Kygo and Selena Gomez bring it with IT AIN’T ME

As I drive MANY MILES each day, and listen to this thing they used to call the radios, it’s like a blind taste-test for music. You usually don’t know the name of the singer or band, so your reactions are honest.

My reaction to this song on the radio was “play that again.” Put a gun to my head and I would’ve sworn this was some kind of European electro-dance thing, and the singer was maybe somebody like Ellie Goulding.

So it was a shock to learn Selena Gomez sings it. It’s a cut off the new album by Kygo, a Norwegian musical genius.

Let’s take apart why the video works so well with the song.

You care, right away

The trouble with most of music videos is there’s no attempt at making us feel, because the musicians are too busy trying to look cool, tough, rich and/or glamorous while singing about themselves. Nothing is really at stake and there’s no story told, so there’s no reason for the audience to care. It’s just a song, no matter how much gets spent on directors, dancers and the set.

This video has two characters you can relate two, right off, and an actual story with real stakes. You feel bad for this young man in a coma after the motorcycle crash, and you sympathize with the young woman sticking by his side at the hospital. You want him to be OK and for them to be together again.

The inner POV is trippy and beautiful

Loved it when the video switches to the point of view of the man in a coma.

They got truly creative with what it might be like to be trapped in your own body, aware but not awake. The lighting and effects are creative and well done. Impressive.

Genuine setups and payoffs leading to a beautiful ending

There’s a real sense of joy when she starts dancing and puts the headphones on her boyfriend. There’s a contagious sense of joy when she dances in spite of the situation. You can see in his inner POV that he hears the music, that he’s dancing, too, giving you hope that maybe he’ll make it and wake up.

It’s a great bit if storytelling with song that builds up to a classic closing image of him opening his eyes.

 

One final note about the costumes: this is the opposite of most videos, where singers try to show off insane outfits or as much skin as possible. They use crazy costumes for the inner POV sequences, which fits, then everyday outfits for the real life scenes. I was far more impressed with the simple joy of a singer rocking out in T-shirt and jeans, in this video, than all fancy choreography, skimpy costumes and backup dancers you find in other videos. Well done.

Verdict:

A creative music video with a great song and an actual story with a beginning, middle and end. The dream sequences are a special bonus.

TL;DR: I have seen many, many music videos, and this one is special. 10/10 would watch again.

 

 

SALUT SALON gives us a musical clinic and a giant dose of joy

Who says classic music is boring?

These four women prove that technical talent can combine with humor. They could’ve played this normally, and nobody but music professors would care about the difference in the quality of the music. This way is just far, far more entertaining for the audience. And for the musicians, too.

I’d bet my house those smiles aren’t fake. Not a bit. These four musicians are clearly having a blast goofing off like this. Their joy is contagious.

Good on you, Salut Salon–thanks for being this creative and having the guts to be silly in a serious business.

Why all writers need to study the secrets of screenwriting

So my genius sister, Pamela Kay, made a series of YouTube videos on how to write screenplays. She won a Nicholl Fellowship from the Academy and knows her stuff. Heed her words, even if you don’t write screenplays, because this field is crazy useful for any sort of writer.

Why? The secret to all writing is structure–and nobody is better at structure than screenwriters.

Not because they’re magical and amazing, though many are. It’s because you can hide bad structure with pretty words in a novel or feature story.

With screenplays, you can’t hide the bad bones of a story, because that’s all people see: the bones.

Writing today has far too many silos, mostly focused on little details, with few notions on structure at all:

  • Writing to inform: Journalists are stuck inside the inverted pyramid, a structure that’s inherently boring for anything of length, which is why journalists typically stink at novels
  • Writing to persuade: Speechwriters know the structure of rhetoric, but it’s not really meant for writing anything to inform or entertain
  • Writing to entertain: Novelists, playwrights, poets and screenwriters all have their own jargon and tricks, like they live on different planets

This reminds me of boxing, wrestling and martial arts before the days of MMA, with everybody doing their own little thing and swearing they’d whip the lesser disciplines. Except boxers got destroyed by the wrestlers, who got owned by the jujitsu people, who later on got wrecked by the boxers who learned how to sprawl. To be truly good fighters, fighters had to set aside their pride and train in every discipline.

