October 6, 2019

What Richard Brody Gets Wrong About "Joker" in the New Yorker

With all due respect, I don’t think I have disagreed with an article in the recent past more than I do with Richard Brody's review of Joker in the October 3 issue of The New Yorker.
This is the second article I’ve read making accusations against Todd Phillips (who I was no big fan of until this movie) that I believe are largely misplaced. The first is the accusation that he’s whitewashing the infamous Bernard Goetz subway shooting, racializing it and essentially defending Goetz. Really? Is that what Phillips was intending to do? How do we know that? I find the accusation dubious at best.
Next, the author doubles down and accuses Phillips again of racializing the attack by a group of non-white youth. Never mind that the very next attack occurs exclusively by white men and this is the one where he goes full Goetz. I’ll chalk this up to sloppy reviewing. I believe I’m being generous.
Next, I simply have to look at the films of another “downer” director, David Fincher - Seven, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Insomnia, Zodiac, etc. - as Exhibit A of equally dark and cynical storytelling. Like those films, Joker has a place, and frankly, I loved it. Furthermore, I have no idea how you tell the story of Joker without going to a very dark place. ‘Nuff said.
Last but not least, I am confused by what Brody is saying about conservative versus liberal politics. I don’t see the film as either promoting gun violence or limiting gun control to the mentally ill. Although I do agree with the author’s interpretation of a possible indictment of radical liberals, though I’m actually OK with that. Because I see it as a cautionary tale about the excesses of any radicalism, right or left, and about the dangers of allowing our radicalism to create vacuums for crazy people to come in and seize the agenda. I think that’s a really important thing to put out there. Perhaps the most important thing we could hear at this point in history. I fear that the knee-jerk reaction against the film, especially from the left weirdly, will cause us to miss this important lesson.
Overall, I see the film as a necessarily dark and cynical descent of a disturbed individual through the circles of hell and into the abyss. That’s exactly what this film should be. Of course that makes it uncomfortable viewing. Of course that makes it feel sinister and ominous. Of course that means some people won’t like it and other people arguably shouldn’t even see it. And of course it’s open to interpretation and co-opting, like many, many good films. But it has something to say and that’s why I loved it, even though I’m not sure I totally enjoyed it any more that I “enjoyed” (in the usual sense of the word) the aforementioned films by Fincher, but still find them important and worthy.
I didn’t interpret Joker as an indictment of either right or left, but rather as a warning to all of us to be careful about the social and political conditions we create, as well as an invitation to be more compassionate and thoughtful toward our fellow human beings. And, lest we forget, an origin story of a master villain.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I completely respect Brody’s right to feel the way he does about this film. I just think he’s largely missed the mark and couldn't disagree more.

August 14, 2019

Auditioning Advice from Vancouver Actor Michael Coleman

Michael Coleman is a Vancouver-based actor who has appeared in Once Upon a Time, Supernatural, Stargate, Smallville, and animated hits like Hello Kitty, Dragonball Z, and Inuyasha.

He is also co-founder of the production Rebel West Pictures, with several film and television projects in development, including Thirty-Seventeen and the television series, Hipsterverse, both set for release in 2019.

In addition to working in front of and behind the camera, Michael Coleman is also an educator and founder of Story Institute, an accredited, arts-based post-secondary school and think tank for serious actors, writers, and music creators.

With over twenty-five years experience in the Vancouver film and television industry, he knew acting was the career he wanted to pursue as early as high school. Many of his childhood idols were actors, actresses, and writers he grew up watching and he loved their life of creativity. If this is what his idols were able to do for a living, he thought me too! I want in on this life of storytelling and affecting how people feel.

"This is a subjective industry," says Coleman, "with subjective opinions on what people like, what the rules are, and what makes a bookable performance." So how does one ensure they are always able to deliver their best and respect the casting process and consistently deliver bookable auditions?

Coleman says there are 4 rules one should adhere to in every audition that are universally respected.

1. Be prepared. "This is more than just remembering your lines or being 'emotional'”, says Coleman. It means understanding the core elements of story and character and scene work. It means having a clear motivation or goal and knowing what it costs you if you don’t achieve it. Being grounded and authentic. It means having rehearsed your scenes out loud with a scene partner and having triggers or personalizations that allow you to fall into the character efficiently and effectively for the audition.

