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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Archimedes, Nerdiness, and Screenwriting

There are times that my fountain of useless knowledge comes in handy. This is particularly true when it comes to one of my avocations - screenwriting. I call screenwriting an avocation since no one has seen the wisdom to offer me a pile (it doesn't need to be a big pile either) of money for one of my scripts. I'm sure you'll be surprised when I tell you that my scripts are mostly comedies. I feel that my specialty is horror/comedy (vampires in particular), but I've also written some romantic/comedies as well as serious pieces. A variety of my short films can be seen on the My Movies and Purgatory's Youtube Channel page.

A buddy of mine is preparing a pilot episode for a half hour comedy series to send to William Morris Endeavor (WME) at the end of this month. WME is one of the best known agencies that represent artists on the big and small screens. The people at WME read the treatment (a summary of what the series is about) for the show last spring and are interested in seeing a pilot episode.

This is a pretty big f*cking deal.

I've written some scripts with my friend, but this series is not one of them. If (a big if) he sells the show then all the stuff that we've done together will be that much easier to get off the ground. For this project I have been a reader. A reader... reads (d'uh) and gives constructive feedback on the plot, characters, etc. Anyone who can read can theoretically be a reader. However, not all opinions are made equal and my opinions don't  generally suck. I can't tell you what the series is about because I'm under strict orders not to. What I can do is tell you how my knowledge concerning the myth of the first eureka moment helped me out with offering advice on the pilot episode.

I read the latest version of the pilot today and the main character needs to come up an awesome idea. Film is a visual media (another d'uh) and so you just can't have a guy in his smoking jacket sitting by the fire and say something like, "I just got a swell idea." You could do that - it would be uninteresting and you'd be out of a job pretty fast.  This idea is supposed to be a revelation. The problem with the story is that the main character's discovery of this idea is fairly tame. In my notes I wrote,
There has to be a eureka moment for this character. I will now digress and tell you about the original eureka moment. The Greek philosopher Archimedes had to figure out if a crown was made outta pure gold or it was adulterated with other metals. He had no idea how to do it. Archimedes lowered himself into a bath and saw the water rise. Eureka! He shouted because he had figured out how to solve the problem. You see, a certain weight in gold will displace a certain amount of water. If the crown had other metals in it besides gold it would displace more or less water than a piece of pure gold that weighs the same.

Eureka moments are symbolic moments. What you have now is the character coming up with a good idea, but it ain't a revelation. Supposedly Archimedes ran out of his bath naked shouting Eureka! That kicks ass.
Here is an interesting Scientific American piece about the story. OK, maybe Archimedes was more of a mathematical genius than a philosopher and he probably never uttered Eureka! (translation: I've found it!). The story is pretty damn cool and in terms of mythological tales you could do much worse.

No gods.

No one gets hurt.

The myth gets people interested in how the real world works.

You could do a lot worse...

in Purgatory.

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