Tag Archives: comedy

10 Qualities of Great Film – Part 2

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

So. On to the next few things I think are awesome – you’ll find Part 1 here.

This exercise has been profoundly useful because I’m aware almost before I watch a film why I’m going to like it or hate it. This is because the way films are marketed today, they leave absolutely nothing to the imagination. I always know exactly what I’m getting. Not saying that’s a bad thing.

And it provides an additional, much more nuanced layer of culling when I decide what I’m going to do next myself.

Which helps.

It helps to know that you’ll remember why you love something three years later when you’re weeping over rejection letters.

I wish human beings were like that.

Anyway, onto more serious but fun stuff.

6. Great structure.

World War Z performed as advertised. It had plenty of action sequences since it was an action movie. In between sequences, there were a few moments of breathing space as the protagonist worked out the problem. It took place in three or four different countries and managed to not feel bewildering. If I ever take it into my head to write an action movie (I might do just to entertain my husband) – I hope it’s as well structured.

7. Weirdness used to explore the quotidian.

My current two favorite examples of this:

    1. The One I Love
    2. The Future.

Both of these films used science fiction/fantasy conceits to explore a run-of-the-mill relationship milestone – where is this relationship going?

The Future is a little more absurdist than The One I Love. You’d have to approach it with a more of a film-school, liberal-arts sort of mindset. Basically, anything goes.

The sci fi aspect of The One I Love is much clearer and more pronounced. It never loses track though – the emotional through-line remains pretty clear. The partners in both movies are asking themselves the same question and exploring the answer largely separately and in different ways – ‘should we stay together? Do we have a future?’

8. Honesty/authenticity = BRAVERY

I find myself not being able to describe or define authenticity accurately. It just sorta is. Something in the story resonates with some deeply buried part of me. Deeply buried and never acknowledged. And the movie dredges it up to the surface and puts it on display for everyone to see. Liberating rather than embarrassing.

I’m sure my mother would rather I keep my mouth shut and act dignified even if it – literally – kills me. Yes, my mother has walked sedately across a pedestrian crossing as a truck careened towards her, horns blaring, refusing to break her gait even it meant certain death.

Me, I hoofed it. To heck with dignity.

(In case you were wondering, the truck missed, thank God.)

That’s why it’s called a generation gap, I guess.

My example for this was yet again Obvious Child. I’ve racked my brains trying to figure out what it is about that movie that resonated with me.

Of course, Shaula Evans managed to figure it out for me, disguised as a humble writing prompt.

Jenny Slate told the truth in Obvious Child. And there’s something in us that punches the air when someone tells the truth even if – especially if – it’s painful and not pretty.

At the risk of angering feminists – that doesn’t just apply to women, though Lord knows we need the truth. That applies to everyone. I’ve found myself resonating with some of the oddest movies and TV shows. Because they seemed true.

Maybe this is where the real power of cinema lies. In the truth.

And next up: my two favorites. POC/Women/Underrepresented characters winning, or not in stories about how awful it is to be underrepresented. Dueling philosophies. 

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5 ways to write a blockbuster movie

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

Assalam alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatahu!

So last night, me and the hubsters went to see Captain America: Winter Soldier. It struck me while I was watching it (among the many things that were striking but not hurting Captain America) was there was a formula (who woulda thunk it) to action movies.

  1. Get yourself a superhuman hero. Only nominally human. Impenetrable by any substance, man or alien-made.
  2. Set up a world-ending conspiracy theory. The perpetrators can be any of the Western world’s favorite bogies from the past century, ze Germans, ze Russians or ze Muslims.
  3. Slap on an emotional arc for the character because heck, we do want the audience to ‘identify’ with him.
  4. Sprinkle liberally with the stuff people come to the cinema for (according to the conventional wisdom) – explosions, spectacle, fight scenes, shoot-outs, running fast and getting away. Or not. I got no beef with that. This is after all an action movie.
  5. Bonus points – people of colour, women kicking butt too. But not permitted to steer the ship!

As I was thinking about it, I also realized this formula could be applied to many genre movies and could guide my rewrite process on my upcoming comedy scripts.

Retooling it to be more appropriate to comedy and my humanist sensibilities:

  1. Character arcs are always the first order of business. Refine and define those character arcs. The plot should be a chain of consequence that derives from the character’s actions. Flaw, goals, motivations, internal desire. However I want to slice it.
    1. People outside the mainstream – gosh, this is a tough one. Make my choices specific so that they can’t be man-washed or white-washed. I’m still grappling with this and how not to make it about how awful it is to be not a white straight young man.  As usual, I’ll share what I know when I know it God willing.
    2. Make villains textured. Identify with them. Even love them. Have an I-Thou relationship with them.
  2. Genre elements then must arise organically from character. Make sure the comedy rings true for the characters and not just funny.
  3. Do a pass for set pieces. What are the trailer moments?
  4. Do a pass for reader reactions/expectations. How can I refine the experience of reading this script?
  5. Do a pass of audience expectations. What would my target audience expect coming into one of my movies? This could extend beyond genre expectations. It might be fun to imagine what it would be like to actually already have a signature, much like superhero movies or Quentin Tarantino, Darren Aronofsky or Lena Dunham.

