Thursday, November 15, 2007

Orson Scott Card at University Forum

Even though I'm not a student at the university anymore and have now reached the status of alumnus, I'll sneak into the art seminars and and university forums if I fell there's going to be a really worthwhile presentation.

A few days ago I was told that Orson Scott Card was going to be speaking at University Forum.

It didn't take much to convince myself and a few of my friends to attend the forum. We all wanted to hear him speak, and two of us—myself included—really wanted to ask him some questions. We've both been working our own large projects for a few years or more and even though we've never published a story or finished a film yet, we're both insistent that when the time comes that our studio has the resources to start production on one of these two projects, that we'll already have the story perfected. Neither of us are formally trained in story telling but we talk about it every day, read a lot on the subject, and discuss movies and shows that do it well (like Avatar: The Last Airbender, which has really impressed us recently) and shows that don't (most big-budget films).

For that reason we definitely wanted to hear him speak. We went to the forum yesterday 20 minutes early to get good seats, and he was already answering questions for people in the audience. The forum started at 2:00, and the question and answers session didn't end until around 4:30. During almost 3 hours of listening to him speak we didn't ask a single question; everything we wanted to know he had been answered throughout his talk and in answering other's questions: What do you want changed in the industry? What do you need to do to write believable and interesting characters? What makes a good hero? What is your creative process? And so on.

We walked away feeling very encouraged. Apparently we had the right idea of what stories should be and we were taking ours in the right direction, and that our studio is going in the right direction. He also gave us some great insight into heroism and the intellectual elite of America, which gave me some great stuff to put into my story because the intellectual elite is one of the latter topics of my show.

Now, we are both visual arts people, and if we planned on writing novels we would still have a lot to learn about language, but for building characters and story we were on the right track. We just need to keep doing what we are doing and learn as much as we can.

His 1 hour talk was on what it means and takes to be a hero. What does it take to overcome your will to survive as a creature and sacrifice yourself for the community?

"I write heroes," Card said, "in fact I think that's one of the main functions of fiction is to show us people who's lives are models for what our society needs from people. And it's a tough one to figure out what it is that makes a character both believable and admirable at the same time."

He said that the thing that makes us able to do these courageous things, as opposed to other animals, is that we have language, and therefore are capable of having stories of honor for dieing for your country. We live in a society that has taught us these things, and we believe it as truth. That is why terrorism occurs; courageous people carrying out cowardly attacks. Their society tells them a different story of what will happen if you kill enough of the enemy.

He later talked about being a hero in cases that don't require losing your life, cases where you have to put your reputation or job on the line for truth and ethics. "We do have the story that you act boldly and bravely to do the right thing. We have the idea that the community that you belong to is worth saving from danger." This led into my favorite part of his talk on the intellectual elite, or people who fall into the intellectual trap:

Here's the trap: You're really smart. People who aren't like you are really dumb. [audience laughs] You are better than those people, and the smarter you are the better you are. But secretly you know that you don't actually qualify, so you spend your time pretending to be smarter than you are, and surrounding yourself with people who will accept your smartitude [sic] and treat you as if you were really clever.

That's what we have as America's intellectual elite today.

When I look at the state of science, education, of—well, practically everything—in a world where actual scientific thinking is valued, no one would be talking about global warming. [audience laughs]. It's a non issue. It happens. It doesn't happen. There's global warming. There's global cooling. There's cycles in the history of the earth. It's an uninteresting question until we have more data. But we are not even trying to gather the data. What we have is a lot of people trying to twist the existing data, or shut everyone up in order to believe it. Because if you are an intellectual in America today you believe in global warming and it's really vital that we do something about it.

You also simultaneously believe that homosexuals are homosexuals because of genetic change in them—which is not a bad thing—and which cannot possibly be resisted or altered in any way; the only sexual beings among the human race whose sexuality cannot even be repressed. They alone, can do whatever they want, and they cannot help it. At the same time, women, with the attributes of femininity, are completely socially driven. There is no genetic component in them whatsoever, and if you just change society enough the differences between men and women will be erased.

Those are so obviously intellectually incompatible, that one wonders how anyone capable of speech can believe both at the same time.
He then goes on to talk about how scientists that he knows cannot say anything against global warming because they are still on their tenure track and they don't want to loose their job. "And I have friends who have lost their jobs," he says, "because they did heroically speak up for truth against error. But right now in America if you want to have secure credentials as an intellectual, here's how you get them: parrot what other people say, and never have a thought of your own that questions it. Somehow that's how we define intellectuality in America today."

