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Spoilers and Reveals

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Nov 11 2017 · 138 views

Essays, Not Rants! 294: Spoilers and Reveals

Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father. That’s a spoiler, right? What about Luke fights Darth Vader in Empire Strikes Back? How about Yoda’s the green dude Luke meets on Dagobah? Or Luke goes to Dagobah? Where does it stop being a spoiler and become plot information?

Spoilers used to mean something that’d, well, spoil a surprise, ruin the story. It’d be telling someone that Lando betrays Han in Empire. Since at the point, the story seems to be presenting one thing, but it turns out it’s another. But saying Han and Leia go to Cloud City? That’s just information, it doesn’t tell you anything about the story.

I think we have a tendency to conflate spoilers and plot. Sure, there’s a certain amount of fun to going into something completely blind, but there’s no harm in knowing something. Knowing that Luke goes to Dagobah isn’t gonna ruin Empire Strikes Back.

But then, I’d argue that spoilers don’t always ruin stuff either. I went into LOST knowing that Charlie died, but I still had a ball of a time (and also swore of social media in between the time it aired and I was able to watch it). I started Game of Thrones knowing that Ned Stark died in the first season, but so much of the fun of it was watching how it played out. Saying a spoiler ruins something is indicative of poor storytelling: you know Han, Luke, and Leia are gonna make it out of Star Wars in one piece, but does that make it any less enjoyable? I played MGSV knowing all the twists and turns, yet it’s still a gripping story. A well crafted story doesn’t solely rely on WHAM moments to hook you. But that doesn’t mean I’m trawling through every nugget of information about The Last Jedi. I enjoy being surprised all the same.

Spoilers are a weird beast, is what I’m saying.

Which brings me to Stranger Things 2. I thoroughly enjoyed the first season last year and, of course, was ready for the second. I didn’t watch any of the trailers, but that was more due to apathy than any intent to avoid spoilers. But then they put out a mobile game, which, I’d usually dismiss except this one was styled after Legend of Zelda. And not the 3D ones, but the old school, top down, action-RPGs that I love (Link’s Awakening is the best Zelda game; fight me). When Season 2 dropped, the game updated with a new character, Max, and an extra quest. Cool!

But unlocking this new character, however, reveals that they she has a special ability. And it’s a doozie. Like, major turn of events type reveal. I was… less than pleased. Because this had all the shaping of being a big twist that happens part way through the season and shakes everything up. And here it was in this game.

But what makes this such a spoiler-y thing is that it could be a big reveal, an "I am your father" reveal. The sort of thing I’d rather not have spoiled for something I’m about to watch in the near future. 'cuz I got clued in to some of the plot developments by virtue of, y’know, being on the internet. Like I knew that Steve would be taking on some adventures in babysitting (though none of the details), but that’s hardly a spoiler.

So when I actually watched the show, the back of my mind was furiously anticipating That Twist. …aaaaand it didn’t happen.

Finding out that Max has psychic blasts would have been a heckuva spoiler, since it’s a big reveal. That it didn’t happen is a nice gag of the developers (inaccurate game adaptions have a long and storied history) that’s a little frustrating because I kept waiting for it to happen.

But Stranger Things isn’t a show that rides or dies on its reveals. It’s a tightly crafted show, with a plot that starts as a slow burn and picks up as it goes; elements are thrown in play and developed to great effect. Furthermore, it's anchored in strong characters with growth and relationships. Sure, a major plot spoiler would take away some of the surprise, but that's not the main draw. Even if it was, though, I don't think it'd have ruined the show. Spoilers aren't that bad, guys.

But if you dare tell me anything about The Last Jedi that isn't in the trailers…


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Violence in Video Games

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Nov 04 2017 · 93 views

Essays, Not Rants! 293: Violence in Video Games

The first trailer for The Last of Us Part II is haunting in its tranquility. We’re treated to shots of the desolated post-apocalyptic world where nature’s reclaimed a neighborhood. Inside a house, Ellie strums a guitar, singing "Through The Valley," a take Psalm 23. Recently killed bodies lie around the house and Ellie herself is splattered with blood. Joel confronts her at the end, asking if she still wants to go through with it. Ellie’s answer? She’s going to kill every last one of them.

