Tagged: daniel alegi

Why good stories make you want to have a better life.

Recently I liked this far away three-pointer by Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed.  They always struck me as adventurous storytelling characters, Super-people from the quiet wild side.

Their quote was about finding ways to get through life.

One: “Don’t be afraid of anyone. Now, can you imagine living your life afraid of no one?”

Two: “Get a really good bullshit detector.”

Three: “Three is be really, really tender.”

“And with those three things” – Laurie said – “you don’t need anything else.”

In the full wide range that stretches from street hobos to rich presidents and from Ivy-league dropouts to post-celebrity rehabs, there is a common thread:  life is ripe with conflict.

Sure, conflict is what made humans sharper, problem solvers until the last beat. Storytellers know that ultimately conflict alone can float identity through a sea of half-truths, up, up to the surface where the sun plays catch with flying fish. However important our culture of conflict may be, the search for less human pain, suffering, and crisis may also be a story to pursue. A peaceful target to shoot for.

In dramatic movies, the ending may be, in terms of plot, happy or unhappy. In either case, if the story works, the viewer is rewarded with insights into the depths of human life.

The ancient Greeks attended Tragedies more than school, feasting on pop-corn-less morality with cathartic heroes like Oedipus (an unknowing motherfucker) or universal strategists like Ulysses, king of the surprise climax.

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Endings in these stories didn’t seem to matter much. The deus ex machina finale at times gave Gods the task of resolving plot indecision or confusion. This over-the-top device released authors from spending too much stage-time on predictable closing show and tell details. (They lived happily ever after! was another shortcut).  The middle of the story is where it all happened. Development, substance, focus, now.

So, what can we learn about “making our life better” by watching a film story?  It is true that caped Super-heroes are our cultural diet now, just as Commedia dell’Arte theatre masks were dominant wanderers from town to town for four centuries.

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Masks are types. Types embody in broad strokes the infinite relationships among standard folk: the rich man, the poor woman, the young lovers, the old doctor, the cop, the thief, the servant.

It’s all about relationships, stupid.

A film I would watch again is one that leads to my relationship with the story. Titanic was a lesson in teen-age blockbuster making, who would have thought it? Multiple viewings create a relationship, characters become familiar: it’s the key to the new TV series mania.

Note for debate: Characters are not people, but they’re close enough to pretend. Characters stand in a story because the plot says so, and the writer cast them for a role.  No script? No character. They look like people, however. Or should.

This is not the case in real life where life may be scripted but in all likelihood is not very good. Determinists saw destiny play a bigger part than individuals. In the west we famously trust individual agency and will to drive success and failure.

You want to be the big boss man? Slay the dragons. Dominate your universe and plunge forward. Action films seem equivalent to playing Mozart with only Major chords. (Male chords, duh)

I have a preference for the Minor Key in film. Movies that don’t try and impress only with underlined cinematic cartwheeling. I have the same bias meeting people at parties.

If a film reveals a personal insight, I am Up.  If there is a label that explains everything or indicates next to each action, I am turned off. I follow film-makers that make movies that matter, even a little.

As a producer of youth-cinema, I see film conflict not as a medieval head-to-head battle to release adrenaline, but a personal texture, an inside chess game of question marks: where to go? what to do? How? Who with? Well told conflict can be hesitation pure and simple. Or an identity short-circuit. Or lack of clarity, loss of vision. How to take direct action choices, then? Voting can be Hamletic too, in hard times.

Even without a simple top-down final duel on a skyscraper, a film can lead to a character’s foggy melting point, the quiet intersection of dramatic need, desire and urgency in search of identity.

Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed are not film characters.

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Their lingo is story with sound. They quest to stay away from trouble, they are grounded in their shape-shifting personae. Who they want to be? Simple:  happier spending time together.  Popcorn flicks too could explore that engagement vibe.

In the script of life rewritten, I would try reducing, not adding, conflict to stories.  Better conflict, of course, the one worth fighting for without fists and watching with senses aloft. As James Joyce said, the cinema is a “screen of consciousness”.

Luckily I am not afraid of fear, I can smell bullshit from outside the playground, and I still want to hear my kids tell me I was kind. That’s a step towards a better now, even for a callous storyteller like me.

