Archive for August, 2010

Back to the Future: My Shot at the Movie Brass Ring

August 20, 2010

I remember chase liking this version of our jersey best "because the dove looks angry."

My Fridays here doing SHYB isn’t my first time taking a bit of time away from the day job to take on a project with an interest in non-violence.  Every since I started playing for the peace community’s DC softball team—The Mighty Doves—way back in ’93, I started to envision a super hero who would be a “warrior for peace.”

For the better part of a decade, I had worked to craft the basic idea in my mind.  The dilemma that I had at first struggled with was “how do you make a super-hero tale which is about non-violence, and actually make it interesting?”  I’m like everyone else in loving the super-hero tales where we get to see the hero’s powers put to the test by some nasty villain.  Indeed, despite my non-violent proclivities, I agreed with the critique of the Superman Returns movie that the Man of Steel’s major activity in that film was lifting progressively heavier objects—yawn.

But then, I thought that the question might actually be the answer, or at least a fun premise that turns the super-hero convention on its ear.  Here, I give what they call in the business the “one-pager” for MightyDove (please forgive the self-serving verbiage—it’s a pitch piece).

The Adventures of MightyDove
Sometimes Being a Hero Isn’t as Super as it Seems

New Runsville: a gritty, backwater, one-horse town – except that horse is a chicken.  The Chik-A-Dee Bird Processing Company looms over all, providing everything from the food Runsfolk eat to the “Treez” their children play in, to the very “Wutter” they drink.

Not exactly the first place you’d look for the world’s greatest superhero.

Instead, it is here that we find an Average Joe so mired in mediocrity that his name is actually…AVERAGE JOE.  As AJ’s coworkers tease him for his superhero daydreams, he notices a rare white DOVE on the bird processor line.  Remembering his Elvis-obsessed boss values the “lovely and tender” dove above all other birds, AJ barely manages to save the damaged dove from certain doom.

AJ soon finds that he has not saved any ordinary fowl.  He has rescued YONAH, the magical dove of peace of Noah’s Ark fame.  Yonah repays his debt by transforming AJ into MIGHTYDOVE, a winged-wonder with powers beyond imagination, and even gives our hero a meek but brainy little dove of a sidekick named NEBBISH. 

Nebbish has some important advice to deliver, but MightyDove immediately flies off looking for a crisis – and he finds one.   The diminutive villain INFERIORITY COMPLEX has taken MAYOR MAJOR MOROHN hostage.  Not even New Runsville’s finest heroes – NAVEL FORCE, the super-hot hero who can fire lint to lasers from her mighty midriff; NIN-JAH the Rastafarian assassin sporting dreadlocks with a life of their own; and the zaftig mistress of mackerel, HELEN OF TROUT – can stop the mayhem, or the incessant whining, the Inferiority Complex has wrought.

As MightyDove is poised to land his first fist of fury on Inferiority Complex, Nebbish intrudes with a shocking revelation. If MightyDove uses his powers violently, regardless of reason, his abilities will be taken from him forever.  As Inferiority Complex attacks, our hero faces a seemingly insoluble dilemma:

How can a hero be super if he can’t fight the forces of evil?!?

As MightyDove and Nebbish search for the answer, they travel down a hilarious road of action, adventure, and misadventure that ultimately uncovers the secret of New Runsville.  A secret so dangerous that it challenges the very nature of heroes in their world…and ours. 

A wildly creative send-up of superheroes, one of today’s hottest film genres, The Adventures of MightyDove is an original animated film fantasy with unique characters that will entertain “children of all ages” be they superhero fanatics or just fans of great comedy – all while telling a story that has real meaning for our modern times.

A first rendering of MightyDove

Back in ‘06, my boss Michelle Robinson was kind enough to give me a little time to do what my good friend and fantastic screenwriter Thom Harp has been doing expertly for years—turn an idea into a full screenplay.  From what I understand, some writers just have the words fly from their fingers, and others seem to wrestle with each sentence.  For the most part, I was the latter.  The process made me respect the struggled, and imperfections of bringing an idea fully to life.  In short, it’s easy to say what others did wrong, but actually being able to correct it in a way that works is a lot harder than you might think—at least it was for me.  But you know what?  I actually did it, and 115 pages later, a full story was born.

Then I found out DC had a "Dove" character. Very different character, but I changed MightyDove's look in the script for obvious reasons

The other lesson I learned in writing a screenplay is that writing the thing is one job.  Trying to get anyone in the industry to read the thing is a completely different, and much harder job.  My friend Rob Kutner, a great writer who has done the Daily Show and Conan O’Brien, gave MightyDove a read and gave it an overall positive review, which was heartening.  He then quickly cautioned me that getting a screenplay bought by a studio was winning what he called the “Hollywood Lottery.”

