The Multiverse | The Writer’s Main Ally

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This past January, Sabotage Times wrote an excellent article about the Quentin Tarantino Universe – a parallel world to our own but with slight differences. The article went on to break down how all of Tarantino’s films connect to create this remarkably violent universe and how all the characters connect from film to film.  You can read it in full here: http://sabotagetimes.com/reportage/keeping-it-on-the-qt-the-theory-of-the-hidden-tarantino-universe/

In addition, one of my favorite go to sites every morning, Cracked.com, published an article about overlapping fictional universes that included the Tarantinoverse at the top of their list: http://www.cracked.com/article_19323_6-movie-tv-universes-that-overlap-in-mind-blowing-ways.html

These articles, which I came upon both today, brought to mind my own process for writing, that is – not by individual story, but by small segments of much larger stories that exist in massive parallel worlds.  I am not sure what the process is for most writers, whether successful storytellers or not.  What I can attest to is that since I started screenwriting back in high school, I have been writing for several specific universes and haven’t really moved away from them.  In fact, if anything, I’ve made it a point to focus my creative energy into strengthening the universes I do write for.  I find it to be a phenomenally helpful mechanism to maintaining integrity and continuity in a story, at least at the subconscious level, and allow for a set of rules to create by, that the viewer or reader will recognize in one way or another.  Today I will discuss the two universes I primarily write in, to help illustrate the concept as it pertains to my own work (since this is the work I know the best).

UNIVERSE 1

Julie Geistert in Hero For A Day (2002)The first three movies I made: Sixteen Stories, Hero For A Day and The Long Island Project, in my mind, have all taken place in the same universe.  I call this Universe 1, or more personally: the EzzieVerse.  This is because it includes a lot of recurring themes and characters, at least in early incarnations of the stories, that link the events in the stories together.  More specifically, a character named Ezzie, who at this point, has only appeared in Sixteen Stories.  Some of my experimental work has made it into Universe 1 as well: Spuyten Duyvil and Croton Falls come to mind.  These aren’t the only produced films that take place in Universe 1, there are several others that have been developed that fit there in addition to projects still in development.  A direct sequel to Sixteen Stories, a direct sequel to Hero For A Day and an adaptation of a story my brother in law wrote called The Harbinger, which I acquired the rights to back in 2000.  As far as The Harbinger goes, the source material has absolutely nothing to do with Universe 1, but was a cataloging mechanism so that I understood the mindset I was to be in whenever I went to work on it.  In an early draft of the screenplay it went as far as to include some characters from Sixteen Stories.  As a result of The Harbinger falling into this particular universe, a film I recently made called Lipstick Lies also falls into this realm.  It wasn’t intentional that it would but it makes sense because when it went into production, it was done so with the idea that it would tie into The Harbinger when I finally got around to producing it.  Hence the title at the end of the film “The Answers Lies In Boston“.  There is much more to the story than could be told in 20 minutes and I intend to tell the rest of it when I get around to making The Harbinger.  It was almost by default that a film I would produce in 2012 and screen in the festival circuit in 2013, would play out in a universe I haven’t touched for quite a few years now.

While it more or less started out as a mechanism to allow myself to mentally catalog where each of these films belong in my overall gamut of work, the task of separating stories by universe has since extended its usefulness to helping me keep track of all the projects I currently have in development.  What makes a universe so specific?  What makes it call for one story to be included but not another?  Why is it that a bunch of films from one era of my life exist in one universe, but a bunch of films that were produced in another era of my life exist in another?  This is what I’ve been thinking about all day, in working to figure out how to tackle this article.  I have few conclusions, which is a good thing as it means I have a reason to keep working on projects.  The more projects I work on, the closer I come to a conclusion.  I think a part of it might be that a universe can exist for each phase of my life, to coincide with my world view – or the way I perceive reality… so to speak.  In some instances, perhaps it coincides with what I want reality to be.  So with that, I introduce you to Universe 2 – a bit more fantastic than Universe 1.

UNIVERSE 2

I have no nickname for this universe.  This is where the majority of my science fiction and fantasy work exists, at an alarming scale.  We’re not just in indie film territory now either, but novels, short stories, some feature films but also television shows that are still in development and a medium length film called Caroline of Virginia.  While all the characters and stories are seemingly different from one another – they are all written with the same overall universe in mind.  Fictional global events that might take place in one story, may be referenced as historical fact in another.  Published stories that exist within Universe 2 include Paradigm Shift, The Balance of the Seventh Column (both novellas) in addition to a few exercises that have resulted in the outlining of some serious projects.  I have a two part feature film that is by all real definition a standalone franchise – clearly exists in this same universe as a developing television series that it seemingly has absolutely nothing to do with.  The connections are minor – if that.  For the most part, the stories’ affiliation with Universe 2 are merely rules for me to consider when I take into account an action or major plot twist.  I have to keep in mind that in a specific universe, if a character makes a decision that affects the world on a global scale, how would it impact the other stories?  Most of the time the characters’ decisions won’t affect the other stories, not unless they’re set in the same town and time period.  This is the only time a true crossover might occur.

I think that when most writers try to break apart other filmmakers’ work to dissect and work out the connections of all the various movies that could exist in a single universe, most of the time they’re finding coincidences.  Sometimes screenwriters recycle old material, specifically names that they like.  I suspect many of the circumstances that have been written in regards to the work of Tarantino, might be coincidental – or at least, started out as coincidence.  However there are obviously blatant attempts to maintain a constant universe, like in the work of Kevin Smith and his “Viewaskewniverse“.  Most of the time though, I suspect that writers cannibalize scripts that they no longer intend to produce.  I have done this on a recent project, by cannibalizing a script that was set in Universe 1 to work in a story designed for the more complex (and profoundly amazing) Universe 2.  This is the only possible way I could knowingly allow any kind of crossover, it needs to involve complete removal of the story from the previous universe – no echos of any kind.

