Sunday, March 25, 2012

Another Book on LOST?

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love the television show LOST. Everything about the show was great, from the unique plot and storytelling elements to the dynamic characters. In fact, I even wrote a chapter for the book LOST Thought about how the writers of the show used the power of storytelling so well to accomplish this feat. It's a show I enjoy discussing, watching, thinking about, and writing about.

That's why I want to write about it some more. This time, instead of focusing on the Story elements of the show, I want to examine some of the spiritual themes it addressed. I began thinking about how some viewers were disappointed after viewing the final episode, expecting a sci-fi element to come into play, being shocked by the more "spiritual" elements. However, as Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, the showrunners, would tell us, LOST is, at its heart, a very spiritual show. You can see these elements very clearly from the first season and can trace them through the entire series.

That's what I plan to do. Though the book will examine spiritual themes throughout the show, my plan is to write about them from a more objective point of view. I don't want to try and "fit" the show into any particular religious mold, as this was never the goal of the show itself. At the same time, I do not plan to examine every since instance of religion popping up in the show. Instead, I want to look at the big picture.

I've already outlined the basic elements of the show that I will write about. Ironically, there are sixteen different topics I will address. And now I need to start getting into the details, organizing them into clear, coherent, and captivating chapters.

Although I love writing fiction, I also love analyzing and discussing movies and television. I've done plenty of nonfiction writing before, and only a few projects with this scope. It's exciting to start, and I know it will be well-worth the journey.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Muppets Meet The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet

Story structure is crucial. In fact, it doesn't really matter how many CGI effects there are in a film; if the structure is lacking, we walk away feeling cheated. All great films adhere to structure. And as I've written before, the structure that I have seen in all great films (and even novels) is from the Blake Snyder book Save the Cat! The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet helps break down stories in all genres, and it demonstrates why movies resonate with us the way they do. In fact, whenever I watch a movie now, my mind starts to subconsciously break it down.

After watching one of my favorite films of the year, The Muppets, I saw how even this family-fun film adheres to the principles of great storytelling. Perhaps this is why the film resonated with audiences so well. And so below, I have broken the film down according to the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet, which I feel is one of the most effective story structures I have ever come across. The funny thing I noticed is that many of the big "beats" were revealed through musical numbers. So read on, but beware, though, if you have not see the movie: there are spoilers ahead, and this is definitely a film to see on your own first to experience its magic.

All three of Blake Snyder's excellent books..

Note: This blog post is not officially authorized by the folks at Blake Snyder Enterprises. To check out this fantastic book series, go to the official web site or to

Opening Image: The movie opens with a montage of old, grainy family filmstrips. We meet Walter, the main character of the film, also a Muppet. He lives with his brother Gary, and the two are best friends. We learn through the filmstrip that Walter and Gary truly bonded after they discovered The Muppets and began watching that every night.

Theme Stated: Walter and Gary are very close and do everything together, and are eveb preparing to take a trip together with Mary, Gary's girlfriend, for their ten-year anniversary. As they walk down the street, they sing a song, the chorus of which declares, "Life's a happy song when there's someone by your side to sing along." This is what the movie is about, and what the characters will discover: who is important in our lives, and how are we incomplete without them?

Set-Up: We learn from the flashbacks that Walter has always struggled with his identity, and that Gary has always been there by his side. Living in Smallville, Kansas, Gary stays by Walter's side, even at the expense of his relationship with Mary. Mary doesn't mind it when Walter is invited to tag along on their trip to Hollywood, but secretly she wants some time with Gary where Walter won't be there. Even so, she cares about Walter and his obsession with the Muppets. As the three characters prepare to leave for Hollywood (finishing their musical number, of course), we learn a little bit about the small town they hail from. This is where Walter's journey begins... but will it end here?

Catalyst: While on a tour of the now-defunct Muppets studio, Walter sneaks into Kermit's old office. While there, he overhears Tex Richman's secret plan to tear down the Muppet theater. The oil baron knows there's oil under it... he can smell it (plus the geological survey confirmed it). Walter realizes that the stakes have just been raised on his vacation. He must find Kermit and try to save the theater.

Debate: Walter tells Gary and Mary about what he overheard, and they discuss what to do. Can they find Kermit in time? Will he listen? The three finally find his Bel-Air estate, and share the information with him. Kermit doesn't think he will be able to bring the gang back together, let alone raise the ten million dollars to keep the theater. Reminiscing about the past, Kermit decides that he will at least try. In a throwback to the first Muppet film, they go on a driving montage to try and convince the other Muppets to come back, joining together in an effort to save the Muppet Theater. We see the doubts of Fozzie, who has found a new career with the Moopets, and Gonzo, the reluctant plumbing magnate who owns a fantastic executive line of used toilets. Ultimately, though, they decide to join Kermit and the other characters.

Break Into Two: After a little effort and a lot of driving, we see that the Muppets are back together. Walter and his friends enter a world that is completely the opposite of his previous life. In the beginning of the story, we saw the thesis of his old world. This one is his antithesis, the "backwards" world for him.

