Sunday, 1 December 2013

The 48 Hour Film Project 2013

We've decided to enter The Singapore 48 Hour Film Project in the midst of filming Heart Flutters. This is an international film competition that takes place in many cities in many countries around the world. In SIngapore, it started on the evening of 29 Nov.

There're 27 teams registered in Singapore, meaning we have 26 competitors. And naturally, we're Team Real Frenz.

Our goal was to make a short between 5 to 7 mins within 48 hours.

In order to ensure that the film that's entered into the competition isn't made before the competition starts, the films must contain the following required elements, which wouldn't be known until the competition starts.

Required Elements

Character Malone or Marilyn Lim, Taxi Driver
Prop a guitar
Line "The book says it is important not to miss this step."




In addition to the above required elements, we drew the fantasy genre.

While we needed to include the above required elements, we had to exclude the natural elements whenever possible. And at this time of the year, Singapore sky cries a lot.

I was one of the 4 script writers who brainstormed for story ideas. Having too few writers and therefore too few ideas is a problem, but having too many writers also spoil the plot. Better a spoiled plot than no plot. Nope, I'm not going to tell you the story and spoil the plot more than I already had.

In any case, we came to some agreement and worked together on the script. And ended up writing it until 6:30am in the morning.

We did the filming soon after the script. I played a minor role (passerby 2) in the short after a few hours of sleep. It explains my bedroom eyes in the film. And an actor - our main lead - was hurt during the filming of this movie. We have a scene where he climbed up the tree to retrieve a page of magical notes, but gravity brought him down to reality.

This is our official website for our efforts.


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Sunday, 24 November 2013

Website Development for Rojak

Normally, Marrie - our executive producer - oversees the various tasks relating to all our film project. But since website development requires a working knowledge of IT, she requested somebody with an IT background to drive this task. As I'm not into anything that's resembling a managerial role, I declined. I'm more of a creative type. Ask me to do acting, singing, dancing, writing script, directing, photographing, film editing, designing logo, designing website, etc. I'm all for it. Managing? Not my cup of cha. Since nobody put their hands up (they were tied up), and this role needed to be filled, I grudgingly volunteer myself for it.

I wasn't asked to do the design of logo for ReelFrenz, but I decided to have a browse online for various logo design tools. Like I said, I like to do creative things.

The next thing I knew, I was sucked into the whole process, playing with some designs just for fun. Below come from my mucking around.

This one is playing with the idea of a reel. Perhaps too obvious.

Reel Freez logo





The small triangles represent members with their variety of backgrounds of ethnicity, professions, talents, and personalities. At first, stars came to mind, but I thought it's too tacky.
Reel Freez logo with triangles
While the look of film strip isn't quite what I have in mind, but I like the dynamism that the wavy and 45 degree slant it gives, which animates the logo. When all the logo designs were shown to the members in the group, this one is the most popular in terms of the FaceBook likes and comments it received.


The entry won Marrie over came from Suhaimi, which I find is quite sleek and with modern simplicity. The shadow is a metaphor for film projection. I also had this idea, but my design wasn't as sleek.


While his other entry didn't get accepted, I find it quite nice.



But then later on, this was decided to be our logo. You could see it in our Rojak film website.


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Saturday, 16 November 2013

My 1st Film Directing

clapperboardThe day finally here. The first day when I got to yell, "Lights, sound, camera, slate, action!" in a movie set.

Can't say I was excited as I should be. Perhaps because film directing had started awhile ago in pre-production, and so when it comes to the day of shooting, I was already immersed in this process for weeks.

Perhaps more accurately, at my age, I'm not so easily get excited. It's good and bad. I don't get the buzz. Excitement - like alcohol - makes you feel high, but lower your performance on the job. It gives you a false sense of competence. Good to stay sober on my 1st time in film directing. And another thing, this is a way our body protects us. Your body only get as excited as our body allows. Any more than it should be, it could be fatal.

As soon as we pointed the camera at the wall on my very 1st shot, I detected moiré pattern appeared on the grilles of the air-cond on the wall just below the ceiling. No problem just tighten the shot, and made the air-cond disappear.

And then we started to film. On playback, I noticed more Moiré pattern on the actress' shirt. Moiré moiré everywhere.

So I shouted to my DoP across the room, "Look! There're moiré on Shilpa's shoulder". Shilpa, the female lead in my film, jumped out of her couch, brushing off a moiré from her shirt, yelling "what is it?". Of course, that's physically impossible to do. It was a pretty hilarious situation. Well, you had to be there.

When she asked me what a "moiré" is, I started to sing the 1st line from Dean Martin's famous song, "Where the moon hits your eyes like a big pizza pie, it's amore". Well, it's funnier if you know that this very line is also being sung by the male lead in this movie that we're filming. That confused her even more, but got a laugh out of her.

Movie making - moire patern
Looking at this pink vest of our beautiful leading lady, you
would never suspect moire pattern would appear

No, she wasn't being naughty and didn't heed our advice of avoiding wearing a pinstriped shirt. Her shirt is monochromatic pink. No pinstripe. But her shirt's fabric has narrow ridges. Under the certain angle, the shadows created by the ridges formed dark pinstripes. So you don't need pinstriped shirt to get pinstripes.

Seems like for the 1st hour of my experience as indie director, I paid more attention to moiré than I ever had in my entire life.

Let me assure you, there're more to directing than detecting moiré. That's probably part of a cinematographer's job, but it doesn't mean that the director isn't going to point it out if he's detecting a moire, or an insect crawling on the actor's shoulder, or a crew sleeping on the job too loudly.

green screen and continuity
We didn't know yet what TV program to show, with green screen, we can
decide it in post-production. The digital clock is very troublesome from
a continuity issue when more than several shots of the same scenes
are to be combined later. Just get rid of it.
I had no problem that one of my crew slept on the job because he came straight from his professional shoot after pulling an all nighter. He's here to lend us his professional equipment. What a trooper. So I wouldn't point a finger at him while he slept on the job. Although I had to poke him to wake him up because his snoring was picked up by our shot gun. Ok, I didn't poke him, I asked my AD (assistant director) to do that. I said, "Ask him nicely for a 10 minutes snoring break so that we can shoot the scene, After the scene he can resume his nap". Sure enough, he did. Poor guy must be exhausted.

Ok, let me assure you that there's more to directing than asking your AD to poke his crew when they snore. There's more, much more.

movie set of Heart Flutters
My direction for the very 1st shoot of Heart Flutters
A director is essentially an artist, a technician, and a manager all roll into one role. I'm quite confident in the first 2 areas. They're right up my alley. As for last skill, I make no secret that I'm not as competent as the 1st two. But with all modesty, I'm doing ok as a communicator, and followed by leadership skill, with time management, organisation skill, delegation of tasks a distant third. Fortunately, I have 2 ADs to help me in this last weak area of management.

And then there're interpersonal skill, which I thought I'm quite ok. I'm people person in general, getting along with most people just fine. These specific area requires even higher skill level in an amateur group than a professional body. This is because in a professional outfit people don't have to like what they do as long as they get paid. This is true with many people in all walks of life. But with an amateur group where members are doing this for the purpose of personal satisfaction, they wouldn't take orders as well. People can quit any time. Only the most committed will act professionally. In a film studio, the people in important roles will have to sign contracts so that you can't simply leave your roles without incurring heavy penalties. This is where interpersonal skills have to take up a notch. In more ways than one, working in an amateur environment demands more skills than a film studio. Many more ways than one.

So what do you need to do if you want to prepare yourself as a director? I've dreamt of growing up to be many things. But director isn't one of them. Not even remotely. The longest of my dream is becoming a well known scientist. Except for a penchant for science, logical deduction and analysis, I learnt little vigorous and specific scientific disciplines to further my dream of becoming a scientist.