SSStill1For my upcoming film The Spaceship, which exists in Universe 2, I found that before going into principle photography, I had to redevelop the script to be set within the maritime community of Staten Island.  I was moving the setting, which was originally suppose to be rural Pennsylvania.  For the task of re-writing The Spaceship for Staten Island, I used an old screenplay called The Inequity.  The Inequity was more of a horror comedy, which existed within Universe 1.  It was a spin off of Sixteen Stories and included two characters from that specific movie.  I essentially took all the unique, genre-esq scenes I had developed for The Inequity and wrote them into The Spaceship – along with a few minor characters and pacing mechanisms that had not previously been used in any of my writing.  As a result, the shooting script for The Spaceship was the first ever meshing of two different universes – two universes I previously wouldn’t have considered mashing up.  It worked out beautifully.

So what is the difference between Universe 1 and Universe 2 as far as the ground rules go?  If I had to pinpoint it to a specific definition, I would say the rules lie in the physics and general belief structure of each universe.  Universe 1 isn’t fantastic – in fact it’s the drab that we all know real life can be.  There are a few stories that introduce fantastic ideas to them, like in The Harbinger, but the end result being that our main characters are punished for it.  Many of the characters in Universe 1 are not good people and those that are seem to be doomed in some way or another.  The few good people that make out well, do so with great sacrifice.  Universe 1 is the world we do not want to live in and that makes it a fascinating setting for stories that dabble into the darker side of our world, the socioeconomic issues or controversial character studies.  What have you.

Universe 2 is the opposite – it’s fantastic and amazing… anything goes and anything is possible.  Can’t pay for coffee?  I’m sure there’s a wizard right around the corner with magic coffee beans.  Universe 2 has all around good people with truly good intentions, people with open minds and are more likely to change for the better.  Universe 2 has bad guys with truly bad intentions and the definition between good and evil is clear.  This is the universe designed to appeal to everyone, whereas Universe 1 was designed for my own personal use.  Although the appearance and cultures of Universe 2 seem to parallel with Universe 1, the fact of the matter is that much much more is possible in Universe 2 on almost every single level: interstellar space flight, inter dimensional travel, time travel, love between unlikely characters, alien visitation… the universe of adventure, intrigue and absolute imagination.  Another interesting fact about the two different universe’ is that most of the main characters in Universe 1 die at the end while most  of the main characters in Universe 2 survive.  A fascinating and defining coincidence.

Thanks for letting me talk about my process for a bit.  Please use the comments section to discuss your creative process.  Do you subscribe to the multiverse idea?

-Eric Norcross

Filmmakers/ Author

Help Out Your Fellow Filmmakers!

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WTH Website HeaderToday, after coming back from a location scout for THE SPACESHIP, I dove into a relatively painful research project. Simple to some, I suppose, but learning how to correctly author a dual-layered dvd, playable on other machines, isn’t an easy feat for me.  In fact, I was sweating bullets on the first test burn because the blank discs are so expensive (a pack of 5 is $18.99 at Best Buy here in the city).

I used Mark Blackman’s film WELCOME TO HARLEM as the mechanism to navigate this learning curve.  Blackman is in need of a master disc to create duplicates off of, so he can distribute them at his festival screenings.  I think it’s important to help out other filmmakers where they may need it because they will in turn help you when you need their support for projects. Being a huge fan of Welcome to Harlem and in complete appreciation for what Blackman’s Block Productions had done in creating an indie musical comedy, it just made perfect sense to help them out this way.  This day and age so many filmmakers see one-another as rivals and not peers and my mission in the past couple of years has been to set an example in an attempt to change that.

Shaking off that mentality has given me an opportunity to pick up knowledge and networking opportunities that wouldn’t have otherwise been available had I subscribed to the usual mentality   With that said, the first test burn of the WELCOME TO HARLEM dvd has been a success and I’m stoked! Now for the challenge of integrating special features. Yikes!!!!!

For those in need of learning how to burn DL discs, check out these two websites that I found enormously helpful:

http://www.larryjordan.biz/technique-creating-a-dual-layer-dvd/

http://www.geniusdv.com/news_and_tutorials/2009/04/dual_layer_breakpoint_in_dvd_studio_pro.php

Of course it’s for DVD Studio Pro, so if you are using a different program some light research may be needed.

-E

Writing Good Suspense

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December 08. 2010

Writing Good Suspense

Good suspense vs. bad suspense…

It’s important to understand the different elements that make for good, entertaining suspense that intrigues and the irritating bad suspense that is all too often written into many films and television programs.  Good suspense will contain a number of elements to build such a feeling: character arcs, cleverly strategically designed action and appropriate moments of hesitation. Sometimes all it takes is a love for a character and the lack of knowing what has happened to them (e.g. the end of Ron Howard’s film “Apollo 13″).

Bad suspense would be characters flaking out and threatening to make an already bad situation worse. This has happened a lot in shows like Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis. Unnecessary “misunderstanding” or “greedy intentions” that put the characters in even more danger than they are in. The flaw here is it makes for unnecessary added tension, which tends to drive viewers crazy rather than create a sense of tension on an entertainment level. This has also been a constant through most of the early episodes of Lost.

Sometimes a character flaking out works, but not most of the time. I understand that this is subjective, but it seems that more and more Hollywood writers are resorting to this device. It’s a cop out and a new standard for conjuring up tension needs to be designed if film and television entertaining is to remain sustainable. Otherwise it’ll seem that all of our shows are set in worlds where the breeding of panicy intolerable characters are a common occurrence: which doesn’t exactly make me want to root for the characters in question.

-E