BattleStar Pirates

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This could be one of those good news, bad news, good news (etc. etc.) kind of posts, depending on your perspective. First, this is going to be a (really) short post. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that’s good news or bad. Second, it comes with homework (again, depending on your perspective…).

Somewhere near the actual point… I’ve always been a big movie junkie, and particularly love a good DVD commentary. Although many of them turn out to be either a love fest (“Oh, he was just the best actor in the world,” “My god, what would I do without such an awesome set designer,” blah blah blah) or a director’s tutorial (“Now, in this shot we went with a wide lens and really pushed the color toward the reds and purples”), or a giggle-fest between a bunch of actors and crew who are all trying to prove how terribly clever they are, once in a while I find a hidden treasure that makes the search worthwhile: someone who’s really interested in the art of telling a story.

Two of the best of these treasures I’ve found have been the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and the early seasons of BattleStar Galactica. The Pirates movie has several DVD commentary tracks, most of which are equally fluffy, but the commentary by the writers is a first-rate study of the art of story-telling and one that I’ve watched numerous times.They talk about everything from character’s names to foreshadowing to¬† the importance of knowing when to meet the audience’s expectations, even if those expectations are cliched and historically inaccurate.

The BattleStar Galactica commentaries include a running series of episode-by-episode breakdowns by producer Ronald Moore. Like the writers of Pirates, Moore focuses on the details that make for good storytelling, with one recurring theme quickly becoming obvious: “subverting audience expectations.” It’s a phrase he uses repeatedly, and I agree with him 100% that one of the ways to tell stories well is to understand what the audience (in our case, our readers) want, and then finding a way to turn those expectations on their head in a way that is both plausible and entertaining.

So the ‘homework’ that I was referring to earlier is this: go find copies of the aforementioned DVDs and study the writer/story commentaries. They are very much worth the time (which is offset by the fact that you didn’t spend a long time reading my post just now). They are also old enough at this point that if you decide to buy them (eBay or other), the cost should be minimal. We have a used book and DVD store here where I live and I recently saw the first Pirates movie for $3, and I expect you should be able to find similar bargains where you live (assuming you don’t already have any of these items, or can’t find a friend who owns them that you can borrow from).

So, anybody else have any DVD commentaries they found particularly useful for studying/understanding the art of storytelling?

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8 comments to BattleStar Pirates

  • freedomstar57

    Thank you for a good idea. I usually don’t check out the commentaries on DVDs. Another suggestion is if you have Netflix, you can rent the DVDs and check out the commentaries if you can’t afford them.

  • The DVD commentary on the first season of THE WEST WING spends a great deal of time on Aaron Sorkin (creator of the series who wrote many of the teleplays, and who also wrote the screenplays for THE SOCIAL NETWORK, A FEW GOOD MEN, THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT, and CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR, among others). Sorkin talks about how he looks for musical qualities in his dialogue, playing with rhythm, recurring themes and codas, etc. It is the most instructive and beautiful commentary on writing I’ve ever seen.

  • Aye aye, Cap’n! Sounds like a good learning experience.

    On a side note, could all the MW Betas who are coming to the Beta party at ConCarolinas please email me off list at anglolatinphd@yahoo.com. Emily/Peafaerie and I would like to get a rough head count for the party. Also, if you would be willing to bring cups or snacks or your own favorite libations please let us know. We’ll be bringing homemade chex mix, ice, and probably a couple of mixers. *grin* (And please reply off of here – don’t want to clog up the MW site with a side conversation. Thanks!)

    See you all soon!

  • Thanks for that, David. I’ve got the first season of West Wing (one amazing show that I do miss), but I’ve not checked out the commentary yet. I’ll add it to my list.

  • I don’t watch commentary often (unless it’s Commentary! The musical!) but i do find watching tv with closed captioning on a interesting study in dialogue and sound descriptors. Esp Doctor Who episodes. In Plain Sight is also interesting, as the dialogue for opening and closing doesn’t always match the captioning. Sometimes you can get a very different meaning from the episode that way.

  • Churnok

    I also find commentaries to be interesting and the Stargate Atlantis DVD set has commentaries on almost every episode. It has examples of all the types of commentaries you mentioned but even the ones that don’t talk about story construction can be interesting.
    And if I may add a point on Axisor’s, watching Anime with closed captioning can be particularly interesting. I’ve heard that the captions and subtitles for anime tend to be closer to the original than the dub.

  • The making of Braveheart was interesting, even though the movie’s historical inaccuracies. I laugh whenver I remember that they turned the Battle of Stirling Bridge into a field battle. Nevertheless, it’s still pretty cool to see the details of making an epic, and Mel Gibson is pretty funny.

  • The DVDs for Leverage have great commentary too–they always have the writer, director, and producer for each episode, and they talk a lot about how they came up with the story and then how they executed it on screen. It’s really interesting to hear their take, especially when things turned out differently (for better or for worse) than they had planned.