An Odyssey of the Mind

Apologies for the dearth of blog entries, everyone!  In addition to helping some friends shoot their first feature, I’ve been giving a lot of my time to a program called Odyssey of the Mind.  I’ve been involved with it for roughly 20 years.  I competed from elementary school through college, and since then, I’ve volunteered as an official.

I hate describing the program, because it’s easy to over-explain or under-explain, and, either way, it often leaves people scratching their heads.  In a nutshell, it’s a creative problem-solving competition.  Teams of five to seven students work for several months on their Long Term solution.  There are five types of LT problems to choose from: one is centered around a vehicle created by the team, another is centered around a performance based on classic art or literature, another involves a balsa wood structure and how much weight it holds.

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The team does everything.  They design their vehicle or structure, they research classic art and literature.  They write a script and build their props and sets.  Everything.  In addition to performing their Long Term solution, teams are given a Spontaneous problem on the day of competition.  In the months leading up to the tournament, teams solve practice problems, but they have no idea what they’ll face in the Spontaneous Room.  Problems can be hands-on, requiring them to build a structure out of toothpicks and mailing labels and then receive points for the amount of weight it holds.  Or they can be verbal, which might involve each student contributing a line to a team-created story that receives points based on creativity and the number of responses in a set period of time.

The program offers many takeaways, like budgeting and time management, but there are three real pillars.  The first is independence.  Did I mention the students do everything?  The second is creativity.  The program demonstrates that often there’s more than one right way to solve a problem.  And finally, the program teaches the value of teamwork.  As an only child, this was the most valuable lesson I learned.  During my early years with Odyssey, I was shocked (SHOCKED!) when my teammates didn’t immediately accept my ideas.

But my ego sustained a few blows, and I turned out all right in the end — certainly better than I might have without Odyssey.  It’s given me a lot to be thankful for.  I’ve made so many wonderful friendships through the program, even my wife and my best friend.

Lyss, Ben & I - States_smaller

If music be the food of love, write on…or something like that

Lately I’ve been struggling with screenwriting, so I thought I’d take a break from that to write about part of my process.  If that doesn’t sound like a fledgling, wannabe writer, I don’t know what does.

Look ma meme

I’ve been working on a feature-length script…and it doesn’t always come easily.  I’m a fan of outlining, but it’s a rabbit hole I tend to tumble down — I just keep outlining, sometimes the same thing, ignoring scenes that are actually giving me trouble.  At the moment, I’m trying what Darren Aronofsky calls the “muscle draft.”  Get it on paper, quick and dirty.  Truth be told, it’s a lot dirtier than it is quick.  (Perhaps I’m neglecting the positives of this approach.)

Anyway, one of the things I’ve found helpful is music.  Not just any music, but a collection of songs curated to the tune of my project.  A few months ago, I finished a coming-of-age script, and I spent a lot of time listening to songs I hadn’t heard since middle and high school. I wanted music that made me feel like I was in that time and place. (Teenage Garrett cringes at the thought.)

But the project I’m working on now is a creature-feature. I’m not gonna delve too much into plot description, but it probably wouldn’t surprise you to know it’s a horror film. Here’s what I’ve been listening to…

1.) “The Passage” from “Alien” soundtrack

2.) “Love” from “Under the Skin” soundtrack

3.) “Above Earth” from “Gravity” soundtrack

4.) “Symphony No. 3: Passacaglia – Allegro Moderato” by Krzystof Penderecki

5.) “The Church” from “28 Days Later” soundtrack

6.) “Down the Pipe” from “The Descent” soundtrack

7.) “Crossing the Crevasse” from “The Descent” soundtrack

8.) “Debris” from “Gravity” soundtrack

9.) “Hyper Sleep” from “Alien” soundtrack

10.) “There Will Be Blood” from “There Will Be Blood” soundtrack

11.) “Car Crash” from “Collateral” soundtrack

12.) “Flight to Compound” from “Zero Dark Thirty” soundtrack

13.) “Agnus Dei” from “Alien 3” soundtrack

14.) “Vincent Hops Train” from “Collateral” soundtrack

15.) “Gravity” from “Gravity” soundtrack

I’ve ordered the mix so that it kind of follows the structure of my script.  (I know the story’s signposts at least.)  “Love” is very sad, designed to evoke my main character.  It’s placed where it is to coincide with her introduction in the script.  “Car Crash” sounds introspective, complementing the lull before the third act.  The marshaling of forces, the calm before the storm.  And “Vincent Hops Train” is heavy on percussion, very action-oriented, representing a climax for both the playlist and the script.

I often listen while I’m writing, but sometimes I take a walk and play it on my iPod.  Generally, I try to avoid music that I’m really familiar with.  There are some scores and films I know a little too well. I can’t be writing a scene, hearing a music cue, and thinking, “Now the shark’s surfaces, Brody jumps back and slowly walks into the cabin.”  That’s why you won’t find any “Jaws” on my mix, even though scary creature-features don’t come any better…obviously.  For a while, a track from “The Social Network” (“Hand Covers Bruise”) had the place of “Love,” but I removed it.  That’s another one I’m just too familiar with.  Wouldn’t want Mark Zuckerberg finding his way into my script.

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What are some of your writing strategies?  How do you get inspiration?  Comment below.