ExSEARiments: iPad Videography

Sear face

 

At last, I seem to have recovered from the horribles!

Anyway, ever wonder if you could make a YouTube video, from shooting the footage all the way to publishing the finished product, using just a tablet?

Sear has the answer!

 

 

Bene scribete.

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Criticism

The critique of a creative work-in-progress can be a touchy, sensitive process, but a nonetheless imperative one if the work is to be taken seriously.

As both an author and professional editor, I regularly find myself on the providing and receiving ends of constructive criticism.  So, here are some things I like to keep in mind for each scenario.

 

EwGetting Criticism

Convey what kind of feedback you’re seeking.  Do you just want mechanical errors pointed out?  Phrasing suggestions?  Or simply overall thoughts on the flow of the story?  Readers will have an easier time helping you if they know what they’re supposed to be looking for.

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A red pen.Giving Criticism

Try not to volunteer to critique a piece if you can’t reasonably expect to have the time or motivation to get back to the writer about it.  Silence can be even more disheartening than a bad review.

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A final point to consider – if, like myself, you are an editor as well as a writer, don’t be tempted to feel like that excuses you from the need to seek out feedback and a solid proofread on your own work.  Your writing may be syntactically cleaner than par, but editing is often more about defeating expectation bias – catching what we’re too close to the work to see – than it is merely polishing the language.  (>^-‘)>

 

Bene scribete.

Reindeer Drama: Part -1

Last month, I talked about a Finnish animated film depicting complicated family turmoil among flying reindeer.  It was a sequel to a movie entitled Niko and the Way to the Stars – one which, after being exposed to the second, I found it necessary to track down.  Having successfully done just that, I suppose it is only appropriate that I should follow up here.

 

Niko poster

 

The animation isn’t as sharp as in the second film, but it’s still pretty decent, and the detail they squeeze in despite the low tech is impressive at points.  The English dub is mostly serviceable.  But we’re not here to talk about the technical details…

As you may recall from last time, our little protagonist Niko’s parents have split custody of him in the sequel, and mom shacks up with a new caribou.  This left me with certain expectations of some kind of rocky reindeer divorce occurring in the first.  But the reality, as it turns out, may be even better.

Let’s take a look at the Wikipedia page for Santa’s reindeer.  Niko has an entry on it.  It states, and I quote, that he is:

 

Prancer’s illegitimate child from a one-night stand with a regular reindeer.

 

That…is awesome.  I mean, there’s just something kind of fantastic about the blunt, offical candor of a statement like that when considering the subject matter.  And aren’t those links helpful?

So, how do flying reindeer by-blows happen?  When the film begins, Niko is already aware that his father is one of Santa’s crew, but his mother refuses to tell him which one.  She also openly admits to him that she never bothered to tell his dad that he exists.  Real nice.  She explains that she got cozy with him one night when Santa’s sleigh “broke down” nearby (I’ll pause a moment to let you consider what constitutes the ‘engine’ of this particular magical flying sleigh, and subsequently the implications of this claim).  Smooth, Prancer.  Smooth.

Anyway, on to the story.

While gallivanting around in preadolescent reindeerhood, Niko is spotted by a prowling wolf, who naturally wants to turn him into not being hungry anymore.  Niko, being a little reindeer, runs back to his herd for protection.  The wolf, being a predator, follows.  Rather than killing the crap out of this singular wolf, however, the adult reindeer opt instead to run away forever, because apparently they are terrible at being large spiky-headed hoofy-legged animals (there’s a reason wolves hunt lone ungulates in packs).  Since the herd is now displaced, it decides collectively to hate Niko for leading a wolf to its territory.  Since little reindeer don’t like being hated by everyone they know, Niko decides to run away during a snowstorm and track down his father.  Niko’s mother at first wants to go after him, but she is easily talked out of it by another reindeer, deciding that letting her son’s squirrel sidekick try to find him and bring him back safely is good enough.  Reindeer mom of the year.

When Niko finally makes it to Santa’s workshop, he confronts the flying squad in their reindeer tavern (yes, that’s a thing).  When he asks if any of them remember hooking up with a normal caribou one Christmas night, they tell him that he’ll have to be a lot more specific than that.  This means exactly what you think it does.  Santa’s eight are hotshot rock-stars in the reindeer world, and they don’t shy away from picking up a few groupies here and there.  You know, that…actually makes too much sense for raillery.  Niko clarifies his mother’s identity and drops the bomb that one of them is his father, but their response for the time being is feigned ignorance and wholehearted denial.  Why does nobody want this adorable little reindeer kid?