But I have been preparing myself for - without a clue that I have been doing it - is becoming a director. My passion in fashion, arts, photography, movie, music, dancing, image processing, psychology (inter-personal and intra-personal), communication, people watching, etc all in fact groomed me for the role of a director. Of course, I didn't know that because I have many other interests too. The point is that a huge variety of interests is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition, to be a good director. It's like fitness is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition, to be a good athlete.

And Marrie - our executive director - is quite right about that the script writer should also be the director because the director should familiar with the script back to front, inside out. The director needs to know and tell the actor the psychological/emotional states of the characters, what they wear, what motivate them, the mood of a scene, what's the theme/message of the story, how to realise that in the movie, etc, etc, etc. Director needs to know all that. In Cantonese, we call him One-Foot-Kick. In English, Master-Of-All-Trades. But the novice director like me probably starts as Jack, and graduates to Master, eventually, if ever.

Also, someone in our group - who shall remain nameless - said that script writer is he most under-rated while director is the most over-rated person in film production (maybe he said actor as I couldn't hear it very well). If he did say director, then having a writer-director would balance out this least and most appreciated roles.

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Monday, 28 October 2013

TOS - 2.24 - The Ultimate Computer

star trek - the ultimate computer
I don't care what you say. I want my blue shirt back
even if it has been stretched to 2 sizes larger.
And wash it before you return it to me !
Yes, George Takei was back in this episode after a rather long absence of what I speculated in my review of episode 2.19 "A Private Little War" that because he was acting in The Green Berets (1968).

In the 1980s when IBM introduced its 1st line of PCs or microcomputers for offices, I remember the anxiety people had regarding the digital revolution (I had no such issues because I was studying electrical engineering with a major in computer software engineering. Today's generation would have little anxiety about technology because they are born into it). Every week, TV showing how the smart technology could play chess, help a washing machine do its job better, making coffee, automate this and that in the workplace. Understandably, we all thought we maybe made redundant sooner or later, losing our jobs to the microchips. They're powerful and everywhere, and outsmarting us in many ways.

Cyberpunk movies like The Blade Runner (1982) and The Terminator (1984) reflected the anxiety of the coming of the Information Age with their terrifying vision of a futurist dystopia. Especially The Terminator, where the central message is abundantly clear - we're doomed, and the smart machines are going to enslave us. This is far worse a fate than being made redundant. We're made extinct. But this is cinematic allegory reflecting reality. Having said that, as far as being enslaved by smart machines, there's an element of truth. Probably more so in the future.

Let's rewind to 1.5 decades before the onset of this digital revolution (or should I say fast forward 3 centuries into the future?), our intrepid Captain Kirk faces the same worry in this epsiode. In other words, he's worrying that he's going to be made redundant by M-5, the super smart computer, one that is far more intelligent than the existing computer installed on the Enterprise.

The crew of more than 400 is now dwindled down to a skeleton crew of 20 of only the most senior officers onboard. Captain Kirk is visibly perturbed by the idea that he's becoming a captain Dunsail, a term describes a midshipmen at Starfleet Academy in a part serving no useful purpose ("Dunsail", I guess is abbreviated from "Done Sailing").

There you go, 1.5 decades before the digital revolution, before the word 'computer' even entered the general population, Start Trek TOS is already portending, addressing this issue. It's light years - ok 1.5 decades - ahead. Future is hard to predict, but this episode nails it.

I mentioned in my review of episode 1.23 "A Taste of Armageddon" (almost exactly 1 season ago)that it's a predecessor of Wargames (1983), except that it's more about the dehumanisation element of smart technology in war than the computer that powers such futuristic dystopia. This episode, on the other hand, is more about computer who powers the wargames. However, this episode addresses both the computer revolution and wargames. There's very little question that this episode is a predecessor of Wargames (1983).

And not a pure coincidence, Wargames (1983) is released between The Blade Runner (1982) and The Terminator (1984). This is quite self-evident that the jitters of the digital revolution were fully felt and reflected in the cinema in the early 1980s.

Speaking of IBM that introduced their PCs into the workplace in the 1980s, we have to mention HAL-9000. Not that HAL is also a computer, and that IMB is a forerunner in artificial intelligence, and that IBM is also an acronym like HAL with one letter shift. M-5 the super smart computer in this episode is also a villain like HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

HAL-900 and M-5, 2001: A Space Odyssey and this episode, one released in April 1968, and the other aired March 1968. Are they all merely coincident? My feeling to the answer is 'no'. If you read all my previous reviews on Star Trek TOS, I accounted for nearly all episodes where the ideas come from. No, this isn't in any way diminishing TOS writers. In fact, I have much respect for them. They maybe inspired by others, but they never just copied. According to TS Eliot, "Mediocre writers borrow; great writers steal." And TOS writer stole aplenty!

But if this episode aired before 2001: A Space Odyssey, how could they be accused of stealing? Well, Stanley Kubrick didn't get the idea for his space epic from this epsiode. His sci-fi epic is an film adaptation of Arthur C. Clark's novel.

So it's that mean this episode has no relationship with 2001: A Space Odyssey at all? I think it's likely that Star Trek team heard about the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and decide to ride on its success. Recent example of this approach was applied to episode 2.17 "A Piece of the Action" that it was made conveniently within months of Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and episode 2.19 "A Private Little War" was an answer to The Green Berets (1968).

With an excess of over 20 episodes to be produced a year, it's quite difficult to ask the TOS writers team to come up with totally original materials in such a timeframe with such pressure. Having said, as I pointed out above, they didn't just carbon copy. They stole. Star Trek TOS could hardly get their ratings off the ground. Trekkie today might find this surprising, or even shocking. They needed to apply every tricks in the book to make it work. Sometimes by riding on the success of others if needed be.

Sci-fi flicks weren't too popular, especially serious sci-fi, which there were few and far and between before Steve Spielberg made his Close Encounter of the Third Kind (1977). He started the whole sci-fi shebang. It's not that Spielberg is a great director, which he's undoubtedly is one, but it's also because of the timing. When Stanly Kubrick made his 2001: A Space Odyssey in the same year as this episode and nearly a decade earlier, it wasn't very well received. Of course, one can argue that Close Encounter is much more entertaining than Space Odyssey. More entertaining, I agree, but a lesser masterpiece of cinema.

Space Odyssey was far too ahead of its time, and so was Star Trek TOS. Before them, there were really only few sci-fi flicks that match them in their thoughtfulness and to be taken seriously over a span of few decades, Metropolis (1927), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), the War of the Worlds (1953), Forbidden Planet (1956), The Time Machine (1960), and Planet of the Apes (1968).

I didn't mention Lost in Space (1965 - 1968) because it's really more like Brady Bunch in futuristic setting. Well, if you look at the IMDB, it classifies it as Adventure, Comedy, Family. It focuses on family issues above all else.

The audience of the 1960s hadn't quite ready for sci-fi. They had no problem handling the Brady Bunch, however. There were only some 6 respectable sci-fi films I mentioned above that were made in the span of 5 decades! Today, it's quite far outcry when there're more sci-fis being made than, say, romantic comedies. Far more. Yep, sci-fi has come of age. After all, we're living in the Age of Internet, and Digital Revolution with smart phones and apps used by villagers in India and China. We've arrived in the future, and the sci-fi genre piggybacks on this thrilling ride.



Thursday, 24 October 2013

TOS - 2.22 - By Any Other Name

Star Trek - By Any Other Name
Tell me Captain, what's your choice? Money or
the box. Before you consider the choice, let me
remind you that each of this box is your crew member.
To ressurect them, just add water.
The theme of this episode is very similar to episode 2.20 "Return to Tomorrow" in reinforcing the main thrust of Season 2, which is praising the human race that despite of, or in fact because of our flaws that's what make us special and interesting, and so desirable to aliens across the galaxy.

In episode 2.20 "Return to Tomorrow", the ETs are so much more advance than human in their mental capacity that they can make the Enterprise do anything they demand. And in this case, the aliens are much advanced than human technologically, and again that they can make the Enterprise do anything they demand.

