Thursday, February 10, 2011

Movies, and scores...

Music is something very important to me when it comes to writing. I find that I write more believably, and with more emotion when I am listening to music. I have spent hours finding music that matches certain moods I am trying to get across in my writing, they are organized into separate playlists, all labeled to match the mood I want to establish. Yeah...sounds crazy, but I'll tell you it works like a dream.

So most of you I'm sure have seen the movies "Inception," and "The Dark Knight." Both were directed by Christopher Nolan, who understands that certain elements in a movie can change the atmosphere for the audience. He uses imagery, dialogue, dark cinematography, very good actors, camera angles, and music to accomplish his atmosphere.

The composer Christopher Nolan uses in his movies is Hans Zimmer, and for the "Dark Knight," Hans Zimmer collaborates with my favorite composer, James Newton Howard. But more about him later.

I've noticed a trend in movies lately (in good movies), that they have departed some from the traditional musical scores for movies. And these two movies are a good example of what they use. Really its brilliant when you understand what they are trying to accomplish.

Here are two examples of what Hans Zimmer did with the movie "Inception."

Track 6: 528491
Track 7: Mombosa

Sadly, these links are from somebody uploading the tracks to youtube, so I can't vouch for the quality. If I had it my way you would have these tracks on a CD attached to a very nice sound system with the volume as high as you would have it while watching this movie. But pay attention to these tracks, especially the end of track 6. I can tell you, when I listened to that track while writing an intense part in one of my stories, I had to take a break because I was becoming overstimulated.

Now Hans Zimmer probably won't be remembered for this soundtrack, as it isn't the most beautiful soundtrack out there, but it definitely gets the job done. The job of the musical score of a movie is to not be noticed. Most movies don't quite accomplish that, but Inception does. The score does exactly what it is supposed to do, it puts you on the edge of your seat, it makes your heart pound, and frankly, it stresses you.

Those are two of the many songs I have on my playlist for listening to intense music while writing intense things. Now I have one very special playlist that is called "Soft Music." This is the playlist I write when I am writing tender scenes shared between two characters, or sometimes during scenes of heartbreak or loss. This is my prized possession; this playlist. It is full of some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard. Most of the music is penned by James Newton Howard. I love his scores because I feel like he knows how to use every section of instruments in an orchestra. Though, he often has a solo violinist with a pianist playing along the orchestra.

I will give you three samples from this playlist, one will be from the movie "I am Legend," another from "The Village," and the last from "King Kong."

I Am Legend: "My Name is Robert Neville" - This is a very cool opening for the movie. While I didn't particularly like this movie that much (I don't feel like it kept the integrity of the story it was trying to create with the ending they chose...that includes the alternate ending on the dvd...but that is a different blog post some other day). It starts off really depicting the atmosphere of the movie, and the trumpet plays out proudly by itself almost as a tribute to Robert Neville. I used to hate the end of the song, but now I often play it while writing for a certain character as it matches him well.

The Village: "The Gravel Road" - I love the soundtrack to this movie. Collectively as a whole it is my favorite movie soundtrack. It has the most amazing score, and the stand out soloist just makes the whole score shine out with a creepy beauty. This song in particular represents a triumphant moment in the character in the movie. This song is good all purpose music for when I'm writing (though I wish I had been the one that got to copy edit the script for this movie, because I think with a few small changes it would have been phenomenal...instead its basically crap).

King Kong: "Central Park" - Although the Village is my favorite soundtrack, this song, and the song entitled, "A Fateful Meeting," are fast becoming my two favorite tracks. What I love about these tracks, and the King Kong soundtrack as a whole, is that they have so much depth. They can accomplish a lot, and can help create many different types of atmospheres for my writing. Again, the emphasis on the strings and piano soloist makes it so that sometimes when writing I find myself leaning back in my chair with my eyes closed envisioning my characters instead of writing (a slightly negative side effect as I get so caught up in the moment I might lose the point I'm trying to get across on the page, but what can I say, its beautiful music).

I highly recommend listening to the rest of those soundtracks, and if you do a lot of reading, listen to that type of music, preferably on a shuffled playlist for best results. I do it all the time, and while your mind will be concentrated on the book your subconscious will do its job for you. You will find that at certain times, natural synchronization will kick in and what you are listening matches perfectly with what you are reading. Trust me, it makes the difference. And when it doesn't match up perfectly, no worries, more often than not with movie soundtracks (which are designed to be invisible), you won't notice.