 

RNDR FCE!!!

That face. It’s glycerin.

 

Let’s talk about the villain.  Ooh, let’s!

He is the leader of a pack of wolves who’ve fallen on hard times.  His goal is to eat Santa’s reindeer.  Because – are you ready? – he believes, for no discernible reason, that doing so will grant him their ability to fly.  And then.  He aims to eat Santa Claus himself.  And then.  He intends at last to take Santa’s place so he can FLY AROUND THE WORLD AND EAT EVERY CHILD EVER ON CHRISTMAS.  I–ghh–bvv…  This is possibly the best and most insane motivation I have ever seen for an antagonist in a Christmas or children’s movie.

Then, there is a pink poodle who is inexplicably lost and on her own in the north pole, and even more inexplicably knows the way to Santa’s secret workshop.  She runs into the wolves and they make her lead them there.  The one semi-intelligent non-jerk wolf in the group, likely realizing his pack is entirely male, runs off with her.  Now I want to see what a woodle (a poolf?) looks like.

I could go on, but there’s simply too much and I can’t describe it all coherently.  Just find it and watch it.  It’s madness.  In the meantime, I’ll leave you with seven more things you should know about Niko and the Way to the Stars.

 

  • Niko is the same size and seems to be only slightly younger in this than he is in the second, which takes place at least a year later.  I’m guessing this is because, as the son of Prancer, who is ostensibly immortal, he ages much more slowly than a regular caribou would.
  • The ermine randomly breaks out into song in this one, and is generally psychotic.  I guess they dropped that particular direction for the second.
  • Why is Vixen male?  At least Donner and Blitzen have German accents.
  • Niko’s squirrel morbidly creates snowsquirrels of his wife and kid to keep himself company, because the real ones were eaten by wolves.
  • The gateway cave to Santa’s workshop is a perilous Indiana Jones-style death trap.
  • At one point, when Prancer gets knocked out, the squirrel sodomizes him with an icicle to wake him up.
  • Toward the end, Santa’s reindeer warp into outer space with the wolf leader, and then drop him from orbit (maybe that’s the way to the stars?).

 

Bene scribete.

Reindeer Drama

So the other day at my sister’s place, while scrolling through Netflix in search of something ridiculous to watch, we stumble upon this curious item:

 

Niko 2

 

We initially click on it because we think we’re looking at a two-headed reindeer (alas, it was only a small reindeer being ridden by a smaller reindeer).  But then.  But then!  We read the description:

 

On Christmas Eve, young reindeer Niko’s world seems shattered after his mother remarries and he’s blamed when his new stepbrother is kidnapped.

 

I don’t even…  Reindeer drama?  What?  How could we not watch this?

Anyway, it gets better.

It turns out that the eponymous Niko can fly because his real dad is Prancer.  Prancer.  Do you get what that means?  One of Santa’s magical caribou couldn’t make his reindeer marriage work, and is now an every-other-weekend dad.  I can’t get over how starkly…modern that notion is given the context of a kids’ Christmas story about flying reindeer.  And the giant “2” on the cover tells us there was a movie before this one – was it about little Niko suffering through his parents’ (one of whom, once again, is Prancer!) messy reindeer divorce?  I like to imagine so.

The movie begins with Niko returning home from a visit with his dad to find that his mother has shacked up with her new cari-beau (…O.K., that was awful).  If that weren’t enough to dump in a kid’s lap overnight, the new guy has a younger son of his own, and mom is already pregnant with another.  Yet this isn’t even a wicked stepparent thing – the stepdad is a really nice guy.  Am I seriously watching a mature portrayal of split-family dynamics in a reindeer cartoon?

Niko himself is grudgingly adorable (even with his strangely reptilian nose).  You’d think, being the only flying reindeer in his herd, that he’d be a typical acceptance-craving misfit protagonist.  But, no.  Enjoying solitude, he envies the life of a hermit he meets, and actually utters, in chipper earnest, “I wish that nobody knew I existed.”  Yikes!