In the review of episode 2.20 "Return to Tomorrow", I asked the question why don't these superior beings put their minds into human body instead of androids. And I thought they may use that idea in another episode. Well, we didn't have to wait very long. In this episode, the alien simply make full use of human bodies right from the beginning because they need it to make full use of the Enterprise.

While the aliens are turning all human crew into chalks of cuboctahedrons, the human are in terms turning all Kelvan crew into humans. (The "cubes" look quite nice, I don't mind having my ash turned into one of these after my body is cremated. Why not? It's probably cheaper and easier than turning our ash into diamonds as some people have already done).

Well, they're already human physically, but the 4 remaining Enterprise crew try to turn them into more complete human by making them more human emotionally. So each in their own way goes on to work on their alien. Captain Kirk, in his usual charming way with the lady, goes on to perform on the alien female with the "pressing of the lips", or in some human quarters "sucking of faces", or "swapping of spits". It's "kissing" by any other name. Well, that's not what the title of this episode refers to. But it isn't too far off.

At the end, the aliens learn to live with these rather curious and strange human emotions. Well, we are learning to live with these rather curious and strange human emotions, too. Isn't this the central message of the episode? Curious and strange emotions are wonderful. That's the stuff that makes us human, unique, infuriating, frustrating, colourful, and worth living for.




Wednesday, 16 October 2013

TOS - 2.21 - Patterns of Force


Star Trek - Patterns of Force
Spock:   Should I address you as captain or major, sir?
Kirk:     Either way, I out rank you. Just call me sir.
Spock:   Can I call you Jim sir ?                                    
Kirk:     You know the deal. Only when my life is in   
serious danger.                                   
This episode is a cross between episode 2.17 "A Piece of the Action" and 2.19 "A Private Little War".

While I mentioned a few times before that Star Trek TOS has changed tack in Season 2 to stay away from the serious contemporary issues around the mid 20th century, but these 3 episodes show that it couldn't leave it behind for too long. At least, it's weaning away from it gradually. These topics are too important and relevant to simply drop it completely.

This episode is similar to 2.17 "A Piece of the Action" in that an alien society is modelled on a particular human society at a particular period, in this case the Nazi Germany in WW2. While in "A Piece of the Action", it's about cargo cults. That is, the alien society run their society according to a book left behind by the crew of the Horizon.

Only in this episode, the alien adopted the Nazi Germany model because John Gil the brilliant historian thinks that the Nazi provides the model for most efficiently run state. In short, he turns himself from being a cultural observer into an interventionist.

This brings us to the similarity between this and episode 2.19 "A Private Little War" in that it deals with the civil wars in alien world, and the human intervention that conflicts with the Prime Directive. And in number of incidences, the American involvement in a particular country ended up in the installation of a puppet government, which isn't necessary backed by the Uncle Sam. This episode is showing that scenario.

As I mentioned in 2.19 "A Private Little War" that the writer was obviously taking a clear pro-Vietnam War and anti-Communist political stance. And I pointed out how similar is episode 2.19 "A Private Little War" and The Green Berets (1968) in terms of its political position on the American involvement in the Vietnam War.

This episode seems to send a cautionary tale about the interference policy. It's entirely possible that Star Trek doesn't want to be seen as interventionist. After all, Star Trek TOS has been making strong emphasis on the Prime Directive. Episode 2.19 "A Private Little War" seems to overturn that. This episode at least tries to remedy the perception that if it doesn't take a non-interventionist stance, at least it doesn't take an interventionist position either.

With the warlike Eskosians inhabitants playing the Nazi German, their peaceful neighbouring planet Zeon, whom are victims of the Ekosian ethnic cleansing policy, is of course allusion to the Jews. After all, the name Zeon is hardly a subtle veiled name for Zion, which could be referred to the people of Israel. This is further enforced by the planet's preoccupation of "The Final Solution", a Nazi euphemism for the genocide of the Jewish people.




Sunday, 13 October 2013

2nd Casting Call

This is the 2nd audition for project 2. It seems not long ago that I had my 1st audition. Wait, it wasn't that long ago. It was only January this year. While it's been only barely 9 months - less than a pregnancy period - much has changed with my role in Reel Frenz.

In the 1st casting call, I sat in front of the camera (next to Rahul, our fellow member) for an acting role in the 1st project. In this audition, I sat behind the camera (next to Michael our casting director) as writer/director. Let's say I was much more nervous then not just because I was performing in front of the camera, but also because that was the 1st day I met Marrie and the rest of the group members. At that time, I had no idea who Marrie was, except that she's the founder of the Reel Frenz Group. The butterflies in my stomach couldn't be that I was starstruck (not that I would ever be starstruck), it simply caused by a combination of "stage fright", the thrill of embarking on a exhilarating journey, and meeting a group of new friends.

Today, sitting behind the camera in the role of director, I understand the jitters the auditionees face (with the exception of Rahul. He seems to be as cool as a cucumber in front of all cameras). I tried to put them at ease, but I don't know how well I fared in that department. While it was informal - as this is only an amateur gig - but it still could be quite nervous for the auditionee if one is serious about getting the part. The fear of not putting in our best (thus leading to rejection) could be quite crushing. One could be easily bogged down by this while one is in the moment.

After we'd done our audition, we had a meeting with the production team to finalise the cast selection. Not getting enough group members to fill the roles is a headache. Having too many more auditionees than there are roles to fill is a nice problem to solve.
 

film audition, Rahul
Rahul, male lead for Heart Flutters

We have chosen Rahul as the male lead for my script Heart Flutters. While we actually auditioned together in the 1st project, I didn't recognise his talent. But then, apart from the nerves, I was also too preoccupied with my own performance to notice other people's performance. And his performance in the 1st project didn't require the dramatic range that he's able to deliver. So his talents remained undiscovered. There're only 2 male auditionees come forth, and since Philip insists on the role of the Heart Surgeon. So we've left with Rahul. Not that he isn't a good candidate, anyway.

After much deliberation over several competent candidates, we picked Shilpa for the female lead. Unlike the male roles, many more aspiring female actors turn up for the audition. And so deciding the female lead involved the inputs from the production team. The final decision rests with Marrie our executive producer, Michael and myself. Being the director, I guess I've the most decisive vote.

There're several similarities shared by Rahul and Shilpa: they're both Indians who arrived in Singapore recently, have no acting background whatsoever, and are absolute naturals. All these similarities are just coincidental. Our decisions are based purely on their artistic merits.

We had more than 12 auditionees in all. Of the 4 from acting schools, 2 can't act at all despite their training and industry experiences, and the other 2 are quite good. Of these 4, only 1 was cast. All the others being cast have no acting background whatsoever, and their talents far exceed the 2 from acting school by miles and on par with the 2 better ones from arts schools.

I guess this shows me more than anything else that I came across before that some talents are born and couldn't be made. At least, training could only go so far. This audition makes a very strong case.

And another thing, this is perhaps the best reason for having an amateur group like ours. There're all these talents out there who will live out their whole lives without the opportunities to showcase what they've got. We provide the stage for that to happen. Of course, that isn't only restricted to acting.


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Wednesday, 2 October 2013

TOS - 2.19 - A Private Little War


Star Trek - A Private Little War
Keep your paws off me, you dirty ape !
You win ! Me Tarzan giving up !
You can have Jane ! Just don't hit me no more !
The title reminds one of such incidence as Bay of Pigs in Cuba, or other military ops in Africa brought to you by the 3 secretive letters of CIA.

This private little war refers to the proxy wars in the Cold War. Yeah, we're back to the most favourite topic of TOS Season 1, the Cold War. The only such episode in this TOS Season 2. In this case, the story was inspired by the Vietnam War. But it's very well just about the Korean War.

