Sunday, December 21, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: On the Ridge

Guest idea today.

Last week, after the main event of the Deadlands RPG, we had some time left, so we broke out an oldish cardgame called "Bushwhackin' Varmints Out of Sergio's Butte," in which the players are rival filmmakers shooting three different B movies, all with the same title, and trying to put together the best film they can while sabotaging the other players. At one point, our friend B had been deprived of all the characters in his movie, leaving him with only a location - "On the Ridge."

He defended the concept as an "artsy" one, and even explained a vision for it, which had come to him one day when he was out hunting in West Texas. A great deal of hunting consists of finding a good vantage point and sitting waiting for a target to wander by, and on this occasion he was "on the ridge" overlooking a deep waterway, and noticed some unusually round pebbles on the ground. They were round shot from a nineteenth-century gun, which he recognized as the descendent and heir of gunsmiths, and caused him to think about the people who had used this vantage before him.

This sense of connection through artifacts is what archeology is all about, of course; but most activities don't leave much in the way of interpretable traces, and these are the things that a movie of this sort would be focused on. A lot of the action would consist of following the practices, problems, and small dramas of hunters through the ages, including animal as well as human hunters (coyotes need vantage points, too!) interspersed with time-lapse sequences showing geological processes making sometimes subtle changes in the location. Variety could be provided by the occasional high-tension sequence of interpersonal conflict, from Pleistocene war raiding parties to immigrants dodging INS; focus down into the grass for ant-level drama, or draw back to present a snippet from some grand Western epic. It'd take someone with a sure grasp of narrative and the way film, specifically, works in order to get the timing and pacing just right, so that the film is neither majestically dull nor choppily disorienting; and I for one wouldn't want anyone doing it who didn't grasp the reality of history as opposed to the mythic oversimplification that is generally the province of theater. But if all the stars lined up and everything went perfectly, such a movie could become classic. Or go down in history as a magnificent failure, which is still an interesting thing to be.

Coincidentally, this same week I learned about a graphic novel, called Here, by Richard McGuire, which is several millenia worth of drawings of a single location which is variously a living room, a forest, a glacier, underwater, etc. (The man's website is crap in terms of showcasing his artwork, unfortunately, and Random House's page for the book isn't any better; I did the best I could with those links, but if you want to see the art for yourself I guess you'll have to ask your local bookstore). The existence of this book doesn't mean the idea is "done," though. The difference in medium between the graphic novel and the movie, the choice of a different location, and a different mediating sensibility in terms of the dominant creator leave plenty of space for more than one work on this core concept to exist.

And this gives me a chance to explicitly point out the concept I myself wish to get across, posting these week after week: Anybody can have a good idea. You don't need to be a professional artist, or have a degree, or earn any sort of credentials to have a good idea. B is a computer programmer who, when he's looking for ideas, is generally looking for an adventure to run as a game; yet he independently, while out waiting for a deer to wander by, got an artistic idea that parallels a concept which an artist is executing, to critical acclaim. (Words like "game-changing" get used in the work's reviews.) If B had decided to put in the 15 years or so of hard work to execute his idea in some medium congenial to him, he would eventually produce something distinctly his own. Whether it would succeed in the marketplace - who knows? Nobody ever does know, when they start down a creative road.

We are all, each and every day, having ideas. We are human. Creativity is our natural state.

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