Of course, I have had to go over some of these steps more than once. Two comedy passes for example and a few readability passes, depending on where I am in the submission process.

A number of other passes might be added to the list above as well.

This are the passes I intended to do with Whose Wife is It Anyway. Though with the deadline fast approaching, I’ve only managed to do a few of them.

  1. A number of character rewrites.
  2. A number of structure rewrites – which became much easier once I had a firm handle on motivations, goals, unconscious desires, etc and therefore the point of the scene.
  3. One last character pass for each character, from major to minor. This was mostly to polish their voices.
  4. A comedy punch-up (what I’ve just completed now).

Now here follows what I wish I had time to do but might return to in the future:

  1.  A visual pass.
  2. A pass for each important element specific to my story:
    1. The progression of my main character’s illness.
    2. Culture – would it translate with someone who isn’t South East Asian?
    3. The reveals of the mystery threading through the screenplay.
  3. First ten pages
  4. Last ten pages – yeah I know these two are super important.
  5. Theme.
  6. Rhythm and pace.
  7. A sense of place.
  8. An emotional graph.
  9. Audience expectations
  10. A craft pass or final edit.

Hope  this has helped.

I really did like Captain America. The movie, that is. The dude is an insufferable martyr.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah. May God always give you a harbor in the storms of life.

The Happy Muslimah.

My friend Fear and 2013

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb!

Man, it’s been a wild year huh?

Early January this year, I went to a cousin’s engagement. On our way back to Colombo, my family’s car got hit by two buses. That’s right. Not one. TWO.

Isn’t that wild?

Alhamdulillah, everyone walked away from that accident.

I got a good knock on the head, though, which resulted in a dramatic swelling of my face as the blood from my head injury fell down into my eye sockets.

The effect my face had on people was hilarious. I scared children and made women cry.

I look back on that incident and I have to say, not only am I grateful, I am terrifically happy.

As odd as it sounds, we couldn’t have chosen better timing and a better location to have a disaster. Our entire family was on that same road home.  From wherever they were, they all turned around and came back to aid my mom and dad.  I can say with utmost certainty; there are far worse places to have a mild concussion.

I can’t remember much of the 12 hours or so after the accident and even in the weeks after, as my brain recuperated, my short term memory was a bit wonky. My big brother (who specializes in emergency medicine) said there’s nothing to worry about; I probably felt drowsy.  Thinking back, waking up in the middle of conversations just adds to that hilarity of the situation.

But my parents were not that amused. They were fully conscious, terrified and anxious.

The capital-F Fear has lasted a bit too long. It’s been almost a year now. My father is still frightened to drive, thinking he fell asleep at the wheel that day. He tells me, “I’m too old to drive. I am too tired. I am too distracted. ” The Fear cripples him.

Why was I capital-H Happy? Why was he Afraid? Was it because I was unconscious? Was it because I was naive? Was it because I simply didn’t care?

Recently I have been quite fearful myself. A recent social engagement left me crabby and shaking.

I have been watching my ‘I am’ statements recently and found there is a shocking prevalence of a kind of self-smack talk. “I don’t like new people. I am not good with new people. I am not good with unfamiliar situations. I am a nervous person. I am a shy person.”

I thought of something else I’d learned recently.

Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. What we think, we become. My father always said that. And I think I am fine.

I’ve heard this many times, but honestly it’s only made sense now.

These fearful thoughts have probably become my character. A photographer once told me she was surprised that I am a comedian because I was so timid.

“Like a mouse?” I thought at the time. I wasn’t angry; I was just sad that my Fear was so evident. Still I managed to have a kick-butt photo shoot.

On the morning of that social gathering, I sat very still and quiet and listened to my thoughts.

I was frightened of other people. I thought they would hurt me. I thought they would prey on my vulnerability. I thought they would bully me.

Good Lord, where did these horrid thoughts come from?

I’m not going to blame anyone else. I’m not going to blame some monolithic culture for branding a tiny South East Asian woman with stereotypical qualities.

