Writing the Arrival Screenplay

December 6th, 2016

Writing a screenplay is an art that few writers master, and it’s even harder when the writer has to adapt the work of another writer, especially when that work is a well-known and award winning story. That was the case when Eric Heisserer had to adapt Ted Chiang’s “The Story of Your Life” for the movie Arrival.  In a long article in The TAlkhouse, he explains how he did it and what he learned.

“Story of Your Life” stuck with me. It shadowed me by day and hovered over me when I slept. I knew I wanted to translate to screen, but I had no idea how, or with whom. I just knew I had to find a way.At this point in my career, I had written 13 spec screenplays. Six of those spec features were science fiction. The only horror script I’d ever written was the one that sold, and I soon discovered this was all I was trusted to write. Whenever I’d present Ted’s short story to producers, I was met with a not-insignificant level of suspicion. “This is heady stuff. I was hoping for Stephen King or something.”

It took years of searching and writing non-horror material before I found the right producers to champion the project: Dan Levine and Dan Cohen, at 21 Laps. The Dans fell in love with “Story of Your Life” like I had, and finally, after years of carrying around a dog-eared copy of Ted’s book in my car, I had my shot. I formed my take on the material and we pitched it around town.

It did not sell. Not a single bite.

It Can’t Happen Here (Again), Can It?

December 5th, 2016

The last few years have seen the rise of populist politicians who have risen to power despite being outside the normal political establishment, namely Rob Ford, the late, former mayor of Toronto, and President-Elect Donald Trump. Now we have Kelly Leitch, a leadership candidate for the Conservative party of Canada, who is following in the same, ugly path. Of course, you’d think that Canadians, being the decent cosmopolitan people we claim to be, that she’d have no chance, but you might be wrong.

Most recently, Leitch called for the selling of the publicly-funded broadcaster, the CBC — often viewed as a polarizing, low-hanging fruit rallying cry for Conservatives — who use the term “lame-stream” media. This week, it was another issue that some would deem unbecoming of a national leadership campaign: she announced she would legalize pepper spray. The media had no choice but to cover and it got lots of social media action.

Each time, more media coverage. More followers.

Win the crowd. Win the race.

And like Trump — her media coverage continues to overwhelm her competition.

And, it’s not just Liberals who are flabbergasted by her approach — most in her own Conservative party disagree with her positions.

As a companion to that piece, read this article about Canadian journalists who covered both Rob Ford and Donald Trump, notably the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale.

Americans would agree the US has never seen a politician quite like Donald Trump. Constant falsehoods, attacks on newspapers, over-the-top insults directed at individual reporters—these are things many in the US media haven’t had to deal with before. To Canadians, though, this type of media manipulation is all too familiar. For several years, former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford treated journalists in much the same way.

The similarities between how these two politicians have approached the media is uncanny, says Daniel Dale, a Toronto Star journalist who covered Ford when he was in office and is now writing about Trump from Washington. Both politicians repeatedly and directly attacked particular media outlets, used the media to rile up their base, personally attacked journalists, and claim everything reported about them is false. “This is all very familiar to me,” says Dale.

As stressful as it was to cover Ford, who passed away last March from cancer, the Canadian media now knows how to report on a post-truth, journalist-bashing politician and they have some ideas for their American counterparts struggling to keep up with Trump. The first piece of advice: Visuals speak louder than words.

Chernobyl Covered

November 30th, 2016

The rusting, rotting, and still highly radioactive ruin of Chernobyl’s No. 4 reactor has finally been covered by a giant steel dome – the largest movable structure ever built. It’s been under construction since 2010 and should protect the site for at least 100 years while the remains of the reactor are dismantled and safely disposed of. The Guardian article has a time lapse of the construction that you definitely want to watch.

The shelter is 162 metres (531ft) long and 108m high. The metal used in the construction weighs 3.5 times more than the Eiffel Tower. Construction was complicated by the high radiation levels near the reactor, meaning that in order for workers to be able to spend extended periods of time building the shelter, it had to be assembled several hundred metres away and then slid slowly into place.

Prior to the process, tens of thousands of tonnes of radioactive soil were removed from the construction area and replaced with clean soil. Much of the machinery and engineering equipment used had to be designed and built from scratch, including special cladding and a huge crane system.

I guess I should add a new blog category – one less thing to worry about.

The Greying of the Web

November 29th, 2016

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that websites are getting harder to read. Designers seem to be infatuated with grey type and small sans-serif fonts. It’s especially bad when I’m trying to read on my phone. I use Firefox’s readability mode a lot, which strips out extraneous content and increases the font size, but it doesn’t work with many sites, and even with strong reading glasses there are sites I can’t read.

I’m not the only one who is having trouble. Kevin Marks has seen this too, and has a long article in which he looks at some of the reasons behind this trend. I hope some people notice it. (Yes Google, I mean you).

It’s been getting harder for me to read things on my phone and my laptop. I’ve caught myself squinting and holding the screen closer to my face. I’ve worried that my eyesight is starting to go.

These hurdles have made me grumpier over time, but what pushed me over the edge was when Google’s App Engine console — a page that, as a developer, I use daily — changed its text from legible to illegible. Text that was once crisp and dark was suddenly lightened to a pallid gray. Though age has indeed taken its toll on my eyesight, it turns out that I was suffering from a design trend.

There’s a widespread movement in design circles to reduce the contrast between text and background, making type harder to read. Apple is guilty. Google is, too. So is Twitter.

Update: Here’s a perfect example of the problem. This looks like a very worthwhile useful article, that is virtually unreadable because of the choice of a light grey font.

Some Advanced AutoText Tricks in Word

November 29th, 2016

AutoText is one of Word’s best time-saving features, but it’s been my experience that many, if not most of Word’s users don’t use it or use only its most basic features. Woody’s excellent Office Watch newsletter covers some of the more advanced things you can do with this feature, including nesting entries and creating selection lists (which is one I didn’t know about). This one is going onto my wiki at work.

There are long-standing but hidden parts to AutoText that’s worth checking out – the field codes.

Two Word field codes apply to AutoText:

{AutoText } – inserts or updates the named AutoText field automatically.

{AutoTextList } makes a menu of some or all AutoText entries to select from.

These field codes use the same AutoText entries that are on the Word ribbon (Insert | Text | Quick Parts). However, there’s no direct link between them and even the options available on the ribbon aren’t available in the field codes, or vice-versa.  So don’t waste your time trying to figure out why, for example, AutoTextList uses the style to select AutoText which isn’t an option available from the menu.

Android App – Point Inside

November 28th, 2016

Thanks to Mobile Syrup for pointing out a useful Android app – Point Inside, which is a mall directory for major shopping centres. It lists most of the major shopping centres in and around Toronto (it works across North America), such as the Eaton Centre, Scarborough Town Centre, Pickering Town Centre, Oshawa Centre, Yorkdale, and so on. You get a map and directory – clicking on a directory listing shows you the location in the mall.

I found the maps not to be very useful, but the app is worth having just for the directory features.

Now, if it would only list the Toronto PATH network.