There’s little movement in the trailer beyond Ellie playing the guitar and Joel walking through the house, but it evokes the mood of the first game with its contrast between brutality and serenity.

A second trailer just came out, and this one might just be the opposite of the first. It’s a single scene between six characters and it is vicious in its depiction of violence. Two guys get shot with arrows. A woman is strung up in a noose, another has her arm bones shattered with a hammer, and a third gets impaled in the side of her head (unrelated: cheers to Naughty Dog for their diversity). It’s brutal and, at times, hard to watch. The trailer, like the first The Last of Us, doesn’t shy away from the garish nature of its violence. In short, it’s a lot to take in.

Naturally, it raises the question of whether or not video games should even have this sort of violence, and, in addition, whether or not it glorifies brutal hyperviolence. The first question is based on the idea that video games are fundamentally a medium for kids; there wouldn’t be any question about this sort of content in a film or a book. If we’re going to have a discussion about violence in video games, it’s important to agree that video games, like any other medium, can be targeted to children or to adults. The Last of Us, and its sequel, are rated M, the equivalent of an R-Rating in film. These games are not meant for kids in the first place.

It’s also key to realize that games are, by nature, more visceral. You’re not watching someone get killed, you’re doing the killing (via a digital avatar). The player is, oftentimes, not passive in the action unfolding on screen. A lot of the time it’s a result of what the player does.

But video games are a form of art, and as with any, there are different ways to depict something. A game like Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel revels in its over-the-top violence. Bullets fly everywhere as you mow down villainous cartel members, get a bigger gun and limbs go flying off; it’s violent to the point of being cartoonish. There’s no second thought paid to the bloodbath, as there isn’t in films like The Expendables and Commando, they’re different beasts from, say, Drive.

Compare that to The Last of Us, a game which refuses to let you enjoy killing. If you’ve downed an enemy, be it through bullets or a metal pipe, and you go in for the kill with your bare hands (to save on supplies), the fallen enemy will sometimes beg for mercy. Not in a way that makes you, the player, feel mighty, but in a way that makes you feel like a monster.

The immersive interactivity of video games gives the genre a great deal of space to explore themes like violence. Take Metal Gear Solid V, a war game that’s vehemently antiwar. You play as Venom Snake, the leader of a private military company who is bent on revenge. Throughout the game you can pour funds into R&D, getting cool new rifles, shotguns, and rocket launchers (and more!). These weapons can, in turn, be used to kill enemy soldiers. But playing aggressively — killing everyone, executing wounded enemies, running over wild animals — and over time the piece of shrapnel lodged in Snake’s skull will grow into a horn. Keep it up and he will be permanently drenched in blood, not just in gameplay but in cinematic cutscenes too. If you have a tendency towards violence, MGSV doesn’t let you forget that you’re a killer.

The new trailer for The Last of Us Part II isn’t a fun watch. It’s not exactly the sort of trailer that would really entice any newcomers to the series either, given that it’s quite obtuse with any sort of details. Rather, it serves as an addendum to the thesis of the first game and trailer: survival is a brutish thing and there is no joy in violence. If Ellie is indeed set on a path of revenge, then Part II will not let her (and by extension, the player) forget what that means. There is a space for this sort of violence in video games, and, with their special ability for immersion, games can comment on it, just as any other form of storytelling does.


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Outline Done.

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Writing Nov 01 2017 · 86 views

68 pages.

10,900 words.

Now to read over, mark it up, and go to script.


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Going Further

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Oct 28 2017 · 98 views

Essays, Not Rants! 292: Going Further

The LEGO Ninjago Movie came out about a month ago and it was, well, firmly okay. Like, it's not awful — it’s entertaining enough — but it never rises to the delightful postmodern heights of its predecessors. But it didn't have to. While The LEGO Movie toyed with Campbell’s Hero’s Journey by making the chosen one as un-special as possible, and The LEGO Batman Movie used the narrative of a love story to reframe the conflict of Batman and The Joker to craft a hilarious new take on the mythos, all The LEGO Ninjago Movie really had to do was tell a raucous adventure story. Which it kinda does, but it’s very safe, one couched in winks at the audience and a foot still safely in the boat, never taking the plunge.