There is already enough conflict to go around in the world.

Danny Alegi is a filmmaker, story development coach and speaker.  Read more of Danny’s blogs at ‘Movies Without Cameras‘.

Release the Captured Image

danny photo

published in the collective book: MAGIC MOMENTS
by Broby Grafiska – Film I Värmland, 2014
ISBN 978-91-981533-0-9

I struggled as a kid with the systematic murder of butterflies in the name of the study and preservation of their magical, ephemeral beauty. Maybe an idea is like a butterfly that we find alive in flight, perfect as is. We humans are curious creatures, we live for ideas, we want to feed on rapture and wonder. We are driven to observe, hold, capture, even devour an idea. It’s a process we do unconsciously, like breathing, I suspect.But then, as in any story, once we feel an idea… “what happens next?”

For me an idea is like lighting a match in the dark, IT makes all the difference. IT reveals a little more. IT creates shadows and in betweens. Before I “get IT” or explain IT or identify IT, I can recognise one feeling: an idea can transform the unfamiliar into a cell of awareness without having a name or a purpose yet. Just a bolt of energy that reshuffles what we knew before, like a new kid on the block has the power to change an entire neighborhood.
For the most part, my ideas remain private, unexplained. Instinct is wordless, right? Why explain ideas to yourself? Sequences of verbal translation are a social tool of communication. My guess is when you feel an idea, you do what a plant does thru photosynthesis, changing light into nutriment. Perhaps our ideas are inputs, breaths to exhale later in new form. In between the in and out, is the mysterious, fascinating creative adventure of “process”, the middle of things, the Now. The East sits on the path of “what’s happening now” in a contemplative, deeper sense. The West keeps trucking’ on the highway of what happens next: desire, competition and material accomplishment. Action is inevitably a story structure: beginning, end, middle. The middle comes last because, a middle is a middle only if it is followed by an end.

Personally, I am interested in one specific kind of idea: the cinematic idea. A cinematic idea moves and changes thru time. It possesses- from its beginning – the energy and DNA of a film, and nothing else. A cinematic idea carries visual power and storytelling potential, emotional dynamics. A cinematic idea wants to be a film, not a statue, a painting, or a building. Trying to freeze and label a cinematic idea to me is like sticking a pin into that butterfly, to be able to place it – dead forever – under a magnifying glass. But I am no scientist or biologist, I am interested in stories ion motion, movies, personal films across genres and media. The movies I am most interested in are not the ones playing on Netflix, but those that have not been made yet. I started working with youth cinema for this reason: young and amateur creatives can fly if you just let them without dissecting them with how-tos and to-dos. One thing is fly, and another is to label, report and study.
James Joyce once said that his final opus “Finnegan’s Wake” – whose verbal flux and storytelling deconstruction were so unprecedented as to frustrate and fascinate readers for ever – said his inspiration for the weaving structure of the book came – in part – from the new art of cinema. [Read the “Introduction to Metaphysics” by Henri Bergson, there is a cinematic idea]

Ideas, in fluid narrative process, can become “stream of consciousness”, the art of flow. Many writers wait for flow to flood their pages with unstoppable, final sentences. Good ideas seem to shine with a promise: there will be “less pain” when a script “writes itself”. Bbut in story development good ideas are necessary but not sufficient. A writer can’t just admire a new magic moment of insight, s/he must dance with IT.

A magic moment “pops up” and we look at it, then we think we must save it, hold on to it, never let it go. How do we do that? Some scribble or tap notes. Some “take pictures” to stake a placeholder claim on the world. We all seem to want to trap, even arrest our ides as images and words, and then imprison them in our pocket digital devices. We seem to give so much value to our “captured images” and their potential value as idea reminders. But I know there is a way to do the reverse, to release the source of an idea back into the wild, to set IT free. I call it the Cinemahead process.