Wherever they came from, they must be stopped. Because I don’t want to ‘become’ frightened. I don’t want my destiny to be shrinking away in the corners of rooms, waiting for someone to notice me and being scared when they do.  Allah Subhaana Wa Ta’aala is my Protector and His world is too big and too beautiful Mashallah.

I’ve learned that my friend Fear doesn’t leave when asked. He doesn’t leave when yelled at. And he doesn’t budge, even if you tell him to go back where he came from.

I have started changing my thoughts consciously. I’ve started to turn “I am shy” to “I am hopeful”, “I am thoughtful”, “I am observant”, “I am peaceful”. Nothing wrong with not talking. When you listen you learn so much about so many new things. When you consciously listen, it takes a bit of hard work. You have to shelve your ego and give the other person the space to express themselves. I’m still trying but Alhamdulillah it’s a richly rewarding experience.

The day of the accident, I was happy because I wasn’t alone. That day and all the days after that, every time I woke up someone I loved was there. It was like the world’s best Facebook picture slideshow.

And the only person who was hurt was me and I knew it wasn’t that bad. You know when something inside you is changed forever and Alhamdulillah that didn’t happen that day.

That particular week, I was just grateful for every single silly little thing, from my parents to TV, from boiled eggs to pain medication, from hugs to the wind, to beautiful confusing Sri Lanka to lovely and infuriating Dubai.

Hopefully insha Allah in changing my thoughts, I will change my character. Hopefully insha Allah I will nurture peace, whether my friend Fear is with me or not.

That, more than anything, is my intention for 2013 insha Allah.

Have a blessed year. Have a blessed life insha Allah!

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah.

The Happy (and fully healed) Muslimah.

Film review: Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, fellow scribes and cinephiles.

I’ve been advised to watch at least 2 movies a week. I have also realized that lately I’ve been alternately amazed and appalled by what I’ve seen on screen.

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about how the baby boomer crowd is proving to be an untapped market for the movies. How they might revive the flagging industry and how – finally! and not a moment too soon! – the big studios might leave behind their obsession with teenagers and young adults and give us some real stories.

I’m 26, and even I’m insulted by that sugary cereal kinetic crap.

So I thought I’d partake in the forerunner of this so-called ‘old codger’ movement – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Here’s what I thought.

The Good:

It was briskly paced. It had clear characters. As far as screenwriting goes, you could really learn a lot about turning points, in terms of plot, and character motivations in terms of dialogue, by studying this movie.

The Bad:

Why in God’s name do the Indian characters sound like they’ve stepped right off the set of Mind Your Language? I most definitely do not ever talk like that. And there is no way in heck Indian kids born and raised in India, however educated they are, speak English all the time. They are more likely to speak a mixture of English and their mother tongue, whatever that might be.

The brown people of course had traditional brown people problems. As always, it’s the clash between modernity and tradition. Between the will of the parents and the will of the child.

And as usual, white people solve brown people’s problems.

What’s more, an old lady in a wheelchair suddenly starts spouting truisms like being in a wheelchair automatically makes you wiser. My mother’s been in a wheelchair for a couple of months and I can’t see any change.

My final assessment:

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was a good movie with good characters. But the paternalistic tone and poorly crafted Indian characters really ruined it for me.

Out of respect, I wouldn’t recommend it to any baby boomer I know. They deserve better.

I’m going to look for better.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy Muslimah

Research is sexy

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

Salams and yo!

Research is sexy. Like Angelina Jolie, Ben Barnes, Bradley Cooper, George-Clooney’s-jaw-bones sexy.

….or at the very least fruitful, but blog posts which allude to sex always manage to get more hits.

I’m writing a screenplay about leaving home (a feat I have yet to accomplish myself). The main character in my story is a guidance counselor.  A profession I’ve only once had direct contact with at school. And it was a waste of time too.

Suffice to say, my main character is a good guidance counselor.  I have little idea what that means. This means I need to research.

A part of me (the lazy part) just wants to dive in and write the darn story and to the devil with all this “research” BS.

The part of me that appreciates the hard work that goes into my craft remembers the shock and awe I felt when I found out the inimitable Four Lions was written by *gasp* a white guy.

I’d rather not tell you what this bonkers movie is about.  Please watch the trailer:

I know it’s a movie about terrorism, but somehow it made me hopeful. There is a joy about this movie that escapes their funny accents and their nihilistic fascination with death. Maybe because Wikipedia listed it as a “Jihad satire” .

But I digress.

The point of this post being, the writer Chris Morris researched the heck out of his subject matter. He spent three years talking to terrorism experts, police, the secret service, imams and ordinary Muslims, and then – and only then – did he write the script in 2007. The film only went into production in 2009 and was released late 2010.

From development to theatrical release, the film took almost 6 years. SIX YEARS!

