Nanowrimo Day 25: Thanks list

November 25, 2010

Of course, as a true Canadian, I celebrated Thanksgiving with my family back in early October with my family, but being in San Francisco on American Thanksgiving, it was hard not to think of some other things and people that I’m thankful for, a lot of them relevant for this blog, so:

– I’m thankful for all the wonderful people at the Office of Letters and Light, who make such incredible events possible for writers all over the world.

– I’m thankful for everybody else who has taken the time to set up or moderate a participatory writing website, including: Stringing Words, Nanowriye, JulNoWriMo, JanNoWriMo, April Fool’s, NaNoEdMo, NaNoFiMo, and many others.

– I’m thankful that I have the financial resources and vacation days to take a trip like this one.

– I’m thankful that I have family, friends, and coworkers who are supportive and encouraging about my crazy writing ambitions.

– I’m thankful for everybody else who has opened up their pocketbook and donated to support NaNoWriMo or Script Frenzy going.

– I’m thankful for everybody in San Francisco who has made me welcome at a write-in, which has been just about everybody I’ve met at a San Francisco write-in.

– I’m thankful for all the incredible writers back in Hamilton in the Nanowrimo group – and the Hamilton Writers group at Chesters who’ve given me great feedback on all kinds of excerpts.

– I’m grateful to Ammy from the sfbrowncoats group for offering a ticket to the Dickens fair to a complete stranger.

– I’m grateful to the entire gang at Stringing Words for their encouragement, critiques, support, and sense of mutual accountability.
I’m probably leaving some people out, but I’ll leave it at this for now. Happy holiday, if you’re in America, and Happy Thursday to everybody else.


Recap – Browncoat Ball 2010

October 31, 2010

The Browncoat Ball is a Firefly fandom gathering that different cities take turns hosting every year. As I understand the process, there’s a sort of national ball committee that runs the bidding and selecting process… there’s a list of requirements that you need to satisfy to put together a bid as a local organizing committee, including suggesting a hotel that people can stay at, different Firefly-themed events that you could run in your city, and the quotes for how much you’d charge for tickets and how much the hotel rooms would cost people, and the National committee picks the venue based on that. There’s probably already people sketching out their bids for the 2011 ball.

I flew down to Charlotte from Buffalo on Friday morning, with my brother giving me a ride to the Buffalo airport, and back again. There were classes on Friday afternoon, including a fencing demonstration that I really enjoyed, where they had us do some basic footwork exercises, put on the mask and pick up a sword one at a time to practice with an automated target. I sang at the Karaoke, (the books were labelled Klingon Karaoke but it was officially Shiny-oke for Firefly,) and there was a woman singing Firefly ‘verse folk songs that she wrote herself, and a screening of two Firefly episodes on DVD. I won a pony in pajamas in a random drawing, and got to bed after 2am, which is really late for me.

Saturday was the field trip-ey day. We rode the Charlotte light rail to a pub for lunch, with burlesque dancers for entertainment,  and then split up into different tracks. I was on the ‘tour the core’ track, which basically involved going to a few museums in the city. The ‘museum of the New South’ was interesting, a lot of local history stuff since after the war. The film footage they had about people who had participated in lunch counter sit-ins during the sixties was very moving.

I also got to chat a fair bit with Reba on Saturday, who’s from around Toronto, but lived in the Charlotte area for years with her husband and just moved back recently after her divorce. She’s interesting, I’m glad I got to meet her and hope she starts coming out to the Toronto shindigs soon. And I met Leila, the woman who helps run the Karaoke. She actually dresses up as a Klingon to go to conventions, and told me several times that she was adopting me as the son she never had.

Dressing up in my Simon Tam outfit for the banquet on Saturday night was fun, but I didn’t stay out that late, because I still felt low on sleep from the night before. And there wasn’t that much of note on Sunday, except that a bunch of us who’d taken the airport shuttle together ended up finding each other again after going through the security checkpoint, and all had lunch and drinks at the Chili’s together, sharing stories about other conventions and meeting stars and what-have-you, until it was time to show up at the gate for our flights.

It was a really fun weekend, and I think it helped to charge my creative batteries for Nano!

Photos available from Flickr

On my way to the Browncoat Ball…

October 22, 2010

Well, almost – my brother should be here to drive me to the airport in about 10 minutes.

