybe that would help. I don't know, but it could be worth a try. Just another thought.

    In closing, I think your ideas of a round-table discussion, alternating lectures with discussion threads, etc., are definitely good ideas. I certainly hope we can all come up with something that provides you with what you're looking for from the column, along with providing lessons for us - because I do think there's a lot of value here, and I'd hate to see you get discouraged and pull the plug on it.



  6. LeeNordling Guest

    Good constructive thoughts, Calvin.

    I could finish the columns with a series of questions, but I like (for now/today/the last hour) what I started with this week's "column"/discussion.

    It shifts from the lecture, which is intended to sell a perspective and accomplish some goal, to getting folks to talk about themselves...on that same topic.

    The columns are instruction. The only thing I hope to do in discussion about them is clarify any aspect that wasn't clear...thus my discouragement of tangential conversations; they muddy waters for people who come to them in the future to see each topic pursued to its fullest.

    So the Questions & Interactive Discussions become, I suppose, the opportunity for folks to share their tangential opinions/perspectives/beliefs.

    And then, in these discussions, I can question, as I've started doing, the underpinnings of those opinions/perspectives/beliefs...without challenging their validity.

    I will add one thing (again).

    I do realize folk spend time reading and absorbing the columns/lectures.

    But they won't have ANY long-term impact on comics craft unless they're practiced (wax-on, wax-off).

    They will be no different than those college textbooks gathering dust on shelves that had little or no impact on where folks went or what folks did after surviving them.

    How many people do I want to read the column?

    I guess I'm looking for people dedicated to learning comics craft. You've been an active participant.

    A story...

    After university, after I moved from the Bay Area to L.A., I did some volunteer assistant work for a fencing course at the local JC. After the instructor broke his foot, he asked me to take over running the class of thirty or forty students. This was basic fencing, just for folks who wondered what fighting with swords was all about.

    To finish off the quarter, the instructor wanted to have them start competing with each other, then we'd have a tournament.

    Having fenced competitively at San Jose State--I was okay for a guy who'd only been at it for three or four years--I objected. I said the class wasn't ready; they didn't have any of the necessary basics to suddenly get into competition.

    The instructor said (rightly) that most of these people would never fence again, so they at least needed this experience.

    Being me, I objected still (yeah, a real pill at the age of 23), and the instructor had a suggestion. He said I could take any students who wanted to work with me, and continue to work with them the way I wanted, and they could finish with the competition.

    Gauntlet thrown, I accepted the challenge.

    Only a handful, perhaps six wanted to continue working with me; big surprise, right?

    We drilled; I taught them different attacks, instilled defenses, and we concentrated on footwork and balance.

    Then came the competition.

    My students beat all of the other students; they had a better grasp of the basics, and succeeded.

    It's also fair to say that the ones who were more INTERESTED in learning stuff stayed with me, so they were likely to overcome the others in competition anyway.

    This column is, I think, not much different from that, and I think friends would say I'm the same pill now that I was then.

    I know this column is not for the masses.

    It's for those that give enough of a shit to want to work to get better.

    So, yes, I am demanding.

    But that's my job.

    And I promised on day one to take my pay in blood, sweat, and tears; I wasn't kidding.

    I will work with anybody who needs it, but I believe these discussions require attendance and interaction.

    I witness a dedicated few, and I appreciate their effort.

    I hope folks will understand this is about them getting better, not just me being entertaining.

    Anyway, I'm sharing some thoughts to clarify what I'm trying to do and why.

    For those who may find it off-putting, I'm sorry to have upset you, and I hope that some of this may have shed some added perspective.

    --Lee
    Last edited by LeeNordling; Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 07:03 PM.



  7. CalvinCamp Guest

    Good story, Lee.

    And I think you're right that this column will be a lot like that (given the same approach, which seems pretty likely from your feedback). And I think that means you will slowly whittle the participants down to a hard-core few and the rest will drift away (or just observe). So the total views may well decrease. And that may not be a bad thing, because the ones left over will be the ones you'll really be reaching.