I must say, I’m heartened by the level of respect Mr. Morris gave his subject matter – far more respect, it seems, than we give each other these days.

Note to self and to everyone else reading – the details matter. I don’t want my viewers pointing at the screen shouting “That would never happen!”

My kingdom for access to my university’s library again. There was something comforting about the musty smell, the rough carpets and the new weird friends I made between pages in that giant cavernous place.

But I digress again.

The sexy researcher’s toolkit (in other words, things I’ve discovered I need more of):

  1. People – people for me are the most fascinating resources. You see, a screenwriter doesn’t need the facts. We need something more authentic. And what is truer than the truth? The story.
  2. Listening skills – people like talking.
  3. Time – This process is absolutely vital to healthy development of an idea, especially if the idea is even vaguely grounded in reality. It gives solid ground to worlds that our characters can then confidently tread on – and blow up, if need be.
  4. Patience – You might hit a few dead ends. One source won’t give you the quality of information you want. Another will bore you senseless but will be quite useful. Yet another will start out boring you to tears and then suddenly their narrative explodes with colour. As I said, people like to talk. We should (probably) let them (most of the time).

Hope that’s given you some food for thought.

Love, peace and harmony,

Sabina.

A little introduction

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem (In the Name of God the Most Gracious the Most Merciful)

Hello! (to all my Muslim brothas and sistas, salams!)

So let me start with a little introduction.

I’m 5 foot 3, haha.

I’m a 24-year-old Sri Lankan, the daughter of expats based in the Gulf. I went to a Catholic school where I studied too much and laughed too little (I’ve been making up for that lately).

I started wearing the hijab (the Muslim headscarf) when I was 11 years old, following a particularly meaningful Ramadan. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. My friends and family both gave me something of a hard time about it.

Don’t worry, I’ve forgiven them.

I then went to university in Australia where I continued to not be grateful to be alive, young and healthy. However I actually began to enjoy my studies (Media and Communications with a minor in Creative Writing) which somewhat made up for the lack of a life.

Along the way, while I was doing the usual dumb stuff young people do, I noticed a few things:

  1. I had no reason to be unhappy but I was.
  2. Making people laugh made me happy.
  3. I love making people laugh.
  4. And when you make people laugh, they start listening. And when they start listening, you can really tell them something. And this is really powerful and with great power comes great responsibility.
  5. The vast majority of non-Muslims don’t know much about Islam and hence, don’t know much about hijabis. Which leads to quite a few surprises when they actually begin talking to me.

They’re surprised I can speak English – or that I’m literate in any language.

They’re surprised I can take a joke and even make a joke.

They are surprised I know where babies come from.

They are surprised that my parents didn’t force me to wear hijab and that, in fact, I love them and owe them my life (in more ways than the usual way).

They are surprised that I love Star Wars and can quote it backwards and forwards.

They’re surprised, in short, that I’m human.

This is, to a large extent, the fault of the Ummah (the Muslim community).

We’re living in a culture of distraction. At any one time, there’s at least 3 different social media platforms clamoring for my attention on my BlackBerry. And I’m not even that popular.

But I think we as an Ummah have a gift here. People all around the world want to know what we have to say in response to the global “war on terror”. And on an unprecedented level, our world is connected enough to hear our voices and perhaps, if we use the right tools, even listen.

I’ve always loved movies. They told me stories of people that I would probably not have met any other way.

But I never saw myself in the movies. Or anyone that looked like me, for that matter.

As I’ve gotten older, my movie-watching has become increasingly fragmented. If I go to a multiplex, I know I’m going to get mindless drivel which will certainly be entertaining but ultimately dishonest – the same crap with different faces.

And I’m fairly certain I’m not the only person that feels that way. By all accounts, fewer and fewer people are going to the cinema.

So I do what anyone else in my situation would do is and look to art-house and independent cinema for inspiration. I certainly find it.

But still, no (or very few) Muslims.

What’s up with that?

I want to correct that for any number of reasons, small and big. I want something to watch on a Thursday night that doesn’t give me a splitting headache. I want my children to see people that look like themselves on the screen. I want a story I can relate to and that perhaps my children will relate to. I want to see Muslims do something other than blow things up, cut fingers off and beat their wives and generally be giant pains in the collective backside of humanity.

Ultimately I want to make sacred art which according to Frithjof Schuon (I thought I had a weird name), “is made as a vehicle for spiritual presences, it is made at one and the same time for God, for angels and for man: profane art on the other hand exists only for man and by that very fact betrays him.”

Really, a few regular stories of laughing, crying, sleeping, working, joyous Muslims wouldn’t hurt anybody, would they?

Much love,

La Musulmanne Qui Rit.