I’m so excited!

Fanart 1: Serenity, Kaylee/Simon

September 29, 2010

Fanart series index.

One of the less ‘literary’ creative pursuits I enjoy trying my hand at sometimes is making fanarts.

I don’t think that I’m a visually artistic person in the usual way, not a born painter and I’ve never been able to (or never taught myself to) sketch a straight line. But putting together pictures and text to convey a moment from a favorite program or advertise a storyline is something that I can manage if I put my mind to it.

The picture below is one of the first collages that I ever made to actually share with other fans, as opposed to for my private enjoyment. It was also created to commemorate my journey to the 2008 ‘Can’t stop the Serenity’ screening, which was in its own little way, my first step into the world of fandom gatherings.

The first step in making any fanart is gathering the component images. Sometimes these come from the internet, but as often as possible, I use my own library of DVDs and the ‘Cyberlink PowerDVD’ program, which makes generating a screen capture from a running DVD as easy as pressing the ‘C’ key.

Fan Expo Diary – Part Three

September 5, 2010

Okay, Sunday at Fan Expo, this’ll be shorter than the others, but it was a good day.

Woke up, actually had a chance to unwind a little in the morning, got a bit of writing done on the Roswell/Pern crossover fanfic, my first new words since Thursday on the bus, and went over to Dunn’s deli for a pancake breakfast, yum.

Packed up my bags at the hotel, reshuffling everything because of the heavy swag I bought on Friday, and moving some dirty clothes and power cables into the garment bag with the blueprints as overflow. Headed down to the Convention center nearly an hour before the doors opened, wondering how many other people with orange bracelets had the same idea.

Enough to put me back under the railway bridge on lower simcoe again, sigh, though closer to the front street side of the bridge. It was a long wait for the line to start moving. The guy in front of me had a T-shirt with an ‘eye chart’ made up out of fandom abbreviations and leetspeak, that kind of thing. I asked him if I could take a picture of it, and he didn’t mind but thought that was funny, since the day before he’d been in a much more elaborate costume, and figured that nobody would ask to photograph him if he was just wearing a novelty t-shirt.

The line did move pretty quickly once the doors opened, and I was inside around eleven twenty or so. Thought about going up the escalators and trying my luck with the signature lines, but then thought about all the people who were in line ahead of me outside, and how many of them were probably waiting in the slower autograph lines. So I checked on my Summer Glau photo, not ready yet, and showed up at the RPG game room for my Serenity session. The woman who was running the game was happy to meet me, and generously looked over my personalized character before telling me that I should pick one of the generic ones that she’s drawn up for the campaign. It was a little while before we actually got the game going – I checked on the pictures again, and tried going up the escalators for some food that wasn’t too far away, gave up on it.

The game session was fun, though much shorter than I’d expected. We started around quarter after noon, and were wrapped up by two PM. I played the first mate of a Firefly transport, an ex-Browncoat guerilla, very devoted to the captain, who was also a Browncoat during the war, and also a computer expert. We had a pilot and a ‘heavy thug’, and NPCs for mechanic and doctor. Our crew took a bunch of passengers from Hera to Greenleaf, and one of them, an old noble gentleman who’d been an Alliance commander in the war, turned up dead. One thing that I remember was that the captain was always telling me to deal with the passengers, but my character was light on personal skills, so I was often failing my roles and letting things get worse – including freaking out a bit and exciting the civilians during a near miss encounter witha Reaver raiding party.

But between us, we managed to figure out who the killer was, though we couldn’t prove it, and the Alliance would have kept the reward anyway. But we got paid on Greenleaf, so that sounds like a good day to me, keeps us flying. And once the game session was over, I picked up the Summer Glau picture, and got to the bus platform in time for the 2:30 bus home.

A few interesting things about that bus trip. One was that a girl in a wheelchair came up just at the driver was about to pull out. It did take a little while before he could get everything set. I’d never seen the wheelchair-accessibility functions in use for a GO transit bus, and I got a good view because I was right behind the wheelchair spot. First off, the driver needed to shift some of the seats forward, close enough together that nobody could actually sit on the seats behind, but clearing enough space for the wheelchair. Then a panel of the bus wall actually slid aside and the wheelchair was lifted up to the same level as the rest of the bus seating, since there was no way to get it up the narrow stairs that everybody else uses. It was interesting to see, and I guess I’m glad that they have a workable system for the disabled. I started to wonder if the girl in the wheelchair paid the same fare as the rest of us, and whether it would be fair or not for her to, considering how many seats she was effectively taking up.