It’s a shame, too, because The LEGO Ninjago Movie had so much in its hand, it just never went all in.

Let’s just look at the setting. We’ve got Ninjago City, this cyberpunk-by-way-of-future-Asia setting with elevated highways and really cool buildings. But we never get to really explore it. All of our time in the city is set against the backdrop of big fights, which, while cool, are hardly space to get to know a setting. Instead, once the plot begins in earnest, we’re whisked out to a much more generic jungle. And like, sure, a jungle’s a cool enough setting, but it lacks the idiosyncrasy of Ninjago City. Jungles are generic, whereas Ninjago City had this spiffy aesthetic that marked is as different from, say Bricksburg or Gotham from the other LEGO movies or even New York and Coruscant. It wouldn’t be terribly hard to rejigger the central plot to go from exploring the jungle to spelunking in the depths of Ninjago City. There’s more personality there and room for imagination, something the movie really could have used.

Because it plays it all so safe. We have this outstanding (and hilarious) cast who are mostly relegated to bit parts where they can offer commentary on the Quest At Hand. If Ninjago is gonna be a send up of typical adventure movies, then let the main characters be a bunch of savvy wiseacres taking the mickey out of the narrative. If it’s gonna be an actual adventure movie, then let it be that, with the silliness seeping in from all sides. But Ninjago couldn’t decide what it wanted to be, and instead we have a normal adventure story that’s undercut by its love of winking at itself. There’s no commitment.

So let’s take The Princess Bride. It creates a delightfully silly world, replete with six-fingered men, Dread Pirate Robertses, and ROUSes, but with characters who are completely sold on it. Inigo Montoya searches for the six-fingered man, and though he’s a comedic supporting character, because he as a character is serious about it and because the narrative never ridicules his quest, he is given the ultimate catharsis when he eventually finds him. There’s no winking at the audience, where everything unfolding is an in-joke. Sure, it’s a silly world (there is a place called The Cliffs of Insanity) but because the characters are given a level of emotional honesty, the narrative feels whole.

Even Shrek 2 (objectively the best of the Shreks) treats its characters’ arcs with a great deal of respect. Yes, the movie absolutely skewers fairytales, particularly of the Disney variety, but the story of Shrek trying to fit into Fiona’s world is committed to wholeheartedly. As such we still have a great story in this bizarre world (that we also get time to explore).

A lot of its faults can be blamed on The LEGO Ninjago Movie’s absolutely frenetic pace. The movie barely slows down to give us a chance to be. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a fast paced movie, but the movie barely ever fleshes out anything it has in play, never letting us just be in the space it’s created. It’s a rotten shame, too, because there was so much interesting at its fringes, so much mileage to be had with the banter between the characters, so much capacity for cool with some LEGO-ized martial arts action. Plus, you’ve got the Hero With an Evil Dad trope with the wonderful twist that everyone knows Garmadon is Lloyd’s father. But frustratingly, characters don’t fulfill arcs so much as they check off narrative beats. The movie never trusts its assets enough to capitalize on it, it never goes all the way.

Instead, well, we get something that’s just fine.


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Know Your Background

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Writing Oct 26 2017 · 149 views

Steve Jobs said that good artists steal (though he probably stole that quote too). I call it using every trick in your toolbox.

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On Visceral's Closure

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Oct 21 2017 · 106 views

Essays, Not Rants! 291: On Visceral’s Closure

I like Star Wars. I also like video games. So naturally I was very excited back in 2014 when it was announced that Amy Hennig, Creative Director of the first three Uncharted games was heading up a new Star Wars game. And not just any Star Wars game, this was gonna be a big single-player action adventure, the likes of which we hadn't had since 2010’s lackluster The Force Unleashed II. We’d been teased years ago with the announcement of 1313 but that was canceled when Disney bought Lucasfilm and shuttered LucasArts, so this new game seemed like them making up for that. And again, this was gonna be a narrative-driven action-adventure game by the woman who directed Uncharted – a series that codified what a good narrative-driven action-adventure game is.

And it's been cancelled.