2. Be efficient. Casting has lots of people to see. This is also a part of being prepared. You have the drive/walk over to the audition and time in the waiting room to emotionally connect to where you need to be for the audition. Many actors use this time to be social and try to reduce the jitters with casual banter. This is a time to lock into the role and scene(s). Treat it like a stage performance. If your scene is coming up shortly you aren’t off with other cast or crew socializing, you are in the wings, preparing to go on.

3. Be on time. To be early is to be on time. To be on time is to be late. To be late is unforgivable. An audition scheduled for 1pm means you should be signed in and preparing by 12:45pm at the latest. "You only get so many minutes in the audition room," says Coleman. "Why would you do anything other than ensure you are always grounded and ready to deliver your best work?"

4. Be directable. This doesn’t mean nodding at the idea given by a director or casting director, this means being able to truly understand the note and being able to apply it throughout the scene. "There is nothing more frustrating," says Coleman, "than an agreeable actor who says they want the note but then aren't able to apply the feedback given." Try saying the idea back in your own words to ensure you truly understand what they are saying. Think the scene through and ask yourself where this note shifts things and how your motivation or goal may need to be revisited in order to respectfully apply the goal.

August 5, 2019

How Stories Made, Then Broke, and Can Still Heal The World

I'm not going to lie, the last eight years, one month, and thirteen days of my life have been flat-out amazing.

During that time, I have had the incredible honour of learning with and then teaching hundreds of professional and aspiring storytellers, while I myself wrote (sometimes for money!) for comics, film, web series, and corporate advertising. 

My students have been screenwriters, novelist, actors, directors, producers, animators, video game designers, social media marketers, business professionals, moms and dads, grandmas and grampas. 

They've come in all shapes and sizes, all ages, genders, and stages of life, and arrived from different backgrounds and levels of experience with a diverse range of personal and professional goals. 

They are high school students, full-time employees, working moms, and retirees. Boomers, Xers, millennials, Zs, and eventually, whatever comes next. They’ve come from all over the world and somehow ended up around classroom tables and in convention rooms, offices, and labs where I have the crazy privilege of leading them on journeys that change their lives and mine.

Some just want to see if they’ve got a book in them. Others want to sell an award-winning script or best-selling novel. Some have had a story brewing inside for so long, they know they’ll explode if they don’t get it out, while others are like a blank page, ready to start completely from scratch. Some have been writing forever, others have never written a thing in their entire life. Some are ready to rock ‘n’ roll, others are terrified. 

But they all have one thing in common: they are extremely motivated to write. To begin (or continue) creating worlds and characters they hope will entertain and inspire their fellow human beings.

Oh, and almost all of them have one other thing in common: They don’t get how seismically, explosively, world-changingly powerful story is. Not yet, at least.

I know what you might be thinking. Really, Paul: world-changing? I mean, sure, I was moved by stories people read to me when I was a kid. And I've perused a few on my own. And, hey, who doesn’t love a great movie or TV show? But world-changing? That’s a bit much, isn’t it?

Nope. Don’t believe me?

Story Make (or Break) Our World

Answer this question: Do you believe that every human being is worthy of equal respect and opportunity, regardless of age, gender, orientation, or any other involuntary personal consideration? That everyone should have some say in the way society runs and the laws that govern daily life? 

If you live somewhere in the western hemisphere, I’m going to take a wild stab and guess your answer is “yes”. But does everyone in the world believe in the equal rights of all? Not by a long shot. In fact there are entire countries and regions of the world that don’t believe this, several in fact, with policies or practises that quite clearly express their belief that all people do not have equal rights. 

Meanwhile, our belief in universal equality is so deep, so automatic, such a given, that we call human rights “inherent” and “inalienable”, and shake our heads of the rest of the world for just not getting it.

