Holiday Giveaway 2012

Holiday-Giveaway_2012

The holiday season is upon us. Christmas lights glitter everywhere like tiny rainbow stars. The smell of pine trees and gingerbread mingles with that of wood smoke and the crisp bite of snow. Cheesy Christmas music haunts us through any place even remotely retail, and the mystique of presents and Santa breathes anticipation into these last few days.

It’s my favorite holiday. So, in the spirit of celebration and to thank all of you for reading my random, sarcastic musings over the past months, I’ve decided to run a little giveaway while I’m on a brief hiatus. (Yes, I’m actually chaining my workaholic side in a dark corner somewhere so I can spend time with friends and family.) I will be returning with new content on Jan. 4th, providing the Mayans weren’t correct and everything doesn’t go down the crapper tonight. 😉

But on to the free stuff. Everyone loves free stuff, right? As some of you may have noticed, I offer autographed versions of my published short stories, one of which is no longer in print at all. I only have a select number of each left, but a few lucky people are about to win a bundled set of all three issues. That’s right, I’m giving away signed copies of Shelter of Daylight Issue 1, 3 & 4, featuring “The Bardach,” “Spinning,” and “Confessions.” All you have to do is click on the link, Holiday Giveaway 2012, and follow the instructions to enter.

For those unfamiliar with my works, (Shame on you! Their info is conveniently posted on the sidebar), here’s a little history on each, including links to the excerpts.

This was my first successful foray into the magazine market, and graced the cover of Shelter of Daylight, Issue 1. Inspired by Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life,” Nightwish’s “Nemo,” and “Main Theme” by Christophe Beck from the Elektra Soundtrack, The Bardach actually started as an assignment about the origin of creativity for a college humanities class. It soon became the foundational tale for many of my flagship characters, including Nameless and the Nightwolf, and is the precursor to a much longer version.

Featured in Issue 3 of Shelter of Daylight, this is my personal favorite of the three shorts. Inspired by The Script’s “Breakeven” and “Spinning” by Jack’s Mannequin, Spinning is a tragic tale of love cut short, and introduces readers to the world of the Spinners– an elite group of bards with the ability to morph time.

Arguably the most popular of the three, Confessions was featured in Issue 4 of Shelter of Daylight and was the last story to be published under my maiden name of Kisa Rupp.  (I got married in October, 2010.) Inspired by Within Temptation’s “The Truth Beneath the Rose,” Confessions is a story about losing faith, told in an unconventional format more frequently seen in film. The action-oriented pacing of this piece was one of the more challenging ones I’ve done, and I’m pretty proud of the outcome. Shelter of Daylight, Issue 4, is no longer available, making the few copies I have left rare treasures indeed.

The giveaway will run until 12 am on Jan. 2nd, 2013, at which time, I will randomly select three winners. Until then, I wish all of you a safe and joy-filled holiday season. See you next year!

Happy Holidays!!

Channels of Distribution

Over the past week, I’ve been involved in several conversations about the changes to the way we find and consume media. And it got me thinking. Over the past 5-10 years, there really has been a dramatic shift in the way consumers find and purchase entertainment. Gone are the CD store dinosaurs where I got my first job, except for a couple that refuse to face the music. (Yes, horrible pun intended. 😉 ) Gone are the days of browsing genre aisles of shiny new books in Borders (now just depressing, vacant buildings scattered across America like the remnants of a zombie apocalypse). Even the way we watch TV has changed, our schedules no longer dictated by the networks. But is that a bad thing?

Most articles you read talk about this shift from the perspective of the artists, the people creating the products. But what about the impact it’s had on the consumers, on the way people buy? That’s what caught my interest and made me realize just how much my own buying habits have altered over the past few years. Yours probably have too.

Until the digital era began, entertainment industries, whether music, literature, or film, were all dominated by the same business model– large companies that acted as gatekeepers, filtering the creative content the public received. Record labels told us which artists were worthy, the “Big 6” publishing houses defined what “good” literature was, and large film/TV studios determined which movies and shows made the cut and when we were supposed to watch them. But then suddenly, consumers were given choices. Upstarts like iTunes, Amazon, Hulu and Netflix challenged the traditional, declaring that there shouldn’t be a middle man between artists and consumers. And we liked it.

This shift has taken the vast majority of power away from the gatekeeper companies, resulting in larger royalties for artists, a broader spectrum of content and an overall increase in interaction between artists and their fans. But it’s also created a mess of the shopping landscape. From an artist’s standpoint, yes, having to get through the gatekeepers made things more difficult. It sometimes seemed unfair to be forced to bow to their rules and standards, to compromise artistic vision in the name of profit. But the one thing they did was make it easy on consumers. They placed content where it could be easily found, creating focused avenues that shopper’s knew to go to when they were looking for that type of entertainment.

