Another week, another retooling of my current video project.
As I've been meeting with Dr. Baker, I've started rethinking the value of the Dinosaur Debate project and I went back into exploring some of the inspirations I was drawing from, namely routines from Abbott and Costello and old Looney Tunes shorts. I was watching with the intent to pin down what makes the characters and scenarios compelling, and I remembered something I had forgotten when I was creating the script for this project. Structure is very important to these old comedy sketches. Without structure, the goofiness of the jokes or dialogue is in service to nothing. "Porky Pig's Feat" was the short I watched that helped me realize what I had been missing. In that cartoon, Daffy and Porky are trying to exit a hotel without paying after Daffy lost his money in a bet. The driving conflict is between their desire to escape and the hotel manager's desire to keep them there until they pay off their debt. While the delivery is over the top and the comedy is wild and silly, there's an immediate connection you can draw to the crisis Daffy and Porky are facing. They can't afford what they already owe, and so the only thing they can do now is try to run. This is something prevalent throughout the Looney Tunes catalogue. Whenever the characters are put into domestic situations, the stakes and conflict are raised to the point where they have no option but to break the rules of civilized 'modern' society. While this may serve to make the characters stand out as more cartoonish and unrealistic, at the same time, they're being pinned into a corner where that's their only option, and so as a viewer, you can empathize with them in a simple way. That's what I want to convey with my cartoons. I want to provide scenarios that give reason and justification for the outrageous antics that ensue. And having two animals argue about clouds for 6 minutes, just doesn't raise the appropriate stakes for that.
So I went back and thought about the central theme of the project. Debate. Debate is such a pervasive and aggressive sector of modern American culture, as everything now can spark controversy and offense. The age of information we're living in has provided us with a means for tracking down the 'right' answer to questions that are ultimately unanswerable. Everyone has an opinion, everyone is an expert in something, and we all have access to the library of Alexandria in our pockets. What's interesting though is how almost universally disgusted people are by the role of debate in politics, no matter what side of the coin they fall on. There's an understood artificiality to the political landscape we see on the news everyday. We anticipate corruption, we expect to be disappointed. And if someone fervently believes in the politicians wearing their favorite colored tie, the other side may as well be composed of goblins and vampires. Obviously this is a gross generalization of people's view of politics, but I think it represents a greater trend toward polarization in the way we engage with our government. In this toxic climate, what is the point of debate? Ultimately, it comes across as a formality, and a race to see who can pander the most convincingly. Can that be a funny video?
I think it can. I scrapped the script I was working with and returned to the idea that originally prompted the scenario a month and a half ago. A debate among dinosaurs. In my original idea, the debate primarily consisted of a T-Rex blurting out falsehoods and viciously devouring his competitors as a sort of obvious loose analogy to Trump's rise to power. I think that could be funny, but it's a little too obvious and on the nose. Plus, there's nothing to say exclusively about Trump that hasn't been said. So now as I'm rewriting the script for the tenth-something time, I'm focusing the action on a smaller dinosaur and his chicken campaign manager. The dinosaur will go out on stage and debate a well-informed and policy driven opponent by making empty promises and dogmatic blanket statements. He wants to win because being the boss is a cushy gig in his mind. He doesn't know anything about politics, but he knows how to gain the system. The chicken, however, will serve as the protagonist of the story, essentially having to frame each lame point of interest the dinosaur comes up with as appealing through merchandising, manning lights, and spreading seeds of interest throughout the crowd during the debate. His journey will be a series of quick decisions and frantic problem solving to make his boss look good, despite the fact that he knows none of it means anything. As the dinosaur goes on, he slowly wins over the audience to the point where they actively root against their own interests for the sake of cheering on the guy with the biggest stick to swing around. That's when the T-Rex smashes in, inserting himself into the middle of the stage and blowing the other dinosaur's talking points out of the water through threats and intimidation. Now the audience is so primed to follow the biggest ego, they immediately switch allegiances and root for the T-Rex as the smaller dinosaur has to make up lost ground and try to argue against the T-Rex's terrible policy. It's too late, and the T-Rex wins, as the chicken disengages from the whole process, sick of the unfair work thrown on him. The cartoon will open and close with some classic revolving newspaper headlines, the final ones showing the roost of dinosaurs collapsing in on itself as chicken faces some of the consequences of his allegiance.
There's still an obvious connection you could make to Trump here, but now the focus isn't on him alone. Rather, the point of the video is the smaller dinosaur and chicken paving the way for him by systematically undermining the actual values of the process in exchange for slogans and empty promises. It's their fault things turned out the way they did, so it'll be important for me to convey the crowd slowly coming over to their side to emphasize their role in opening them up to vote for a literal giant monster. It's placing blame on the lead-up, as opposed to the outcome. Writing the scripts has been a challenge for me this last month, but I'm feeling better and better each time I go back to the drawing board. It's just something I have to get more experienced with, and practice makes perfect they say.
In addition to all that, I also took some time to work on a commissioned piece on light for a fellow student from the MFA program. The video is about 30-40 seconds, and while my initial goal this week was just to draw up a quick storyboard to give her an idea of what it would look like, I got caught up in the fun of making it and wound up creating a pretty substantial draft which I sent to her the other day. I used the project as a chance to play around with colors and palettes as the light source changes throughout the video, changing the overall feel of the scene. I'm very happy with it so far, and while I'll need to make some adjustments to it in the future, I think it turned out great and I'm excited to hear back from her when she gets a chance to see it. It was also just satisfying to make something. Even though it did take quite a bit of time, it didn't take as long as I expected to get this part done, which gives me more confidence that I'll be able to finish my longer project before the next residency. In a weird way, the animation aspect of it feels like it takes way less time, I guess because I just have more experience with it now.
That's all for now, I'll be rewriting the script before my next meeting with Dr. Baker and workshopping it with her, as well as seeing if she has any thoughts on the draft for my other project. So long reader.