Mank (2020) is a really great looking film. It was shot with a RED 8K camera in Super 35mm, and mastered in 6K Dolby Vision. The results are truly stunning.
The story is about Herman Mankiewicz who ‘co-wrote’ Citizen Kane with Orson Wells. It’s a fusion of the ‘washed up’ alcoholic writer story, struggling to complete the screenplay for Citizen Kane, intercut with poignant flashbacks over the course of his career (handled in much the same way as the screenplay he’s writing).
Ultimately, Mank is a loving homage to the golden era of Hollywood. The monochrome aesthetic is truly gorgeous. There’s a lot of level low camera angles, extreme depth of field, and a stunning night scene (shot using the day-for-night technique). The film score (Trent Reznor, Atticus Rossis) is impressively retro-Hollywood without being too imposing (the soundtrack is in mono, continuing the retro quality). Just sit back and take in the full glory of the aesthetic experience. But, don’t expect too much from the story itself.
Some thoughts about the editing process
When a piece of text mostly contains the desired result, but the words are slightly in the wrong order – it needs editing. It’s necessary to swap around parts of sentences, whole sentences, and paragraphs. Join sentences together and experiment with longer, more complicated sentences. Split sentences up for punchy prose. Sentences with one main idea are easier to understand. Some people edit a novel in a linear order from start to finish. Other people edit chapters of a novel in a non-linear way choosing the chapter that interests them on a particular day. Some writers edit in layers, only working on one thing at a time (dialogue, description, plot details, spelling and grammar, etc). Other writers do a complete edit of everything in one go. It can he helpful to write using the same text editor or word processor. Or you may prefer to have one app for writing the draft and another for editing. It sets you in a different mode. (There are writers who use different colour paper for the first draft, and another for edits, sometimes one colour for each edit.) The most interesting scenes to write in a first draft can be the most boring to edit. Scenes you didn’t enjoy writing can turn out to be a lot of fun to edit. A significant amount of editing is changing things that make sense in your head for readers who don’t know what’s in your head. At some point you change things and then change them back again (and you wish you were more decisive). It takes as many edits as it takes. Any less is too few. Any more is too many. Editing literary fiction is more about the language, rhythm, and tone. Editing genre fiction is more about creating snappy prose that’s easy to understand. Over-editing usually refers to literary fiction. This occurs when writers embellish the language (‘purple prose’ or ‘flowery writing’). The first draft is largely intuitive. The editing process is rational. Watch out for repetition, especially saying the same thing twice close together but in a slightly different way. Ask yourself, ‘What am I trying to achieve here?’ Are you attempting to be clever or are you aiming to explain your ideas coherently? You might want to switch off the grammar check because you don’t want an application designed for writing office memos telling you what to do. You might want to leave it on. It’s up to you. Learn to recognise your writing ticks (phrases, repeated words, etc). You may want to leave some time between your first draft and the editing process. Come back to the editing when you have a clear mind. You might prefer to go straight into the editing process while the plot details and other elements remain vivid. At some point you swap insipid verbs for punchy ones. If you’re reading a novel as you are editing, it might influence your work. And, then again, it might not. Editing isn’t a crossword puzzle with one solution. Editing forces you to make multiple choices with each sentence. Every editing choice changes your novel. It’s a struggle to be objective about your own work. A lot of popular editing advice is aimed at people in the workplace, marketing departments, academics, and journalists. Very little of it is aimed at people who write fiction. While some of the advice may be useful, there are important differences between writing copy and writing fiction. Fear of editing a piece of text can be about the fear of failure or the fear of success. The editing process is hard work.
- The dream of writing a novel in a single draft – Back when Lee Child was writing the Jack Reacher novels, legend has it that he wrote only one draft before it was submitted to his agent. He did go back to review what he’d written during the day, but he didn’t go back later on for a separate editing process. I tried the Lee Child approach when I wrote the manuscript last year, but failed. While it’s the least edited manuscript I’ve written, I have worked on it extensively. A significant chunk of my attention went into the first three chapters. That was where I honed the tone and voice of the novel. I gave those three chapters the level of attention that I gave my short stories for my MA in Creative Writing. The first draft is more like a stream of consciousness process. The editing process is self-conscious and logical, self-knowing and self-aware. It’s a rationalisation process. I think I’m getting better at the editing phase, but it’s a gradual improvement.
- It’s important to control the process of writing a novel, but there’s also an element of uncertainty involved in writing fiction. That’s part of the creative process – happenstance, accident, and serendipity. Problems occur in the writing process when writers lose themselves in a fog of possibilities. There have too many ideas. They are not able to properly deliver many of those ideas. They have ideas that contradict one another. The creative process is part magic (the sub-conscious) and part rational (conscious). It’s a delicate fusion. Because of this, it’s dangerous to over-rationalise it. Or to be completely intuitive. When the creative process is too regimented it stifles the magic and leads to procrastination. When the process is too loose it can fall into chaos. The writing process requires self-doubt as well as confidence. This is a delicate dance between being open to self-criticism and having the confidence to believe in what you’re doing. Too much doubt can ruin your confidence and motivation. Too much confidence can lead too arrogance, stubbornly pursuing the same old ideas (ones that don’t work, breaking basic rules like having stories without interesting or likeable characters).