The bus also went off onto the 407 toll highway from oakville to burlington, for no reason we could see – leaving me wondering whether the driver had heard of a slowdown on the Queen Elizabeth Way somewhere ahead of us, or was just curious about how long that detour would take.

But I got home around four-thirty on Sunday afternoon, early enough to go to the store, stock up on some provisions, and make a beef and pasta soup to take into work for lunch.

And that was Fan Expo.

Fan Expo Diary – Part Two

September 1, 2010

Saturday was a day dominated by lines and crowds even more than Friday – and I hadn’t realized that was possible on Friday.

It started off quite relaxed actually – woke up in the hotel room, typed up my diary for Friday, cleaned myself, went out to look for breakfast, settled for a few donuts and milk at the Tim’s on the corner, went back to the hotel, and actually decided I had TIME TO KILL before going back down to the Expo to get back in.

Mistake, there. Even though I’d allowed some time to get into line before the doors opened at 10 am, I hadn’t realized how long the re-entry line would be, and ended up back on Lower Simcoe street, just after the bridge underpass. Fortunately, this line moved much quicker than the Registered Tickets line had on Friday, because they could open several re-entry door and just needed to check our wrist-bands, but still, it was at least ten-thirty before I was in the building and up on the third floor, and a lot of other fan-expoers had gotten in before me.

“So, first thing,” I decided, “is to go through the Summer Glau autograph line, and maybe a few others before eleven-thirty if I can. Then outside for lunch at Swiss Chalet, back in, hit the leftover autograph lines, and down to the first floor for Tahmoh Pennikett’s Q&A at one. Then the rest of my afternoon is full of Q&As and photo ops.”

By this point the Summer Glau line was overflowing most of the way across the back of the Celebrity Autograph area. I found out once I got to the head of that overflow that it was also bent back on itself, so that there were actually three more sections of the line – up to the ‘head’ near the celebrity guests themselves, back to the back of the waiting area, and finally up to Summer’s table.

It was a quarter to one by the time I finally got to the head of the line, and paid a lot of money for five personal items signed and a photo-op that evening. Checked to see if I could get through a few ‘quick’ photo op lines while I was there, (Sendhil Ramamurthy’s had never been more than half of one of Summer’s line segments, and Tahmoh’s had often been empty so that people could just walk up to him,) but aside from James Marsters, whose line was still at least an hour long if not much more, everybody else I was interested seemed to be taking a lunch break. So I followed suit, waited in line for a pizza slice and overpriced bottle of water, and headed down to the first level.

In retrospect, I’m stunned that I made it through those crowds, carrying an open slice of hot pizza, cold bottle of water, carry-on bag, and garment bag with my now double-signed Serenity blueprints book, all the way into Tahmoh’s Q&A by five after one. There wasn’t a big crowd in that Q&A too, but the room was at least half full, and everybody waited for a while until he actually showed up – apparently he’d been waiting backstage at Stan Lee’s Q&A instead.

After finishing lunch, and listening to Tahmoh, the fans, and the MC talking mostly about Battlestar, I decided that I wanted to skip out early and take another try at the James Marsters autograph line, now that I was fed. “If I skip the Felicia Day Q&A, then I now have nearly two hours before James comes down for his own Q&A.”

I didn’t even make it up to the third level. Apparently I’d hit the moment where a huge crowd of people returning from lunch outside the convention center were all trying to get back up to vendors or celebrity signings on the third floor, and the Fan Expo staff were only letting a few people up the escalator at a time, to make sure they could all get clear of the escalator area up above and there wouldn’t be any accidents, or something like that. They did manage to get one of the down escalators turned into an ‘up’, but even that didn’t seem to relieve the bottleneck much because they couldn’t fill all three escalators to capacity.

There’s a saying, by the way, that life is what happens while you were busy making other plans, or something like that. I’m starting to wonder if part of the reason that our plans change is that we never manage to figure out what other people’s plans are or how they’ll impact our lives. Fan Expo certainly seems a good way to demonstrate that in the microcosm. (Of course, the overcrowding is originally due to the organizer’s plans to sell as many tickets as possible and make lots of money.)

