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“We’re all liars.”
That’s what Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad) said in a great interview a few years ago at the Writer’s Guild Foundation. Of course was talking to a room full of professional writers – so I guess that makes them all ‘professional’ liars.
And, that’s pretty much what we are, we storytellers, we are all professional liars. Yet, through our lies, fabrications, exaggerations and creations we attempt to bring ourselves, and our audience, closer to a truth – to any truth. And in every character, in every moment if we remain open to discovering the truth we pursue, we might also discover an unsuspected hidden truth.
In this pursuit it is important to remember a well-known fact: the core of our story is not in the events, actions or decisions of our characters. No. The core of out story exists inside the characters – the feelings, emotions, reactions, dreams, dreads, desires and fears. That’s the truth that we pursue. And those are the truths that can emerge unexpected only if we are open, vulnerable and willing to relinquish control.
One of the great joys of storytelling (beyond getting to tell a lot of lies) is that we get to manipulate reality. We manipulate reality in order to expose a deeper reality – perhaps a previously unknown truth. And one of the most powerful and effective manipulations is when we play with time.
I am aware that we are always playing with time. We compress hours, weeks, months, years, even decades into mere moments of screen time, or a chapter, a paragraph. And this compression requires us to skip over, ignore and even deny key moments in the story. This is unfortunate, often necessary and frequently detrimental.
Another quote from the insightful Vince Gilligan:
“One of the shames of modern storytelling
is that we want everything to go so fast.”
In our impatient, fast-food environment we’ve become accustomed to quick cuts, time jumps, 140-character tweets, texting with letters and numbers instead of full words, Facebook “likes” and “unlikes”. What’s our rush? Where are we going? And, more important, what are we missing? What we’re avoiding is attention to detail. You know – where the devil lives.
Let’s consider taking a page out of Vince Gilligan’s book. Without reducing the dramatic tension of our story let’s consider moving slowly, reducing the speed, taking in more of the ‘real estate’. Let’s slow down the MPH, maybe even stop and get out and talk a walk.
If you want a great example of what Mr. Gilligan is talking about, take a look at one particular episode of Breaking Bad, “Fly”, the tenth episode of the third season. The entire episode focuses on Walt’s obsession with eliminating contamination in the lab as he pursues one pesky fly. It’s brilliant.
When a rock skims over the surface of a placid lake it pings and pops and leaves ripples on the surface, eventually plunging below the surface never to be seen again. But what was under each of those ‘pings’ and ‘pops’? How are those ripples altering the composition of the lake, not only on the surface but down in the darkest depths? What would happen if we stopped at an occasional ‘ping’ or ‘pop’ and dove down and explored the dark waters? The lake will always be there. And there will always be more stones. But if you don’t drop into the dark water aren’t you leading us to believe that this is just another placid lake?
Stop and small the roses. Good advice. This homily reminds me to observe and become more aware of the beauty in life. But there are more than roses to be smelled and observed. Stop and smell whatever is there. Hmm, somehow it has lost that Hallmark sweetness. But isn’t this our job as storytellers – to stop and smell whatever is there?
Play with time. We expect that time will be compressed in every story we hear, no matter the medium or genre. In a two-hour film we anticiapate a story spanning weeks, months, years, decades even. In every story there are moments that have been skipped, ‘pings’ and ‘pops’ that have left ripples but have remained unexplored.
Richard Linklater, in his courageous and inventive trilogy Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013) explores the developing relationship between two lovers one day at a time, and often in real time. (The two stars, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are also credited as co-writers.) Before Sunset is 80 minutes that covers the 80 minutes between the moment they are re-united (after a 9-year absence) and the moment he has to leave for the airport. When I first saw this film at Berlinale (The Berlin Film Festival) I started holding my breath the moment I realized that this movie was not going to move any faster than time itself. Talk about dramatic tension! Even paying for coffee and a croissant at a café or walking silently up several flights of stairs held my attention. But most important for me was my appreciatetion that the filmmakers were determined to explore every moment minute-by-minute. It’s extraordinary; give it a look.
By the way, Before Sunset is closer to reality than any ‘reality TV’ program I’ve ever seen.
Let’s slow ourselves down. Let’s smell the roses. And let’s take the time to smell the rhubarb, the rubbish and the rot. Let’s take the time to inhale all the odors of life and living. Hold your breath (if you need to) as you plunge into those darkened waters, fearlessly exploring the inner truth of your characters, your story, and yourself.
P.S. Here’s the link to the Vince Gilligan interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hx8ETtHxO9o
A great friend of mine is in the hospital, very ill. Doctors say there is no hope of survival. But he doesn’t know this. Or at least I think he doesn’t .. or perhaps I hope he doesn’t. He has the tenacity of a pit bull.
