Monday, January 03, 2011

What I Did in the Dead of Winter

Hello Reader!  So I've been awfully busy the last few weeks.  Legitimately!  Stop laughing!  Anyways, I've been working hard on clearing my mind so I can continue writing on my novel.  Wait a minute, you just said you'd been working hard!  Shut up and listen, I'm getting there!

Schizophrenia aside, I really have been diligently pressing forward on a side-project of mine that I've taken quite a bit of pride in.  The culmination of my anger at M. Night Shyamalan coupled with my love for the series Avatar: The Last Airbender has resulted in a completed, 118 page script for a film!  Yes, it's a hefty and slightly arrogant task to undertake.  I've never taken a screenwriting class, what do I know of the intricacies involved in crafting a well-done movie?  But that's not the point of this exercise.

The point was to see if I could.  To see if I could finish the damn thing the way I wanted to finish it, to envision the first season of Avatar the way I feel it could be represented best.  It was quite a challenge, and through its travails I understand why Shyamalan failed.  Condensing one season of a television show requires more than just cutting out certain episodes and including others.  In fact, this condensation shouldn't even occur.  What should happen instead is an elevation of the plot's strongest points, the character's most powerful emotions and the story's most transcendent heights.

With Avatar, this is all rather easy.  You just had to pay attention and rewatch each episode religiously.  From Aang's emergence in the first episode to the awkward and rushed ending of the last, each thread of story is so clearly outlined and full developed by the show's creaters Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino that any missed beat is solely the fault of the writer.

Take for example Aang's love for Katara.  Several times in the show this love is clearly articulated.  The Cave of Two Lovers episode, The Play episode of Season 3, even the very first episode of the series depicts Aang's infatuation with Katara in crystalline brushstrokes.  But those are only a few episodes at a time.  What truly illustrated Aang and Katara's mutual feelings was the blushing, awkward glances, brave attempts at flirting and even daring rescues that occurred without lines being spoken.  It's these subtleties in acting, performance, cinematography and direction that Night left out of his film and that the creators of Avatar utilized extensively.

So what did I have to do to elevate the show?  Cut out several episodes, steal lines from one episode and insert those tidbits of information into scenes and places they did not exist beforehand.  I had to, several times, steal from future seasons and write-in events that would happen later in the series.  For example, King Bumi makes an appearance in the first season.  While the episode he appears in is derivative filler, the character himself is incredibly important.  He is part of the White Lotus!  A group of men that becomes so ludicrously important in the latter half of season two and final episodes of season three that shoving each of the main members' introductions into the second or third movies will demean their incredible importance.

It is crucial to introduce Bumi in the first film of three, give him time to be imprisoned in the second film, and then bring him back during the third.  Because in the second film, you have the introduction of the White Lotus itself, laying down railroad tracks the viewer cannot see the destination of but whose very construction intrigues them enough to come and see the Avatar world a third time.  And Hell, there's so much going on in the second season that using precious minutes of film time to introduce and give backstory to a rather kooky character right after Aang, Katara and Sokka have fought the battle of their lives and lost those that they loved seems to be a drastic and sadistic treatment of tone.

And therein do we find the most important aspect of any elevation of a television series.  The tone must be set correctly.  Granted, several times during the animated show itself one sees a flux in tone that is uncharacteristic of the producers.  The final three episodes of the first season are clear examples of this.  How does Master Pakku teach Aang and Katara so well in those few days or so that he has them?  Or have weeks gone by?  Why is it that when Sokka and Hahn grapple with each other, they are almost immediately pulled apart by Arnook and then without any attempt at figuring out who was at fault Sokka is taken off the very important secret mission to kill Zhao?  Why is the Zuko arc of the three episodes so...limp?  Nothing comes of his attempt to steal Aang away, no personal growth or even plot development.  In fact, though he was in the background for much of the first season, Iroh creates more ripples in the plot during these three episodes than Zuko does.  Huh?