I believe the same is true for writers today. There’s never been more content out there, with scads created every second all around the world, so there’s never been more competition to get read.

From having a toe in journalism, speechwriting and novels, I know you could slave away in one of these fields for years and still miss out on core fundamentals. Not learning from other disciplines is like building a house when all you know is drywall and plumbing–the thing is going to fall down.

Screenwriting is key because structure is why 99 percent of bad drafts are bad. Go look at a bad draft. Line by line, the words are plenty pretty. Structure is what vexes us all.

So: I hope this video gives you a taste of screenwriting and her series sparks something in you. Not so you can write LETHAL WEAPON 7: DANNY GLOVER AND MEL GIBSON BUST OUT OF THE SANTA MONICA NURSING HOME, but so you can learn how to pour the foundation of any sort of story, making it stands strong so you can move on to the wiring (dialogue), plumbing (setups and payoffs) and drywall (description).

Any sort of writing with strong bones will beat the stuffing out of the prettiest words with a weak foundation.

If you want more, here are two of the basic texts, the guide stars: STORY by Robert McKee is a deep dive on structure, while SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder is a breezy little look at genres, beat sheets and story, using movies we all know.

P.S. Pam did a ton of these videos, so I’ll try to post one every Tuesday as long as she keeps making them.

Taking apart the expensive disaster of LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO by Taylor Swift

I come here to praise Taylor Swift, not to bury her CGI zombie corpse.

Though I’m neither superfan nor hater, I have to say she did some great music videos early in her career. YOU BELONG TO ME is excellent. BACK TO DECEMBER is pretty good.

This music video is a step backward, an expensive mess that shows T-Swift has fully evolved from a Scrappy Young Talent Who Just Hit It Big all the way to a Establishment Megastar With More Mansions Than She Can Remember.

Yes, the production values are great. Fans will watch the heck out of this just for the spectacle.

HOWEVER: It doesn’t make you feel anything.

At all.

And that’s the acid test for a music video.

Do you laugh?

Do you feel joy, or anger?

Do you cry?

That’s because whether you intend to or not, every song tells a story. A music video is supposed to help tell that story.

Songs don’t give you a lot of words to do the job. It takes discipline and talent to do it right. 

The Dixie Chicks can spend 200 words to tell a full story that makes you full of sorrow (TRAVELING SOLDIER) or righteously angry (GOODBYE, EARL).

Taylor can do this, too. She has the talent to tell a story and make you feel. One of her first big hits did this perfectly. It’s even in the title.

Here’s where this new video goes wrong, despite all the money spent–reportedly, $12 million in diamonds was used for that bath scene.

What story is she telling, and how does it make us feel?

In her best songs and videos, Taylor’s telling a story about somebody else, somebody we can all relate to, and that makes us feel for the protag. YOU BELONG TO ME is about a high school girl, something of a loser, with a crush on a neighbor boy. People get that. Whether you’re male or female, we’ve all been through awkward years in junior high or high school. It’s easy to feel for the girl she’s singing about, and to root for that underdog. You want her to get the boy and it’s a great moment when they both show up to the dance together.

In this video, Taylor’s clearly talking about herself, and the point of the song is to strike back at perceived rivals.

It’s hard for non-billionaires to feel sympathy for celebrities with hurt feelings. No matter how good the song is (and it’s not that good compared to her best) and how much they spent making this video, you can’t force people to feel sorry for a young, pretty woman who makes more money in a week than most people will make in their lifetime.

What are the stakes?

 

Just like books and movies, songs can have low stakes or high stakes, personal stakes and public stakes.

They can be about whether love rules the day or love forever lost. War or peace, injustice or redemption.