“Come in Mark. Sit down. Bad timing. I’m in great pain. But sit down. Talk to me.” I’m shocked by what little remains of him. A skeleton draped in loose flesh. I try to initiate a conversation but he takes control. “They keep saying I’m getting worse but then I keep getting better. I think I’m confusing them. F–kers. I’m going home in two weeks. Remember when you took a picture of me with Syd and Michael? I need a copy of it … stat!”
That was almost two years ago. I barely remember taking the picture and pray that I can find it. I’m impressed with his memory, his clear thinking, his determination. But then later I wonder if he only sees me as the guy who took that picture. “You better go now. The pain is gonna take over. It ain’t pretty. See you tomorrow. And don’t forget the picture.”
I leave in admiration and humility. Praying I can find the picture. Sorry I hadn’t been a closer friend all these years. Trying to make up for it now in these last days … if they are the last days. If there is any way to make up for lost time.
I find the picture.
What is it about Bluegrass? Last night, found myself driving home and was suddenly compelled to go by Viva Cantina to hear my favorite Bluegrass band perform, Murphy’s Flaw. Spent the next two hours only inches away from a six-member band that is awesome and humble. Six amazing musicians creating a sound that cuts to the depths of my soul. Bluegrass. And especially the banjo … and the simple ease of John Bryan’s playing .. Oliver Hardy in bowler cap, slick vest and the 5-string banjo. I was in heaven.
For years I’ve wondered why the banjo has become my favorite instrument, my favorite sound. I’ve been stopped dead in my tracks in the middle of a department store or supermarket just because there is a banjo playing somewhere on the Musak.
And now I have my own banjo. A Deering Golden Era. It’s a classic. Top of the line. Only problem is … I think I need to take it out of the case and actually play it … I mean like in practicing. I’m one of those awful, impatient students. I think I should be able to learn something in about ten minutes. Things like foreign languages, computer programs … and the banjo.
Here it is. waiting for me. Wondering why I’m spending time listening to other banjos when I have this classic right in my own home. Just like I’m still wondering why the sound of a bluegrass banjo makes me feel like I am at home .. no matter where I am in the world.
What is it about beds? They’re all pretty much the same (except for the water bed I had in Stuttgart!). When I arrived home the other night and after not enough sleep the night before and then eleven more sleepless or restless hours on the plane (watching way too many movies) I finally crashed on my own bed. What an amazing feeling.
My bed’s no better than any other bed, except … it’s my bed! For some unknown reason my body recognizes it, embraces it, relaxes into it. We are, indeed, old friends.
This picture is not my bed. It’s the bed I wish I had. Nice old mission-style antique bed. But now I’m wondering. Am I willing to put my old friend out to pasture .. to break up the relationship. Gotta give this new bed idea some more thought.
About two years ago I realized that I had taken on a whole new attitude about life. The new attitude: That “everything is perfect, no matter what happens.” That’s right, life is perfect. And every ‘imperfection’ every flaw, every unexpected change, disappointment or surprise is only an adjustment … an adjustment that keeps life perfect.
It took me about four months to plan and put together this Round The World tour. And by the time it was all in place (10 countries, 12 cities, 111 days and 41 days of teaching) it all looked perfect. In fact, it was perfect.
But then of course the adjustments began to happen. Paris instead of Kiev. An unplanned day in Stuttgart, And then a big adjustment, the Southeast Asia portion of the tour (6 weeks in 5 countries) was suddenly moved from July/August to October/November, leaving a big hole in the middle of the tour. At first this didn’t feel perfect at all. Change plans, change flights, cancel reservations, fill the gap. Abandoned in Munich with no place to go.
Today is the day I was supposed to fly to Kuala Lumpur to begin that Southeast Asian part of the tour. And what am I doing? I’m moving across town (Munich) to another apartment and I’ll spend the next ten days relaxing, visiting with friends (old and new), seeing a new film (or two ) every day at the magnificent Munich Film Festival, going to Festival parties. And then in ten days I’ll be home in LA with a chance to sleep in my own bed, reconnect with friends in LA, take walks with Tanner, regroup and prepare for the American part of the tour. And in October and November I’ll be traveling through Southeast Asia. Perfect.
June 25, 2013
My Mom would have been 101 today. There are some days that the pain of missing my parents is profound … today is such a day. What I miss most about them is having the opportunity to share my life with them. So much has happened in the past ten years since my Mom passed (and the past 17 years since my Dad passed) and I don’t get to share any of it with them. And, the older I get, and the wiser (I think) I get, the more I am aware of how profoundly they have influenced my life and how much of what I do is an effort to thank them. So, Mom, Happy Birthday. This day is for you!