Imagery and Allegory

27 03 2009

I’m going to talking about a few personal appearances I’m going to be making at the bottom of this post. Stay tuned if you’d like to see me talk about storytelling techniques that I use in my book THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT.


Page from MAUS

A few years ago, there was a great graphic novel series called MAUS: A Survivor’s Tale. It was an allegorical tale, set in Nazi Germany and World War II, which described Art Spiegelman’s father’s struggle to survive in Poland during that war, and Spiegelman’s attempts to connect with his father though that recounting. It was a fantastic novel and one of the many observations made about the piece was that it drew its horrific power from the fact that it was a WWII story told with animals (in this case, mice and rats) playing the parts, rather than humans.

There is much to be said for this analysis. Obviously, these aren’t real mice or real rats — they act and speak just as their human counterparts acted and spoke. And the same goes for films as well.  On its simplest level, Mickey Mouse and say and act in ways that humans never would. And the film FRITZ THE CAT, which put a cat in the 60’s/70’s in the middle of the sexual revolution that many people only wished they could experience, is very different example of that. And the upcoming WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE allows filmmaker Spike Jonze to talk about the fears and desire for adventure that fairy tales are full of, but that we rarely experience in our normal lives. Hell, nearly every Pixar film (and that would be every single one of them).
Now, courtesy of photographer Lou O’Bedlam’s (Luciana Noble) blog, I’ve been fortunate enough to see a trailer for the unfortunately (but humorously) named Japanese film CATSHITONE. It appears to tell the story of some foot soldiers in Iraq (or some nameless Middle Eastern country, I can’t tell from the trailer because I don’t speak Japanese) who are played by rabbits.  That’s right, rabbits.

CatShitOne Army Transport
You can find the trailer to this film on YouTube.

There appear to be two rabbits, trapped in combat alongside a bunch of other alien-looking creatures, as they move through the war-torn Middle Eastern landscape. They watch as a group of alien-looking creatures beat and kill a bunch of other rabbits. So, like MAUS, the two sides of the conflict are clear — there is Them (the rats or the creatures) and there is Us (mice or rabbits).

One of the challenges of any film or project is to get the audience to somehow project themselves into your story and to feel what the characters who you want them to care about are also feeling. On HEATHERS we spend several cuts manipulating the story so that the audience empathized with Veronica, who was doing some pretty heinous things. But the audience was never going to enjoy our film if they couldn’t make that connection.

If only we had made her a rabbit.

My point here is that projects are successful when audiences get involved in them. Normally that is done by having characters in the films/projects that the audience can empathize with. And that means that they have to get them. Often, this is made more difficult by an actor’s persona. If they’re prettier than we are, we’re not going to feel the same way about them. If they look more scholarly than we are, we’re not going to feel the same way about them.

But we all can feel pretty much the same about a rabbit or a mouse. We know we’re not like them, so we can project our own feeling onto them. They are the proverbial “empty vessel” and, though the filmmakers of all of the above-mentioned films work hard to give the characters emotions that we can resonate with (think Marlin in FINDING NEMO, or Bambi in BAMBI) we can more easily do that when the characters start off without any of our preconceived notions.

As for me, I’m looking forward to CATSHITONE. It will probably resonate more with me than WATCHMEN did.


My new book, The Lean Forward Moment

The Lean Forward Moment

I mentioned at the top of this post that I’ve got a few talks coming up. On Saturday, April 4th, at 1pm, I’ll be speaking at the San Francisco Apple Store about “How To Tell Better Stories”, using the shaping story techniques I talk about in my book THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT.  The event will cost you either one zillion dollars or will be free — your choice. If you’re interested, come on by at 1 Stockton Street downtown.  Afterwards, come on up to me and let me know that you read the blog.  I’d love to meet you.

I’m also going to be at the annual NAB conference in Las Vegas.  NAB is a collection of people and companies from all over the entertainment and broadcast industries, who go to panels and visit exhibitions of the latest sound, camera, editing, broadcasting and assorted other gear. It’s where we learn about who’s making what, and get to talk about whose using what. And, aside from the fact that it’s in Las Vegas (a city I’ve never particularly loved), it’s a great experience. I’ll be doing a book signing at 2pm on Monday, April 20, a talk about Storytelling at 11am at the Final Cut Pro Users Group booth on Wednesday, April 22nd, and a few talks at the Avid Booth on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning (I’m an equal opportunity speaker). Times to be announced later.

For those of you who don’t want to pay to get into the exhibition space, you can usually pick up free tickets from great and generous vendors. One place that’s being especially generous is Tuvel Communications.  If you go to the NAB site and type in the Exhibits Passport Code TP01, you’ll get a free ticket to both the exhibits area and to the opening keynote by Gary Arlen, president of Arlen Communications.

And, please, if you get down there and find me at one of the events, tell me that you read the blog.  I’ll get a thrill out of it.


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