All that has changed. The majority of entertainment consumption seems to happen over the internet now, thanks to the advent of iPods, eReaders and Tablet Computers. And we all know how vast the internet is. So how do people find things? How do they discover new artists, new authors, or TV shows from around the world? How do they wade through an unfiltered swamp of products without the direction the gatekeepers always provided?

I think there are only a handful of strategies:

  1. Personal Recommendations from friends, family or professional reviewers.
  2. Website Algorithms that recommend based off previous purchases — think Amazon’s recommendations, iTunes Genius, or Pandora Internet Radio type services.
  3. Random browsing.

Things like bestseller lists, or recommendations based on your previous purchases and what other people bought after viewing the same product have become far more important in a shopping environment overwhelmed by billions of titles. But while this approach to filtering content can give the illusion of a more personalized shopping experience, there’s one flaw– the lack of a vetting process.

With self-publishing becoming such an easy option for every type of media, the markets are being flooded with products that are released prematurely, leaving consumers to wade through the bog, looking for the gems among the crap. Which, I think, gives rise to the stereotype that self-published equals bad as customers become more and more frustrated with the lack of quality. The gatekeepers might have controlled what the public received, but they also had a built-in quality assurance system. Regardless of personal taste, people could trust that the products they were getting were something of quality that would be worth their hard-earned money. Now that those gatekeepers are being sidestepped, that expectation of professional-grade work is often disappointed.

So we can’t have it both ways apparently. At least not yet. On the one side, we enjoy the wider diversity of content, supporting indie artists in all genres with enthusiasm. But on the other, we complain about the lack of quality in a majority of products, feeling that we’re wasting our time and money on rubbish. Where’s the happy medium?

I expect that the next few years will continue to see a significant shift in the way consumers approach entertainment as both artists and customers adjust to these new shopping strategies. I think that eventually the customers themselves will become the gatekeepers, and that the quality products will rise to the top because they deserve to, not because they’re backed by a large company. But it does beg the question of what purpose the traditional avenues of distribution, the record labels, publishing houses and film studios, will serve in the future. Will they adjust to the changing times, taking on a different role, or will they eventually go the way of Borders, disappearing into nostalgia? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Choreographing Realistic Fight Scenes

Recently, I was asked how to choreograph realistic fight scenes for demo teams. While I usually don’t get this technical on a specific type of choreography, preferring to focus on the concepts of story instead, I can’t deny that fight scenes are a staple of the genre. It is Martial Arts, after all. I don’t believe that they are required for every demo, (in fact, it’s a lot more challenging to create one without them), but they are a large part of most. So I’m going to answer that reader request and break down my five key ingredients for a successful fight scene.

Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, I’d like to note that I will not be discussing which individual techniques to use. Fight scenes are organic, or at least, they should feel that way. So the choreography will vary depending on your particular demo. If I gave you a blow-by-blow transcript, then I’d be stripping all the creativity out of it, and what’s the fun in that? Instead, we’re going to look at the principles that take a fight scene from cheesy, B-rated Martial Arts film to something gripping that has a shred of believability.

You might be surprised to learn that creating that effect has very little to do with you, the choreographer. A fight scene is only one part choreography, and two parts the people performing it. So let’s get to it.

Trust

If I had to boil it down to one element, it’d be this. Trust is the thing that will most often make or break a fight scene. I’m not referring to the trust you put in your team to bring your vision to life. No, I’m talking about the trust between the partners in the fight. Unfortunately, that kind of trust pretty much relies solely on chemistry.

We’ve all heard dating sites talk about chemistry, that magical connection between two people that makes them move and breathe in sync. Well, it exists even outside the romantic realm. And you’ll have to learn how to watch for it. You will probably have to try a few combinations of partners before you see it spark, so don’t be afraid to shuffle your team around like cards in a deck.

A lot of choreographers try to partner people based on size, automatically shoving people of similar heights or builds together. But those kinds of partnerships rarely contain the chemistry required to really pull off a fight scene. Instead, you want to look for the following when you partner people:

  • Comfortability: What do the new partners do when you announce they’ve been paired? Do they bounce up to each other laughing and smiling, or do they stand stiffly side by side without looking at each other? Does one person look scared while the other looks irritated? These are instant indicators of how comfortable they are with each other. The more comfortable people are, the more easily they’ll naturally trust each other. So avoid any combinations where you know personalities will clash, or where there is an emotional distance between them.
  • Similar Styles: Even within an overall style of martial arts, there are differences between the way people do things. Pay attention to that and try to pair people who move similarly. They’ll have the same rhythm and flow to their techniques. They’ll think similarly. Just like you don’t put oil and water together and expect them to mix seamlessly, you can’t put different stylistic approaches together and expect a smooth outcome without a ton of work.
  • Technical Ability: Obviously, you don’t want a fight scene that’s extremely unfair, so generally avoid pairing an advanced student with a white belt. Ideally, you want people that can perform to the same caliber technique-wise. Not only will they be more comfortable working with someone on the same level, it’ll also allow you to maximize the choreography’s awesomeness.
  • Strength: Yes, I do mean brute muscle. The best fight scenes contain an acrobatic element, so this is an important thing to assess. Not everyone is strong enough to lift another, and on the flip side, not everyone is comfortable being lifted. A lack of confidence in this area can shatter the trust in a partnership quicker than dropping glass on cement. So if you’re planning on throwing in some crazy moves, make sure you have partners that can handle it physically and are emotionally ready.

All of those things can help you figure out which teammates are likely to have the most natural, built-in trust. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and there are situations where you won’t be able to rely on that natural chemistry to build trust in a partnership. To some extent, you can get around that simply through practice. Over time, teammates will become more comfortable with one another, will learn the way the other moves and thinks and will learn to trust. But it takes time. Lots of time. So if you have to bow to story constraints or other requirements that prevent you from partnering those with natural trust together, be prepared to invest a lot into practice.

Distance

This is probably the scariest ingredient for the people performing, and is heavily reliant on the trust we just worked so hard to establish in the previous section.

Which do you think is better for a demo, a fight scene where all the techniques end miles away from their intended target, so the “victim’s” reactions look ridiculous, or one where the techniques end mere centimeters from their partner’s body? (Hint: Option 2 is the correct answer. 😉 ) You chose Option 2, right? Good! You’re absolutely correct. That’s what distance does; it takes an otherwise cheeseball fight and gives it a realistic edge.

Anyone who has been in a fight scene knows how hard it is to get to that level, to stop your techniques just short of clocking your partner in the head. So again, trust is absolutely crucial. As is practice. Lots of practice. Until your team gets the feel for the choreography, let them work up to the realism, shrinking the distance as the comfort level grows. Otherwise, I suggest having a lot of gauze and ice handy. You’re about to have a lot of black eyes and bloody noses.

Reactions

Similar to distance, reactions will enhance that essence of realism. But unlike distance, it doesn’t require so much faith in your partner as it does the ability to act.

Let’s face it, most martial artists will never win an Oscar. But that doesn’t mean we have to play into the stereotype with overly dramatic, delayed reactions that happen well after the attacking technique ended. A good reaction is simple, logical. All you have to do is portray what would have happened if you’d actually been hit. If you get hit from the front, you’re not going to fall forward, are you? But you see that a lot.

Understanding the logistics of the fight is critical to creating the appropriate reactions. The worst combination in a fight scene is to have a bad actor and poor distance. Unless you’re intentionally trying to look idiotic, don’t do it. Put the effort in to get it right. Please.

Timing/Duration

Everything in a fight revolves around timing, especially reactions and distance. You want everything to flow as naturally as it would if the fight were real. So if the timing is even a little off… hello injury central, or bad martial arts film. This one is pretty easy, since there’s really only one way to ensure the timing is right– practice. Are you noticing a theme yet? 😉

The second half of this section is duration. By this, I mean how long the fight actually lasts. We’re not video game characters with a billion power-ups and infinite health. We’re people. And people are, admittedly, rather weak in the stamina department. Most real fights are short bursts of rage that quickly end with someone in a bloody mess. Choreographed fights should reflect that. Keep it short, as in, within the normal range of human possibilities, and vary the heat of the battle accordingly. People get tired. Let that show. People get desperate when they start to lose. Let that show too. Adding these real life aspects will help beef up your fight scene and move it a little closer toward realistic.

Musicality

Everyone who’s been following me already knows how important I view music when it comes to demos. And fight scenes are no exception. They are, however, a slightly different creature than other forms of choreography. Unlike the main part of the demo, you won’t choreograph every technique to the music. Instead, you’ll look for musical elements that you can use to highlight certain moments in your fight. For example, the most spectacular move is on the largest beat, the moment where the main character starts to lose matches the desperation in the music, or the final blow happens on the last musical crescendo. I spoke about this before in Musicality, under Musical Emphasis. Same idea.

And that’s all there is to it. Ok, maybe not all. You do still need inspired choreography and the people to pull it off. But these are the principles I’ve found most helpful in creating believable and entertaining fight scenes. Give them a try and see if they’re as successful for you as they’ve been for me. Like most things in demo team, it’s the stuff behind the scenes that really makes the difference between an average demo and a spectacular declaration of professionalism. You only get what you give, as they say.