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December 10, 2011

Dan Harmon on story structure and Joseph Campbell

Dan Harmon is the man behind Community. Which of course is one of the best written comedies to ever air in our galaxy. So when he talks about learning story structure, you pay attention. Channel 101: NY • View topic - Gemberling
The first book on it I ever read was Syd Field's The Screenwriter's Workbook. That's like "this always happens on page 10. This always happens on page 25." Which I still find useful to this day, but I thank God it's not all I know. Then I tried to read Hero with a Thousand Faces, and simply could not, because I was like, "what does this have to do with plot point I on page 25?" Then I read Vogler's The Writer's Journey, which is, as has been said in this thread, Campbell for dummies, like, "This is how Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit follows the Hero's Journey." THEN I picked up Hero with a Thousand Faces again, and found that it was suddenly possible to decipher it. And I read it and read it and read it and every time I read it, I'm able to let go of Syd Field and Vogler's training wheels a little more and really ride the bike. I, too, had the same initial fears about being "hemmed in" by structure, and I would encourage anyone who feels that way to make sure they pick through Campbell's stuff, because gurus speaking strictly about screenplays for movies will, indeed, hem you in, whereas Campbell I think kind of releases you. For the simple reason that Campbell isn't talking about screenplays. He's not saying, "just like in Chinatown." He's saying, "just like every story from every part of the planet for the last 500,000 years." Campbell is saying: our lives, our minds, our societies, our religions, our relationships, all of life and the universe itself, moves to a certain rhythm, end of thesis. The unspoken thesis being: beat your drum to this universal rhythm and the illusion, to the audience, will be that your drum is shaking the world. It's sort of like how you learn improv: You start with the children's games that have very strict, seemingly arbitrary rules and stringent time limits, and you gravitate, over time, toward a deeper understanding of WHY, in the game called "no questions," you never ask questions. In the end, you can do "long form" shows where you just step out on stage and do whatever the fuck you want, because you're a trained improviser, now, and it's time to break or follow the rules according to your instincts.

December 06, 2011

Why School Choice Fails

An interesting take on the problem from someone dealing with it head on. Why School Choice Fails - NYTimes.com
My neighborhood’s last free-standing middle school was closed in 2008, part of a round of closures by then Mayor Adrian Fenty and his schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee. The pride and gusto with which they dismantled those institutions was shameful, but I don’t blame them. The closures were the inevitable outcome of policies hatched years before. In 1995 the Republican-led Congress, ignoring the objections of local leadership, put in motion one of the country’s strongest reform policies for Washington: if a school was deemed failing, students could transfer schools, opt to attend a charter school or receive a voucher to attend a private school. The idea was to introduce competition; good schools would survive; bad ones would disappear. It effectively created a second education system, which now enrolls nearly half the city’s public school students. The charters consistently perform worse than the traditional schools, yet they are rarely closed. Meanwhile, failing neighborhood schools, depleted of students, were shut down. Invariably, schools that served the poorest families got the ax — partly because those were the schools where students struggled the most, and partly because the parents of those students had the least power. Competition produces winners and losers; I get that. Indeed, the rhetoric of school choice can be seductive to angst-filled middle-class parents like myself. We crunch the data and believe that, with enough elbow grease, we can make the system work for us. Naturally, I’ve only considered high-performing schools for my children, some of them public, some charter, some parochial, all outside our neighborhood.

December 04, 2011

Publishers finally realizing they need to make books prettier to compete with ebooks

Publishers Gild Books With ‘Special Effects’ to Compete With E-Books - NYTimes.com
Many new releases have design elements usually reserved for special occasions — deckle edges, colored endpapers, high-quality paper and exquisite jackets that push the creative boundaries of bookmaking. If e-books are about ease and expedience, the publishers reason, then print books need to be about physical beauty and the pleasures of owning, not just reading. “When people do beautiful books, they’re noticed more,” said Robert S. Miller, the publisher of Workman Publishing. “It’s like sending a thank-you note written on nice paper when we’re in an era of e-mail correspondence.” The eagerly anticipated 925-page novel by Haruki Murakami, “1Q84,” arrived in bookstores in October wrapped in a translucent jacket with the arresting gaze of a young woman peering through. A new novel by Stephen King about the Kennedy assassination, “11/22/63,” has an intricate book jacket and, unusual for fiction, photographs inside. The paperback edition of Jay-Z’s memoir “Decoded” features a shiny gold Rorschach on the cover, and in March the front of “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller will bear an embossed helmet sculpted with punctures, cracks and texture, giving the image a 3-D effect.