So, I headed downstairs again, got in for the last ten minutes of Tahmoh’s Q&A, and rearranged my plans for the afternoon to only include Q&As and Summer’s photo op, after her Q&A at 6. I was tempted to try to drop-in on another few photo ops, but I wasn’t sure if I’d have time to make it up from the first floor, where the Q&As were, and find the ‘undisclosed’ photo op locations, and I wasn’t sure what the policy was on drop-ins. Turned out the later two considerations probably wouldn’t have been problems – I gathered when I went for the Summer photo op that all the ‘undisclosed locations’ were all along the same back corridor on level two, with schedules posted up next to the doors. But I’m still not sorry that I didn’t brave extra crowds to spend more money on photos of myself with Felicia or James.

But back to earlier in the afternoon. Getting into Felicia’s Q&A was kinduv weird – it was the same room as Tahmoh’s, only a few minutes later, but they made us clear out and go around so that the people who had been standing in line for Felica got first crack at good seats, and it was a bit hard to tell where the lines ended and the crowds of new people got in. The Expo volunteers trying to maintain the integrity of the line in such a cramped space lost their temper at a few of us ‘crowders’, and I can’t blame them, but I also think that it wasn’t entirely our fault.

Felicia’s Q&A was fun, mostly about the Guild, which I didn’t follow, but I can understand her wanting to promote it, especially after hearing about how it was her vision and a project she’s so passionate about. (Guess this is something of a weekend for finding about the unexpected passions of Fan Expo guests.) I’m definitely going to check it out. And there were a few good references to Dollhouse and Doctor Horrible. I tried to ask a question about how she originally got cast on Buffy, but the Guild fans had a LOT of questions, and I didn’t have a great seat on account of having been in Tahmoh’s Q&A and not the line, so I never got called on.

Next Q&A was James’, which was a lot of fun – the audience was mostly full of Spike-bitches 😉 – but there was a lot of talk about his newer genre work, including Smallville, Torchwood, and Caprica. He reprised the Indian soldier song, because somebody asked him if he could sing anything from the Buffy musical, (his favorite ep of Buffy,) and he said that he couldn’t remember the words at the moment, but he’d been practicing the other song and could do it a cappella. Also some more interesting tidbits about his status as a family man – how he’d been driven to leave the life of a starving stage actor and ‘whore himself out’ in Hollywood once his son was born, and how his wife had been right there when he kissed John Barrowman on the ‘Torchwood’ set and was calling out for more.

Summer Glau Q&A: Also very good, touching on a lot of the projects that I know she’s been in, also the 4400, (she had been offered a bigger role in that, but couldn’t sort out filming times with ‘Serenity’, so got recast after Serenity was finished shooting,) and this new thing she’s working on, ‘The Cape.’ She talked a lot about how new she’d been to acting when she was first cast by Joss Whedon on Angel, and even when she started on Firefly, how broken up she and Jewel were when it was cancelled. Also discussed her role ‘playing a mean version of herself’ on the Big Bang Theory, and I asked a question about what she’d like to explore if she ever got back to the role of River Tam:
‘I’d like to have a sequel movie where River Tam is more grown-up, running her own ship, breaking the law and being REALLY GOOD at it. Oh, and she should finally have a boyfriend too.’ (Paraphrasing from memory.)

The photo-ops were fun. For my individual photo, I actually suggested that she could try crouching down like that iconic shot from the film, because I was dressed in my Simon outfit, but she refused. I think she was worried that it wouldn’t work with the tripod, which makes sense. So I just draped my arm around her in a kind of brotherly way. And then all the Toronto Browncoats came in for our group shot with her, and went out to eat at East Side Mario’s and discuss the Expo so far. I stuffed myself on pepperoni and bacon pizza, and then went back to my hotel.

Fan Expo diary – part One

August 30, 2010

First off, I’ve missed a blog post from my usual schedule, on account of preparations for Fan Expo keeping me busy, but I figured I’d do a big series to start off the week with some of my experiences. This was written Saturday morning, about my first day at Fan Expo, the afternoon and evening of August 27th:

Got into town around three on Friday – immediately headed off to my hotel to check in and drop off my bags. They had automated check in, which was nice, and I hung around in the room for a few minutes to catch my breath, and kept a lookout for any place to grab some food fast when heading down to Front street.