The stakes here are extremely low. Oh, Taylor is so upset (at Katy Perry or whoever, I honestly don’t care and neither should you) that she crashed a car that costs more than your house while a a cheetah served as her copilot. With her car trashed, will she be unable to get to work in the morning and lose her job? Does it matter in the slightest? No. She may have to tell her staff to gas up the Ferrari, or the Bentley, or one of however many dozen cars she owns. People will clean up the mess while she goes off and trashes one of her jets and rounds up an army of cloned robots or whatever to assault the compound of P-Diddy or whoever she’s mad at this week.

Basically, I can’t make myself care, and yes, I tried. Really hard.

What’s the impact of the song and video?

The best songs and music videos stick with you. AMERICAN PIE was about an entire era, and half the fun was trying to decipher the lyrics. Even if you didn’t get every line, you got the message about how America was changing. It sticks with you.

EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE is about love turning into obsession, and the video is stark black-and-white. I wouldn’t change a thing.

When I first heard LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO on the radio, I swore it was Britney Spears.

Not kidding. Feels like mid-stage Britney, after she’d made it big, and started doing over-the-top stuff like this:

Verdict: Sure, the production values and budget is sky high, but the entertainment value is meh and the feels generated are zero. 10/10 would not watch again.

If the old Taylor Swift is dead, and the new T-Swift is busy being obsessed with her hurt feelings and celebrity beefs, let’s resurrect the old Taylor Swift–the one focused on songs that aren’t about her. I’d happily listen and watch that singer.

Redemption: Vets behind bars helping other vets by training service dogs

friendly friday friendly dog meme

Just a beautiful story by Matt Lorch at Q13, and this prison is in my county. I knew about this program, and some folks who’ve helped with it. This story does them justice.

A four-minute+ piece is crazy dang long for TV news. Good on Q13 for going deep with this one.

We need more stories like this that show the power of hope and redemption.

Powell’s City of Books is packed with people, ideas and goodness

Whenever we’re in Portland, we hit Powell’s, the biggest indy bookstore in the known universe.

And it never gets old.

Today, the place is packed. But there’s none of the stress and bad manners of crowded places with long lines.

Because book people–writers and readers, editors and artists–are good people. 

Here’s to the staff and customers at Powell’s.

Carly Rae Jepsen + NIN = WIN

This is brilliant. Watch, then let’s chat about it.

So, I’ve grown up with music videos, with this thing in the ’80s and ’90s we called MTV playing them 24/7 before demented studio execs decided a channel devoted to music videos by the most talented singers and bands in the world made far, far too much sense.

Why not should switch gears and move away from that so-called entertainment? What does U2, Bruce Springsteen or Lady Gaga know about showing people a good time? Devote your airtime to human train wrecks with shows like Jersey Shore, where a grown man actually ordered pizza on the phone and, when asked for his name, told the pizza place it was “Situation.”

My favorite bit is the pizza man, Who Is Not Having It, giving post-post-modern MTV its first and last flirtation with what I like to call “the real world,” except not in capital letters because it isn’t a fake show with fake people in fake situations.

Therefore: hat tip to my sister for finding this, and kudos to the creative soul who took the time to stitch together this mashup of Carly Rae and NIN–this is an expertly timed masterpiece.

Well done. You have talent and a great ear for mixing two very different songs. Give us more, por favor.

A peek inside the brain of puppers and doggos

friendly friday friendly dog meme

If you’ve owned dogs and served cats, as I have, watching them closely can give you a peek inside their noggins.

There’s a great book by Jared Diamond—GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL—that drops serious knowledge about the kittehs and doggos, and yes, that book is all about the rise and fall of civilizations around the world, so why would he bother with house pets?

Here’s why:

(1) Diamond says you can figure out which civilizations struggled and which turned into mighty empires with a simple trick: count how many plants and animals they could domesticate.

(2) That’s because you can’t have permanent villages and cities, much less an empire, if you’re stuck roaming around as hunter-gatherer. Tough life, carrying everything that you own, especially without a horse to haul it around. You have to be able to grow wheat and herds of goats and such to settle down and have villages, then cities, then science and tiny supercomputers that allow a single human to send Candy Crush spam to all of their Facebook friends.

