George Lucas on The Meaning of Life

George Lucas on the Meaning of Life
by Maria Popova
“There is no why. We are. Life is beyond reason.”

When a frustrated young woman asked the most brilliant man in the world why we’re alive, Einstein responded in five poignant lines. This question — at the heart of which is a concern with the meaning of life — has since been answered by many other great minds: For David Foster Wallace, it was about going through life fully conscious; for Carl Sagan, about our significant insignificance in the cosmos; for Annie Dillard, about learning to live with impermanence; for Richard Feynman, about finding the open channel; for Anaïs Nin, about living and relating to others “as if they might not be there tomorrow”; for Henry Miller, about the mesmerism of the unknown; and for Leo Tolstoy, about finding knowledge to guide our lives.

But one of the most profound answers comes from legendary Star Wars director George Lucas. In The Meaning of Life: Reflections in Words and Pictures on Why We Are Here (public library) — that remarkable 1991 anthology that gave us timeless meditations on existence from a number of luminaries — Lucas uses an autobiographical anecdote as the springboard for a larger meditation on the meaning of life and our best chance for reaching its fullest potential:

When I was eighteen I was in an automobile accident and went through a near-death experience. I was actually taken away from the scene, presumed dead, and it wasn’t until I reached the hospital that the doctors revived my heartbeat and brought me back to life. This is the kind of experience that molds people’s beliefs. But I have found that most of my conclusions have evolved from observing life since that time. If I’ve come to know anything, it’s that these questions are as unknowable for us as they would be for a tree or for an ant.

Like John Updike, who argued that “the mystery of being is a permanent mystery”, and like John Cage, who believed that “the world, the real is not an object [but] a process,” Lucas considers the just-is nature of life:

Scholars who have studied myth and religion for many years and have connected all of the theories spawned over the ages about life and consciousness and who have taken away the superficial trappings, have come up with the same sensibility. They call it different things. They try to personify it and deal with it in different ways. But everybody seems to dress down the fact that life cannot be explained. The only reason for life is life. There is no why. We are. Life is beyond reason. One might think of life as a large organism, and we are but a small symbiotic part of it.

Lucas arrives at a conclusion rather similar to Alan Watts’s ideas about the interconnectedness of all life and writes:

It is possible that on a spiritual level we are all connected in a way that continues beyond the comings and goings of various life forms. My best guess is that we share a collective spirit or life force or consciousness that encompasses and goes beyond individual life forms. There’s a part of us that connects to other humans, connects to other animals, connects to plants, connects to the planet, connects to the universe. I don’t think we can understand it through any kind of verbal, written or intellectual means. But I do believe that we all know this, even if it is on a level beyond our normal conscious thoughts.

If we have a meaningful place in this process, it is to try to fit into a healthy, symbiotic relationship with other life force. Everybody, ultimately, is trying to reach a harmony with the other parts of the life force. And in trying to figure out what life is all about, we ultimately come down to expressions of compassion and love, helping the rest of the life force, caring about others without any conditions or expectations, without expecting to get anything in return. This is expressed in every religion, by every prophet.

RIP, Elmore Leonard: The Beloved Author’s 10 Rules of Writing

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“If it sounds like writing … rewrite it.”

These are some of the best tips on writing I’ve ever come across, brilliant!
Read the article here

Never open a book with weather.
If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

Avoid prologues.
They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, but it’s O.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy’s thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.”

Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” …
…he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs.”

Keep your exclamation points under control.
You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.

Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants what do the “American and the girl with him” look like? “She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.

Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
Unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you’re good at it, you don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

And finally:

Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)

If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character — the one whose view best brings the scene to life — I’m able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what’s going on, and I’m nowhere in sight.

What Steinbeck did in Sweet Thursday was title his chapters as an indication, though obscure, of what they cover. “Whom the Gods Love They Drive Nuts” is one, “Lousy Wednesday” another. The third chapter is titled “Hooptedoodle 1″ and the 38th chapter “Hooptedoodle 2″ as warnings to the reader, as if Steinbeck is saying: “Here’s where you’ll see me taking flights of fancy with my writing, and it won’t get in the way of the story. Skip them if you want.”

Sweet Thursday came out in 1954, when I was just beginning to be published, and I’ve never forgotten that prologue.Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters? Every word.

Uta Hagen – Respect for Acting

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Uta Hagen’s Respect for Acting was an essential book for me while studying at drama school back in the late 90’s. Having lost my copy along the way, I decided to revisit the text in preparation for an upcoming interview for the position of performing arts lecturer. In my opinion, there is no better book on acting technique. It somehow manages to be simplistic and yet very deep at the same time.
Reading it again has been a joy. I’ve discovered many new ideas and opinions that were lost on me when I was a ‘wet behind the ears’ student of “the craft”.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly to anyone interested in acting, screenwriting, theatre or film. It’s a formidable guide, explaining different methods for character creation and development, and how actors think and behave.
If I get the lecturing job, fingers crossed, I intend to use this book as a source of inspiration and guidance and hope that I can pass on some of its wisdom to a new generation of actors.

The link below takes you to Amazon, which has some interesting reviews.

Amazon link

Link

Upstream Color

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Trailer

Upstream Color is a film written, directed, and produced by Shane Carruth. The film is the second feature directed by Carruth, best known for his brilliant 2004 debut Primer.

I watched it recently and was blown away by the depth of imagination in the screenplay, the incredible visuals and the mesmerizing soundtrack. Carruth, wrote, produced, directed, operated camera and composed the original score. He’s a truly original talent, comparable perhaps to Malick and Kubrick, and certainly a visionary filmmaker to keep an eye on.

I’m keen to hear other opinions on the film…

Screenwriting tips

Found this recently while working on a short film script. Some useful tips and interesting points…

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.