The Cold War is cold because there's no direct military confrontations between the 2 superpowers of USA and Soviet Union. But proxy wars like the Korean War and the Vietnam War were fought instead. MAD principle of nuclear arsenals prevents the 2 superpowers from going to war with each other directly. The war between the 2 superpowers would start WW3 and ends the civilisation as we know it.

The key phrase in this episode is "Balance of Power". This is the name of the game of geopolitics (or astropolitics to be exact in this case). If one side of the military power is overwhelmingly stronger than the other, the weaker side will get taken over. The Balance of Power ensures that either side will blink.

The arm and space race during the Cold War was also another 2 facets of this game of Balance of Power.

This Balance of Power can be applied to the superpowers themselves as well as the proxy states where the proxy wars are fought. When the Communist Soviet supplied AK-47 to North Vietnam, USA supplied M16 to South Vietnam, Balance of Power is restored, according to the U.S. government.

Balance of Power is also the reason why President Nixon wanted to woo/court China that resulting in the Normalisation of US-China relationship in 1978. By becoming friendly with China, USA would put Soviet in the weaker position in the strategic game of the Balance of Power. During the Cold War, this game is being playing out endlessly.

So it's obvious that the Federation represents USA and the Klingon represents the Soviet in this, and just about all other TOS episodes so far. And so when the Klingons supplied 'fire-sticks' to one tribe, USA (sorry I mean the Enterprise, I'm very confused) has to supply flintlocks to the other tribe to defend themselves.

Like George Orwell's Animal Farm, which is an allegory of the Russian Revolution, where the Old Major represents Karl Marx, the pigs are Bolsheviks (calling them pigs, real subtle), Napoleon represents Vladimir Lenin, Snowball represents Leon Trotsky, the Human represents bourgeois class and landowner, Boxer the workhorse represents the Russian farmers, Animalism represents Socialism, etc.

Many of George Orwell's works in fact the definitive literature in the West of the Cold War era. It's still considered a very important work today, voted as one of the best English language novels in the 20th century. In Cold War Era, it's the book for the West as far as political literature goes.

Because his works have such paramount influence in Cold War as a - for the lack of a better word - propaganda tools for the West, no decent Star Trek TOS writer who's going to do the Soviets in without learning from the Master of Allegory of the Cold War.

You could say the whole Star Trek TOS, at least Season 1, was inspired by the allegories of George Orwell. And indeed, most of the episodes in Season 1 are allegories about the Cold War, not too dissimilar to Animal Farm. Except instead of English speaking animals, we have English speaking aliens.

As I pointed out several times in previous reviews, they changed tack in Season 2. This episode revisits that topic in Season 2. The only one in Season 2. Of course, the whole Star Trek enterprise (no pun intended) is an allegory of human history. The journey into the future is in fact the journey into our past. TOS started Season 1 with the contemporary issue, and in Season 2, it journeys deeper and deeper into our past to get materials for the episodes.

The story of this episode is an allegory of the Vietnam War, or as the North Vietnamese called it, the War of Independence. So each of the character represents a real-world counterpart (like the definitive Animal Farm).

The Federation - USA (the Administration)
The Klingons - Soviet Union
Hill People - South Vietnamese people (especially villagers in the countryside)
Enemy Villager - VC (Vietcong)
Mona - North Vietnamese government
Captain Kirk - U.S. President (LBJ)
McCoy - the angry American people (especially the Vietnam anti-war protesters)
Fire-sticks - AK47 rifles
Flintlocks - M16 rifles
Prime Directive - None interference foreign policy

And ah yes, the ever debated Prime Directive is also given its full due in this episode. Once again, the Federation - represented by Captain Kirk - has to step in and break the Number 1 Rule (aka the Prime Directive). As he says, he has no choice. Of course, this is this TOS writer's way of making clear his position that Uncle Sam has no choice but to interfere in the internal politics of other countries. In this case, to restore the Balance of Power in Vietnam. Other times, for other reasons as shown in other episodes. In any case, this TOS writer sent a pretty clear message about his approval of the political stance on the American involvement in Vietnam.

It's war like the Vietnam War that urged the American people to think about their interference in other countries' affairs. This dilemma is translated into the Prime Directive. Uncle Sam had fought so many wars in so many countries in the 20th century that this Prime Directive has been come into question again and again. The struggle of the Prime Directive by the Enterprise crew reflects the wrestling of American Foreign Policy towards other countries.

The 2 alien villagers or tribes who represent north and south Vietnamese are in fact based on American Indian. They dress and talk in the way as the native Americans being portayed in cowboys-and-Indians movies (although this episode is more like Indians-and-aliens, and funny enough, the American Indians are the aliens, and the aliens are the human! Confuse?). They also live in tepees. Of course, no depiction of native American culture is complete without the medicine woman or witch-doctor, who cures people of their illness with magic and potion. Although the term 'witch' would describe her role better. She seduces men with aphrodisiac herb to 'cast a spell' on them. She's also deceitful and treacherous. As I said, a witch (or if you fan of Santana, "Black Magic Woman").

While the villagers are based on the native American, they're however deliberately make them looked as different as possible by having Caucasian blondes playing them. After all, they don't want the audience to confuse that they're American Indians. Having said that, there're blond American Indians living in USA (and blond Australian Aborigines with blue eyes). But I don't think that's what the Trek writer or casting directors had in mind. Confuse?

Mona, the actress who played the witch-doctor, however is also a Caucasian female, whom was tanned to look like native American. The explanation is simply this. Whenever Hollywood wanted to show somebody innocent and pure, they used blond Caucasians. If they wanted to show evil people, they used brunette with dark skin. At least, that's the deal in Hollywood before, oh say, the 1980s. Probably is still true today, but to a lesser extent, and more subtle. After all, the word "dark" often associates with sinister. By applying to skin, it becomes a racial issue.

At the end, Kirk has to order 100 flintlocks to get the Balance of Power that's needed for the 2 warring tribes. And then he says he wants "100 serpents for the Garden of Eden". Coincidental or otherwise, this is an allusion to episode 2.5 "The Apple" where the Biblical serpents symbolise interference from outside world. Not coincidentally, Prime Directive is also a hotly debated topic in episode 2.5.

This episode was made in 1968 at the height of American involvement in Vietnam. The Green Berets (1968) was also released later in the same year as this episode, which is hardly surprising given the political climate at the time.

If you watch this youtube clip, particular between 03:00 and 3:50. When the green beret was told by the journalist that this is a war between the North and South Vietnam, the green beret shows a range of weapons supplied to the North Vietnamese by the various communist countries. That pretty much sums up the core message of this TOS episode.
 
 













We simply can't let the Communists (ahem, I mean the Klingons) spreading their Empire throughout the galaxy. Oh, by the way, Georget Takei also played in The Green Berets. Of course, there weren't that many Asian actors at the time in Hollywood (or now). Every known Asian faces would be called in for service, so to speak. This explains his absence on the Enterprise set on quite a number of consecutive episodes in Season 2 around the time when The Green Berets was being made, including this episode (kinda ironic, don't you think?).
 
Funny enough, the well known Chicago film critic Roger Ebert described The Green Berets (1968)as "cowboys and Indians" movie. Did he watch this episode of Star Trek TOS earlier in the year? I wonder... Usually, a story of TOS episode is inspired by a recent popular movie. As this episode is aired before the The Green Berets, it's tempting to conclude that the TOS writer didn't get the idea from The Green Berets. I'm not saying it is, or it isn't. I'm just saying you can't jump to conclusion simply because this episode was screened before The Green Berets. This is because The Green Berets may have started earlier, just finished later. This is to be expected as The Green Berets is a big budget feature length movie.
 
This is one of those serious episode that's characteristic in TOS Season 1. And so no light hearted ending where the bunch of senior officers of the spaceship Enterprise would laugh it off until the credit rolls. No such comic relief here. Just some sobering thoughts for captain Kirk (and the American audience) to ponder on. Should you or shouldn't you get involved in the Vietnam War? Cast your vote now...