Now I'd like to do a few little mini movie reviews. The last few days I have been in the mood for some good action thrillers. And I mean good ones, I've seen a lot of not so great ones. But luckily when it comes to these types of movies, you are either looking to have an intense thrill ride, or just a fun ride. Either way there are movies for either mood. The past few days I've been in the mood for some intense thrill rides. So the last three movies I've watched have been, "James Bond: Quantum of Solace," "Terminator: Salvation," and "Taken." All three very good movies in their own right. None of them were amazing movies that will be remembered for how well made they were. But all of them get the job done. I came in looking for an intense movie, that will get my pulse going, and will have a satisfying ending, preferably with lots of action in between.

Normally I'm not a huge guy for the intense action movies, especially ones that don't have a lot of deep character development. But these movies in their own right were well written. The James Bond movie I believe wasn't edited very well. For the sake of pacing they had me at certain points thinking, "what the heck is going on?" Now that could just be me missing something because I'm dense...but being that some of my favorite movies are movies that if you blink you'll miss something, I tend to think it was marginal editing. Other than that, it was lots of fun. Also, I'm loving this new James Bond, he's definitely more of a brute than previous Bond's, but I always thought Pierce Brosnan was a bit of a nancy. So for this guy to be intense, is the Bond I'm looking for. It was a good movie, and a keeper, I already own it which I don't buy a movie unless I plan to watch it again.

Next is Terminator: Salvation. Now...the Terminator movies aren't exactly known for good writing, and even good acting. So imagine my surprise when I got both in this installment of Terminator. I know it got a lot of bad reviews, but heck I went in with expectations of it being every bit as dense and campy as the other ones. If you set the bar low, you will always be overjoyed when you stumble over it. It did take some getting used to having Christian Bale do his "tough guy" voice the entire movie, which seemed a halfway between his "Batman" voice and his regular one (whats with this guy and cheesy voices?). But luckily he's a good enough actor to make up for it. But wow...I enjoyed it, what can I say?

Tonight, I watched "Taken." What a cool movie! It was fun to watch an action movie with an old guy who isn't some super human running up walls and round house kicking guns into people's faces. He just seemed like an old retired spy like he was who could kick some serious butt. I also like that he didn't have any cheesy morals that don't make any sense, and fail to deliver the message. He was a guy who was pissed off trying desperately to find his daughter from people he knew didn't care a bit about him, her, or any other guy's poor daughter that was kidnapped by these people. He did exactly what a person with his experience in law enforcement would do in that situation. Plus, it made for some cool sequences of him getting revenge. Man, Liam Neeson can be scary sometimes, HE does the "tough guy" voice very well, as its his regular voice (I can't remember what this was, but he did voice over work for a scottish sailor in a cartoon, and man, he was awesome).

All in all, listen to good music, watch good movies, and do yourself a favor and set standards of excellence for yourself in terms of media. Don't watch garbage because it has some actor in it, or because its crudely funny. Do yourself a favor and find the things that truly deserve your attention, the things that are excellent, and promote culture and improvement in the arts. We have a very crass society right now because Hollywood has very wisely discovered what our baser instincts want, so for some reason, even though its garbage, we like what they produce. Spend money on the things that speak to you, that help you to feel things that make you want to advance yourself, to be better. Spend your money on the things that are exciting, with well thought out characters designed to resonate with you, with elements that prove this was made because someone cared about the product, and not because they cared about the money.

Entertainment shouldn't be what it is now.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

About the Moon...

So today I spent a great deal of time exploring Google Earth. Not only was it a lot of fun, but I feel like in the three hours (I know thats a ridiculous amount of time, but it was cool) of time I spent exploring, I learned more than I did from my High School science classes. So as not to delve into a controversial topic of the efficiency of Public Schooling, I'll instead move towards the topic of the moon landing, (which incidentally is, is a controversial topic...go figure).

Well Google Earth has a feature that lets you explore the surface of the moon (and mars for that matter). I found this feature to be amazing, and really informative. I activated the feature that gives you photos, videos, and other information about different areas of the moon, and even watched a few videos from youtube of the moon landings. It was all really amazing, and was a learning experience.

What I don't understand, are the people that believe the moon landing was a hoax. Now there are a lot of conspiracies out there, some are real, and some are just a bunch of nuts making trouble. But the moon landing? I'm sorry but if there is anything we've learned about ourselves as human beings, its that we aren't good at keeping secrets, and that we are very proud of our secrets. I mean look at our government! That is my first evidence of the reality of the moon landing. Do you think that NASA would be able to keep that a secret for so long?  