News broke on Tuesday that publisher EA was shuttering Visceral Games, the studio working on the game. The assets were going to be repurposed for a new project and the creative team are in limbo at best. EA’s given reason was that it wanted to focus instead on games that “keep players coming back” which, given the publisher’s recent output, sounds like multiplayer games with plenty of space for moneymaking microtransactions.

In any case, Amy Hennig’s Star Wars game, which it turns out was codenamed “Ragtag,” is dead in the water.

Which bums me out and ticks me off.

Because we're not getting a Star Wars game. And because this is another point in the trend away from my beloved linear, narrative, single-player games.

There aren't a lot of major single-player games being made. Sure, Call of Duty may have its campaign, but that's really just a thinly veiled vehicle for the far more popular multiplayer. And the games that do feature robust single player, Mass Effect Andromeda, the Assassin’s Creed series, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Grand Theft Auto, to name a few, all feature open worlds with space for the player to explore. Catered, intentional single-player experiences are few and far between, with Uncharted 4, BioShock Infinite, and Dishonored 2 being the few that come to mind. These are games that aren't open world, but rather games with a deliberate structure designed for the player to experience a particular narrative. But it seems like major studios aren't willing to take a chance on these games, even with a fantastic creative team behind it.

It’s frustrating, because the same thing happened a couple years ago. Via a terrifying demo, it was announced that there was going to be a new Silent Hill. Not only was this established horror franchise getting a new (and long awaited) game, but it was being headed up by frickin’ Guillermo del Toro and Hideo Kojima, the man behind Metal Gear Solid and a developer that deserves to be called an auteur. But partway through production, publisher Konami decided it wanted to shift focus to mobile games that were cheaper to make and had higher profit margins. Kojima, with his elaborate single player games, was laid off, Silent Hills was canned, and now there will be no horror game headed up by del Toro and Kojima.

That “Ragtag” was canceled is not reassuring for me and my love of these catered experiences. It's hard to overstate how much of a sure thing the game seemed: you had a proven director working with a proven studio to make a game based on one of the most iconic franchises of all time. That EA has decided that the game is not bankable enough and wants to instead use the assets on another project is a mindbogglingly huge vote of no confidence. Again, this is EA, a company who hasn't before let a game being bug ridden or devoid of much content prevent it from being published. “Ragtag” was in production for three-and-a-half years when EA pulled the plug, a decision that by all accounts seems to have caught Amy Hennig and everyone at Visceral as off-guard as we were. It’s disappointing, and honestly kinda heartbreaking, that EA doesn't want to follow through with a game that had so much going for it.

But then, EA is a company, and one of the biggest video game publishers at that. Based on their recent output, they want cash cows they can milk through micro-transactions and buyable add-ons. A solidly paced game, where encounters flow into another and finally reach an absolute resolution with little room for later made content or padded sidequests? Who needs that when you have loot boxes that let players pay more money to be more powerful?

Maybe whatever “Ragtag” morphs into will end up being a good game. Maybe other studios like Naughty Dog and directors like Ken Levine will continue to show that these linear, narrative-focused single-player games still have a place. But no matter what, we won't be getting this Star Wars game headed by Amy Hennig.

And that really sucks.


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The Illusion of Choice

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Oct 14 2017 · 145 views

Essays, Not Rants! 290: The Illusion of Choice

When not raiding Soviet bases to 80s hits in Metal Gear Solid V, I've been playing Until Dawn with my roommate. Now, I don't really do horror, like, at all. But Until Dawn features a supposedly robust choices and consequences system, which I am, of course, a sucker for.

We’ve finished the game and there's been a good deal of payoff to some of the choices we've made. The big thing we're looking forward to, though, is playing it again and making different choices to see what would happen.

Because right now a lot of what happened feels like a direct result of the choices we've made and I wanna know how much of that is really because of what we did. Every little plot turn can’t be the result of our decisions, even though it can feel like it.

A lot of the time, when we play a game with multiple choices, we want everything we do to be impactful and for it to create a tailored set of consequence that are entirely dependent on what we did.

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Doesn’t that sound cool? Every choice you make has consequences! Siding with Miranda or Jack when they argue aboard the Normandy in Mass Effect 2 could spell disaster down the line! If Walker doesn’t spare that guy in Spec Ops: The Line what will it mean for the future?