(3) The only animals that can truly be domesticated are ones that naturally travel in packs or herds, because only those animals understand how to be social. In other words, animals with some natural manners. Other animals might be sort of tamed, but never truly domesticated.

(4) Doggos live in packs and are totes social.

(5) Cats are solitary hunters and brutal killers. Seriously. Yes, even the ones that look like this:

The kitteh is surprised
Surprise Kitteh is surprised.

Back when The Discovery channel did science instead of reality shows about pawn shops and such, there was a Top 10 Predators episode. You had the great white shark, polar bears, lions, tigers, Kevin Spacey, you know, the usual suspects.

Number 1? House cats. Even if well fed, they’ll run around killing scads of birds, mice and whatever else they can, just for fun. They are furry little Sith Lords.

So why are puppers and doggos so different?

I’ve watched our Hound of the Baskervilles from when he was about one year old and have gotten a good look inside his head.

Mystery Number 1: Why do dogs HATE the mailman?

This seems to be such a cliché, an urban legend. The kind of thing that could get traced back to an off-hand line on I LOVE LUCY that just took off in pop culture and never died off.

Except there are good reasons for dogs to hate mail carriers and delivery folks.

Since we live on a dead-end road with few neighbors, there are two distinct types of people driving by: folks who live here and visitors.

The Hound doesn’t bark once when he hears the cars of people who live here. Doesn’t even look up—he knows the sound of each engine, though he’ll head for the door to greet family members when he hears their car start up the hill.

Random visitors might get barked at, but to him, they heed that warning and keep on driving past to their destination. They don’t stop at our house or show back up again tomorrow.

Delivery folks do.

To the dog, the FedEx folks show up all the time and the post office people come by every flipping day, ignoring all his barked warnings.

Even worse: the mailman is the only person to stop at the corner of our property for a long time. I believe, deep in my soul, the Hound thinks the mailman is peeing on our mailbox. Because that’s what a dog would do: mark territory.

It doesn’t matter who’s wearing the uniform and driving the delivery truck. To doggos, those are the colors of an invading army, and each person wearing them and stopping at the mailbox is sending a clear message: “Your home is now my territory, and so are the homes of all your neighbors and friends. Your warning barks don’t frighten me. I’ll be back tomorrow to pee on the mailbox and claim your home as mine. Do something about it, tough guy.”

Mystery Number 2:  What do dogs think of cats?

Back when we had three cats, the Hound couldn’t figure them out.

He understood the rules: don’t go upstairs, don’t go in the dining room and stay off the couches. We trained him to do things and when he did them, he got rewarded with treats or affection. That’s the system.

Cats don’t listen. They don’t care about your stupid rules or wishes.

To help train the doggo, we have him sit in another room when food goes in his bowl. And it might be a few minutes before we tell him OK, go eat. He sits at attention, no problem. It’s like he’s in the army. He enjoys clear rules and learning new tricks.

There’s no way any of our cats would ever sit and wait for food, not even if you offered them treats and love.

Quite the opposite. Whenever they were hungry, they made sure you knew it. Joy the White (kinda like Gandalf the Grey but after fighting that demon thing) would go further. If she was pissed off, she’d make it literal by stalking into the room to glare at you while she peed in a corner, just to show she was upset about her food bowl being empty or some such thing.

To the Hound, the cats were unpredictable and immature little furballs with no brains or social skills.

If he saw one of them breaking the rules, like walking into the dining room, he’d police them, gently nosing them back into the kitchen. Trying to get them in line. It wasn’t aggressive, like he was the boss. It was incredulous. “Are you crazy? Don’t offend the Tall Wizards Who Control Light and Dark, because we have a good thing going here: warm house, soft beds, fresh food and their protection. Why are you trying to screw that up?”

This isn’t a question of brains. Cats are plenty intelligent and with a lot of effort, some people have trained them. With zero effort, you can watch them do clever things and get into all kinds of trouble. Like experimenting with gravity.

