Sunday, May 17, 2009

Fixing the screenplay for the movie Knowing, with Nicolas Cage

Writing movie scripts has been a hobby of mine for decades. I'm going to share an improvement to the movie "Knowing" with Nicolas Cage. See if you agree or disagree with me after you've seen it, because I'm going to give everything away here.

In other words...spoiler alert!

The change I'll describe would have made those who liked the movie appreciate it even more, and make it palatable and enjoyable to those who hated the ending but liked or tolerated it up until that point.


We see flashbacks to the dreams (established earlier in the movie, see below) of John's wife/Caleb's mother, of an old Native American man and woman in front of an outdoor fire at night teaching the creation of the world from fire before the world's original father sent his child into the new world. These Native Americans are obviously part of a successful village. The old man is wearing a silver turtle charm around his neck.

After the end of the movie as it was shown, this change: the children arrive at the new world and Caleb flashes back to the open locket his father John gave him, and we see him close it before he gets on the ship. It's the same as the Turtle the old man in his mother's dreams wore around his neck. Then we flash back to the father closing it from the gift box; The turtle again.

Then we have the final reveal: We see the old Native American man in Caleb's mother's dream open his turtle locket and show the photo inside of himself as a child with his mother and father: the old native american man is the son in the movie, generations in the future, successful on the new world that the aliens took him to.

The mother's dreams were of the success of her son, and the new reality established by the end of the movie is linked to the day-to-day reality that most of the movie was set against by the foreshadowings of love, family, and spirituality.

Rather than just one reveal and surprise, we have three: The children start anew on a new world after the old world ends; the father in the dreams of the mother is her son in the future; both mothers had the power to see future, one of a horrific future, the other of a loving future, and both turned out to see the same future.

Character of the Deceased Mother:

The wife/mother who passes away before the beginning of the movie always saw good things happening and believed that she could see the future symbolically. Though not Native American, she was fascinated with Native American mythology about the creation of the world. The locket in the movie is one she left to her husband John (Nic Cage) that we see open but never closed. He discovers it midway through the movie.

She was always making tenuous connections between feelings and symbols from dreams and things that turned out well. Her husband John humored her but didn't really believe the connections she made between things meant she saw the future.

Character of the Religious Grandfather/Father:

He dealt with his daughter-in-law's portentous dreaming abilities by pointing that some saw good and some saw evil, but that we all saw something that was true in some sense. Cage's character went along reluctantly but lovingly until the change in his attitude her death.

John, the Father (Nic Cage's Character):

His viewpoint once the movie opens is summarized when he says to his class "People like to make connections between things and say 'This is how is was supposed to turn out.' Some people see good things (his deceased wife), some people see bad things (the woman who writes the numerical predictions the movie revolves around) but it's all really just random."

Hence the father abandons the faith of his wife and his father when he doesn't feel anything when his wife dies, and we have a parallel between the mothers who see other realities and the effect it has on their children.

What was wrong and why. Why these changes are what it should have been all along: 

Movie-goers who had a favorable predisposition to the themes of the ending enjoyed the movie much more than those who didn't. In a sense, their interests foreshadowed it. The problem was that moviegoers who weren't favorably predisposed were in the majority, and their reaction to the ending (as a I saw one reviewer say) was "What the F was that?!" Not favorable.

In order to create surprise for the ending, it was disconnected from the rest of the movie. Instead of feeling the intended awe, it felt more like a slap in the face to some. Rather than feel like a penultimate reality humankind has moved to, it felt like the projectionist had accidentally shown us the end of a different movie.

Surprises in a movie should generally not be genre surprises; a light action-comedy should not turn into a serious drama-romance, for example. Surprises should make us feel good, smart or connected in some way. Revelations, not slaps. Awe, amazement or excitement, not "What the hell?!" Surprises can make us see there was foreshadowing that we didn't understand until the surprise revealed the new reality.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

What's the best way to give retweet attribution on Twitter?

A good Twitter blogger that we've sent (deserved) traffic to had me baffled for a bit this morning. We put out a tweet that sent them 550+ clicks but they felt the tweet was improper. I'm interested to know what people think, and how I could avoid this in the future.

You know how just by the fact of tweeting back and forth things can rapidly get confusing? That's how this conversation started to go (reproduced later in this blog post with name removed: my responses are in a couple shades of green). But first, here's a cartoon summary of how wrong things can go:

So it looked like were headed down this road and although I was still confused when he said he didn't want to talk about it anymore, I was happy it hadn't turned into something like the above. It started something like this:

"[Your] tweet isn't from @UserName it's my blog"

Well, duh, I thought. It was a retweet attribution.  I started to explain that to him kindly (me: "you probably knew that") but then I admitted I couldn't imagine he didn't already understand retweet attribution and could he enlighten me as to what he was asking about?

Next it seemed like he was saying the problem wasn't that it was his blog post, it was that he tweeted about it ("give credit to the real tweeter") and he should get the retweet attribution. Of course, I had never even seen his tweet. I get most of the link for @Twitter_Tips from feeds.

