The First Half of the Second Half

20 Jul


The first half of the second half of a story is always the slowest to write. I’d say it’s the hardest, but at some point, every part is the hardest. But here’s what makes the first half of the second half hard.

It’s where the story takes on a different tone than anywhere else. In the beginning, you’re setting up the story. You introduce your characters and setting in memorable ways, and place the plot pieces that will start everything moving. There’s a shivering sense of imminence. Something’s about to happen.

Then there’s the middle. This is where the story takes off. Everyone’s been introduced, the major goals and conflict have been drawn, and now they’re all off to the races. It’s the most fun part, where your main characters are tested and have their coolest adventures, and it all looks like it’s working.

Skip to the end. Endings are hard, notoriously. But at least this is where everything comes together, when all the work you’ve done pays off. Your lead character falls or triumphs. You know it’s ending, so you know what you have to do, even if you’re still looking for that perfect sticking point.

But the first half of the second half, that run right after the mid-point, that’s when things get muddled. Most of the time, the big moments have already happened. The characters are having a good time, and they haven’t yet met forces that will break them down entirely, and the bad guy is still hovering around not quite at full power.

And you have to do that. You have to stick it to your heroes and draw out your bad guy. You might spend time making your heroes look bad as they face challenges they can’t quite meet this time, and you might spend more time with your antagonist, building them up for the denouement. Sometimes, you’re making your hero look bad and your villain look good. The story begins to feel like something else entirely, because what was working before can’t keep working if you want to press everyone into the corners that will inspire their final moves. You have to start minding your step, because the story’s not a blank slate like it was at the beginning, and you’ve now made all these choices that you have to honor at the same time that you’re building it all up for the ending.

It sometimes feels like you’re driving a truck that you hastily piled your furniture into, and you have to get somewhere fast without it all falling out the back on the way.

So, of course I take to blogging about it instead of doing the actual writing. I think I have a clearer head about it now. Thanks for listening.

What am I writing, you ask?

Oh, just a fantasy novel I intend on publishing serially to Kindle. It’s called Wander Boy, unless you have a better idea (I really hope someone does; maybe I’m too close to it, but I can’t stand the title right now). I’ll get back to you with more, once I strap my furniture down and put the pedal to the metal.

(Image used with permission, © Pauli N. –

Varsity Blues (January 15, 1999)

15 Apr

99LogoVaristyBlues1999 was one of the movies’ best years. If you never realized that The Matrix, Office Space, Toy Story 2, Being John Malkovich, The Sixth Sense, Fight Club, American Beauty, American Pie, Star Wars Episode 1, and a whole mess of other now-famous films came out in one loaded 12-month period, join me as I blog my way through The ’99 Experience. Maybe we can learn how to make more great movie years.

Any movie that comes out early in the year is kind of doomed. All the really great movies have been released the previous fall so they can pick up Oscar buzz before the end-of-the-year deadline. The summer movie boom won’t start till April or May (though it seems to start earlier and earlier lately). Winter turns into a lame duck period, a dumping ground where studios release the stuff they’re not that proud of and have no hopes of getting any Oscar attention for.

And so Varsity Blues becomes the first stop on our tour of 1999. From the look of it, this year didn’t start out any more promising than any other year. Just to catch you up in case you haven’t, or have no plans to, see this movie, Varsity Blues tells the story of second-stringer John “Mox” Moxon (James Van Der Beek), who would rather study to get into college than play football, until the day he’s thrust into the role of star quarterback for his small Texas town’s high school team. He gets all famous and adored by everyone, his dad finally becomes proud of him, girls throw themselves at him, and in the end he tells off the psychotic and tyrannical Coach Kilmer (Jon Voight) and wins the big game, all the while receiving a full ride to his college of choice.

Obviously, it’s a gritty tale of real human struggle.

And I’ll fess up. There are plenty of snobby reasons why I shouldn’t like this movie. First and most obviously, I’m not a sports guy, much less a football guy (the fact that Super Bowl falls on or near my birthday every year, forcing me to have a combined Birthday/Super Bowl party just so people will show up, is pretty aggravating).

I don’t think I’ve seen more than five to ten minutes total of Dawson’s Creek, so I don’t have any attachment to the Beek. And the movie proudly waves the flags of several tired stereotypes, from traditional jock and cheerleader types, to the overbearing sports dad, the token black guy who needs the white hero to stand up for him, the token fat guy who everybody loves ‘cause he’s so full of fun, and the token non-blonde girl who’s kind of an outsider, just to name a few.