And then I saw the lines of people waiting to get in.

Immediately hurried over to join the line, and then realized that this was the line of people who hadn’t reserved tickets online, so I hurried down to find the end of the other line. Bought a burger and a bottle of water at a hamburger car sitting out just past the start of the ‘reserved tickets’ line. It was just after four when I got my order, the line started to move – slowly, and I continued along ALL the way down Front street and down the side street to the end of the line. Ended up behind a family group – mother, three daughters from teen-age to pre-teen and a little boy. Ate my burger, drank my water, and moved with the line.

Now, I’d really been excited about the Serenity RPG-ing, and there was a session listed for Friday at 5pm, so I was constantly trying to convince myself that I’d be in the building by five. I wasn’t, quite, and there was more of a lineup inside the building. By the time I’d handed in my reservation printout and gotten my orange wristband, it was probably five twenty-five, and I lost more time trying to go down the wrong stairs before I found the right way to the RPG room.

“No, sorry, that session is full up, and even if it weren’t, they’ve started play.”

So I reserved a spot in the Sunday Serenity session, and also a D&D session for Saturday, thanked the people outside the RPG room, and headed back up to the main floor. Met someone from the Shindigs group in passing, got all the way over to the celebrity signing lines, hesitated over who to wait for at this point, ended up going through Michael Dorn’s line and getting a signed action shot of Worf.

By this time, I’d figured out that the Saturday D&D session conflicted with Felica Day’s Q&A, and some other things that I wanted to be available for, so I went back down to RPGs to cancel on that one, back up to the floor, wandered around some of the vendor stalls. I think I visited Chris M from the Buffy and Shindigs groups, who was working at the Pixel Barrel stall, and bought a hardcover volume of the Ninth Doctor Shooting Scripts, then to a photo stall and picked up two more unsigned pictures of Summer Glau, and then finally hit the jackpot at a comics stall.

“All trades for half off the US cover price” – and they had all the Buffy comics omnibi from two through six, which I’ve been meaning to pick up since I loved reading the first one, but thought the price came a little steep on Amazon.

So I paid them off, and found a way to stick all the books into my laptop bag along with the doctor who and what I’d brought with me. Wandered over towards the signing area, Felicia Day had shown up and I actually got into her line, then realized just how heavy my bag was now, and decided to go out through the exits, drop the heavy stuff back at the hotel. It was just getting towards seven by this point, and I didn’t have any firm ‘gotta be there’s until the James concert at nine.

So I headed down and out the marked exits – there was a sign saying ‘no re-entry without hand stamps,’ but that apparently doesn’t apply to weekend ticket-holders with orange wristbands. Got a soft-serve ice cream cone from another truck on front street, got back up to my room on the tenth floor, unpacked the bag, drank one of my powder drink mixes with the hotel tap water, headed back down, grabbed a donut from the Tim Horton’s on the corner, and back to the convention center. Went back to the signing area, took a look at the Felicia Day line again but didn’t actually get in, wandered around the vendors for a while, and then headed down to level one for Stockwell Day’s Q&A.

That was a fun session – he was very matter-of-fact about what it had been like for him to be a working actor for so many decades, and even though I got spoiled for some Battlestar Galactica stuff I didn’t mind. I asked a question about funny moments from shooting Quantum Leap, and just got a reply of “I can’t think of one moment, but there was something funny happening every day on that set between Scott and I,” which was alright.

I showed up ten minutes early for the James concert, and nobody got let in until at least twenty after nine, but it was really fun once it started. He obviously loves to write songs and to perform them, which I hadn’t really realized even when I bought the ticket. He sprinkled in a few fun stories between numbers, and I took an awful lot of pictures – I hope the people ahead of me weren’t too annoyed at the flash going off.

And that was pretty much it for day one of fan expo, for me – chatted with a Shindig friend a little on the way out of the James concert, (most of them were in the VIP line waiting I think,) and came back to my hotel tired and just about ready to fall into bed.

Dispatches from Polaris!

July 18, 2010

Well, I’m sitting in a hotel room in north Toronto as I write this, with two days of the Polaris convention gone by and only one left to enjoy.