Now granted, many of the arguments people make in trying to prove the moon landing false make very valid statements, and for some time (being about five minutes) I have to admit I was a little skeptical. But after five minutes of research online from people rebutting the arguments conspiracy theorists make, I was once again convinced of the reality of the moon landing. 

If you are one of those 20% of American's that don't believe in the moon landing, there is an awesome episode of Mythbusters in which they try and prove the reality of the moon landings. Now obviously they can't prove the reality with controlled experiments here on Earth, but short of going to the moon, they do everything they can to address some of the more famous theories. 

Another thing I'd like to talk about today, are stories. Stories are really important to me. I want to be an author, and I'm currently working on a novel, and I'm "world-building" another novel in my mind. I also love to read books, especially fantasy or sci-fi novels. 

One thing that has always interested me though, is that whenever I tell people I want to be a writer, they always seem disappointed when I tell them I want to be a fantasy novelist. It has even gotten to the point where sometimes I tell people I haven't decided what I want to write. Many writers even look down upon fantasy writers as if they are amateurs. And so, I would like to publicly defend the fantasy/adventure genre as a whole. 

I was once told by the author David Farland, that people read books, watch TV or movies, or engage in other forms of stories, so that they can experience emotions that they don't feel in their daily lives. Personally I find that to be true. I live a pretty boring life, and I guess I never grew out of the phase as a little kid where I want to be a hero. I've also found in my life that I'm not a very courageous person in many ways. So to read stories about a farm boy, who finds himself caught up in a world of mystery and intrigue, falls in love with a princess and then rises above his circumstances to save her from the clutches of the evil villain who may in fact be the Dad he thought died when he was little, is interesting to me.

I personally feel that fantasy books are the stories that people can relate to most. Some people don't like the stories because they are "unrealistic." Yes, the stories are unrealistic, but the characters are totally realistic. I feel that fantasy stories capture the true nature of our souls better than any other story. Name any romantic comedy, and I can name any fantasy that is more realistic (in terms of the realism of a character, not events...well, considering some of the romantic comedies I've seen, maybe even events).

And it is because I can relate to people in fantasy novels easier than I can in other genres. It is easier to map out the true desires of the human character in an unrealistic setting than it is in a real one (and still be interesting). The characters in the novel may be struggling with completely different things than I am in my life, like trying to figure out how to slay the dragon, while I'm trying to apply to a college that I am not good enough for. But some of the feelings we both will have will be similar. And to read him get through the preparation process, and go out to slay the dragon and live happily ever after is something that I need to read when I'm struggling with trying to convince this college why I deserve to be there. It is good to read about people overcoming obstacles and succeeding, it inspires me to try and do the same.

And so I believe that Fantasy novels, more than others, can help inspire people to be more than what they are. We read about these people in extraordinary circumstances doing extraordinary things, but in reality, many of the emotions they are feeling are similar to ours, and help us to overcome our own struggles, to rise above our circumstances, and be a little better. If you want to hear an amazing story about a man in the military who saved 12 lives in the middle-east, because he was inspired by a fictional character in a fantasy world to be a hero, go to this website, and hear his amazing story. The story is told by Tracy Hickman, the novelist who created the character that inspired this soldier to rise up above his circumstances and be a hero (on the site, scroll down towards the bottom, and you should see a little MP3 player bar with the caption, "Tracy Hickman Story." I was at the seminar and heard this live, and was blown away by the story of the soldier's heroism. It really gave me the desire to get to work, and write something that will change people's lives).

Okay, so that is your homework for the day, watch that mythbuster's episode about the moon landing, and read the series Mistborn. It changed my life. For those who have netflix, you can watch the episode instantly, it is in Mythbusters Collection 4: Episode 9. It is well worth checking out. Mistborn should be at your local library, but if you're feeling generous and would love to support an author (please do!), you can definitely get it on amazon or at most barnes and nobles. Also, if you look at Google Earth and look at the surface of Mars, be sure to check out the Mars Pathfinder site, which happens to be a mission my uncle worked on at NASA. Also, the Tracy Hickman story about that soldier is about 9 minutes long. He talks really slow so you might be tempted to skip out early and not hear the whole thing, but don't, its awesome.

Next time I think I'm going to talk about movie scores, some of my favorite songs from different movies, and....I don't know I'll think of something.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Things you should know about me...

I'm a writer. I love writing, I may not be good at it, as my high school English teachers were so quick to point out, but that's a moot point, because if you love something, even if you aren't good at it, you should do it! Take that English teacher's, how'd you like that for a heinously long run-on sentence?