Sunday, 29 September 2013

TOS - 2.20 - Return to Tomorrow


Star Trek - A Return to Tomorrow
I'm doing the Lunar Walk. Don't confuse it
with Moon Walk. I know it looks pretty looney.
"You don't have to be beautiful to turn me on"

Boys and girls, don't do this at home !
When I saw the title, I thought it was going to be an episode about time travel like episode 1.19 "Tomorrow is Yesterday". After all, the synonyms of this title would be "Back to the Future". Well, it's not about time travel.

When I heard the god-like booming voice addressing the whole Enterprise crew at the beginning, I thought this may be one of the episode more like episode 2.2 "Who Mourns for Adonais?", I was on the money.

Let me do a quick recap. Star Trek TOS Season 1 is all about superior god-like aliens calling human a dumb-ass, but Season 2's main thrust is that those superior aliens aren't so great after all. Some are quite silly and misguided as shown in episode  2.2 "Who Mourns for Adonais?", 2.5 "The Apple",  2.7 "Catspaw", and 2.9 "Metamorphosis", and this episode.

All these episodes in Season 2 seems to try to convince us that while these ETs are more highly evolved, more superior than us, and has truly astounding mental capacity, but that's no reasons  to look up to them. In fact, they need us and envy us. Lucky us. There's no better episode than this one to illustrate this idea.

Sargon and the inhabitants on this planet has evolved to a point so high in the evolutionary ladder that they have no physical body. They exist as pure energies of their minds. Any human (that include me, who acknowledged it grudgingly in Season 1, but beginning to warm up to the idea in Season 2) who watches this episode would find this god-like aliens rather sad and pitiful.

It brings up the very interesting philosophy as René Descartes put it, "I think, therefore I'm". This may be true. But to make life worth living, I say, "I feel, therefore I'm". To live life devoid of all sensations are no life. This is why these bodiless aliens want our help, to make themselves an androids. Well, an androids are quite pathetic, but what's the alternative?

It would be having the Enterprise do the deeds for them and breed many little Kirks and Spocks, and Nurse Chapels to populate the barren planet. Well, they haven't thought of that. At least, this isn't that episode.

Lenard Nimoy put on one of his rare animated performance. Up until now, there're only 3 episodes where Spock shows his emotion. Episodes 1.4 "The Naked Time" and 1.24 "This Side of Paradise" where Spock's emotion wells up to the surface because he loses his inhibition due to external element. In episode 2.1 "Amok Time", he loses it because of his pon farr or what I would call the Vulcan male menstral period.

In this episode, because he's 'possessed', and he takes on the emotional state of Henoch who occupies his consciousness. And Henoch isn't a nice character, and so you can feast your eyes on some sinister expressions from Spock.




Sunday, 22 September 2013

TOS - 1.23 - A Taste of Armageddon


Star Trek - A Taste of Armageddon
You look tired and tense, having trouble sleeping?
Don't worry, let me give you a Vulcan massage.
It guarantees to put you to sleep soundly
It probably sounds strange, but this is one of the very few episodes in TOS that tackles the issues about the future.

While the setting of Star Trek is futuristic, many TOS episodes in Season 1 preoccupy with the contemporary issues of the Cold War, and the main thrust of TOS Season 2 focuses on our past. This episode is a bit of exception. It deals with the future. A frightening future I should add.

This episode is way ahead of its time. Some critics said the scenario depicted in this episode can't occur in real life. Of course not, but they miss the point. As most, if not all episodes in Star Trek, the stories are allegorical. It shouldn't be taken literally any more than George Orwell's Animal Farm should be taken as it is. No, farm animals can't talk.

Some of the aspects of George Orwell another great work 1984 have come true while others not. Similarly, some aspects of this episode have realised.  I don't know if this episode is the 1st film to deal with the theme of wargames. It may very well be. Star Trek TOS has a habit of coming up with original ideas, especially sci-fi ones. It's certainly one of the 1st, if not the 1st.

Wargames(1983) is movie based on this eponymous theme, and this episode predated it by 13 years. This is big deal because usually TV follows the movies' lead, no thte other way around. Well, Start Trek TOS is very much ahead of its time.

While this is a film based on a fictional world, watching the Gulf War in 1990 on TV unsettled me when I saw a video game mentality in some of US pilots that we're one step closer to the deadly oxymoron of war game. They cheered in glee as they dropped bombs from their planes. And the Wargames(1983) set against the backdrop of Cold War, a war that nobody has dwelt deeper than TOS Season 1. So this episode is a predecessor to Wargames(1983) on 2 counts. However, there's one important topic that's new in Wargames(1983), and it's computer hackers. This is a popular topic in the 1980's as the internet hacking was a hot topic of its days.

The drone warfare brings us one more step closer. As the episode is never meant to be realistic, but an allegory, step by step, we're closer in fulfilling the nightmarish scenario than ever. Since the drone warfare is one sided at the moment, one can argue this is a worse scenario than those depicted in this episode because the side who owns the drones has eliminate casualty on their side, which is the whole point of the frightening message of this episode, which is the dehumanisation of technology in the battlefields.

I'm not taking any side, simply points out our military development seemingly heading towards the fictional scenario in this episode where we're increasingly relying on technology to fight wars, relying on it to make decision for us, even life and death decision as the idea is toyed with in Wargames(1983).

At the onset of industrialisation, there were a explosion of machines to serve us, but gradually the roles of machines have taken on increasingly important roles that we're becoming more of their slaves than their masters in many ways. This is also the theme of this episode, And so a sci-fi sub-genre cyberpunk was born. The Terminator (1984) and  The Matrix (1999) are the most well known examples. They're allegories of human being enslaved by machines, and we try to struggle against it. In short, we rise up to fight the oppression by the machines, figuratively speaking.




Saturday, 21 September 2013

Pitching Script for Cast and Crew


We're going to pitch our scripts for cast and crew this Saturday. By We, I mean Marrie and I.

The script I'm pitching is my 2nd script, entitled "Heart Flutters".

Before I talk about this script, let me just do a brief flashback, and talk about my 1st script, entitled "The Gift". I already talked about this in my previous post (by the way, going by pageview count, lots more people read this post than I had anticipated. As I type this, it ranks 9th in the Popular Posts section within a few weeks. So I'm not just talking to myself. Good to know).

But I need to tell you more bumpy road - or using the same metaphor as the previous post - open rough seas that happened to my 1st script.

After I showed Marrie my 1st script the 1st time, she was unimpressed. I went back to do an overhaul (with some help from Kit). I was reasonably happy (not saying it's perfect, just happier). She read it, but no comment. Well, she just tried to spare my feeling. I got the silent message.

Well, on hindsight, I agree with that silent, but loud appraisal. While it's got an entertaining plot, the characters' depth aren't sufficiently fleshed out in my view. O alas, my 1st script, how you have suffered for your artistry. Let me make it up to you.

Even before I've got my silent treatment, I was struck by a flash of inspiration. This spurred me to work on my next script. After many twists and turns, self-doubts, writer's block the size of the Moon, and once again with help from Kit, I finally finished my 2nd script. It got 23 pages, and took me 4 or 6 weeks to get it done. In other words, 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration.

It looks like I will have to put my 1st script on ice, or into the bottom drawer (it's drier and warmer here).

With the experience of the 1st script, my optimism this time is more cautious. Marrie read it, and the reply was, in her exact wording, "Bravo Francis. I like your script...very much". My reply was, "Thanks. I like it too...."

Well, who doesn't like his own script? It's just a matter of degree.

That praise is her greenlight to produce the film from the script.

Ok, end of the flashback.