But there are more often than not great examples of tone throughout the Avatar series, especially in Season one.  The Fortune Teller episode, though filler, had an incredibly and delightful balance of humor and sincerity.  Grappling with his love for Katara and saving a village at the same time, Aang is portrayed as a sincere, honest, kind, compassionate child who we can all root for.  But it is always emphasized that he is still a kid, not yet ready to confront the dangers he is asked to tame.  The episodes Jet and The Blue Spirit are more great examples of tone.  Humor is injected into very dangerous, very serious situations that test the morals, mettle, and tolerance of our heroes to degrees they've never experienced and must become accustomed to.

It's this tone I was trying to strike in the script.  Humor is one thing that was seriously lacking from Shyamalan's script.  These children are not fighting in a war, not yet.  They are surrounded by war, but that does not mean they have to be sodden depressives.  These children are filled with hope - so what if it's naive? - and determination born of rugged lifestyles brought upon by their poverty and loss during the war.  Sorrowful, wandering saps they are not.  And that is exactly what they were depicted as in Shyamalan's idiot film.  No longer was Aang the happy go-lucky child thrust into the limelight of responsibility.  He was an angry, inarticulate and rather stupid Airbender.  Whoopie.

After watching interviews of Shyamalan expressing his love and interest in the film, you can see his utter gall.  He has no real respect for the material.  The Eastern influences he constantly espouses as bait that reeled him in are not nearly as prominent as he makes them out to be.  They are segues into character development, not plot points in and of themselves.  The spirit world is only visited in attempts at furthering the plot, NOT as a religious pilgrimage guided by a blue dragon.  Fuck, Avatar Roku was the most important spiritual character in the ENTIRE series and he wasn't even included in the God damn film!  Atrocity?  I think so!

Anyways, the script includes Bumi, Jeong Jeong, Zhao, and Jet.  I've left out the Kyoshi warriors, the Northern Air Temple, the Earthbender prison, the pirates, and many other derivative characters that did not contribute to the central plot: get to the Northern Water tribe as fast as freaking possible.

However, as a side note, the Kyoshi warriors will appear in the second film.  Because after I'm done with this novel, I'm going to write a second script.  I have no clue what I'm going to do with these things.  They were written for two purposes alone: 1) to make myself feel loads better about the film, and 2) to take my mind off the novel.

About that second purpose though.  This exercise legitimately helped.  I've figured out new avenues to pursue with the novel, solving many of the problems I've been having with continuity and plot development.  There just needs to be more action!  There's too much God damned hand-wringing and worrying and talking in my novel!  Not enough of the wam-bham, OMG I'M GOING TO DIE variety of prose.  Because that is what drives the plot really.  Something happening.  On screen.  On the page.  Not some allusion, or threat.  But an actual monkey wrench in the plans.

Writing this script forced me to strip a story to its bare bones.  I had to realize what was good, what was drivel, and what would help elicit an emotion from my audience.  Then I had to connect the dots with flourish and panache, injecting humor taken directly from the series into a war-zone of ideas and emotions clashing against each other violently.  This really helped my novel.  What is the bare bones of my story for this first book?

Briok has learned he is the Magna Beast and must begin his training in the art of murder.  His best friend Proteus Qolsat is being hunted down by the mafia because of his father's high political position, forcing Briok into situation after situation testing his new abilities.  Briok's mentors Amar and Arthur Fourgun are confronted with new technology whose origins and purpose they do not know, and whose raw power could undo the very peace and calm they've fought for.  And Tory Cross is a young mafia boss enraged by betrayal to the point where his manic anger will soon cause a world of pain to Briok and the ones he loves.

Thanks Shyamalan for fucking up so well.  You've let me attempt quality in my work, and I am truly greatful.  Until next time then.

*Sidenote, I realize I used a lot of names and talked about a lot of plot that is unfamiliar to most of you.  I apologize for this.  I can't really remedy it though, because explaining Avatar the animated series to everyone would take a whole blogpost in and of itself.


  1. EDWARD9:38 PM


  2. Anonymous2:00 PM