Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘Masha & Pobeda’s Interstellar Ultra-Cosmic Submarine Adventures’…

It’s almost the end of the month and that means it’s high time I filed my monthly Pictonaut challenge piece. It’s been hanging around in my notepad in extra-rough form for way too long anyway so, yes, here it is word processed and put up on the internet for other people to see if they wish to see it.

This is how it rolls: every month His Supreme Eminency Meister John Steele picks a picture and urges writers to conjure up a short story inspired by the image. I seize that challenge and see what I can come up with. For October’s effort, I had to work out what to do with a submarine that has somehow found itself in outer space…

Submarine in space image by Dmitry Maximov.

Thinking on this image by Russian artist Dmitry Maximov I started to feel the fingers of the Cold War coming out of the past. I also had questions: how did the sub get into orbit? What do you do with a submarine once it has reached outer space? Who would be commandeering this thing?

A submarine in space strikes me as an absurd proposition that should be fun. I decided that it needed to be extremely silly and as my ideas came together I found that I had a ludicrous concept sprawled out in ink across several notebook pages. Those notes have been blasted up into a freewheeling pitch-cum-script treatment for the pilot episode of a children’s TV series that will never get made. Still, it’s fun to go on creative imagination trips like this and that is the joy of writing and the reason that challenges like Pictonaut are worth a go.

Regardless, I’ll leave you to read it for yourself. It’s rougher than a ride through the Kuiper Belt on the back of a moped but, still, it may entertain you. It may also have potential to become a cult TV sensation either as a live-action series or as a cartoon if there’s no special effects budget to work with.

My Pictonaut challenge effort for October is ‘Masha & Pobeda’s Interstellar Ultra-Cosmic Submarine Adventures‘. Talking dog; girl with telekinetic powers; Soviet atomic sub going through a transdimensional portal. If these things pique your interest, please read on…

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Get That Computer Screen Off My Cinema Screen!

Last night I made a short Vine movie clumsily titled We See Screens and We See Typing But Shouldn’t We Be Seeing Something Else? Because six seconds isn’t much space to make the full point or represent the questions that inspired me to make it, here’s a blogpost with extra detail. Yes: it’s an exclusive Director’s Commentary!

I got the idea for the Vine vid a few weeks back when I watched the Wikileaks biopic, The Fifth Estate. Overall, I enjoyed the movie but one thing rankles and it’s a rankle that keeps on resurfacing across a range of films (and on TV as well). Computer scenes: I’m not keen on them. They irk me. They annoy me. They get me saying, “Ah, enough, can we point that camera some place else please?

I’m not opposed to scenes that feature computers. I accept that we need them because sometimes plot points turn on the effective manipulation of technology. Also computers exist in ‘real life’ and people use computers and the internet so naturally they should be present in film. As a matter of fact some of my favourite movies are about computers and A.I. entities, complex techno-techno devices and other sentient machines that may have more soul or intelligence than human beings. Off the top of my head I’m remembering The Matrix, Colossus: The Forbin Project, Dark Star and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Please, let’s all take a moment to mourn for HAL 9000

Anyway, the thing that bothers me is gratuitous shots of computer scenes (I mean realistic PC screens and not grandiose supercomputer interfaces of the kind that star in the kind of classic movies mentioned above) . I’m talking about the moments where films linger on people checking their emails, browsing the web, looking at YouTube or posting things on message boards. Yeah, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. of TV: I’m looking at you with your last week’s episode all full of “Hey! We can rely on Instagram and Facebook to do our secret spy-biz now and, hey, let’s all look at computer screens!

I understand why we’re seeing computer screens on screen. These are the technologically literate times we live in and humans use computers and are perpetually hooked up to social media. I get the want and need, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Most of the time I find these scenes dull and sometimes even disturbing. I think there’s an ‘instant disinterest’ switch somewhere in my sensory machinery and the moment a shot of a monitor flashes before my eyes, that lever gets knocked.

Breaking it down in brief, here’s what I think happens: I spend a lot of time looking at computer screens. I go to the cinema as a refreshing alternative, so I can look at a different screen. Seeing computer screens on screens is a bit of a weird visual experience anyway – “Screens on screens? How perverse.” as C-3PO never said – but it also ruins my escapism trip. I came here to get away from that! Get that thing away from my eyes!

There’s also probably some control freakery in there because I can’t stand the sensation of being a passive observer as other people use computers (mainly people who are inept when it comes to using computers). I want to empathise with characters, not get frustrated with them for the way they browse the web or debase themselves with banal online chat.

That stuff is for real life or real online life and that, as I say, is the life I’m not keen on seeing again when I go to the cinema. Supremely talented cinematographers and actors deserve better than that. The strength of The Fifth Estate, as a case study, is in the facial reactions and dramatic delivery of Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Brühl to significant things that appear on their laptop monitors. You can’t milk much drama and emotion from flashing cursors and un-personified pixels alone.

Humans and human thoughts and feelings are always going to be way more fascinating to behold and appealing to viscerally experience than a shot of screen. It’s my humble view that filmmakers and televisionmakers need to show some caution and restraint in case I’m not the only one who feels this way. They have to have a good reason to be there and you have to work extra hard to make them interesting. I don’t want to look at computer screens on TV screens or cinema screens – I’d rather be looking at fantastical stuff that isn’t so quotidian. Epic special effects spectacle! Beautiful, breathtaking landscapes! Exhilarating ultraviolence! Evocative drama from past times or future times or times from worlds that are entirely fictional fabrication! Impossibly good-looking people and good-looking animals! Impossibly good-looking people and animals bursting into song and dance routines!

That all sounds so much better than standing by watching someone social networking. Uck. Please, keep the shots of computer screens down to minimal, if only so I don’t get this uncanny nausea stemming from a sense of frustration that I can’t transcend over-familiar reality or do anything to stop the screen-fetishism that will lead us to a dystopian future…

Adventuring on into Unnerving Unknowns with the Working Barbarian…

What is best in life? Tales of high adventure and that is what The Life and Times of the Working Barbarian gives you and is all about. The crowd-sourced fantasy saga advances ever onward and the latest instalment – the 15th part, titled ‘Unsure and Obscure’ – has been written by me. I urge you to go and read that, because when you’ve finished reading it you get a choice and your choice affects the way the story unravels in the future. That means you have Power. Yes, you: Power. Strip down, raise your sword, feel the lightning and scream “BY CROM! I HAVE THE POWER!”

You feelin’ that primal barbarian thrill right? If you’ve fallen behind or need to familiarise yourself with the story thus far, here’s a handy chapter breakdown page. Immersing yourself in fantasy fiction is so much fun (It’s what is best in life) and I get huge enjoyment out of the challenge of writing for The Working Barbarian. Honestly, it’s a gleeful, ultra-visceral typing-frenzy freakout soundtracked by The Sword is what the creative process for this thing is. Here you can find a horde of hot-wit writer heroes creating worlds and mythologies, simultaneously crafting a careful narrative that’s got to consistently stick to the rules and plot elements that others have already written.

As I said, it’s fun. Go forth and be a part of it, mighty warrior of the Web Wastelands. Enjoy my most recent addition to the adventure, and enjoy the Power