B Story: Not everyone's back, though... there's still the touchy subject of Miss Piggy, Kermit's romantic interest. The gang finds her in Paris, and the flame is rekindled between Kermit and Piggy. However, there is some animosity there. Something's not right. She refuses to come back. At the same time, there is another B story that revolves around Mary and Gary's relationship. Mary wanted to go on a vacation to celebrate her anniversary with Gary, but instead, it has turned into helping Walter once again. Will she ever have Gary to herself?

Fun & Games: Now that the gang is back together, they need to find a
way to save the Muppet Theater. The fun and games begin with the "promise of the premise." This is a Muppet movie, so we expect to see a lot of fun antics, songs, and zaniness. And the film certainly doesn't disappoint. We watch them struggle to put their act together, to find a way to raise the money via a Muppet telethon, and indulge in a bit of nostalgia along the way. They even find a replacement for Miss Piggy, the Moopet Miss Poogy, though she seems a bit "rougher around the edges." But alas, as they plan and practice, it seems that they need more to make this work.

Midpoint: Finally, though, Miss Piggy comes back, deciding to help the gang, even though there is still some animosity toward Kermit, who won't admit that he needs her to make it all work. It seems like a victory, though it's a "false victory," for we know that Tex Richman is not going to give up in his quest to get the property from the Muppets. The day for the telethon is closing in quickly, and a "time clock" appears that raise the stakes.

Bad Guys Close In: Rehearsals aren't going so well. They're short an act, Kermit can't seem to find a celebrity guest host, and everything seems to be closing in on them. The network executive appears and watches the show rehearsals, and says that if Kermit can't find a celebrity guest host, she will not air the telethon. Walter is unsure of where he fits in; Kermit asks him to do an act for the show, but he doesn't think he has any talents. Kermit is neglecting Piggy, who refuses to work with him, and Gary is so devoted to helping the Muppets that he doesn't do any of the sight-seeing with Mary that he had promised. Miss Piggy's and Mary's musical number "Me Party" sums up the BGCI section well. Unless something happens, all will be lost...

All is Lost: ... and it is. Unable to find a guest host, Kermit resigns to the fact that the theater can't be saved. He appeals to Tex Richman's softer side, finding that it doesn't exist. The theater is gone. To make matters worse, not only will Richman get the rights to the theater, but also to the Muppets' name. The "whiff of death" is in the air as Kermit and friends watch the death of their name and of their close-knit family. At the same time, Gary is so committed to helping Walter that he misses the anniversary dinner with Mary, who leaves him a note at the motel saying she is going home to Smallville. The A story of saving the theater crosses with the B story, and there is another "whiff of death" as Gary fears that his relationship with Mary is gone.

Dark Night of the Soul: Kermit resigns to the fact that his dreams are finished. He's depressed and has given up, and his friends can sense it. The "victory" at the Midpoint was indeed false. Walter and Gary also have a Dark Night of the Soul. Gary sings in response to Mary's note, "Am I a Man, or am I a Muppet?" Walter, too, searches for his own identity, joining Gary in the song. Both are questioning where they find themselves.
Break Into Three: Ultimately, at the end of the song, Walter and Gary make their decision. They have a sense of self-identity, and they know what they need to do. Miss Piggy also knows what she needs to do: at all costs, she must find a celebrity host for the telethon. Resolved in this endeavor, they kidnap Jack Black. The A story and the B story finally meet as Walter discovers his destiny, Gary goes to Smallville to reunite with Mary, and the Muppets try to save the theater.

Finale: With a celebrity guest host, the show can go on! The Muppets put on a show that seems like it will fail at first, but slowly gains more success, and the calls start to pour in. Kermit reconciles with Miss Piggy, finally admitting that he needs her, and together they perform a rendition of "The Rainbow Connection" involving all the Muppets. It looks like they may be able to save the theater after all! Walter even performs an act at the end, discovering his talent after some prompting by the newly-returned Gary (traveling by map, of course). Tex Richman tries to thwart their efforts, and succeeds as the Muppets do not make the goal. In the end, they lose the theater, as well as their name. As they leave, Kermit addresses the group, saying that as long as they're together, it doesn't matter that they failed; they failed together. As long as you're with those you love in life, that is all that matters.

Final Image: As they leave the theater, defeated, they are greeted by throngs of fans. The theme comes full circle as we achieve synthesis: they sing a reprise of "Life's a Happy Song," demonstrating that togetherness is what matters most.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Hero's Journey: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Can an ape be a Hero on a Journey, just like a human character? Is a chimpanzee capable of self-realization and a transformation like in the myths of old? For Caesar in the movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it can. Read on, but beware: if you haven't seen this movie, spoilers lie ahead.

