Sunday, November 23, 2014

Making it Quotable

My wife and I were talking about the Star Wars movies the other night, and I made the off-hand comment that no one has ever quoted episodes I, II, or III.

And my next thought was, why?

Well, it might have something to do with Jar-Jar Binks.  It also might have something to do with the fact that all three stories were forgettable.  Do you even remember what the main plot was in Episode I?  (Hint, it had nothing to do with pod-races or Darth Maul)  What about Episode II?  I remember that Episode II had lots of light-saber fights.

So, what is it that makes a book or a movie quotable?

I don’t know the answer, but I’ve noticed that all the quotable story lines have four strong elements.

Quotes are always tied to a character with a strong personality and charisma.  When the quote is re-used, it is usually (but not always) delivered with a specific speech inflection as well as an accent (if there is one), and can also be accompanied by a pantomimed action.  Who remembers Ben Stein's deadpan: "Bueller?  Bueller?  Bueller?"  I've used that one in meetings when a question is met with a lengthy silence.  For another example remember The Princess Bride: "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya.  You keeeeeeled my father.  Prepare to die!" 

Iconic moments:
Scenes that are heavy with emotional tension such as irony, fear, anger, frustration, love, etc.  These are moments that capture the essence of life.  Who remembers the first time they accidentally swore in front of their parents?  Anyone who remembers the scene where Ralphy spills the lugnuts while helping his father change the flat tire will instantly identify.

All quotable stories have a strong sense of time and place.  If a story is set in the real world will be stuffed to the gills with contemporary culture-references, like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, or A Christmas Story.  If it’s set in another time or place it will have a rich sense of presence, like The Princess Bride, Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings.

Pithy lines. 
They’re all sound-bites.  They’re very short and to the point, and they’re oddly metaphorical / applicable in other areas of life.  How often have you heard someone get a bump or a scratch and say, “It’s just a flesh-wound!”  Once, when my computer was giving me fits, a co-worker leaned out of his cube and asked, "Having trouble with your droid?"

It is very common for lines to get shortened, or to become mis-quoted.  For instance, Dirty Harry never said, “Are you feeling lucky, punk?”  But that’s what everyone quotes.  The actual line of dialog was much, much, much longer:

Uh uh. I know what you're thinking. "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well to tell you the truth in all this excitement I kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow you head clean off, you've gotta ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?

Exercise for the reader

Ok, so here’s some famous movies that are highly quotable.  As you read through these, ask yourself three questions:

  1. who is speaking? What is noteworthy about that character's personality?
  2. What is the setting for this story?
  3. What is the moment / scene where this quote was spoken?  What was going on, and what was the focus of conflict in that very moment?
  4. What about this situation and this line was metaphorical for life?  HINT: Think about how you’ve heard people apply this quote.

Monty Python

  1. “What is the average air-speed of an un-laden swallow?”
  2. “It’s just a flesh wound!”
  3. “We are the Knights who say “Ni!””
  4. “This is an ex-parrot!”
  5. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!
  6. Spam, spam, spam, spam…

A Christmas Story

  1. You’ll shoot your eye out!
  2. Oh, fuuuuuudge!
  3. “Fra Geee Lay!  That must be Italian!  I think that says Fragile, honey.
  4. I double-dog dare ya!

The Princess Bride

  1. Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die
  2. Inconceivable!!  You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
  3. Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I'll most likely kill you in the morning.
  4. As…you…wish!

William Shakespeare

  1. To be or not to be, that is the question!
  2. O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
  3. Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears

Star Wars

  1. May the Force be with you.
  2. Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi.  You’re my only hope.
  3. These are not the droids you’re looking for.
  4. Use the Force, Luke!
  5. No, I am your father.  That’s not true!  That’s impossible!

Lord of the Rings

  1. One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them.  One ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.
  2. You shall not pass!
  3. One does not simply walk into Mordor
  4. My precioussss!
  5. All that is gold does not glitter

Sherlock Holmes

  1. Elementary
  2. The game is afoot!

Ferris Beuler’s Day Off

  1. Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
  2. The question isn't what are we going to do. The question is what aren't we going to do.
  3. Cameron is so tight, that is you stuck a lump of coal up his ass, and twisted, you'd have a diamond.
  4. Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

Gone with the Wind

  1. Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!
  2. As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again.
  3. After all, tomorrow is another day!