It’s been a great weekend so far. I’m fairly new to the ‘con game,’ and wasn’t really sure what to expect from this one based on the website, but there have been loads of great panels – from the incredible geek-off trivia contests, (I’m going to the finals this afternoon, based on my knowledge of Whedonverse canon,) to discussions of Trek, and Buffy versus Twilight.

There have also been more fantastic writing panels than I really expected, and it’s been great hearing what published sci-fi and fantasy genre authors think of topics like “What’s next for young adult readers,” “Right ways to write,” “Researching what you don’t know for your story,” and “Rebuilding worlds and history” — and joining into the discussion with other convention guests. On my schedule today for writing panels, I’m looking forward to “Our stories are just as much fun without romance” and “Making sentences,” plus a discussion on the legality and morality of fanfiction.

Let’s see, what else – I met Ethan Phillips from ‘Voyager’ and Mark Sheppard from ‘Firefly’ and got their autographs, and shot video of the contestants at the costume masquerade until my camera battery pooped out and my memory card was nearly full.

I should wrap up this entry, because I want to get all packed up before the charity auction starts, so that I can just swing by the room at ten and quickly check out before heading off to the ‘Classic tv crushes’ panel.

We’ll return to our regularly scheduled writing blog later this week.

My own not-so-long way home

June 27, 2010

This weekend has to be good for working into a story at some future date.

I went to the ‘Can’t Stop the Serenity’ screening in Toronto yesterday. It was overall a great time, seeing the movie yet again, (with my ‘beat sheet’ fresh in my mind.) I dressed up as a character for the first time ever – I went as Simon Tam, in a full suit with waistcoat and long-sleeved white shirt, the whole bit, and had pictures taken with a girl who had come dressed as River. Fun fun. Also spent some money at the charity auction, walking away with a Jayne needlepoint that I’m going to put on my desk at work, some T-shirts, a signed photo, and a comic. Not too bad, and it’s all for a great cause.

This weekend is also the G20 summit in Toronto, and at first I wasn’t too concerned about that. The screening was at Bathurst and Bloor, well outside ‘the security zone’, and though Union station is close to the convention center, the GO transit website said that trains would still be going through as scheduled, though most street exits would be blocked. That seemed fine – I could go from the GO train directly to the subway, and thus north. Worked out alright, though walking through the Union concourse was eerie when so many of the storefronts were closed up.

After everybody had left the theater, crossed Bloor street, and the Pauper’s pub finally let us all in to the upstairs room, I started to realize that something worrying was going on. Chris M, next to me at the table I finally ended up at, was reading news reports off her Iphone, and soon there was footage from the G20 protests downtown on the TV screens intermixed with the Fifa world cup matches. By the time I’d ordered my chicken fingers, it was pretty clear that getting home would not be as easy as I’d planned. No subways were running south of Bloor, and no Go trains or buses were coming into or out of Union station in any direction, according to the Iphone.

“You should talk to Kate,” somebody at my table mentioned. “She came in from Hamilton on the Go train today too.” I agreed that it sounded like we had the same problem to work out, at least, so I went over and introduced myself.

We talked for a little bit about various possibilities, including taking streetcars south to the Exhibition grounds, and then suddenly Kate told me: “You look so familiar. Did you live on or near Stanley avenue in West Hamilton, when you were younger?”

I was completely stunned – I grew up on Stanley avenue pretty much until I went away to University, and Kate didn’t really look familiar to me, but she said that she’d been just up the block. Around this point my food showed up, and while I was munching on the sinfully fattening (and delicious) chicken, word came in that the Exhibition station was now no longer an option – Lakeshore west trains were at best getting to Mimico.

Someone else from my table asked if she could give me a lift to a GO station in Mississauga, and I said that sounded promising and mentioned that Kate might want to come along as well. So the three of us headed off pretty much as soon as we’d finished eating and saying goodbyes. Kate and our volunteer driver got along very well, chatting about job possibilities in the insurance business and so on, and eventually Kate and I got dropped off outside the Port Credit station, with much luck wished our way.