But, you never know when you might stumble on that winning ticket.  A neighbor of mine recently told me he had a friend “in the business” and my ole’ script came up, saying he’d pass it along to his pal if I wanted.  So I’m dusting the ole’ thing off and, taking some of the comments that Rob and Thom had for me, will try to give it a bit of polish and see what happens (including giving the script a little more “white space” – I seem to be a bit verbose, can you believe it?!?).

Okay, off to try and continue putting my money where my mouth is.  I’ll return to MightyDove on this blog an another time to give you a few tidbits about how you can make a super-hero who can’t use his powers into something action-packed.  But can’t reveal too many spoilers—this might be a major motion-picture someday!

Magic vs. Technology in Teaching Alternatives to Violence

August 6, 2010

As those of you who have been patiently wading through my posts have seen, many of my themes trend toward either science fiction or fantasy as a passageway toward the child’s imagination.  That is not to say that there isn’t any room for reality in the affair.  From Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing from back in my day to one of Gus’ faves, Diary of A Wimpy Kid, tales of growing up have a crucial role to play in engaging kids and teaching them important lessons about choices in life.

But to me, engaging in a child’s imaginary world, where the rules of the road are completely unwritten, is the most attractive and interesting one to travel.  This is a place where the Id runs free, and, often, where a child least expects to be confronted with moral/ethical choices.  I therefore think it’s the place where it can impact many of them the most.  Reality is often the “have to” of life, but whether it be Star Wars, or Harry Potter, the fantastic is where the mind goes to play.

Now, as you’ll remember, I noted that I believed the greatest single scene teaching non-violent conflict resolution skills came in none other than Return of the Jedi—and it didn’t even have an Ewok in sight.  Star Trek at its best predicated itself on reinterpreting the whole concept of “enemy” into something more complex.  But, as much as I love Sci-Fi as a genre, and actually prefer it over fantasy, when it comes to stories that bring in a non-violent element, magic has something that technology doesn’t.

Them L'il Pirates Save the Sea Animals from the Evil Sea Witch--Yarrrrr!

As example, let me turn back to the old birthday party scene.  For Gus’ 6th Birthday, we did a pirate theme, and our villain was my mother dressed in a hilarious costume inclusive of a coconut bra over her dress.  The Evil Sea Witch was born, leaving taunting notes, mind-bending challenges, and a final confrontation that had the kids screaming, giggling, and being pelted by magic grits.  We repeated a somewhat similar theme for Gus’ Harry Potter party, where Dr. Mom became the evil Dragon Lady, complete with dragon hands that sprayed silly string.

In both cases, the villain was defeated, but in both cases not left for dead.  As it turns out, both the Sea Witch and Dragon lady had been under an evil spell, and were both actually nice people who were doing bad things not of their own volition.  The kids got their action.  The kids got their mean, evil, nasty bad guy (or in this case, gal) to fight against.  But thought the power of magic, at the end, everyone, including the evil nasty they were actually fighting, live happily ever after.

I think the power of enchantment is actually a heavily underused element in fiction, and really has the power to allow a traditional story to be told, but to find empathy for the “enemy” and even to have part of the story be about how to defeat that enemy without violence. 

The eyes have it...

An example of this comes in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  Near the climax, Harry is in a competition where the final challenge is to make it through an enchanted hedge maze.  One of the competitors, the brawny but none-too-bright Viktor Krum, begins to stalk his other competitors rather than going for the ultimate prize.  When finally caught, hero and all-around nice guy Cedric Diggory looks to finish the fiend off, but is stopped by Harry who realizes that he is under the power of the so-called Imperius Curse.

While to a certain extent you can do this with science fiction (see mid control bugs in ears in Star Trek II), magic offers you far more of an easy and child-friendly way to do an “enemy-to-friend” story.  But I think examples like Krum are the exception rather than the rule in magical fiction.  And starting a character as a friend, then enchanted into enemy really sets up incredible dramatic tension that can add to a story and get kids involved.  In provides additional rationale for why a hero would be reluctant to simply kill the enemy.  But it also works well in the more simple, “starts bad-ends good” way, as my party examples demostrate.

Stinky Pete got his, but did he need to?

Frankly, while magic may be the easiest route, I think the stories where the villain is ultimately redeemed is something that, for imagination play, is where both parents and the children’s entertainment industry show squarely focus.  Indeed, as wonderful as the Toy Story films were, in all three cases, the Pixar folks chose to have their villain be defeated and humiliated (Sid, Stinky Pete, and Lots-O-Huggin’ Bear) rather than redeemed.  I’m not saying these are bad films because of that—they’re great films—but I think opportunities to teach kids that the bad guy may not be so bad after all is something that should be seized on more, whatever the medium.  And when they are, we as parents can seize opportunity to reinforce the fact that sometimes, the bad guy may not be so bad after all.