Dogs are pack animals and wired differently. Puppers simply don’t understand why the Tiny Furballs with Needle Claws have no social manners and refuse to learn things from the Tall Wizards, especially when the reward for learning things is yummies and love.

Mystery Number 3: The on-off Switch of Guard Dogginess

The Hound sees it as his job to (a) alert us when strangers or delivery people are outside, and (b) to guard the door.

This is fine normally. When we have a lot of people over, though, it can be a hassle and a mystery–because once people are in the kitchen or dining room, there might be 15 people there he doesn’t know, and he won’t bark at a single one. his tail and happily gets petted all night.

A similar thing happens the Hound hits the kennel: the kennel owners always let dogs out into a fenced area separated from the main run. Every time, the new dog goes to the fence to touch noses with all the other dogs, then they let that new dog into the main area with tiny terriers and Great Danes, with zero problems. They all play together.

Except none of that works when the dog can still see their owner. They’ll bark at the other dogs and do not get along. The Switch of Guard Dogginess going from OFF to ON. Back on duty.

I took this idea home and started putting the Hound in the library when guests push the doorbell. Mystery solved: if people are at the door, he’s on duty. Once people are past the foyer and in the kitchen or dining room, I let him out and everything’s great.

In his doggy brain, he’s thinking something like this: “Clearly, the Tall Wizards let all these people deep inside to our most sacred room, where we store all the food. So they’re friends. Friends who brought us MORE food as tribute. I have never smelled so many good things! Our pack is popular, which means our territory and power is growing. The mailman dares not challenge us now.”

###

For serious dog knowledge, here’s some pretty good stuff on dog body language.

Robert Hardy was the epitome of elegant humor

Robert Hardy was a great actor, who played many roles–but I’ll always remember him as Siegfried Farnon on the BBC adaptation of ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL.

This was before BBC caught up with Hollywood in terms of production values and budgets. The sets looked cramped and shabby, and the cinematography is nothing special.

But none of that mattered, because the acting and the story was always, always good.

My favorite stories from that book revolve around Tricki-Woo, the pet dog of a wealthy woman.

The actors who played James Herriot and Tristan Farnon were well-cast, especially Tristan.

But whenever Siegfried was in a scene, Robert Hardy dominated it without overshadowing the other actors. He made them better. And he’ll be missed.

Writing prompt: Bob the Butcher puts his thumb on the scale

Character is revealed by choices–and not regular old choices. Decisions under stress.

There’s a good bit from philosophy about looking at this, because it’s binary choices don’t describe the real world.

“Brave” and “cowardly” doesn’t cover the range and complexity of humanity.

A five-part scale does a better job: cowardly – meek – measured – brave – reckless

So here’s a little writing prompt where the goal is to have a character–a hero or villain you love–respond to conflict in their unique way, in a single line of dialogue.

 

The problem: You’re in line to buy steak for a big summer BBQ, and Bob the Butcher just put his heavy thumb on the scale.  

A normal person might ask Bob to try again, which is expected and somewhat boring.

A meek person would maybe raise and eyebrow and hope Bob sees the error of his ways. A coward would simply pay to avoid confrontation.

A brave person would refuse to get cheated and walk out unless Bob the Butcher did things fairly, while a reckless character would start a fist-fight with Bob in the middle of the butcher shop.

But we all know characters who’d react far differently than even those basic examples, which is what makes fiction fun. I did four quick ones just now. Have at it.

 

Four one-line responses

Hannibal Lecter: Bob, I’d love to have you for dinner.

 

Obi-wan Kenobi *waves hand*: That’s not the price you’re looking for.

 

Bruce Wayne / Batman: Bob, I won’t be paying for these steaks, or this basket full of other goodies I grabbed, because I just bought your store.

 

Darth Vader: Pray I don’t cut off your other hand.

 

This sort of situation is the acid test for a truly memorable character. Is their response clearly different than other characters we all know, or are they pale copies and stereotypes of what heroes and villains are supposed to be?