At first, it seemed that luck was not at all with us. Inside the station, there was one harried-looking ticket attendant inside her booth, explaining that no GO trains were running, no GO buses were running through the station, and that if we wanted to proceed west, it would have to be from making our way between different regional bus systems – Mississauga transit to Oakville transit to Burlington transit to Hamilton buses and so on. There were also a few other stranded passengers, including a friendly but overwhelmed Icelandic tourist who was trying to find some way to get to Niagara Falls.

Things did look grim for a bit. Kate called home to her parents and apparently got a bit of an earful about how they’d told her this would happen. I emailed my mom on my work blackberry, and got no reply.

Somehow the idea of taking a cab arose – I think the ticket attendant might have been the first to suggest it, and Kate jumped into organizing the trip. She found another couple who wanted to go to Hamilton, I did my best to convince the Icelandic girl that she’d be able to get to Niagara Falls from Hamilton on another coach line, and Kate got a quote from a taxi-van driver who could carry five. One hundred dollars total to drive us to the Hamilton GO train station. Twenty bucks each. We all agreed to it.

And that’s nearly the end of the story. Kate jumped out on the west side of Hamilton so that she could walk home more easily, (after giving me her share of the fare,) and I sortof turned into the defacto expert on transit operations at the Hamilton GO center, helping our Icelandic fare get her tickets for the Coach canada bus to Niagara Falls and showing her which platform it would be picking her up at, and even giving the other passengers a tip on which bus they’d want to get to Barton street and where to catch it. And on my own bus ride home, I got off early, at the Dairy Queen at Main and Ottawa, and walked home from there. I kinda needed the sugar rush.

Beat sheet analysis for ‘Serenity’ (spoiler warning.)

June 20, 2010

I’ve been fascinated by the notion of ‘The beat sheet’ since I saw it mentioned on the Script Frenzy home page in March, and I actually went and got Blake Snyder’s book ‘Save the Cat’ on my Amazon Kindle so that I could read the chapter where he lays beat sheets out in some detail. There’s a lot of other good stuff in there that I haven’t had time to read all the way through, too – want to read the whole book from location 1 to location 2005 by 28 Feb of next year, to get ready for my next big script.

In case you’re not familiar, the Beat sheet is a fifteen-part structural breakdown for a feature length screenplay. Here’s the 15 beats as I understand them, very briefly:
Opening image: First impressions, where the hero starts from
Theme stated: Posing a question that summarizes what the movie is about
Set-up: Introduce the cast of characters
Catalyst: Something changes to start the hero off on his journey
Debate: Hesitation and build-up to the decision. Dare I get myself into this?
Break into two: The point of no return, hero commits himself/herself
B story: Move away from the main storyline to introduce a secondary theme.
Fun and games: Trailer moments and movie poster – don’t worry about moving the plot along for a while, just indulge in coolness
Midpoint: raise the stakes, minor victory but things are more serious
Bad guys close in: A reversal begins brewing…
All is lost: And the reversal is complete, hero appears to be defeated. Impression of death.
Dark night of the soul: Hero hits rock bottom and wallows in it for a bit.
Break into three: Solution to crisis, drawing on B storyline.
Finale: Wrap it up, triumph, put the lessons learned into action
Final image: Reversal of the opening image, showing real change.

After going through this, I want to try breaking down some of my favorite movies into beats, to see how the system applies to them, and where the rules have to be stretched one way or another. I’ll possibly also be applying the same analysis to some of my own screenplays, especially the ones that I wrote for Script Frenzy before I’d heard of the Beat sheet.

The first movie to get a beat sheet has to be Joss Whedon’s fantastic ‘Serenity’:

Opening image: This is the Alliance school lesson, showing River Tam talking back to her teacher. Even though this is an impossible dream inside a holographic surveillance replay, it still comes from a ‘real’ place in terms of River’s character arc. I suppose that to stretch a point, the transition into the lab and showing River suffering at the Academy is also in the opening image, and then we move into setup – and that’s all in the first 3 minutes or so of the movie.

Theme stated: This would be River rambling inside her dream: “People don’t like to be meddled with. We tell them what to do, what to think, don’t run, don’t walk. We’re in their homes and in their heads and we haven’t the right. We’re meddlesome.” Minute 2.

