Why is it that we experience life's greatest epiphanies only when a significant relationship is tested, in some cases, to its breaking point?

Blog

A story geek's sandbox of ideas

THIS BLOG IS a habit I cultivated as an outlet for the theories and opinions that hit me everyday whilst developing my screenplays and characters.

I blog because my characters would prefer I don't do a dialogue dump of my ideas on them.

I blog because screenwriting teaches us more than just narratives. Also about life & human behaviour.

I blog because it brings clarity to my values and beliefs. And respite from screenwriting & filmmaking.


Why Film?

My love affair with story

I FIRST DISCOVERED film as a 25 year old art student in New York. It struck me then that film, the study of human drama in creative form, could be the ultimate medium of self-expression I was searching for.


What is Story?

A Solution to a Problem

STORY BEGINS ONLY when characters are involved. Characters that make choices. Choices in reaction to what is happening - Plot.

“Story = Character + Predicament + Attempted Extrication”
- Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal


Story happens when a character involved in a problem, attempts a solution.


Creating Compelling Characters

A filmmaker’s personal take on characters

A COMPELLING MAIN character is a blessing for the writer, the actor, the director and the producer. A compelling main character drives the story forward in unexpected ways, even with the most insignificant action and the subtlest of behaviour. Compelling characters attract talent, audiences, investment and awards.

So how do you create one?


There's Story. And there's Storytelling.

My screenwriting process

HOW DID CROUCHING Tiger Hidden Dragon and The Intouchables become such popular movies? The former won four Oscars and was based on an ancient Chinese wuxia tale. The latter became the most viewed French film in the world up to 2014 and was based on a true contemporary French story. They have seemingly nothing in common in terms of story except


Both films had an American approach to storytelling.


Aesthetics in Film

How does it feel to be in the world of your film?

AESTHETICS IN A broad sense goes beyond visuals. It is the branch of philosophy concerned with the creation and appreciation of beauty. In film, I refer to the collective sensory experience derived from the following as the film's aesthetic.

Negative Space Sounds
Shapes Textures
Colours Scents

These are the raw materials for worldbuilding. Collectively, they inform the mood of the film.


Mission in Film

Why are you making this film?

WHEN JOHN F. KENNEDY visited NASA for the first time in 1961, he ran into a janitor. The president asked him what he was doing. The janitor responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

Similarly, I’m the janitor who’s helping put great stories in front of everyone’s eyes. These aren’t my stories per se. They are stories about self-actualization. They are stories that have existed before I came along. My responsibility lies in telling them well.


Theme in Film

A film’s central unifying concept

A THEME EVOKES a universal human experience and can be stated in one word or short phrase. For instance, the theme of the classic film The Godfather about the life of a mafia boss’ son’s ascension to power is family.


Theme clarifies what the film is about, aside from plot.


Aesthetic. Utility. Mission.

The Anatomy of a Compelling Product

WITH MUCH COMPETITION these days, it’s no longer a differentiating factor but a bare minimum for any good product to have the following:

Aesthetic - How attractive and ergonomic is your product?

Utility - What unique problems do your product solve?


Church, Craft & Craving

A Powerful Paradigm for Artists & Startups

THE THREE VITAL elements for convincing your audience. Craft is the technical knowhow required to accomplish the objective.


Craft is the how.


The Artist. The Craftsman. The Responsible.

Three approaches to consider as a creator

SCREENWRITING TEACHER JACOB Krueger often gives advice to emerging screenwriters alluding to an Art vs Craft discussion. He observes many emerging writers attempting to write whatever the market or Hollywood is looking for. Trends that will pass by the time they are finished writing. Unfortunately, the likelihood of their screenplays being produced is abysmally low. Simply because


Novices can't compete with experienced writers, craftsmen on craft.


Happiness, Achievement & Fulfillment

An active pursuit of Purpose

HAPPINESS IS WHAT we actively seek in a lavish meal. A shopping spree. A pampering vacation. Though psychiatrist and author of Man’s Search for Meaning Viktor Frankl believes,

"It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness."