    I've seen the same thing happen at The Proving Grounds, in my time there (as a participant when Steven was running the show and currently). There have been quite a few views at times, but most just watch from the sidelines. Others have submitted once or twice and then dropped out of sight. I think it's just the nature of the beast. But there's a small handful of real hard-core participants. And those guys are improving. Some of them are (in the very foreseeable future) going to move past what little I can do for them, and the column will probably die out without them. And that's not entirely a bad thing, either, because it'll still mean there are a handful of people out there who will be better than they were before - and that's what it's all about, I think.

    Now I better get back to work, so I can finish up and get a look at your new thread.



  8. CalvinCamp Guest

    Lee,

    I went back and read this over again, looking for holes and things I could pick apart to start a discussion with... and there just isn't much. I think this might be a case where you simply did a really good job of explaining things. The principles involved seem pretty clear, and I can't think of any real questions.

    About the only thing I can see that might be worth chasing around is the idea that defining the theme is fairly subjective, because not everyone will "lock on" to the same thing in a given story.

    For instance, when you describe Silence of the Lambs as a buddy movie, I can see where you get that. There is definitely some resemblance there, and it seems likely it was an intentional structure choice. But when I ask myself if that's really the theme, the One Big Thing that makes the movie what it is... I have to say, I really don't think so. It's not what I took from the movie, what's stuck with me all the years since I first saw it. To me, the theme of Silence of the Lambs is not, "Let's do a buddy movie about an FBI agent and a serial killer." To me, it's much more about exploring the idea of a genteel and charming, even weirdly likable, serial killer. It's all about the fascination of the horrific. His "buddy" Starling is merely our means of getting to know, and be charmed by, him (without making the film from Lecter's viewpoint, which would be a little too much of a gross-out), and the buddy movie structure is merely a means to an end - the end being to mess with our minds so much that it makes us like a cannibal, and that's scary as HELL.

    So, tying things back to last week, I'd guess the movie is largely execution driven - it would have to be done as well as it was, to work at all. Could it have been done, as successfully, without being a structured like a buddy movie? Possibly. Could it have been done, as successfully, without that exploration of the charming, genteel side of the character? Not a chance. Without that aspect, Silence of the Lambs might as well have been any episode of Criminal Minds.

    The choice of endings for Road to Perdition sounds similarly subjective (I haven't read the GN, so I'm going largely by what you've said here). The choice of a given theme could make the ending seem appropriate, or not so appropriate, depending on what someone else sees the theme to be. Someone who felt that the son consciously choosing to end the cycle of violence was an important thematic element might be disappointed to discover that choice taken away by the revised ending, reducing the son's freedom from a life of violence to a matter of luck rather than a life-long struggle. That seems like a pretty significant change. Is the change worthwhile? That probably depends on how you want to look at it.

    This effect of different themes or different facets of the story seeming to dominate depending on which way you turn it and look at it, is the same effect that complicates my life when trying to come up with pitch hooks - in any given story, there's often more than one candidate for the position of "primary" theme (sometimes a few more). And choosing "the one" isn't always as obvious as it sounds. I'm sure it's even harder in an adaptation, where whatever choice you make is guaranteed to disappoint or tick off someone.

    I imagine it all boils down to just making a choice, and hoping it's one that the majority of people can get behind. If you do it well enough, it's magic.
    *Fans out a deck of cards* "Pick a theme, any theme."
    *Pulls a card from behind your ear* "Is this your story?"


    So, those are my thoughts. Are you sorry you asked for more discussion yet?



  9. LeeNordling Guest

    Happy to have that chat.

    Silence of the Lambs was not execution-driven. It was based on a HUGE best-selling and well-respected book.

    These days I refer to that as brand-driven, but in the article I referred to it as Market-driven. Quoting myself, "these properties were successfully produced in other media, and have carved out a place in the popular culture."