Set-up: The various layers of flashback count here, as does the landing on the border moon and even the heist, (though the heist also seems like an early installment of ‘fun and games.’) Everything up until River stares up at the Fruity Oaty bars. Minutes 4-33

Catalyst: River goes assassin, beats up everybody, it’s all caught on vid, and Mal drags her out of the bar. This is the inciting incident for the rest of the action of the script, and it’s late: minutes 34-36

Debate: Speaking with Mister Universe, going to Haven, all of this is part of debating and delaying over ‘what do we do with River’? Even going to rescue Inara is part of that, but it ends when… (minutes 37-52)

Break into two: Mal refuses to give up River to the Operative at the companion training house (minutes 53-54)

B story: Okay, this gave me some issues, because it’s hard to tell what’s the main plotline and what isn’t, I thought of Simon/Kaylee or Mal/Inara as the B storylines, but they’re probably C or lower. River and her journey back to mental health is the B storyline in my opinion, and it starts, if anywhere, back when she tells Simon about Miranda, in minute 43.

Fun and games: Now, as far as I can see it, the fun and games definitely start early, with the payroll heist and Reaver chase way back in minutes 17-25. From watching the trailer, two other possible spots of ‘fun and games’ are the bar fight, minutes 35-36 and the space battle, minutes 86-89. Both serve to tell a part of the main story, but they’re also there to delight and tempt viewers.

Midpoint: Of the two kinds of midpoints, ‘Serenity’ definitely has a false collapse. After Mal’s successful escape at the Training house and River’s identification of Miranda, all seems reasonably good for the gang, and even the lurking hand of the Alliance won’t be a problem once they get back to Haven, right? WRONG. Haven is in ruins, and Book is dying when they get there. But Mal has a plan for how to get to Miranda and maybe the secret there will get them out of hot water. Minutes 65-71

Bad guys close in: Things keep going wrong, the Alliance is still watching for them, the Reavers only just let them sneak through, the secret on Miranda is worse than they can imagine. By the time Mal has come up with his plan to have Mister Universe broadcast the secret, the Operative is one step ahead of him, he’s killed Mister Universe and trashed the broadcast center. In the battle between the Alliance and the Reavers, Serenity is hit, Wash just manages to ‘glide her in’ at Mister Universe’s complex… Minutes 72-89

All is lost: … And everything goes from bad to worse. Wash is killed so suddenly it hardly makes sense, the Reavers and the Alliance are still chasing after them, Mal has everybody else guard the hold point and goes to see Mister Universe, and sees what happened. Minutes 90-92

Dark night of the soul: This is a very short one. In minute 93, Mal looks at what’s left of Mister Universe’s control room, including Universe’s dead body lying in lovebot Lenore’s lap, and all of his hope is lost. Even when Lenore starts to speak, and it’s clear that Universe recorded his dying words on her, the moment is a horrifying one, not reassuring. Until…

Break into three: …Universe’s message tells Mal about the backup system, and he realizes that there’s still a chance to get the word out. (“They can’t stop the signal, Mal. They can never stop the signal!”) (94)
In a parallel act 3 break for River’s story, she comes to her final resolution of courage, self-reliance and dependability, and charges off to do battle with the Reavers alone to save her family: “You’ve always taken care of me. My turn now.” 101-102

Finale: Mal has his battle with the Operative, nearly dies, wins by being sneaky and resourceful, saves the Operative’s life, and starts the broadcast. River kicks Reaver butt, and is about to start a suicidal fight with the Alliance soldiers until the Operative calls them off, realizing that his mission has failed anyway. The fallen are mourned, Serenity is repaired, and Mal has his last words with the Operative, with Zoe, and Inara. 95-111

Final image: Serenity is flying again, with Mal and River together at the controls to take the place of their fallen friend. And the Alliance isn’t meddling with them, at the moment. Love’s keeping Serenity in the air, and she’s once again a home.
Even if pieces still fall off her, from time to time. Minutes 112-114

Overall impressions – it’s interesting to see what fits and what doesn’t apply as strictly as Blake Snyder said it would. 😉 Most of the elements do fit, but not that closely in terms of page count as they ‘should’ (or as far as I can determine using minutes as a guide,) and some of the elements don’t seem to show up quite in order.

This is reassuring to me, since I had problems doing things strictly by the numbers, and so it’s a comfort that one of my favorite movies ever doesn’t exactly fit the formula either.

(Adapted from a discussion thread idea I posted to )

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