I couldn't imagine that he wanted me to both tweet his stuff and then search his tweets to see if he tweeted about it to give him retweet credit for talking about his own blog, so I asked for further clarification. Then he said he didn't want to talk about it anymore and asked me not to talk about it either.

Here's how the actual conversation went:

Confusion, for sure. I'll blog about it and you can comment to help clear it up if you feel it makes sense to.
And one more point to cleared here, lets act like gentlemen lets not discuss about it :) good day!
Our tweet sent you over 500 human clicks, but I won't do it again w/o saying @yourUserName
as I told you its not your mistake.. take it easy...btw i always credit you when i tweet/rt your links.. good day
You're very kind—it does appear to be my mistake of some kind. I'm not upset (no need to suggest I "take it easy") just trying to understand
As you can see, more along the lines of the cartoon than what I would have hoped for.

Along the way he also posted a link to his followers about "Reposting others' content without attribution" being stealing.  His public post (which I won't reproduce since that would make it too easy to identify him) helped clarify where he was coming from: He wanted me to not only tweet his blog post, he wanted to see his @username in the tweet about it too.

As unreasonable as that sounded at first, I quickly figured out his concern, I think: Since I was using "via @username" at the end instead of "RT @username" at the beginning, he thought it would not be clear who wrote the blog post. He thought I was saying someone else (who doesn't actually have a dedicated blog) was the real author. Aha!

Putting the attribution at the end instead of the beginning can get people confused:
  • They might overlook the attribution entirely;
  • They might think the attibution is crediting the creator of what is being linked to rather than just being a retweet attribution.
ProBlogger's TwitTip Twitter blog had an article on using "via" instead of "RT" that I shared with this guy but he was obviously so concerned that someone else was being given credit for his work (even though we sent him 500+ visitors to see for themselves) that it got me thinking.

I do a lot of tweeting with the "via-style" retweet  attribution from our account @DivineLove, because quotes are often retweeted on their merits, unlike links which are too often just pimped back and forth to get blog traffic. For quality articles about Twitter I look to feeds rather than reading people's tweets (mostly).

So why not just start tweets with "RT @…"?

I don't like starting with RT because it obscures the topic of the tweet, and lots of people have chimed in that they don't like this either. People have in fact given a number of reasons for ignoring tweets that start with "RT @…" and so I've tended to favor the "via @…" at the end. Since from @Twitter_Tips I don't seek out tweets to find links, it isn't much of a problem.

What do you think?
Is retweet attribution in the form "via @userName" at the end of the tweet too confusing, and should it be avoided?

Postscript: Why don't I read more of people's tweets? 

Because most top people tweet their own stuff and other stuff as a "favor" to their friends. Quality has too little to do with it, as long as it meets a minimum standard. At least, that's what I think I've had trouble finding better-quality links by reading through what other people tweet/retweet and rely on popular link feeds such as ReTweetist instead.

Don't get me wrong, I've tweeted some stuff without reading it carefully that has turned out to be bad, but it's not bad because I tweeted it as a favor to someone who would then offer to do the same for me.
Since I have so far hardly ever blogged about Twitter, I don't have many articles anyone could tweet anyway!

Also, I'm happy that so far, despite having over 92,000 followers and sending thousands of DMs back and forth to people, I don't know of anyone that has "gone away mad" after communicating with us on @Twitter_Tips. I'm happy to share links with and talk to people from any part of the political (or emotional!) spectrum. 

We've made mistakes and owned up to them, and where we could, fixed them. I appreciate feedback of all kinds and have made numerous changes to how and what we post on @Twitter_Tips based on comments to us from our followers.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

The Secret of Self-control, willpower and discipline?

The New Yorker Magazine had a great article on what research has uncovered about delayed gratification and what an essential life skill it is. 

It seems learning simple and easy self-control skills can have a huge effect on how one's life develops, but few people learn those skills. So I've highlighted some some excerpts, but I suggest reading the whole article.

"...after just a few sessions, students show significant improvements in the ability to deal with hot emotional states...even the most mundane routines...are really sly exercises in cognitive training: we’re teaching ourselves how to think so that we can outsmart our desires."

"...the ability to delay gratification [is] a far better predictor of academic performance than I.Q."

"Once you realize that will power is just a matter of learning how to control your attention and thoughts, you can really begin to increase it."

And there are tricks you can use that work terrifically well. For example:

"...Mischel has found a shortcut. When he and his colleagues taught children a simple set of mental tricks—such as pretending that the candy is only a picture, surrounded by an imaginary frame—he dramatically improved their self-control. The kids who hadn’t been able to wait sixty seconds could now wait fifteen minutes. 'All I’ve done is given them some tips from their mental user manual,' Mischel says. 'Once you realize that will power is just a matter of learning how to control your attention and thoughts, you can really begin to increase it.' "

"...he previously showed that children did much better on the marshmallow task (waiting before eating a marshmallow) after being taught a few simple 'mental transformations,' such as pretending the marshmallow was a cloud..."

"Interestingly, the scientists found that high delayers were significantly better at [being] less likely to think that a word they’d been asked to forget was something they should remember."

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