The problem is, games are a finite medium. What’s done, is done, and has to have been doable. There’s a limit to your free will, a limit set by the game developers and their bother and/or budget. It turns out that choosing Kaiden or Ashley has no real choice on the rest of Mass Effect, as the survivor fulfills basically the same role in the sequels. Picking Udina or Anderson doesn’t have much bearing on Citadel politics, because Mass Effect 2 doesn’t have much of it, and by the time 3 rolls around, Anderson (if you chose him) has stepped down so that Udina represents the humans and the intrigue on the Citadel proceeds accordingly.

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Now, I am kinda picking and choosing some examples, Mass Effect does have some brilliant moments of consequence (whether or not you saved Mealon’s research in the second game has a massive impact on the third – it’s that it’s one of the few choices of that nature that make it stand out so), but a few different playthroughs, the cracks in the game’s design start to show. No matter what, Udina will end up on the council. The Rachni will return whether or not you kill their Queen. Whether or not you sacrifice the Council in the Battle of The Citadel doesn’t mean much ultimately. To quote Eloise Hawking in LOST: the universe has a way of course correcting.

Which is a bummer, because what if, to beat a dead horse, picking Anderson or Udina made for totally different plot lines in Mass Effect 3. Maybe Anderson as Councilor meant that Cerberus never managed to attack the Citadel, but in exchange made the mission to Earth that much harder without him in your corner. It does mean a lot of resources, but it also means a more personalized experience.

I think that might be why I’m hesitant to jump back into Until Dawn. Right now everything happened as a result of my choices. Little tweaks to the game’s horror were because of my answers to questions posed to me (Snake-Clowns with Needles, though the snakes never showed up). Playing the game again (which I absolutely want to do to, why else, see what would happen) will probably show where the seams are and reveal how little impact my decisions had. That it doesn’t on the first play through speaks to good writing.

Because choice in games are an illusion, and will continue to be until you have an infinite number of monkeys typing up an infinite number of outcomes to an infinite number of players’ decisions. But until then, players can be tricked into thinking we have a decision. If the game’s narrative makes the causality feel like it had to happen, like that your choice led you here no matter what, then the illusion isn’t broken. Just spackle those cracks with good writing and we’re onboard.

For the first playthrough or two, anyway. After that it boils down to just gaming the system as much as you can (how can I make sure everyone dies in the most gruesome way in Until Dawn?).


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I'm Not Saying I'm Excited For The Last Jedi...

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Uncategorized, Life And Such Oct 11 2017 · 109 views

...but I did book an entire row of a theater's midnight showing for me and fourteen other nerds.


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Giant Robots

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Oct 07 2017 · 119 views

Essays, Not Rants! 289: Giant Robots

It is no secret that I absolutely adore Pacific Rim. Granted, and watching giant mechs and giant mechs beat the stuffing outta each other is only a part of it. See, there’s the pure childish glee to it, the great speech, and, of course, its youthful and hopeful worldview. Pacific Rim is a movie about giant mechs and giant monsters, but it’s because it’s so much more than the battle between Jaegers and Kaiju that the movie made the impression it did, it’s why it matters more than you’d expect.

A sequel was up in the air for a while, and, eventually, Guillermo del Toro stepped aside from directing again and Steven S. DeKnight filled in as writer/director and the project officially went into production. There were rumors online about the studio ousting del Toro, but given that he still has a producing credit and DeKnight was in touch with him, it’s safe to say his vision is still there.

So naturally, I watched the trailer for the sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising as soon as I could. And man, it delivers on more giant mechs fighting giant monsters. And a multinational team, which is something very important to me, obvious. And it’s a glorious trailer, with new robots fighting new monsters in a city and stuff getting destroyed and swords slashing and all that cool stuff.

But all the same, it seems to me that there’s a bit that’s being lost.

Let me preface the following with this: It looks awesome. Mecha action is something near and dear to my heart, and getting to see a glimpse of those behemoths fighting is, of course, a joy. I’m here for it.

But.