But here’s a truth that may shock you: the only reason we believe in equal human rights is because that’s the story we’ve been telling each other in this part of the world for the past 350-ish years. The story is called “democracy”, and it’s attached to an even older story that goes back to the time of the ancient Greeks. There is clearly no globally-agreed-upon consensus regarding equal human rights or we wouldn’t have a thing called the United Nations trying so desperately to build one. Democracy is an idea, facilitated by a story (or more accurately, stories) proposing that nations, communities, families, and individuals live better, freer, happier lives with democracy than without it. It’s a story that motivates us, drives us, inspires us, propels us. . 

Pretty powerful for a story, right? 

And it's one we've been telling each other for a long time, so long in fact that we assume it's truth is universally accepted. The fact that it isn't embraced by all is a reminder that it is, in the end, just a story.

Adolph Hitler had a story. 
Mahatma Gandhi had a story. 
ISIS has a story. 
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had a story. 
Martin Luther King had a story (fuelled by a dream). 
Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, had a story. 
The current American President has a story. 
And that’s just the twentieth century! 

I could go on forever. And given the right conditions, the right crisis or opportunity, and the right marketing, the story of just one person can completely transform our world, tilt the social and political axis of the planet, for good or for evil. That’s no exaggeration, it’s a fact: stories change the world.

And unless mother nature gets us first, stories will either be what save us or finally destroy us. Heavy. Or empowering! Depends on your perspective.

(Almost) Everything is a Story

Next to eating, sleeping, and getting it on, telling stories is the one thing humans have been doing longer and more often than anything else. Before homo sapiens could put two intelligent words together, we were already sharing stories on cave walls and acting them out before enraptured hunters huddled around fires…in 3-D! 

Every single thing we do, say, and believe – good, bad, or indifferent - is based on stories:

The family unit is a story.

Money is a story.

The Middle Class is a story.

Every religion is a story.

Every political and business institution is a story.

Every news report, every blog post, every good ad - all stories.

Our notion of how life is supposed to work (go to school, get a job, retire) is a story.

Every joke is a story.

Every conversation is a story.

If I asked you right now how your day went, what would your first instinct be? To start telling me a story! “How was your day, Karly?” “Oh, it was crazy. I took the bus to work today and of course it was raining and of course I forgot my umbrella and then this crazy person got on one stop before mine and started yelling ‘Hallelujah!’ and the driver had to stop and…” See? We can’t help it. 

And here’s the coolest part: if we want to, we can revise these stories. Or create entirely new ones. It’s called change. It’s our choice. Just depends on how creative we’re willing to be!

Thankfully, having an influence as a storyteller doesn’t require the sky-high, megaton weight of an Oprah or Gandhi. 

A single mom named Joanne Rowling wrote a little series of books about a boy and his magical friends that inspired millions to discover and own their power and do good in the world. (They were also just freaking entertaining!) Justin Halpern turned a series of blog posts into a runaway bestseller called Sh*t My Dad Says

And there’s no reason to believe you can’t be next.

February 7, 2018

FILM NIGHT Podcast #39: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Click here for episode

Few films have polarized fans more than 2017's The Last Jedi.

Hate, love, somewhere in between, Paul, Paul, Ian and Nick talk about what makes the latest entry into the Star Wars saga one the most frustrating and epic yet!

January 31, 2018

FILM NIGHT Podcast #38: Blade Runner 2049

Click here for episode

Now on Blu-ray, Paul, Paul, Ian and Nick explore the big questions:

Did Ridley Scott and Denis Villeneuve pull it off?

Does Ryan Gosling have the chops to step into Harrison Ford's shoes?

And what does this follow-up to the 1982 cult classic have to say about the world we live in?

January 24, 2018

FILM NIGHT Podcast #37: The Magic of Blade Runner (1982)

Click here for episode

Paul, Paul, Ian & Nick explore the revolutionary influence of Blade Runner on film, anime, fashion, and society...and how it plays 36 years later.

July 26, 2017


COMING TO A CLASSROOM NEAR YOU - SEPTEMBER 14: Always dreamed of becoming a screenwriter but don't know where to start?
Join me at Vancouver Acting School this September for SCREENWRITING FUNDAMENTALS, a 6-month part-time evening adventure that will take you from 0-60 and help you get that script finished! 

Click the link for course and registration info, or call 604-568-5668. 

See you there!

February 27, 2017

FILM NIGHT: Night at the Oscars!