No, the real truth is that Varsity Blues just isn’t very good. Continue reading

Every Hew-Mon Matters: More Than One Lesson #75, “It’s a Wonderful Life”

1 Apr

QuarkInaSantaHatEaster is like the Arrested Development of holidays. If it were scheduled more consistently and marketed a little better, it could be a bigger commercial success. Sadly, everyone’s all caught up with the more accessible fun of Christmas and Halloween and such, and they don’t have the energy to pay attention to what is secretly the best holiday of them all (1 Cor. 15:17).

All this to say that on the day after Easter, I’m going to blog about a Christmas movie. Sorry, Easter. You know I love you.

It’s funny how you can watch your favorite movies over and over as a kid and memorize every line down to the inflection without really knowing what it’s all about. To this day, if I trip or stumble, I call out, “I’m all right! I’m aaaall right!” just like the drunken Uncle Charlie in It’s a Wonderful Life, when he walks the wrong direction and crashes into something off screen. I don’t really know why we watched our beat-up, bargain-bin VHS copy of that movie so often—it’s awfully long, and I don’t remember which parts I loved so much that I had to see them again and again. I think I liked Clarence, the befuddled but friendly angel, and the part where George and Mary fall into the pool.

Over the years, my own memories of the movie faded out, replaced by the popular conception of an over-long, over-sentimental holiday flick that I no longer had to sit through if I didn’t want to. Continue reading

Springing Back Into Action

25 Mar


Sometimes life hands you a lemon, and sometimes it gives you a paper cut and then squeezes that lemon over your fingers.

The video shoot for Made for Freedom was a big success, as I posted earlier. We had a lot of great footage that I was eager to turn into a winning video to help Dawn Manske’s new company raise its start-up money on IndieGogo. Unfortunately, just after our shooting weekend, I lost my editing suite.

Not like I misplaced it, like my car keys or something. More like the venue where I was editing disappeared like Sirius Black’s house in Harry Potter. It’s a long story that I can’t go into detail about right now, and it’s not over. In short, I had a few hours of footage to edit and nothing to edit it on. Continue reading

The ’99 Experience

18 Mar


In 1999, while I was just figuring out that film would be my major, two new movies marked the birth of two new movie franchises. One became one of my favorite films of all time, and the other marked the first time I ever felt like an old crank in the theater. This feeling would repeat a few years later with the release of The Matrix Reloaded, but however we feel about either franchise—The Matrix or the Star Wars prequels—you have to admit that their debuts made 1999 an historic year for film.

I didn’t really think about that until recently, though.

One of my favorite podcasts, Battleship Pretension, did a four-hour long episode on the films of 1999, and they made me realize that the movies that came out that year weren’t just good—they were important. Films like Fight Club, American Beauty, Toy Story 2, Office Space; Run, Lola, Run; Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels; Boys Don’t Cry, Election, Magnolia, American Pie, Three Kings, Being John Malkovich, Eyes Wide Shut, Dogma, South Park, The Green Mile, The Blair Witch Project, The Iron Giant, The Sixth SenseContinue reading

Made For Freedom Indiegogo Campaign – Video Shoot

11 Mar

“It all began with a pair of pants.”

Thus begins the script for the video I shot this weekend, and thus began my adventures with one Dawn Manske and Made For Freedom.

Dawn contacted me last year because she knew I was “into video stuff.” Little did she know at the time, I was looking to get back into video production after having finished a short internship in the production department at Monsanto. When she told me her mission—sell these really cool pants she discovered overseas and use the profits to benefit women and girls in India rescued from sex trafficking—I was sold.

It was a case of right time, right people, coming together right when they needed each other.

And the whole project has been that way. I’m not saying there weren’t challenges along the way—both physical and creative—but I’ve been constantly surprised how the elements have come together on this. After trying a couple of simple walk-and-talk versions of the video, we decided we had to think bigger to do this thing right. The job required a lot more effort out of me—I had to budget, location hunt, round up the equipment, schedule the shooting days—all those things “real,” “professional” videographers and filmmakers do.

The only thing I couldn’t arrange for was the weather. Continue reading

Tom Hanks on The Nerdist #267: Making It Happen

10 Dec


To justify my podcast addiction, I feel like I should start passing along bits of wisdom I’ve received from some of my favorites.

I started listening to The Nerdist about a year ago because…well, I’m a nerd. Does that need any more explanation?

Host Chris Hardwick nabs some pretty high-profile guests for the show from time-to-time (I think he’s collected almost the entire cast of The Next Generation), and the charm of the show is that the “interviews” are really just casual, digressive, funny bull sessions that eventually turn into revealing portraits of showbiz people at work. Whether you’re a filmmaker, comedian, writer, actor, or what have you, there’s a lot to glean from almost any given episode of The Nerdist. Also, you can *gasp* just listen to it for fun.

When episode 267 downloaded, I actually put it off for a while. Continue reading


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