Marrie Lee pitching her script in Reel Frenz Group
Marrie pitching her script in Talent Cafe
This snapshot shows the diversity of our group members in terms
of age, gender, race, social and professional backgrounds that
united by the shared passion of movie making
I pitched my script in the meeting, and the resounding response from the new (and a few old) attendees was "I love your script". I think I could more confidently remove my previous self-doubts.

Apart from the ego stroking (stroke it away, I don't mind, pat my back if you need to), my pitch turned out to be irrelevant. The question who - among the new attendees - want to be casted in my script, no hands were raised. This is in fact a good thing. Getting cast members are easy, large number of people believe they can act (after all, most of us do this at least some of the time since we were born). There're more than enough old members from our previous project whom could be casted in my script, I suspect. Our ratio of cast to crew size is about 3 to 1.

Getting technical people are more difficult. You really do have to know your stuff. And all the new attendees we have today want to get involved in working behind the camera. This is excellent for the growth of our group.

In general, going from personal experience and gut feeling, the list shows the level of difficulties in recruiting various talents in ascending order, for an amateur film group.

Actor
Script writer
Cameraman / DOP
Director
Dance choreographer
Musician/composer
Editor
Animator
Foley artist

It's obvious that actors are easy to find. The belief in their own ability to do it plus the glamour factor making this role with a great pull. Yes, writers are also a dime a dozen. In our group, we have double the number of members who write scripts than the number of DOPs. Because story telling, like acting, is part of our daily life, and it's not technical. Especially writing of short film. So people think they can do it without any formal training unlike the technical expertise such as foley or animation.

The last and most crucial factor for the last few experts in this list so hard to find is that they're people working behind the camera. And so no matter how many tens of thousands of movies you've watched, you can't see how they're being done and learn from it, unlike acting where audience could learn by imitation. This applies to script writing as well. A movie is simply a materialisation of a script.

After the meeting, Marrie asked me if I finished my script.
I said, "What do you mean?"
"Have you done your storyboarding?", she said.
"Not yet", I said.

If you say that it's not a script writer's responsibility to do the storyboarding, you're right. It's the director's responsibility. Well, in big budget movies, they've story illustrators to do this job. In indie/amateur production like ours, we do everything. So big budget productions are made by specialists, and smaller budget productions like ours are made by jacks/jills-of-all-trades.

She suggests that whoever writes the script directs it as well because nobody knows the story better than the script writer. As far as a small budget film is concerned, this is absolutely true. When I wrote the script, I did visualise the script from a director's viewpoint. Being a long-time shutterbug also comes in handy in terms of understanding framing, lighting, colour, etc. Some of the best directors come from a still photographer background. Zhang Yimou, the most well Chinese director, is such an example.

Well, back to the drawing story board.


My first storyboarding
My 1st attempt at storyboarding


Return to My Movie Making Main Page



Thursday, 19 September 2013

TOS - 2.17 - A Piece of the Action


Star Trek - A Piece of the Action
Nimoy:   Didn't you get the memo that we're doing
a  period piece today?                
Kelley:   They say they don't have any in my size.
Nimoy:   So what is your size ?                              
Kelley:   A gentlemen never tells. The main thing
           is that my wife's happy with the size.  
The diversification of genres away from the typical sci-fi themes that I mentioned in the reviews of episode 2.15 "The Trouble with Tribbles" continues. Episode 2.14 "A Wolf in the Fold" is a murder mystery, episode 2.15 "The Trouble with Tribbles" is a comedy, and this episode is a gangster flick.

This episode continues the trend of producing increasingly light hearted TOS series, and the colourful mobster slang just rolls off Captain Kirk's tongue like a rifle's salvo.

Maybe it's just me, but I really enjoy watching the Star Trek crew in other costumes and settings. Anachronism is always an entertaining feature in a movie.

As soon as the Enterprise is beamed down to the planet surface, we immediately reminded of the movie set from The Sting (1973). Perhaps, Bonnie and Clyde (1967) would be closer to home as it was released only a few months earlier. I wouldn't be surprise if this writer was inspired, indeed riding on the success of this very popular - to the point of phenomenal - gangster flick.

The underworld of this world may look like Chicago after the Prohibition in the 1920's, a closer look suggests that it would put the Chicago gangland to shame. I say that because it isn't just the male gangsters who walk around with Tommy guns, but the broads or doll faces - using what I imagine to be Chicago mobster lingo for "women" by imitating Kirk, who imitates the Iotian gangsters - who walk around with handguns in holsters that slung around their waists like some fancy fashionable belts (man, this is one long sentence). These gun-toting mamas is another indication that the writer was influenced by Bonnie and Clyde (1967).

This episode addresses 2 distinct but closely related concepts.

The 1st of the concept is why the Prime Directive is held in such high regard. Once the society is contaminated culturally by external influence, the result could be disastrous as shown in this episode.

The 2nd closely related concept is the cargo cult (I also wrote a review of a Japanese film The Bird People in China (1998) that's based on the cargo cults). While I suggested in my review of episode 2.2 "Who Mourns for Adonais?" that it's sort of about cargo cults. But this episode is more accurately reflected that idea.

With the Horizon crew from the Federation left behind a book, entitled Chicago Mobs of the Twenties, the whole Iotian society is based on it. This book, which the Iotians call "The Book" is the artifact that left behind by the higher civilisation where the more primitive society use it to regulate their society either as a religion or in this case a dogma for the mobsters. Nobody questions The Book, doing so would be sacrilegious.

Once the Feds - as the Iotians call the Federation - have made extensive contact with the local culture and invariably altered it, it leaves the Enterprise little choice but influence the hell out of it further to bring it back to the more civilised path. To fight fire with fire, so to speak. Such is a slippery path. As McCoy suggests that he may have left the communicator down at the planet. Kirk reasons with their talent of imitation and innovation, it wouldn't take long that they could reverse engineer the communicator to duplicate the Enterprise technology. I guess cultural contact could be tricky, and it's a case of damned if you do, and damn if you don't.

The cultural contamination of the Iotians by the Horizon crew in the past needs to be corrected by the Enterprise. This is like saying that the current government of a country needs to clean up the mess left behind by its previous government. This happens a lot in politics.

Since the Federation is really future equivalence of Uncle Sam - especially as depicted in TOS Season 1 when the villains in most of the episodes is future equivalent of USSR - one would naturally question the cultural, military, and political interference or intervention stance that USA took on the world post WW2, for better or worse. I already talked extensively about this topic in the the review of episode 1.21 "The Return of the Archons". So I won't repeat it here.




Friday, 13 September 2013

TOS - 2.15 - The Trouble with Tribbles


Star Trek - The Trouble with Tribbles
Dr. McCoy:  I think this furry frock looks rather      
dashing on you, Jim.
Capt. Kirk:  You don't think it makes me look fat?   
Mr. Spock:  It depends on whom you compare with.
If Jabba the Hutt, then no.
Dr. McCoy:  I think your frock is falling into pieces.
Capt. Kirk:  Please leave my frock alone, you two. 
There's a gradual evolution of TOS in diversifying its episodes from its mainstay of historical, cultural, philosophical, military and such typical sci-fi themes.

In the previous episode 2.14 "Wolf in the Fold", it's a murder mystery. In this episode, it's a comedy.

Actually, episodes in TOS Season 1 are serious, and contain few comic relief. There's a trend of gradually adding more and more light touches since Season 2, especially the last 10 episodes or so where the comic relief at the endings have become a Trek tradition.

This episode is a comedy from start to finish. In fact, almost borderline on farce. This should be obvious from the title.

So it would become fitting to have a full comedy episode like this one. The comedy being introduced seems to coincide with other changes that I indicated in 2.11 "Friday's Child". I think all these developments - more diverse genres, more subtle preaching, more comedy - point to the continuing trend of making TOS more entertaining and taking itself less seriously. They still deliver serious messages, just not with a straight face any more.

So would such a fluffy (no pun intended) light comedy contains any serious message? Actually there're 2.