Guillermo del Toro’s a self-described pacifist. He deliberately avoids making movies about war, and Pacific Rim was no different. The leader of the Pan Pacific Defense Corps isn’t a general, but rather a Marshal (named Stacker Pentecost, but the ridiculous awesomeness of that name is unimportant here). The Jaeger pilots aren’t Captains or Lieutenants, but rather Rangers. Pacific Rim avoids much militaristic imagery, and there’s no room for jingoism in a movie about an international team fighting monsters. This is all deliberate, as del Toro "…wanted was for kids to see a movie where they don’t need to aspire to be in an army to aspire for an adventure."[*]

Even the action in the movie follows this trend. Sure, there’s epic destruction, but the operating protocol for the Jaeger pilots is to keep the Kaiju away from the city. When a kaiju attacks Sydney, it’s because it breached the wall that was supposed to keep them out. The fight in Hong Kong is after the defenders have been overwhelmed, and much ado (and a subplot) is made out of making sure civilians evacuate to shelters. When the punching and hitting starts, it’s a lot of punching and outlandish weapons. Gipsy Danger has an energy blaster and a sword, Striker Eureka rockets and knives, Cherno Alpha is really good at punching stuff. It’s fantastical, it’s fun.

There’s a shot in the Uprising trailer that looks like one out of the matrix, with empty bullet shells falling to the ground behind a Jaeger. It’s cool — because of course it’s cool — but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it gave me a measure of concern. Part of what made Pacific Rim so wonderful was it being removed from reality; once the Jaegers started going there wasn’t much in the ways of actual guns. All the violence was out there, fantastical, giant robots punching and giant swords and rockets.

I love Pacific Rim. And I wanna love Uprising too. But lightning in a bottle was caught once, and I’m wary of a followup. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe DeKnight’s got more going on than the trailer lets on. Maybe it’ll be as hopeful and idealistic as the first one. But as we get set to enjoy more mecha versus kaiju action, I want to remember how darn special Pacific Rim is, and how much a sequel has to live up to not only in quality but also in theming. Maybe Uprising won’t have the special sauce that made Pacific Rim so good.

But.

It’s still gonna be giant mechs beating up giant monsters.

And I’ll take it.


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♫ Why Do You Write Like You're Running Out Of Time? ♫

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Life And Such, Writing Oct 03 2017 · 92 views

With THE CONDUITS accepted into a festival, I realize that I really need a feature version of the movie written. So I've been working on planning it out and all. I finished the [hecka rough] Beat Sheet on Saturday, which came in at a solid 5,000+ words and around 16 pages (and 171 bullet points [not including sub-bullets] if you're wondering).
Since then I've been making headway through my Outline (basically, a list of every single scene and what happens in it). I'm nearing up on the end of Act Two (I prefer a five act structure over a third when plotting things out), at beat 80 (17 pages, 2,752 words). The whole point of an outline is to have a good chunk of the script written out (albeit not in script format) to figure out where the hangups are (eg: I just realized this scene I'm working on has lost the point and I'm gonna have to backtrack to recenter it around the all-important Theme and Character). Once done, I'm gonna go to script and, well, then it's a matter of writing ~120 pages.

Despite quoting HAMILTON up there, the soundtrack to this script has been a lot of the CREED soundtrack, in which I've developed a surprising fondness for Meek Mill. So if you hear loud rap coming from my room at 1:30am, chances are I'm writing.

There's more I want to write. I've a novel coalescing in the back of my mind along with a few other scripts (#AsianCowboy, Starfighters, and an oddly personal one about South Carolina). Just need the time. And the bother. But I've a day job, and it's hard to carve out time to write when you're working 40 hours a week. And when you're looking for a side-hustle to allow for some more financial wiggle room.

But 'til then, time to write a bit more. Goal is to finish Act Two tonight.







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josh


grew up on a ship


lives in new york


frequently found writing in a coffee shop, behind a camera, or mixing alcohol and video games

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Disclaimer

Josh works for LEGO at the LEGO Store at Rockefeller Center. Despite this, any and every opinion expressed herewith is entirely his own and decidedly not that of The LEGO Group.

In addendum, any and all opinions expressed by The LEGO Group are entirely theirs and decidedly not that of Josh

Obviously.

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