The Ten Commandments

  1. So let it be written.  So let it be done.
  2. Let my people go!

Star Trek

  1. Set phasers on stun.
  2. He’s dead, Jim.
  3. I’m a doctor, not a ___
  4. I'm giving her all she's got, Captain! 

Star Trek TNG

  1. Engage!
  2. Make it so!
  3. Resistance is Futile
  4. Belay that order!

Napoleon Dynamyte

  1. Sweet!  Lucky!  Yessss!
  2. Tina, you fat lard, come get some dinner!
  3. Napoleon, don't be jealous that I've been chatting online with babes all day. Besides, we both know that I'm training to be a cage fighter.
  4. I see you’re drinking 1%.  Is that ‘cause you think you’re fat?  ‘Cause you’re not.  You could be drinking whole, if you wanted to.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Goblin Accounting Office

The following is a transcript of a recording taken at Aragorn Air Force Reserve station, by Ssgt Joe Robinson, at the Goblin Accounting Office, August 15, 2010. 

[Scraping noises as I slide my recorder across the desk toward the subjects.]
G1:   “Get that thing away from me.”
ME:   “It’s just a recorder.”
G1:   [pause] “What the hell for?”
ME:   “I’m Joe Robinson.  I’m a reporter from the Stars and Stripes.  I called you yesterday.  We’re interviewing participants in the new military de-segregation program.  I cleared all this with Lienutnant Jones and Chief Gurg.”
[long pause]
ME:   “Do you still want to do this interview?”
G1:   [sigh]  Yuh-yuh.  Long as chief know.”
ME:   “Okay, so start off by telling me your name.”
G1:   “Shigrit.”
ME:   “Shigrit?”
SHIGRIT: “You got problem with that?  You make some kind of joke, pink-face?”
ME:   “No, I just want to make sure I’m saying it right.  How do you spell that?”
SHIGRIT: “Like it sounds.  You know how to spell, yuh?”
ME:   “Do you have a last name?”
SHIGRIT: “Shigrit Blood-Vole.”
ME:   “Blood-Vole?  Is that your clan name?”
SHIGRIT: “Yeah.”
ME:   “Ok, tell us about what you do.”
SHIGRIT: “Uuh…this is Goblin Accounting Office.  We keep track of treasury.  Everything you want, from paperclip to stealth drone…it come through us.  All of it.”
ME:   “Sounds interesting.”
SHIGRIT: “Nyeh, nyeh.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, it is job.  It is good job, but I signed on with military so I pay for college.”
ME:   “But you’re getting job experience.”
SHIGRIT: “Sure, sure.”
ME:   “What kinds of challenges do you face being a goblin in today’s military?”
SHIGRIT: “Uh, you know.”  [snorrt]  “Sorry, I got cold.”  [snooooorrrrt]
ME:   “Would you like a Kleenex?”
SHIGRIT: “What?”
ME:   “To blow your nose?  There’s a box on the desk there.”
SHIGRIT: “Nyeh, don’t worry.”  [snoorrrt-snort]  “I never use those.  What was question?”
ME:   “What kinds of challenges—”
SHIGRIT: “Oh yeah!  Well, you know.  Usual stuff.  Why would goblin go to college?  I get that a lot.  I mean just because you are goblin they expect you to be lazy, cowardly…that sort of thing.  I have dreams, too, you know.”
ME:   “What do you want to study?”
SHIGRIT: [pause] “Goblin stuff.”
ME:   “Goblin stuff?  What’s that?”
SHIGRIT: “It is mind your own damn business, that is what.”
ME:   “Hang on.  The point of this interview was to get to know the goblins.  We’re trying to break down walls, not build them up.”
SHIGRIT:  “Meh.”
ME:   “Do you want to continue?”
SHIGRIT: “Yuh-yuh, as long as chief says.  Beats working.”
ME:   “So what do you want to study in college?”
SHIGRIT: “Why you keep asking that question?  What does college have to do with military?  Ask me question about work.  This work, the work that I do.”
ME:   “I’m just trying to keep it real.  I mean, we’re not all gung-ho, GI Joe, are we?  We all have dreams—aspirations, if you will—outside of military life.”