The 1st one is captured in the following dialogues,

UHURA: But they do give us something, Mister Spock. They give us love. Well, Cyrano Jones says a tribble is the only love that money can buy.
KIRK: Too much of anything, Lieutenant, even love, isn't necessarily a good thing.

Who can argue with that? The same can be said about sunlight, darkness, exercise, rest, honesty, and lies.

The 2nd and more serious and complex message is indicated by the following transcript,

SPOCK: Surely you must have realised what would happen if you removed the tribbles from their predator-filled environment into an environment where their natural multiplicative proclivities would have no restraining factors.
JONES: Of course. What did you say?
SPOCK: By removing the tribbles from their natural habitat, you have, so to speak, removed the cork from the bottle and allowed the genie to escape.

I wouldn't be at all surprise if the writer was inspired by the story of the Queensland cane toads in Australia. In order to control the cane beetles that damaged the sugar canes in Queensland, Australia, the cane toads were introduced to the cane fields.

Just as Spock pointed out,  when the cane toads were allowed to roam free in Queensland, because the environment is free of its predator, the cane toads multiplied without restraint. Only over 100 cane toads were introduced to Queensland in 1939, by the 1960s, the population of cane toads had exploded. Today they numbered over 200 million. The cane toads can easily pose as a serious contender to the tribbles in the multiplication faculty.

While it's a very serious matter, causing serious ecological damages, the Aussies often laugh it off in a resigned manner, just like the tribbles trouble in this episode. At least the tribbles are fluffy and cute while the cane toads are anything but that.

Since cane toads are poisonous and tribbles are poisoned by Klingon spy, does this suggest another evidence that the tribble story may have inspired by the cane toads troubles. One more link between the 2 stories: produce - sugar cane and wheat grain. The poisonous cane toad are used to save the sugar cane, and the tribbles are poisoned by wheat grain that are supposed to be saved.

This episode could easily one of the most expensive TOS episode thus far with some 1500 tribbles being produced, as well as coming up with a model of the Deep Space Station K7.

The Klingons are simply increasingly looking like the Caucasian on earth. The one facial or makeup feature that marks the Klingons - they all have beards. But the wispy long beard that wore by the Chinese characters (in some cases, played by Caucasian) in Genghis Khan (1965) in their 1st appearance in episode 1.26 "Errand of Mercy" had given way to more Caucasian beards. It's all part of the evolution of Star Trek series.

Captain Koloth of the Klingons is played by William Campbell, who played Trelane character brilliantly in episode 1.17 "The Squire of Gothos". There're a few examples of actors playing more than one role in TOS. Mark Lenard who played a Romulan in 1.14 "Balance of Terror", and then ambassador Sarek is another notable example.

There's an interesting trivia associated with this script. The writer who wrote this script used a smaller font to type his script, and ended up with a longer script. He needed to remove 20 pages of the script (which is a lot) to get the script into the right length. Funny that.

I was old enough to apply a job by typing an application letter on a typewriter. No PC existed then. And as far as I knew, there's only one font size on a typewriter. Apparently, it wasn't so. Changing font size these days involving a click of the mouse, but changing font size on a typewriter involving buying a new typewriter. A mistake I imagine wouldn't easily make. The writer obviously used the wrong typewriter.




Monday, 9 September 2013

TOS - 2.11 - Friday's Child


Star Trek - Friday's Child
I think it says "gaga" or is it "papa"?
I dunno. Hell! I'm a doctor, not a Vulcan.
I don't do mindmeld with a pillow that's
pretending to be a pregnancy
This episode continues the tradition that started in TOS Season 2 of portraying an alien race - typically humanoid - who resembles the human in our past. Of course, the humanoid's physical appearance make them resemble our ancestors they portrayed even more, right down to the costumes and make up. The only difference is they're given alien names and titles. For example, the king is called the Teer in this episode.

In fact, with the exception of episodes 2.3 and 2.9, all TOS episodes in Season 2 up until and including this one are built on that theme. These 2 episodes form the exceptions because the alien beings in it aren't humanoid. One is an intelligent probe, and the other is something like a cloud of electrolytes. Both aren't flesh and blood.

Because the alien races are based on our past societies, their behaviour are rather baffling to us modern people. But these are the very behaviour that plagued many of our medieval societies. They're quite universal.

Let me give you an example from this episode. Anyone who touches the Teer's wife would receive a death sentence, even if it's in the act of saving her life, or healing her. This rule, which seems rather ludicrous to modern people, is quite universal to monarchy systems from China in the East, across the Middle East, and to Europe in the West in the Medieval times. Yep, we earthlings are a lot more alike than our appearances.

Another example, the hereditary system means that a baby would be crowned as king after the king's death even if he has no ability to rule. Of course, the kingdom will be ruled by a regent on his behalf until he comes of age. This is another universal rule that we find laughable today.

In other words, the customs and traditions of our ancestors seems alien to us. They're as alien to us as humanoid alien living on another planet - the setting for majority of Star Trek episodes.

This episode obviously criticises another human past failing.

It's true that the Trek writers still put the human race on trial as they did in Season 1. But they did so with 2 significant differences.
1. The human society being judged are disguised as aliens. You could say the old human histories are told in allegory form (like Animal Farm but in space instead of farm setting).
2.  It's the old human societies that being explored/exploited/reflected/introspected/judged, rather than the contemporary world that Season 1 tends to concentrate on.

Gone were the days, or TOS Season 1, where the superior aliens wag their collective fingers at human race, and says, "Earthling, isn't it time for you lots to grow up", and they shake their collective heads in despair.

Well, Trek writers realised they didn't want to alienate (no pun intended) the audience by lecturing them as a primitive and barbaric race all the times, even if it's true. There's only so much truth we earthling can handle. Besides, it can become rather tedious and tiresome. Bear in mind that most of the audience of Star Trek were earthling.

I said most because some of Star Trek fans might be alien as radio signal leaking out from the Blue Planet, radiating outwards in all direction. It's like a "We're here. Invade us" signal, or a cross-hair on a rifle scope. Why search for ET? They already knew where we are as we broadcast the signal into space for more than a century.

Some people suggested that it's a bad idea for us to try to communicate with alien because some of them could be hostile. Well, it's already too late at the very moment we used radio waves. The movie Contact (1997) entertains such an idea. This movie depicts the enteraining side of alien contact. The negative side is that they will invade and destroy us because they don't like how they were portrayed in the Star Trek series. Oh...that ideas already been toyed with in Galaxy Quest (1999)? This film says that some of the Star Trek fans are from outer space. I thought I stumbled on some brilliant idea for a movie. Drat! I'll get a totally original idea one day.

When told in allegory form, it softens the blow. It doesn't sound like a put down. It always more effective in roundabout persuasion than blunt lecturing. And you can certainly watch an allegory without being aware that you're being preached to because the silly characters aren't human, they're aliens. Ok then...

Another note-worthy thing to point out in this episode is the appearance of the Klingon.

As I pointed out that some aliens, whom were originally conceived that based on the Asian people have changed into Caucasian without any explanation.

The previous example include Khan Noonien Singh in TOS episode 1.22 "Space Seed" where he was clearly depicted as Indian Sikh being changed into a Caucasian. Similarly, the 1st appearance of Klingon in episode 1.26 "Errand of Mercy" where they were clearly portrayed as Mongols, who bears a striking resemblance to the unflattering portrayals of Chinese in Genghis Khan (1965) only produced a year earlier.

But in this episode, the Klingon looks more like the Middle Eastern, who portrayed the Mongols in Genghis Khan (1965). Omar Sharif - an Egyptian Arab - was of course played Genghis Khan himself.

The point is, in the early days of Star Trek, things can change rather suddenly and without any explanation. As the audience were as sophisticated today, and so they would be left rather confused and bewildered by all these unexplained mysterious changes.