February 23, 2017

Favourite Film Scores to Create Magic To

To all you creatives (writers, artists, composers, etc): I've been asked from time to time what film soundtracks are perfect for making art to. 

Everyone's tastes are different, but here are my "go-tos". Enjoy!

  • Tree of Life
  • Arrival
  • Captain Fantastic
  • Gone Girl
  • Don't Breathe
  • Hanna
  • John Wick
  • The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
  • Machinarium
  • The Revenant
  • Nightcrawler
  • Limitless
  • The Road
  • The Little Prince
  • Ex Machina
  • Social Network
  • Looper
  • Hell or High Water
  • Blade Runner
  • Chocolat
  • Drive
  • Heat
  • Interstellar
  • Manchester By The Sea
  • Passion (Peter Gabriel)
  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Extended Edition)
  • Solaris
  • The Town
  • Under the Tuscan Sun

February 8, 2017

30 Minutes Alone With Matthew Jenkins

“Every step in the game development process, every aspect of gameplay, has to go through the mill of public opinion. And it’s really exciting to watch our students successfully navigate the paradigm shift from what they like to what other players like…and celebrate the process.”
Matthew Jenkins is the head of SchoolCreative’s video game department. He received his Masters of Digital Media from The Centre for Digital Media in 2009 and has worked as a member of the Electronic Arts’ production team, taught at Art Institute of Vancouver, and is founder of the MWJ Technology Group.
Let’s start with the most important question: What games are you playing right now?
At the moment, Blizzard’s Overwatch. Truly a piece of transmedia genius and they’ve already got 54 million players. Interestingly, they were kicked out of Russia because one of the characters in the online comic is gay, so it’s been banned there. Which is a shame because Russia was number two in the world after South Korea in this year’s first ever Overwatch World Cup. Another game that I’m really drawn to right now and am following closely is Bethesda’s Fallout 4.
 You’re playing Fallout 4 on PS4?
No, I’m pretty much an exclusively PC guy right now thanks largely to Steam, the most phenomenal delivery platform ever. You can mod, access online communities, it’s totally revolutionized the industry. The other area of focus for me right now is indie games, ones made by one to three people. For example, Stardew Valley, a farming simulator in 8-bit graphics that won a bunch of awards and made more money than Call of Duty in 2016. It was developed by one guy, Eric Barone, who worked ten hours a day, every day, for four years. I understand he made $24 million last year. I love high graphic, AAA-title games that I can immerse myself in for hundreds of hours; but the whole indie revolution, where the means of production and the means of distribution have become free or close to it, has empowered an entire generation of kids to make really good, really interesting games. It’s a very cool time.
What goes into developing a game? Where do you begin?
To start with, nobody knows what fun is until they have it. Which means that when you come up with a game idea you think is good, you’ve got to test it. Throw it in front of a bunch of people and find out: are they having fun or aren’t they? If they’re not, you make adjustments then test it again. It’s a grassroots, quantitative approach, a constant gathering of data to make your game better and better. There’s no genius designer anymore, no one sitting in a box for a year and suddenly – poof – Athena pops into their head fully-formed. It’s a much more incremental, cyclical, step-by-step process where we put something in front of people, get feedback, make course corrections, and repeat. This means that failure is both inevitable and critical to succeeding. True success starts from the lean-and-agile startup mentality, which is “fail early and often”. And get comfortable with failure. Make it your friend, expect it, embrace it. That’s essential in the video game industry because it’s not only a technical process, it’s also a creative one. And those two things bounce off of each other much more than they integrate, until they finally fuse into an alloy that is both technically strong and creatively unique, while of course also being a ton of fun to play.
What’s the best way to get started – as an indie developer or working for a big company?
If you’re planning to go indie right out of the gate, that’s a rather audacious goal. I hear this question often, should I go indie or work for a big company in the beginning? I absolutely understand where they’re coming from, but it’s really the wrong question. I could direct you to a video game company down the street that’s been indie for 25 years, privately owned by four guys, and pumping out solid titles since it started. They’re a company and they’re indie. You see, people tend to equate “indie” with “doing it on your own”, but that’s not necessarily the case. When starting out, you should aim for the greatest likelihood of success, seek out a place where you can learn the most and grow the most. Which most likely means working for a company, whether it’s indie or one of the big dogs.
Is that because “going it alone” will make it harder for an aspiring developer to get noticed?