    Let's tackle a different subject, though.

    It doesn't matter whether you or anybody has a different interpretation of the films than me, thematically, or otherwise.

    I never suggested, for example, that Ted Tally CONCEIVED of Silence of the Lambs as a buddy movie.

    But somehow, he recognized that Starling and Lecter were at the center, and everything needed revolve around that, as well as their competing agendas. The buddy picture connection was an example of showing how, when you FIND a focus for an adaptation, what needs to stay and go becomes more apparent.

    The point of that particular discussion was finding a correlation for understanding the former so it could be converted effectively into a different medium.

    The trick to all of this is effectively wrapping your head around a concept through which the story can be channeled and re-conceived.

    At a million levels this is all subjective.

    But it's important to recognize why, or at least have a cogent explanation for why, some stuff works in a story and needs to be kept in lieu of other stuff.

    Without some kind of concept, like a "buddy movie" or "Pygmalion" or some clear thematic explanation that gets to the heart of the adaptation, then the result is more likely to be a process that picks the favorite scenes, covers the breadth, and loses the heart, as Hannibal did.

    If you (or others) wish to see the most fascinating example of this, check out the massive Criterion version of Brazil, the one that includes the studio-chopped version that gives it all a happy ending. The audio commentary on that is the thing to listen to, because the lecturer makes a case for how THAT version of the movie, the "Love Conquers All" version takes a new theme and keeps everything in that fits with that theme, and dumps the rest. It IS the most instructive class on thematic storytelling you will ever see, and it will change how, in a macro way, you view stories.

    Just because my interpretations are subjective, that doesn't mean that they don't come from a process where you (or others) can actually learn to EXPLAIN why stuff does or doesn't belong in a story; it's a very nice alternative to "because I want it to."

    --Lee

    PS. Should you just pull out a card and pick any theme, without a moment of consideration, you too can butcher great works in their adaptation to another medium. Do you REALLY believe that's all I did, or all anybody needs to do? I doubt it. But I don't think that's what I did, and so I'm not sure that it's valid. In fact, I think something similar is what David Mamet and Ridley Scott did...and failed at, because they did it badly.

    Remember the end of the column where I suggest you "choose wisely."

    I believe great consideration is required.

    Don't you?
    Last edited by LeeNordling; Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 06:24 AM.



  10. CalvinCamp Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by LeeNordling View Post
    Silence of the Lambs was not execution-driven. It was based on a HUGE best-selling and well-respected book.
    A book which I never knew existed until years after I had decided the movie was the best psychological thriller I'd ever watched, so that may well effect my perception of it.

    But then, the earlier movie, Manhunter, was based on such a book, too (they changed the name from Red Dragon to avoid confusing it with an unrelated movie), and it was a box-office flop. So there was more driving the Silence of the Lambs movie than market/brand. They took similar source material and gave it an entirely different execution. The Lecter character was a completely different guy in Manhunter - still arrogantly intellectual, but not remotely charming (or compelling), just a generic serial killer the FBI agent interviewed to help catch a different serial killer. Same general concept, same market/brand, and a different execution - now which one is more memorable, more successful?

    I stand by my opinion. Market/brand was certainly a part of what drove Silence of the Lambs, but it wasn't the biggest part. And without the execution (perhaps the concept?) of Lecter as the genteel, charming guy the audience could be creeped out by kind-of liking (or at last being fascinated with), I still say it would have been no different than any of a hundred other movies or tv shows where the protagonist has to get inside the head of a killer to catch a killer.

    I'll grant you that embracing the buddy element was an excellent choice for adapting the book to a movie, but I don't think that is the main, driving theme of the movie. It's the structure, which is a different thing. IMO. (But something that still needs to be consciously identified and chosen, of course)

    I guess what I was getting at is that I'm sure the choice of source material was market-driven, but I think the success of the movie was execution-driven (which may not really be relevant to the point you were trying to make).