While the exterior physical features may have changed, but their character remains the same - treacherous, belligerent, and brutal. In short, a race without honour or much redeeming qualities, quite different from the Klingon in subsequent Star Trek spin-off. They weren't so respectable as they do today. This is all part of the evolution of the Trek lore.



Monday, 26 August 2013

The Birth of Project 2

Project 1, which the film titled "Once upon a Stormy Night" has been renamed to Rojak project, is drawn to a close with the appropriately "Dance Finale Shoot" took place on 16 June.

Well, the short film is actually still in post production. Our talented one and only editor is busying putting all the bits and pieces together. A Herculean task.

Despite the facts that we've yet to see the final cut. Because my absolute faith in Paolo, our Herculean editor, we can consider we've completed a film. Our 1st and hopefully many more to come.


Film editing screen grab
Screen grab of the film editor of Rojak short film

While Paolo is sweating over his hot computer putting together the jigsaw puzzle that we created, some of us already were preparing for our next project.

And the very 1st thing for our next project is of course getting script ideas.

Before the meeting to gather the ideas for our next project, I showed my synopsis of a murder mystery title "A Political Murder". It's a murder mystery done in a mockumentary fashion. In other words, it's a black comedy. I was kind of delighted with my effort. And when I showed it to Marrie, our executive producer and founder of Reel Frenz, she liked it too. She commented to others, "It's very CSI". My head swelled beyond my tall hat (if you speak Chinese, you will get another layer of meaning from "tall hat").

All seemed to be smooth sailing. Well, nothing in real life is ever so smooth. This is because I was still sailing in the harbour.

In any case, I should make a better writer than actor (even though that was my role in the Rojak project. I had only the minimal experience in acting). As for writing, just look at what I have been writing here in my blog. After writing more than 200 movie reviews  (at this point in time), I should have some ideas on how to write a story for a movie or two. At the very least, recognise if a story sucks more than the event horizon of a black hole.

We sailed into the rough open sea, which took the shape of a Arabic restaurant called Nabin's. This was where the meeting of "OPEN CALL - Discussion for Next Short Film Project" was held on 22 June. "Open call" = "open sea".

Sailing yachts in Sydney Harbour, Australia
Sailing in Sydney Harbour
All of us introduced ourselves to the new members. Some of us presented our story ideas. 7 people in all, and they include Marrie, Kit, Michael, and myself. There's also 3 new people I couldn't recall. I couldn't recall these new people because they never become old people. I've never met them or indeed heard from them since that meeting.

Marrie presents her story idea in Nabin's
I'm the furthest person from the camera on the right row
(if you care)
Dunno if the serious talk for the need of serious commitment scared them off. I think it's a good thing if it did. Better get cold feet early than later, saving both parties the time and energy, and avoiding disappointment.

Some people think that because it's only an amateur group, no commitment would be needed. After all, they donate their time for free, they should be able to quit any time. If all members have such attitude, no film will get made.

Besides, if one couldn't commit to this group, it implies one isn't passionate enough. Commitment should be proportional to Passion. Since passion is what binds this group together, without it, the group simply falls apart.

Of course, some would probably just turn up and had a looksee. Well, I take no issue with that.

At the end of the meeting, the most significant thing came out of it is this. Short films isn't a commercially viable option. As we don't have the resources, and experience to make a full feature length movie, a compromise would be an anthology or omnibus film. I.e. a feature length film that's made up of several short films.

I could think of the following reasons why having a few short films scripts are better than a single feature length script at our stage of development of our group:
1.  Several members can participate in any given activity. In this case, writing. So if we have several short stories, we have several opportunities for members who wish to write, and given us a sense of participation.
2.  Different writers would bring in different experiences and perspectives in terms of cultures, for example.
3.  Since we have no idea who are the good writers, whom do we give the tasks to? Having several writers would reveal their individual strengths and weaknesses. And most importantly, commitment level. Yes, we're back to that.
4.  Since more than one person are writing scripts, it means it occurs in parallel, shorten the script completion time.
5.  For a feature length script, it will take much longer to complete. What do we do at the mean time? Twiddle our thumbs? I can't do that because I'm all thumbs.
6.  Short films are quicker to produce, and we will see results sooner. This is important for newbies like us.
7.  While as much as we want to commit, sometimes it's simply out of our hands. The shorter the film production cycle, the lesser the chance of some members drop out in the middle of a project.

We can't simply throw a number of random short films and call it an anthology film. These short films have to belong together in some ways in order to get included into one single film. Perhaps, the different stories all have a common element that linking them together.

After some deliberation, and recalling some of the stories that were presented in the meeting, it occurred to me that at least 3 people presented stories in the supernatural theme. The 3 members are Marrie, Kit, and a new member.

So I suggested to Marrie that why don't we make that common element being the stories in the supernatural theme as there were already 3 members who have stories in that subgenre. This is a good suggestion for the group, but I basically shot myself in the foot because my story is a murder mystery (is it better to say I kill my own prospect of writing a murder mystery?). Me and my big mouth. There's time to speak, and time to shut the hell up.

See? No smooth sailing.

Thinking I'm out of the loop by this suggestion, Marrie suggested I should change my story by adding supernatural element into it. I didn't like the idea one bit. Luckily, I managed to stay afloat. The lifesaver came in the form of a story titled "The Gift" that I have been thinking about for a few months that happened to be in the supernatural theme. Maybe I 'm more cunning than I led on. Who knows? Not me.

Actually, it took me a couple of weeks to conceive "The Gift". It was going to be a story for a feature length film. And then along came a writer's block that ruined my plan. Since the block seems to weigh a tonne and refuse to budge for a few months, maybe the story is only 30 mins long.


Wollongong Foreshore Park, NSW, Australia
Visit to Wollongong Foreshore Park, NSW, Australia

In any case, I was back into the saddle.

So I wrote a synopsis for "The Gift". After reading it, Marrie gave me a greenlight to write the script. When she asked me the expected time of completing the script, I told her I have to visit my folks back in Australia the following week. And I would be away for a week. So it would be a month by my estimation. Little did she, nor I knew that while I was on "holiday" in Australia, I wrote the whole script with 2 days to spare.

Aileen sent her best wish that "my trip would be a fruitful one". She had no idea how well her wish turns out.

The script is 30 pages long. So using a rule of thumb, this translates into a 30 mins short film.

A few thing I've learnt after writing the script.

1.  A minute is a long time and a lot can happen in a movie (unless you don't care about dead space).
2.  The flight of fancy has to be grounded in real life budget and talent constraint of an amateur group.
3.  You spend 70% of the time developing the story, and 30% writing the script.

Regarding point 1. I read in a marketing book saying telling a story to sell a product within 2 minute isn't enough. I say it's plenty.

Some people have the bright idea that if you make an art house film, everything HAS to happen slowly. Ok, take my 30 minutes story, and bingo, you get a feature length movie. Don't get me wrong, I love art house films. Zhang Yimou is one of my favourite directors. Especially his early art house films.

As for point 2. The budget constraint is obvious, but the artistic and talent constraint isn't as obvious. If my story demands a nude scene, would an amateur agree to do it? Most likely not. Ok, let's take a less dramatic, but more realistic example. What about an intimate scene that requires some kissing or necking? What about action and stunt? Crying on cues? All these are things that needs to be kept in mind when writing budget films with amateur talents.

Well, point 3 at least applies to my current script. Some people, like my fellow member who just dives in writing the script. I guess everyone's method of writing is very personal.

Actually, the open sea is a bit rougher than I imagined. I also submitted 2 other synposis after "The Gift". This was becuase I was still holding on the hope to turn "The Gift" into a feature length film. One was a horror, which Marrie rejected out of hand, commenting that she woudn't want to do horror. The other story was too similar to the one she's writing. I guess the bottom line is learning to have rejections rolled off like water off a duck's back (easier said than done, I know). That goes for criticism of your works as well. Grow some thick skins. Don't take it personally. After all, we've the same goal, to see my work succeeds.

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