SHIGRIT: “Ask different question.”
ME:   “Um, okay…”
[a second goblin voice butts in (loud) close to the mic]
G2:   “He wants to study dance!”  [snigger]
SHIGRIT: “Shut it, pig face!” [A chair scrapes across the floor.  Something falls over with a crash.]
G2:   [voice echoes from across the room] “He tell me!  He got drunk last weekend, he tell me!”
SHIGRIT: “Va gala hootu!  I said shut it!”
G2:   [sniggering]
ME:   “Is this true?”
SHIGRIT: “You going to clean that up, fart-eater.  When chief sees that, it is your ass—not mine.”
[Long argument in Goblin-speek between Shigrit and the other goblin.]
ME:   “Shigrit?”
G2:   [Sounds like swearing.]
SHIGRIT: “That’s right, I tell Chief!  Then we see who is laughing.”
ME:   “Shigrit?”
SHIGRIT: “What?”
ME:   “Can we continue?”
SHIGRIT: [sigh] “Yeah.”  [The chair scrapes across the floor again.]
ME:   “Well that’s cool, man.  You’re studying dance, I’m cool with that.  What kind of dance?”
G2:   “Ballet!  Woooo-oooooo!”
SHIGRIT: “You wanna eat your teeth?  Shut it!
G2:   [singing]  “Wooo-ooooo-hooooo.”
ME:   “Are you going to study ballet?”
[long pause]
SHIGRIT: “I tell you something I never tell anybody, eh?  You don’t put this on your web-page-whatever-thing, panyes?”
ME:   “Hey, man, I won’t tell.  Scout’s honor.”
SHIGRIT: “What is that—what is…scout’s honor?”
ME:   “It’s a…it’s just something that we say.  It means that I promise not to tell.”
SHIGRIT: “You better not.  If you tell, I have Chief Gurg come an’ he find you, and he break your kneecaps, panyes?  Both of them!”
ME:   “Sure, I understand.  This is strictly off the record.”  [Scraping sound as I slide the recorder away from the subject.]
SHIGRIT: “I take modern jazz.”
ME:   “That’s awesome.  I have two daugh—er, I know two people who are into that.  I think it’s great stuff.”
G2:   [huffs] “You’re a pyosset.”
SHIGRIT: “Your father is a pyosset, and your mother rides on top.  Shut up, or by Urok I flatten your nose!”
ME:   “Look, if he likes dance I can respect that, whether it’s jazz or ballet or hip-hop.”
SHIGRIT: “Gah!  My friends, they do hip-hop.  Break-dance.  They look like…like cloonz…how you say it?”
ME:   “Clowns?”
SHIGRIT: “Yeah, clowns.  They think they bad-ass.”
ME:   “Well, that’s cool.  If you like modern jazz, I’m cool with that.  Do you plan on becoming a dancer?”
SHIGRIT: “I don’t know.  I take classes, I see where it goes.  Maybe I try out for play, and get part.”
G2:   [sniggering]
ME:   “I know someone who can get you an audition with Tops in Blue, you ever heard of them?”
ME:   “They’re an entertainment showcase sponsored by the Air Force.  They do all kinds of musical numbers, dancing, too.  They tour all over the world.  Would you like that?”
SHIGRIT: “You do that for me?”
ME:   “Sure, man.”
SHIGRIT: “You all right.  You all right.”
G2:   Skeelgah.”
ME:   “Hey, can I ask your friend some questions?”
SHIGRIT: “Pish!  Go right ahead.”
ME:   “Hey, you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
G2:   “Sure, pink-face.  Ask away.”
ME:   “Well, for our readers why don’t you tell us a little about yourself.  Start with your name.”
G2:   “Bugger!”
ME:   “Bugger?”
SHIGRIT: “That is not name.  Don’t listen to him.  He is being rude.”
ME:   “I can call you Bugger if that’s what you want.  You want me to call you Bugger?”
G2:   “My name is Greenskin, pink-face.”
ME:   “Greenskin, that’s better.  So, Greenskin, how do you like the military?  Do you think this new integration program is working?”
G2:   Ack!  Thptptptpht!  That is what I think!”
SHIGRIT: “He has got farts for brains.  Do not listen to him.”
ME:   “Okay, well that’s—” 
[end transcription]