- Most visions of the future or alternative realities in science fiction are thinly disguised and reimagined versions of the past. George Orwell had the 1930s in mind when he wrote 1984. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (even if it’s a fantasy story and not technically set in the future) harks back to a pre-industrial England. The Handmaid’s Tale references the historical precedent of the New England witch trials and Puritanism in the 17th Century. Writers use the future in science fiction as a wrapper to reinvent the past. Science fiction is the past, set in the future, dealing with today’s issues.
- The story needs to solve a problem. Injustice must be fought. Tyranny reversed. Truth and love must flourish.
- In The Graduate Ben Braddock comes from an affluent middle-class family. He has just graduated and has a promising life ahead of him, in ‘plastics’ even, if he wants it. He’s doted on by his parents, driving around in a flashy European sports car. He doesn’t really have any problems. So, what’s the real story problem? Ben Braddock’s problem isn’t that he’s single, lazy or lacks direction. It’s not that he has an affair with jaded married woman (who is also a family friend). Through her he learns about himself and the world. The problem isn’t that his girlfriend decides to marry someone else (a man who is more socially acceptable to her parents). His real problem, which is the problem posed by the story, is that he doesn’t have the guts to live his own life. He’s facing an internal challenge. The real problem posed by the story can only be solved within himself. This is the nature of an authentic story problem – the protagonist acquires wisdom through experience and they act on that experience to change their life.
- The stakes and storytelling – stories can be disappointing because they trick the reader into believing that the stakes are higher than they really are.
- In both the The Raw Shark Texts and Maxwell’s Demon the graphical embellishments are fun but they detract from the overall story. The writing is accessible for literary fiction, even if Steven Halls work is masquerading behind the label of crime fiction (or even metaphysical crime fiction).
- Adverts in old magazines – one of the strange things about old printed magazines and journals is, as they age, the content becomes less and less important and advertising becomes more interesting.
- Hearts in Atlantis (2001) is one of those films. It’s quite a serious story about adolescence and memory. While some memories fade, others memories persist and linger. The past lives on but it’s a place that you can never go back to. The film is about change, loss – the end of ‘Bobby’ / Robert Garfield’s childhood and his innocence. The theme of memory and looking back with hindsight is mirrored with Ted Brautigan’s psychic abilities (his second sight adding a little magic to the story). It is also about a young adult without a father figure and the arrival of a mysterious outsider (Ted Brautigan) who seems a little creepy at first but turns into a mentor figure. Anthony Hopkins is great in his role as the doomed Ted Brautigan and the story is satisfying. It’s a very slick screenplay encapsulating nostalgia and the ravages of time (loosely based on a short story by Steven King). It does get a little schmaltzy from time to time with that childhood summer, soda pop Americana vibe (was that a particularly late 90s / turn of the century thing, maybe?). Tonally it’s The Wonder Years or Stand By Me with a smidgen of the X-Files. As you might expect there’s a fair amount of the adult ‘Bobby’ / Robert Garfield making sense of his experience through a voiceover narration. This is obligatory for these stories, as is the personification of time being expressed by revisiting a childhood home that’s since fallen into disrepair and is now abandoned.
- News of The World (2020) is the story of a travelling news reader, shortly after the American Civil War, as he takes a long and dangerous journey to return a 10 year old girl to her family. Does News of The World do anything new or add to the Western in any remarkable way? Not really, but it’s a watchable and immersive cinematic experience. It’s a film about stories and storytelling. The main character turns the news into relatable stories for his audiences, in much the same filmmakers do. His work provides a glimmer of hope for downtrodden citizens. Through his resilience he finds new meaning and his own sense of belonging.
- The disaster movie is back with Greenland (2020). In fact it never went away. Netflix seems to be chock full of these disaster and apocalypse stories, most of them produced on tiny budgets with very low production values. In the romantic comedy, the writers do everything possible to keep the two romantic leads apart. In the disaster movie, the writers do everything possible to stop the central characters from getting to safety. This is a meteorites hit earth disaster – the Garrity family must get to safety or die story. You might call it an apocalyptic road movie. The tension and pace are nicely maintained and the Garrity family is easy enough to identify with. It’s not pushing the envelope in any way, but its pressing the right buttons.
- Rumaan Alam’s Leave the Word Behind is a literary fiction novel that was published in 2020. Although it was written before the coronavirus pandemic, it encapsulates many of the anxieties of 2020, the pandemic, lockdown and Black Lives Matter – trying to figure out the weirdness of things. The writing is darkly witty: ‘He retrieved his cigarettes from the glove box, wincing at the gravel. He sat on the front lawn in the shade of a tree and smoked. He should feel bad about this, but tobacco was the foundation of the nation. Smoking tethered you to history itself! It was a patriotic act, or had once been, anyway, like owning slaves or killing the Cherokee.’