No, mainly because there’s just still so much to learn. It’s a classic case of “you don’t know what you don’t know”. You can have the greatest concept in the world, but you still need to learn how to finalize a game, how to get a game out the door. What I notice about people who want to do it on their own is that they get to the idea phase, maybe even the prototype phase, and then rarely go any further. That’s usually because they don’t know how to tune their game for a specific market audience. And there’s no one who can teach you better how to monetize a product than someone who’s done it before. Then there’s the whole dynamic of effectively communicating in a business environment. Solo developers are usually building games for themselves and haven’t yet learned how to speak to someone who isn’t them. And as mentioned, there’s the brutal reality of what it takes just to finish a game and all the sacrifices required to get it to market. If you plan on making money and being successful, you have to be willing to give up half of your brilliant ideas, watch your “babies” die, and be okay with that. You have to routinely expose yourself to criticism, grow a thick a skin, learn to ask the right questions. There’s just no way around it. If you want to be successful, you’ve got to spend a year or two with people who have already done it.
So what’s the right approach to getting in with a game company?
Just to get in the door, you’ve got to show them you have the chops. And the best way to do that is to pick your favourite engine and build something you can show, some tangible demonstration of your talent and passion, a demo reel or portfolio piece. You have to be able to show them something you’ve made. Whether it’s a Broken RPG Maker game, or Unreal or Havok, or just software that you downloaded for free, and you make a decent clone, if you can show that to an employer and say this is why I made this decision, then you’re at the top of the list. That’s the entire focus of the game department at SchoolCreative, positioning our students for success as soon as they graduate.
What’s the best way to spend those crucial first two years?
Quality assurance. Find your nearest location to do play testing and get started. Almost every executive producer I’ve ever met started in QA. Which means testing the same five minutes of game play every day for eight hours, trying to find every usability bug you can. You log the bugs and that eventually makes its way to the game team. Then the producers look at it and prioritizes the fixes, and it goes on from there. It’s gruelling work but it teaches you game design like nothing else. You become analytical at a very deep level of the minutiae of game play.
How does SchoolCreative’s training in game design and programming help launch students into the workforce?
While anyone can walk off the street and become a QA person, what we do at SchoolCreative is provide students with what they’d normally learn in their first year or two of QA with a company, while preparing them to start as entry level designers and producers. The core of all of our teaching is quality assurance. Like I said before, you don’t know if it’s fun until ten strangers or a hundred strangers tell you it is. Every step, every aspect of gameplay, has to go through the mill of public opinion. And while they master design and programming skills and develop their own original IPs, it’s really exciting to watch our students successfully navigate the paradigm shift from what they like to what other players like and celebrate the process. Testing with strangers repeatedly and getting positive feedback, they’re over the moon because they realize they’re getting closer and closer to the fun.
If you could summarize the top skills needed to be successful, what would they be?
To survive and succeed in this industry, once you’re in the door, you need to exhibit at least two out of three qualities: be great at what you do, be fun to work with, deliver work on time. Ideally you’re all three, but if you can nail at least two of those, the industry can work with you according to your strengths. They’ll forgive or work with your weaknesses so long as you’re willing to improve or at least delegate to team members who are strong in those areas.
How can new designers and programmers navigate the inevitable emotional ups and downs inherent in the game development process?
What allows you to take immense amounts of criticism is having a vision. That’s what allows you to stay calm and say to someone giving feedback, I’m listening to you because I need data. Then listen to fifteen other people and collect their data, and finally see how many people said the same thing, look for patterns, and if required, adjust my vision. If you’re just trying to validate your own vision without making any changes, you’re in trouble. So our aim is to instil confidence and courage in our students to be passionate about their vision as they collect data that will give their vision what it needs to become successful. I tell them, you are designers, you have good ideas, and those ideas will keep coming if keep learning and growing. If you accept that you are a creative person and that you have a definite role to play, I believe no amount of criticism can take you down. On the contrary, you learn to transform all of that criticism into added value. Once you start doing that, the future begins to open up and becomes yours to own.