He says that asking questions is a good thing. We need to be able to ask questions and teach our kids that it's okay to have doubts and that we need to search and find the answers to them. "Errors happen. Mistakes are made. People do it wrong. People make wrong guesses. People believe for many years in incorrect things. But the society that will survive, the community that will last is the one that will be able to embrace the questions, keep asking, keep testing, keep trying and holding fast to that which is good and true."

After his talk he answered questions regarding the Ender's Game movie, how he writes for characters and what questions he asks himself about them and the world they live in, what his creative process is—which was "I don't know," because each idea had it's own process—he gave advice for new writers, films and books that have inspired him, and so on.

There were many other things he said during the Q&A session, and everything we wanted to know was somehow answered or he said things that just reaffirmed what we already believed about story telling. He said he was fed up with the antihero cliché in the arts that has been going on for the past 70 years, and the fact that what people really want are stories about good but believable people doing good things. There will always be a large market for that kind of story, no matter what huge media corporations will say and do to the contrary.

It was interesting having him tell us his bad experiences working with the publishing and movie industries. We were able to get a pretty good idea about what he didn't like about the industry because he was so vocal about it throughout his talk and the Q&A session. He also said that new writers don't need an agent, even though the publishing industry says they do. I got the feeling that he had been burned plenty of times by agents, and how publishing companies will try and do the same dirty things that agents will do (retaining rights to your work, excessive percentages from profits, and so on). He said that you can do just as well (or better) without an agent than with one, with the exception of foreign sales. Realize that you can say no to contracts even if they pressure you and say there is no other choice. He also talked about working with editors and copywriters, and what to expect.

Independence seemed to be important to him, especially when he talked about his concerns about getting the Ender's Game film in production and keeping the movie from being garbage, because when you sign the papers they can do whatever they want with the story, even without you if they don't want to. He asked if anyone in the audience knew someone that has 75 million dollars laying around so they can fund the movie. Again, independence from a big studio is a good thing. We've seen too many good stories get ruined and good shows get axed. Orson Scott Card, as a fellow browncoat, understands that well I'm sure.

It was refreshing to have someone that is so honest about the topics of the intellectual elite, and he expressed how refreshing it was for him to be in a place where he can speak about it and have a positive reaction from the audience.

Listening to him speak really made my day, and gave all of us in our little studio some hope that we are making the right decisions as we move forward to create stories and experiences that people will want to enjoy.

3 comments:

Glen Moyes said...

I do have the audio recording of the 1 hour talk he gave. I recorded it off the radio broadcast so the quality is good. If you want to listen to it just let me know and I'll upload it somewhere.

mark said...

great blog. i enjoy listening to Card when he speaks. He's quite entertaining. I was just wondering if you could expound a little bit on what he said about the progress of the Ender's Game movie. A little over a year ago I heard him speak at a book signing at a Boarders, and he said it looked like it would be done by the summer of 2008. Is that still the case? Do they finally have a script?
Thanks again for the great blog!

Glen Moyes said...

Basically they have 4 scripts right now, and two of them are written by him. If they take the film to a different studio or do it independently they are going to have to buy the other two scripts to avoid lawsuits, which is a real shame because he said they where garbage (he didn't read the scripts, but talked to people who did).

He talked about finding the right director for the film because there are going to be tons of child actors and you need a good director to coax the right performance out of them. As a side note he said that rarely do we get more than one good child performances per movie these days because of the amount of time you have to spend with them, and there's only one director (can't remember which) that he said recently had all but one child actor in his film give a good performance.

Anyway, he's still looking for great people to work on the film so that it won't get messed up. He assured us that even if the Ender's Game movie is terrible, because you can't control it after a certain point, Ender's Game is still a book.

They haven't started production yet, and it'll take them about 18 months to do it will all of the post production (he did say that the whole thing would likely be filmed in front of a green screen, as digital sets are so much cheaper). So I don't think that it'll be done by next year.

He said, and kept on repeating, that nothing is set in stone right now. But he seems to be actively perusing it. Unless a miracle happens and someone comes up with that 75 million in the next month, I'd expect to see the movie come out in the last quarter of 2009 or later. I'm optimistic because he said there are a lot of people that want to work on the film, so I think it will happen.