One of the side effects of my writing, is that it often comes across as sarcastic, and a little negative. You see, the problem is that my writing is a reflection of my view point. I tend to think that I'm a pretty optimistic person, and that is manifest in my daily interactions with people. But for some reason, when I get behind the guise of a writer, the voice I choose is one of sarcasm and irony. Go figure.

My first order of business, is to post a few thoughts about a couple movies I've watched recently and a book I'm reading right now.

Last Saturday night, through the wonderful medium of Netflix, I began watching the movie "Bounty Hunter." I got about 15 minutes into it and decided to watch "Waterboy" instead. Now for people who liked "Bounty Hunter," or were planning to watch it, I'd say that's a pretty bad omen for the full experience I had with "Bounty Hunter" (and yes I did finish it eventually). But seriously, I chose to watch "Waterboy" over "Bounty Hunter." Now admittedly most Adam Sandler movies are a guilty pleasure for me, though some I can't stand. I'm ashamed to admit that, as I pride myself in watching what I call "good" movies, and I would be chagrined to include anything from the Happy Madison movie database in the genre of "good" movies (so sue me).

So Tuesday night I decided to get around finishing "Bounty Hunter." I was decidedly let down by this movie as it should have been good. It had Gerard Butler, who's a way cool actor but repeatedly chooses stupid movies to be in, and it was supposedly produced by the guy's who did "Hitch" which was an awesome movie. That's a pretty promising equation for awesomeness right?

Sigh...wrong! It should have been good! I get so tired of watching movies that should have been good. I would rather watch a bad movie, than go through the painful process of watching something that was almost intelligent, but reach into the depths of mediocrity and ruin the movie! My beef with this movie is that I felt like it was trying to do too much with too little. Nothing was developed to the extent that it needed to be, and it was because the development process they had for the characters was for them to experience the same things over and over in different situations. Bad writing my friends. Even the running jokes they tried to establish were done sloppily and, frankly in a really stupid manner.

Alright, now that ranting is over, I'll move onto the book I've been reading lately. It is called, "The Way of Kings: Book 1 of the Stormlight Archive." Now I'm mad at this book. Not for the same reason I was mad at "Bounty Hunter." I'm mad because this book is good. Really good actually. I get upset when I have to go in for work in the morning and interrupt my morning reading. But that doesn't change the fact that I'm mad at this book.

You see, I swore a long time ago that I was never going to read a fantasy book series that was more that 5 books long. This all started after reading the Wheel of Time series all the way through for the third time. Don't get me wrong, I loved the Wheel of Time series, especially the first three books. So nobody get on me for hating those books, because I enjoy them, and I'm extremely excited that my favorite author (Brandon Sanderson) is finishing the series (who incidentally is the same person who's writing the "Way of Kings" book series).

But I was burned out after reading those thousands and thousands of pages, trying for the life of me to remember who Galad is, and why there are so many characters, that I swore I would never read a series that large again. Brandon Sanderson has made me break that promise with this book. "The Way of Kings" is book 1 of 10 in this series. Ten books! This book is over 1000 pages long (I'm somewhere in the 800's and I'm just starting to see the end). If the trend continues that means this series will be at least 10,000 pages long. At a page a minute, that would mean I would be giving this series at least 7 days of my life (I think, math isn't one of my talents). That is a lot of time! (remember that is 7 full days of my life, it would take me months to finish the entire series from start to finish, but all the hours put together reading would equal 7 days).

Luckily...the book is really good. And so far there are only something like 15 characters. I can deal with that. None of this introducing 15 new characters every book like Wheel of Time did (not that there's anything wrong with that). What I like about Brandon's books is that there is extensive world building. The setting that you enter with his (very believable) characters is beautiful and has a depth that denotes the amount of time he must have spent creating this world. It runs a little slower than most fantasy adventure books out there today, but I prefer this level of pacing in my books. Though some will find it frustratingly slow at times, if you don't like reading books because they are too slow, Brandon Sanderson is not the author for you.

Sadly this blog entry is getting fairly long, too long for those with short attention spans, so I'll skip my thoughts about the movie "A-Team" right now. Instead I'll say a quick thing about the Folk Band "The Avett Brothers." Really talented group, and while my siblings will probably disagree, don't listen to them really loud on your speakers. They sound terrible with the volume up high. I never thought I'd discover a band that sounds better at normal audio levels, but there you go.

So that marks the end of my first ever blog entry. I certainly enjoyed it, which frankly was the point and purpose of this blog. So I must congratulate myself on this achievement. Thanks all!