Discovering My Why

Clarity in my Cause

THERE WAS A time when my life revolved around crewing on film sets. The love for filmmaking started out with the act of making films.

I figured out what I was passionate about.


Your Identity in 10 Words

Expressing yourself Simply, Clearly, Mindfully

ME IN A nutshell.


The Most Valuable Skill

The Art of Empathy

NETWORKING & SELLING yourself are undeniably invaluable skills to possess. Yet, can you always count on the proverbial "It's not what you know but who you know" to land yourself a job or obtain a sizeable donation? There comes a point where your audience is wondering to themselves, “What do your problems have to do with me?”


What’s your Biggest Problem?

How can I help to solve it?

FACEBOOK COO SHERYL Sandberg shares in her book Lean In that most people are preoccupied with finding the right role for themselves, with the implication that their skills will help the company. Which explains why she was thoroughly impressed when Lori Goler who applied to work at Facebook asked the million dollar question, “What is your biggest problem, and how can I solve it?”


Respect

Evaluating deep collaborative relationships

BETWEEN AUDIENCE AND filmmaker. Between husband and wife. Between parent and child. It's the cornerstone of any relationship.

But what should you respect someone for?


The One Word you Stand For

A powerful guiding force in life

IT MAY NOT be what you're passionate about. Though it could be. What is the One Word that best represents what you want to stand for? In other words, who or what cause you aspire to become.


5 Wizards

A Holistic Approach to Illuminating Blind Spots

DO YOU HAVE 5 people in your life you can turn to, whose perspectives you value, within 48 hours of encountering a crisis?


Fatal Flaw

When your perceived strength limits you

THE FATAL FLAW is a screenwriting concept that refers to a shortcoming of yours that is so significant, it masquerades as your strength. A quality you use to justify your success. As a result, it becomes your blind spot.


The Cost of being Transactional

Framing the business proposition without its social value

I WAS ONCE involved as a third party observer in a product placement meeting with a well-known Mt Everest expeditionist. From the moment we shook hands till he revealed his fees, his manner of speech down to the subtlest of his body language gave off “let’s talk money” vibes. For a motivational speaker, he came across as anything but the embodiment of his inspirational slogan “dare to dream”.


What you Lose by Being Yourself

The art of being non-judgmental

DO YOU FEEL that you’re entitled to “be yourself” in the company of someone close? That they should accept you for who you are, warts and all. That “being yourself” also entails teasing each other's flaws? 


Split-Second Titles

Capturing your audience’s attention instantaneously

A TITLE IS like a movie trailer. Instead of two minutes you have one second to hook them. With your audience in mind, consider the following:

1. Does the content of your title matter to your audience?

2. Does your title sound sexy, compelling or dramatic to your audience?

3. Is the content of your title authentic to what you’re selling?


Emotional Needs

Knowing what drives you in life

MEDITATIVE SCREENWRITING TEACHER Jessica Hinds introduced the concept of the 5 prime emotional needs underlying every action that a character takes.

Validation - to prove to yourself
Respect - to prove to others
Justice - to fight against injustice
Love - to be with someone you love
Comfort - to be in the company of friends

Photo credit: Jessica Hinds


Character Transformation

When you don’t get what you want, but what you need

PERHAPS THE MOST significant element in all great films that touch, move and inspire audiences - Character transformation goes beyond merely seeing a person acquire a new skill or adopt a different persona at the end of the film.


The Pro Bono Professional

Autonomy. Competency. Community.

BEHAVIOURAL ECONOMIST Dan Ariely points out that we live simultaneously in two worlds. Social norms & Market norms. Community favours vs Financial transactions.

The world you define a relationship in determines its behaviour.

Pro bono professionals are not employees or volunteers who forgo compensation for drudgery. They choose to spend time...

