Ladies and Gentlemen, I have launched a new blog at my website: brendanhughes.com and will no longer be posting here. Come on over and check it out!!! It’s all new!!!

And I will no longer be posting here. Please head on over to brendanhughes.com, you’ll find all of these entries plus new ones and a spiffier layout!

brendanhughes.com will now be my centralized place to lurch, guffaw and cajole on these here interglobes.

Thanks for visiting here! See you over there (where you can subscribe!)

the silver bullet of character insight

There’s always something else a character could say or do, so what he does say and do necessarily reveals the knowledge that such a strategy will work. Because, at some point, it has worked before.

I’m on a plane to Austin for SXSW. I am beyond juiced.

This picture is of the white board from teaching 2 acting classes yesterday.

Why this draft of the script is taking so long…

I spend my days in an office in Los Feliz, surrounded by index cards, books I’ll never read, and this man

… one of the funnier humans groping their way around the crust of this odd little planet.

Some hours are passed in silence as we diligently work on our various, mutually exclusive freelance projects. Some hours are spent sorting through the mild challenges of being American men in our thirties. Most, however, are spent hashing out pipe-dream projects and idiotic nonsense. Today, I wasn’t in the office nine minutes before we decided to start a thrash metal band called JarJar ReachAround (I’m on skins; Jeff, the ax). Our first few singles would be “Mi’sa Horny” and “Cantina Thong Song.”

Then, of course, the picture deals roll in. As we spoke this morning I felt my hand launch Photoshop before I could put up a fight. Before I could remind it what a busy day we had ahead.

JarJarHead Poster

God rest you, devourer of steaks and life

My thoughts exactly…

Office mate and pal, Jeffrey Dinsmore just informed me that Orson Welles used to eat three steaks in one meal. And why not?

At long last, a medium.

The Thing Itself

kaleidoscope

The highest form of dramatic art, if you ask my ass, is when there is a visceral transfer between the protagonist and the audience. The creator of the experience intentionally creates a scarcity within the structure of the storytelling and uses this to force the audience into willing certain things to be.

For instance, in the movie Memento, which rang us like a clarion bell into the new millennium, Jonathan and Christopher Nolan create a scarcity of understanding what’s going on in the audience by moving backwards through the plot. In short, through the storytelling, they gave the audience the disease the protagonist himself has.

This is the final and oft-forgot piece of the puzzle in our craft: the use of the style and structure of the storytelling to mainline the emotional magma of it into the bloodstream of the audience. If the main character feels impatient, make us impatient with your storytelling. And don’t wimp out. Make us actually impatient with the story.  Make us WAIT, Godot Damn it! Takes balls.

And it’s an old idea. Virgil and Ovid were no slouches with the quill (chisel?). Virgil once wrote “Quadrupedante putrem sonitu quatit ungula campum” or “The horses’ hooves with four-fold beat shake the crumbling plain.” Now, say the Latin out loud (sound it out, there’s a hard G in “ungula”). Repeat it a couple of times until you can say it well and at an even pace. Do you hear them? Say it in a James Earl Jones voice. Hear them now? It’s the horses hooves on the plain! They’re embedded in the consonants of the words themselves. FaBAM.

Discussing Where the Wild Things Are with cinematographer Emily Topper, we were mutually reminded of what it was actually like to be nine (horribly upsetting, traumatizingly emotional, an almost non-stop bummer, but for brief periods of exhilarating fort-building), which suggests a story about an irrational person, told irrationally. The structure of that movie–let’s do this, now let’s do this, now I’m upset, now I’m psyched–transfers to us the viscera of that which is to be nine.

She recently pointed me to an article called Humans Have Three Brains by James Thornton, who refers to the theory of the triune brain of Dr. Paul D. MacLean (boola, boola), saying essentially that we humans have three brains: the lizard brain (age 200,000,000) which fights, fucks, flees, feasts and falls asleep; the dog brain (age 100,000,000) which feels love, sorrow and seeks a sense of belonging; and the human brain or the neo-cortex (age: 240,000), which allows us to make varied sounding honks with our face trumpets which are then interpreted by our fellow upright crust dwellers as, say, directions to In-N-Out Burger (try a double-double animal style, trust me). We essentially took about 200 million years to get to the top of Maslowe’s pyramid.

The neo-cortex, or the human brain, Thornton posits, can convey things in language and remember where the car keys are, but only the dog brain and the lizard brain feel emotions:

So imagine the man with a cheating heart. He’s married and loves his wife, but feels lust for another woman. He cheats on his wife with this other woman. While lying in tousled sheets afterward and staring at the ceiling, he can simultaneously enjoy satisfied lust, feel sad because of his disloyalty, and come up with a justification for his conduct.

Therefore, when we tell stories, we are operating on three tracks, and appealing to three different levels of evolution. When we tell stories, we tell them in images because the emotional centers of our brain do not understand language. We use rhythm and surprise to stir the lizard and the dog.

Alligators will eat their children without remorse, Pomeranians just want to be loved, and we can’t find our car keys.

The conveyance is also the cargo. We can not separate the relating from that which is related.

Every time we tell each other a story, we must hurl emotional lightning bolts at the ancient parts of our brains that do not use language to communicate. We must use the structure by which we assemble the story to awaken those beasts within us and make them pay attention.

That makes for one hell of an afternoon at the cinema.

Guess Who’s Coming to Breakfast

My father, Patrick Hughes, left the priesthood in 1972 on the same day he married my mother. Then he became a documentarian, producing slideshows that exposed corporate greed, drove down stock prices of the most egregious multinational conglomerates and generally drew the ire of tall buildings and Wall Street.

His most popular title was Guess Who’s Coming to Breakfast. It details the exploitation of sugar cane laborers in the Dominican Republic at the hands of Gulf+Western Corporation. Gulf+Western owned Paramount Pictures when this documentary was made in 1978, and we used to boo the mountain after Taxi and Mash.

The program features much of his photography, and the voiceover talent of Sonny DuFault, who is still working today.

Charlie Bluhdorn was the CEO of Gulf+Western during this time, and is the focus of this piece. While ever the capitalist, he did some quixotic things like greenlight Warren Beatty’s Reds. He showed up in Boston with some lawyer goons to try to intimidate my father and even sued him (to my father’s delight), but the National Council of Churches formed an amicus curiæ with my dad in court, and they were forced to back down.

My father died suddenly during a nap on October 23, 1980.

This documentary, produced by his one man operation called The Packard Manse Media Project, has sat in our attic for many years. I have spent the last few months restoring it.

I am the little boy in the yellow hat.