 

Some reindeer

That’s pretty f-d, kid

 

The central conflict is mostly forgettable (aside from its own strangeness), involving a wolf who for some reason lives in a high mountain cavern with a bunch of eagles who for some reason carry her around and are her devout servants.  This wolf, we learn, wants revenge on Niko for apparently having killed her brother in the first film (I presume as a way to lash out against his parents’ split-up).

The film is Finnish, and while the visuals were expectedly not on par with the Pixar/Dreamworks standard, I’d place them only one tier down.  There was some interesting detail (the reindeer, while still hyper-cute-ified, looked more like actual caribou than any other animated reindeer I can think of), the wingless flight physics were oddly amusing, and the mouth-sync looked to be re-rendered for the English dub.  No one could seem to agree on how to pronounce the names, though.

I’m not sure where I’m going with all this; I suppose I just enjoy incredulity.  So should you watch this thing?  I don’t know.  But yes, you probably should.

I’ll leave you with five more things you should know about Niko 2:

  1. I feel like it takes place in a world where humanity has disappeared, but the reindeer have taken over running Santa’s shop because they don’t know any other way of life.
  2. When you finally do see Santa, he is wearing a starry-night cape.
  3. There is an ermine (not a particularly endearing ermine, but an ermine nonetheless).
  4. For some reason, Niko learns how to go starship-style warp-speed at the end.
  5. All of this is about an animated kids’ magical flying talking Christmas reindeer movie that was actually made, and exists, here on Earth, in this reality.

 

Bene scribete.

Giving Criticism

Last week, I talked about getting criticism for one’s writing.  Today, I thought I’d do a companion piece discussing the other side of the coin.

So, let’s take a look at some of the things to consider when reviewing someone else’s stuff (some of these points will naturally be reciprocal to last week’s!).

 

A red pen.

 

  • Try not to volunteer to critique a piece if you can’t reasonably expect to have the time or motivation to get back to the writer about it.  Silence can be even more disheartening than a bad review.
  • Find out what type of feedback the writer is looking for.  It’s not too productive to pick apart the story when all that’s sought is some copyediting, and dealing only with semantic issues when what’s needed is advice on the plot can be equally unhelpful.  If you’re going for the whole package, sometimes it’s beneficial to do a couple go-throughs – first for the feel of the narrative flow, and second with an editor’s eye.
  • Ask the writer what’s caught the attention of other readers, and lend your thoughts on those subjects.  Multiple viewpoints are great for helping the writer gauge what to focus on.
  • Look for and comment on both what’s working and what isn’t.  It’s incredibly unlikely that you’ll be handed a piece that’s either completely without issue or entirely without merit.  Focusing solely on the positive won’t help the writer improve it, and concentrating only on the negative can be discouraging – either way giving a false impression of the piece’s current state.
  • Be specific whenever you can.  Explaining why you do or do not like something is more useful than a mere thumbs-up or -down.  At the same time, if something stands out one way or the other, but you aren’t quite sure why, saying that much is still better than nothing at all.
  • Learn the writer’s tolerance level for directness.  Some you can be blunt with, where some require a little more creative tact.  Negative comments can be phrased positively – rather than “this is bad”, say “this could be improved with blah“.
  • “Scrap it” is a last resort.  Today’s world is cut-happy and proud of it – sometimes it’s the right answer, but a little too often it’s just the easy, lazy way out.  I’m not talking about a sentence here or a paragraph there, but entire passages, characters, and plot elements.  Every sequence has some kind of purpose behind its presence in a piece, and rarely will its essence be fundamentally unsalvageable.  If a scene isn’t working, think about how to address why that is before giving up on it altogether.  Can something be added to liven it up or condensed to improve the pace?  Can it be placed somewhere more appropriate or combined with a similar sequence?  Can its basics be reworked into other parts of the story?  Just don’t be too quick to advocate throwing away what could be made a functional, augmentative aspect of the narrative.  I realize it goes against the current popular mindset, but tell me you’ve never watched the deleted scenes on a DVD and wished they would have kept one or two of them in the film.  (>^-‘)>
  • That said, do look for ways to improve narrative economy.  Getting the same ideas across in a cleaner, more concise manner is almost always a good thing.
  • Don’t be offended if not all of your suggestions are taken.  Remember that it’s the writer’s story, and he or she must ultimately decide what aligns with the creative vision.
  • Lastly, you don’t have to be a writer or a grammarian yourself to provide good feedback.  A reader’s perspective on how the piece works as a whole is perhaps the most important thing of all!

 

Bene Scribete.