Exploring creative meaningful solutions for a greater purpose.

On their own terms.


The 6 Month Sabbatical that never ended

Direction is more important than Speed

I DISCOVERED MY love for film at 25. Joined the work force at 26. Worked four years as an employee. Totally hated it. Quit the work force at 29. Started my own business. Worked in fashion at 31. Returned to film school at 33. Been working on my films, my business and whatever fuck I want. Everyday. Ever since. How is this even possible given my late head start in life?

If you hate your life right now, rat race or not, this may interest you.


Movement beyond Brand, Change beyond Achievement

Redefining your audience’s identity

A GREAT BRAND positions itself well. Differentiates itself from its competitors. Derives its brand identity based on its philosophy. Establishing a known brand is a remarkable achievement.

A social movement champions a cause for the greater good. Doesn't concern itself with competitors. Defines its audience's identity based on its philosophy. Establishing a compelling movement produces lasting change in society.



My Process

Moving & Inspiring audiences through their hero’s journey

WHAT MAKES A good promo video? Whether the objective is fund-raising or growing awareness, my process employs feature film storytelling techniques that tug at audiences' heartstrings.

Assuming you, the client, has already established both a clearly defined objective as well as the cause (e.g. World Vision wants donations of $45/month towards child sponsorship in developing countries).



1. Who is your intended audience?

Are audiences interested in the Truth?

Stories are ultimately about Meaning

IF FACTS REPRESENT reality and Truth makes sense of that reality, then Meaning selectively interprets that reality.


Facts are meaningless

Stories are meaningful

HUMAN BEINGS HAVE the innate blessing, and flaw of associating subjective meaning with mere facts. Almost always involuntarily.


The Culture of Failure

Sexy for startups. Stigma for marriages.

ONCE UPON A time, it was a no-no to admit failure in business. Silicon Valley changed all that. The fail-fast culture took hold. Now failure has its own conference, FailCon and global movement, Fuckup Nights.


Pragmatism as Oppression

A state of myopia, conformism & FOMO

IN SIR THOMAS More's 1516 socio-political satire Utopia, the eponymous fictional state is painted as a place of perfection in law and order. In Utopia, possession of gold is frowned upon, going so far as featuring prisoners bound in fetters of gold. In Singapore’s quest for Utopia, this is what Singaporeans have become.


An invitation to question your life

The Invitation by Oriah

IT DOESN’T INTEREST me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for,
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool,
for love,
for your dream,
for the adventure of being alive.


Egoless communication

On cultivating social intelligence

DURING MY TRAINING as an architecture student at Cooper Union, I was privileged to have world renowned architects as professors. I admired their strong personalities, their ability to bulldoze their opinions through critiques such that lesser professors constantly deferred politically to the top dog. As top dog, their outsized egos allowed them to


Emanate authority by passing critical judgments and speaking in absolutes.


Why Social Intelligence matters?

Communicating with the intent to connect, understand & respect

AN OVERLY REDUCTIVE definition of social intelligence often comes across as politeness, diplomacy, common sense, street smarts and being socially apt. But these are merely the outcomes of social intelligence. Not why it matters. And that's an important distinction to make.

The following is a selection of socially intelligent behaviour from Brianna Wiest’s article, 16 Signs of a Socially Intelligent Person that I'd personally like to cultivate.


1.
They don’t speak in definitives about people, politics or ideas


Outsiders & the Paradox of Inclusivity

Are we equally yoked?

OUTSIDERS ARE INDIVIDUALS who are displaced existentially within the society they operate because of experience, background or behavior that differ drastically from the Mainstream.


The Art of Interrupting

A good listener knows when to

A CORNERSTONE OF being a good conversationalist is being good at listening. A good listener is far from someone who listens passively without contribution. But one who actively listens and


One who interrupts only to engage.