Carrying captured images and sounds can fill the hard-drive space in our camera and brain. This cuts down our play-space and playing with ideas (the process, the now) is the most juicy part of the game. So I try and leave a new idea exactly where I found it. Instead of capturing a shot of a tree as a memory, I play with it, then I put it back: I leave it there. Next time you do, look at how “your” idea returns where you found it. rock-n-roll! The next time, your the idea will be waiting for you there, exactly where you left it. Nobody will steal your ideas in the open. Trusting an idea into the common space can be not sonly exhilaratingly free, but even contagious. Imagine others as they may run into your ideas and you into theirs. Imagine a creative commons of shared ideas right around us, everywhere. So much common ground, so much potential for cross-pollination and mutual inspiration. Personally that in itself feels like an idea, so – like an unknown butterfly – I will leave it here and let it go. See what happens to it, now and next. The best part of a magic moment is breathe it in, and let it be.

[daniel alegi]

STARTUP your STORY – new seminar series

StartupurstoryIn the past, Cinemahead has created doc and animation films for the the city of Karlstad.

StartUp your Story is our new seminar + workshop series on cinematic story design, story different for writers and non.

We open Friday Feb 21st in Karlstad, Sweden at the modern Karlstad CCC Conference center.
The series will continue in different locations for 2014 with further events and dates TBA.

Each event is divided in two sets/halfs. The first half is a seminar which will be entirely free for students with ID. The second half will be a hands-on workshop on scripts, story lines, idea development and scene doctoring.

START UP YOUR STORY opens at 9:00 AM and ends at 16:00, with a 1 hour lunch break @12:00.

Please note that online registration is required for admission. You can sign up for the seminar in this link. No one can enter after 10:00. Contact us if you are a student to joon for free.

The seminar is based on our freeebook “Start-Up Your Story” that you can download here.

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questions?
Contact@cinemahead.com

Twinkies -land was in Milwaukee

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This still by Dick Blau [Milwaukee, WI 1995 ] is a peak into the stop-motion animation process of “The Twinkie Movie”, a film by Chris Smith (in the foreground, to the right, by the 16mm Bolex). I [Daniel Aleg] am the head on the top left, moving the conveyor belt in the back, through a wall of Twinkie boxes. Chris’s awesome idea was this: Twinkies have souls, and they try escaping from the distribution chain in a quest to return to Twinkie-Land, far away in the desert. The story had won a funding competition from Hostess and became the official celebration of the 60th product anniversary. The shoot took place in the glorious Kenilworth building in Milwaukee. It was my first week in town.

Watch the Twinkie Movie here

The final product shows why Chris Smith later emerged as a unique cult-filmmaker: he is a cinematic wonder, a Mozart of film. His working is like thinking directly in film form, ideas in action without language or symbolic translation. He often skips the script phase all together to shoot simple stories, using simple story structures but extraordinary characters. One example of his risky but inimitable low-budget approach is his first live action feature “American Job” –http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112345/ – Shot during one summer mostly as a solo-crew, the story was a simple masterpiece: a midwestern kid needs a job, but he can’t keep a job for the life of it. So he tries a sequence of low-level repetitive, demeaning, mind-numbing jobs (the ones that require “teamwork”).

I was happy to find “American Job” on several “best ever” lists. But the most famous cult-film Chris made, he made with Sarah Price – also from our UWM Film class: “American Movie” – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0181288/?ref_=sr_1 with Mark Borchardt and assorted other Midwest phenoms. American Movie won Sundance (as a doc) and was picked by Sony Classics for theatrical and DVD release. It has become the narrative of record in the meta-cinema doc genre (films about people making films). Mark Borchardt – who went on to more “Late night with David Letterman” fame, had – during the shooting of “American Movie” a brief part in my own meta-cinema film “Czar Of Make Believe”, in which he played himself, a cinematographer on a low budget set, and on which Chris graciously helped with some lighting.

So this picture from my mentor Dick Blau means a lot to me.  Dick and  the filmmakers on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) faculty made our Film Department the best “worst-kept” secret among small film schools in the country. And the motto “we keep the school out of your filmmaking” is unforgettable. It was life-changing to be part off our graduate-school class at UWM.  The name Milwaukee-Wood was coined by an indie magazine after “American Movie” won best doc at the Sundance Festival. You look up what year…

[Inspiration] Co-exist!

I like this French Poste ad, where reality and dream melt into one space. It’s not only about the basic difference between the material and the abstract, but also about how in the cinematic experience opposite dimensions and feelings  can – convincingly and inseparably – coexist.