1. Ordinary World: Caesar is living with his caretaker, Will. Because he was born in a laboratory, Caesar's Ordinary World is in a normal home, living with humans. Will and his father take care of Caesar, letting him have free reign of the house. They take him to the Redwoods, allowing him to experience climbing and running free and wild, but that is as close as it gets for him to being a chimpanzee. Caesar was born with the experimental virus that his mother was dosed with, so his intellectual capabilities outweigh those of normal chimpanzees. As a result, his identity is something he questions. Is he a pet? A person? Just another animal? Caesar's Journey will be one of self-discovery.

2. Call To Adventure: Caesar's Call to Adventure, one in which he is presented with a Special World, comes when he sees Will's father, Charles, being threatened by a hostile neighbor. Charles suffers from Alzheimer's, and in a confused attempt to drive a car, he damages the neighbor's car. Caesar watches from his attic window as the neighbor gets physically violent, and Caesar becomes defensive and aggressive, attacking the neighbor.  Caesar is now sent to a primate facility. This is Caesar's Special World, one that is opposite of the life he once knew.

3. Refusal of the Call: Caesar does not want to live in the primate facility, nor does he understand why he cannot go home with Will. He pounds against the glass, despondent and sad. He knows this is not where he belongs. He belongs with humans, not other apes.

4. Meeting with the Mentor: At the facility, Caesar is frightened by the other apes that act different than he does. However, another ape, an orangutan named Maurice, was once part of a circus and learned some sign language. He communicates with Caesar, giving him advice about how to act and what to do.

5. Crossing the Threshold: Caesar is picked on at first and attacked by other apes, especially a chimpanzee named Rocket. However, he finally decides to accept his position at the primate facility. He refuses to be picked on and establishes dominance over Rocket and the others. Caesar begins to question his role and his identity as he witnesses a chimpanzee being tranquilized and taken to GenSys, the lab he was born in.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies: As Caesar establishes himself as the dominant ape in the facility, he overcomes his enemy, Rocket, and earns the respect of the other apes. He becomes close friends with Maurice, and even gains a close ally in Buck, the gorilla who is locked up separately from the others. The human caretakers pose more of a threat to him, especially the sadistic Dodge. His tests are all focused on being accepted by the others, even though he is different. When Will comes to take Caesar back home, Caesar refuses. He realizes who and what he is.

7. Approach: Caesar slowly gains the respect of all the apes. He uses Rocket to befriend the other apes, handing out cookies. Caesar watches and learns, slowly figuring out how to escape, and crafts a master plan. Caesar breaks out one night and goes back to his home, stealing canisters with the virus in an aerosol form. Returning to the facility, Caesar uses the canisters to make the other apes super-intelligent like him. Caesar teaches them all sign language and prepares for his escape.

8. Ordeal: The ultimate Ordeal for Caesar comes when he must face his worst nemesis. The sadistic Dodge threatens Caesar, and he speaks, much to the shock of all around him. He stands up to Dodge in the Inmost Cave of the dilapidated ape sanctuary, and has passed the test.

9. Reward: Caesar and the apes are rewarded with their freedom. The revolution has begun.

10. The Road Back: The Road Back is where the hero tries to return to their old life, but they cannot, for they have been changed. In Caesar's case, he goes to the only place from his old life that he can now: the Redwoods. It is there that he most felt like an ape, where he most felt at home and at peace. And it is there that he will return. But first, they must make their way there. The chimpanzees escape, freeing apes at GenSys and the zoo. Caesar and the apes try to cross the Golden Gate Bridge and head to the Redwoods. The police try to stop the apes, but they fight back, repelling their enemy but avoiding true violence. Many apes are killed, including Buck, who sacrifices his life to protect Caesar.

11. Resurrection: Will arrives to try and control Caesar, but it's too late. Caesar has faced himself, and has learned who he is. He is a leader.The apes successfully make it over the bridge and past the police. They are now free!

12. Return with the Elixir: Will follows Caesar and finds him protected by his companions. He tries to convince Caesar to turn back, that he can put everything right. But Caesar speaks: "Caesar is home." Will realizes with these three words that the old Caesar is dead; the new Caesar, the one standing tall in front of him has been reborn and is resurrected. Caesar will never be able to go back to his old life, as heroes never truly are able to.  The film closes as Caesar and the other apes scale the massive, towering trees. The "Elixir" that Caesar has given them is their freedom and the realization of who they are, distinct creatures that will shape the future of the world.

Note: this post was revised and updated on 8/28/12.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Introducing LOST Thought

I am pleased to announce that the book LOST Thought: Leading Thinkers Discuss LOST is now available both on Kindle and in paperback via, and at bookstores. The book features many authors, investigating topics as they apply to the television show LOST.

The chapter I wrote is called "The Power of Story," and focuses on the ways that the show transcended boundaries of storytelling, creating a unique narrative that has never been done before.

It is an honor to be featured in the book alongside other great authors, several of which I own books from. I especially recommend Nikki Stafford's episode guides and analyses on the show, as well as Sarah Clarke Stuart's Literary LOST and Into the Looking Glass: Exploring the Worlds of Fringe.