    It doesn't matter whether you or anybody has a different interpretation of the films than me, thematically, or otherwise.
    Of course it does. I think that's the main reason some people don't like a given adaptation, while others do. Different people can see something different in the story, a different driving theme, which may or may not be the dominant theme chosen for the adaptation.

    I never suggested, for example, that Ted Tally CONCEIVED of Silence of the Lambs as a buddy movie.

    But somehow, he recognized that Starling and Lecter were at the center, and everything needed revolve around that, as well as their competing agendas. The buddy picture connection was an example of showing how, when you FIND a focus for an adaptation, what needs to stay and go becomes more apparent.
    Okay, I think we're tripping over terminology again. You seem to be equating what I would call "method of execution" with theme and focus.

    I'm completely on board with with "buddy story" being identified and consciously chosen as the method of execution for Silence of the Lambs, I just see that as something different than the theme/focus. The way I see it, there's finding the theme/focus (charming people with a serial killer, to creep them out) and finding the best execution of that theme/focus (structuring the adaptation as a buddy movie). Just a slightly different way of looking at it, I think, but it seems to get to more-or-less the same place.

    At a million levels this is all subjective.
    Which was exactly my point.

    But it's important to recognize why, or at least have a cogent explanation for why, some stuff works in a story and needs to be kept in lieu of other stuff.

    Without some kind of concept, like a "buddy movie" or "Pygmalion" or some clear thematic explanation that gets to the heart of the adaptation, then the result is more likely to be a process that picks the favorite scenes, covers the breadth, and loses the heart, as Hannibal did.
    Absolutely. I fully agree with that. I was just pointing out that not everyone will necessarily see the same "thematic explanation" when looking at the source material, that the choice is subjective.

    Just because my interpretations are subjective, that doesn't mean that they don't come from a process where you (or others) can actually learn to EXPLAIN why stuff does or doesn't belong in a story; it's a very nice alternative to "because I want it to."
    I certainly didn't bring up anything in my comments on the basis of "because I want it to." I was just exploring the subjective difference that we seem to have (and almost anyone may have) in defining what is the driving theme of a work.

    To me, the theme of Silence of the Lambs (the movie) is not Lecter and Starling. To me, the theme is Lecter, and Starling is simply the method of exploring that theme. Someone else might see something else, yet, as the theme (needing to embrace evil in the fight against evil, maybe?).

    PS. Should you just pull out a card and pick any theme, without a moment of consideration, you too can butcher great works in their adaptation to another medium. Do you REALLY believe that's all I did, or all anybody needs to do? I doubt it. But I don't think that's what I did, and so I'm not sure that it's valid. In fact, I think something similar is what David Mamet and Ridley Scott did...and failed at, because they did it badly.

    Remember the end of the column where I suggest you "choose wisely."

    I believe great consideration is required.

    Don't you?
    That wasn't actually my point with the metaphor. The "pick a card" thing was my smartass (and apparently not humorous - maybe I should just stop trying to joke) attempt to show that an adaptation is like a magic trick. Execute it really well - astonish the audience that you produced the same card (theme/themes) that they (or the majority of them) chose, and do it with style and panache besides - and it's magic (Silence of the Lambs). Execute it poorly - by going through the motions but pulling the wrong card (theme), and do it ham-handedly besides - and they'll laugh at you (Manhunter).

    So the point is that you really can't pull a card at random. Not in making an adaptation, any more than you can when performing a magic trick. You have to stack the deck in your favor, by doing all the things you talked about. You might still end up with an unintentional comedy act, if you pull a different "card" than your audience, but you've got a lot better chance at pulling off the magic if you don't just take a wild-ass guess.

    So I think there's some guess-work to it (or perhaps "gamble" would be a better word), but an educated choice is definitely better than a blind choice - even if not everyone will make the same (subjectively "right") choice.



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