Embracing Intrinsic Values

In a world driven by Extrinsic Motivations

SELF-DETERMINATION THEORY IS concerned with the motivation behind choices people make. And there are two kinds. Intrinsic motivation is about doing things or helping others purely because you like doing them. Extrinsic motivation is about doing things because you’ll get something in return.


Extrinsic goals are primarily money, image, status and possessions.


A Red Pill a Day

Keeps Default at Bay

A FAMOUS SCEME from the movie “The Matrix” has Morpheus offering Neo the choice between a blue pill and a red pill. If Neo takes the blue pill, he goes back to sleep in a state of unawareness; a metaphor for blindly accepting society’s doctrines. If he takes the red, he actively questions those doctrines. In other words,


Taking red is to reach. Taking blue is to settle.


Not Knowing What You Want

Reaching for your unfulfilled potential in life

“YOU DON’T EVEN know what you want. I’m a grown-up, okay?” The quintessential scene from the film Up in the Air where George Clooney’s character, used to a philandering lifestyle, finally decides to pursue his love interest only to discover she’s married with kids. She later berates him for his irresponsible behavior and lack of direction in life.

To be fair, there were no clues that suggested she led a double life. Besides, isn’t his willingness to commit to a relationship an indication that he finally knew what he wanted? And so what if he didn’t?


Why are we supposed to grow up knowing what we want in our lives?


Gaslighting. Platitudes. Cognitive Dissonance.

The unconscious, unquestioned, unintentional killers of relationships

GASLIGHTING. AN UNINTUITIVE term for an unintuitive phenomenon that is often the culprit of relationships mired in a history of poor conflict resolutions.


Gaslighting is the psychological manipulation that causes victims to question their own judgment.


Why Western women don’t dig Asian men

Yet Asian women dig Western men

WESTERN WOMEN LIVING in Asia have on occasion, expressed disappointment seeing Western men with Asian women. They conclude that Western men prefer Asian women because they are submissive. Now, why would they think that?

And if you ask these Western women what they like about Asia, they may occasionally mention that with the exception of India, Asian countries are generally safer. What makes a country like Singapore safe for women to jog outdoors at 3am? Is it because Asian men are safe to be around?


Is it helpful that Western women consider Asian men too safe to be around?



Plagued by pragmatism and providership

The burden of toxic Asian conflict avoidance

WHAT PERPETUATES THE notion of the submissive Asian woman and the docile Asian man? Why does the Asian man, more than his Western counterpart, derive his ego from his ability to provide for his woman?


What’s the difference between chivalry and providership?


The Transformative Power of Books

A Test of True Open-mindedness

HAVE YOU EVER been in a relationship where either one or both of you professes to be open-minded yet communication has reached an impasse?

It’s highly likely that you’ve subscribed to the platitude - “I like to think that I’m open-minded.” After all, have you ever encountered anyone who admits to being close minded? Probably not. The following statement is by no means conclusive but is worth considering.


People who read a lot of books tend to be open-minded.

Not articles. Not current affairs. Not book summaries. But books.


Birth of a Vision

A.I., Money & Purpose

A CPA ONCE lamented to my friend about how her business was adversely affected by the rise of online tax preparation software such as TurboTax. My friend thought favourably of the situation considering that the CPA was now free to pursue tasks that were strategy oriented instead of those that required rote work. The CPA, a human being, remained unconvinced that the ability to finally rid her life of machine-like tasks was a godsend.


That was the cusp of A.I.


Life lessons from The Staircase

Life can be unjust but don’t be consumed by it

THE STAIRCASE IS a Netflix series about the true story of how novelist Michael Peterson returns home to find his wife lying in a pool of blood and is subsequently on trial for murder. Because the victim’s death could’ve been an accident that involved no foul play, it is reasonable to assume that


This can happen to anyone.

But this is not about how to prevent something unjust like this from happening to you. This is about the life lessons gleaned from how Peterson deals with the aftermath. The following contains spoilers. You’re recommended to watch the series in its entirety before reading on.