Strangers and Pilgrims

Season 1 – Death of the Prophet Joseph Smith

Home of the Strangers and Pilgrims Podcast

King Henry IV, Part II and Luke 14

I’ve been reading through King Henry IV and came across this speech that Bardolph gives that is based on a parable Jesus gave in Luke 14:28-33. I’m going to put the two texts here for reference:

The speech from Bardolph, in King Henry IV, Part II, Act I. Scene III. Lines 41-62

When we mean to build

We first survey the plot, then draw the model;

And when we see the figure of the house

Then must we rate the cost of the erection;

Which if we find outweighs ability,

What do we then but draw anew the model

In fewer offices, or at last desist

To build at all? Much more, in this great work,

Which is almost to pluck a kingdom down

And set another up, should we survey

The plot of situation and the model,

Consent upon a sure foundation,

Question surveyors, know our own estate,

How able such a work to undergo,

To weight against his opposite; or else

We fortify in paper and in figures,

Using the names of men instead of men:

Like one that draws the model of a house

Beyond his power to build it; who, half through,

Gives o’er and leaves his part-create cost

A naked subject to the weeping clouds

And waste for churlish winter’s tyranny.

And, then, here is Luke 14:28-33

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with tent thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, cannot be my disciple.

This parable of Christ’s that Shakespeare fleshes out is interesting, because the context in which it is brought up by Bardolph is the context of figuring out if they have enough men to go to battle against their enemies. So, the parable in Luke is part parable, and part reality, in Shakespeare.

I’ve actually really been enjoying all the biblical references / allusions in King Henry IV, and will probably write about it more in future posts, as I flesh out some ideas.

Carpool Karaoke, the Marx Brothers, Proust, and Citizen Kane

I was reading the other day some article on the internet, that I can’t find now, about how late night talk shows are trying to pump out bits in their episodes that can easily be shared on the internet — to help with views, publicity, etc. Things like James Corden does with Carpool Karaoke.

His video with Adele has, at the time of this post being written, almost 200 million views — that’s waayyy more people than actually watch the James Corden show. According to the ratings, from May 27-31 he got 940,000 viewers on average.

So, the guy isn’t selling guest stars a carpool karaoke bit based off his nightly viewers — he’s selling it based off their life on YouTube and Facebook. This difference between views is something that Late Night Show hosts all experience, and apparently, according to this article I read, they’re all building their strategy around this new consumption pattern. Here is an article about it. It’s not the article I read — but I just found it on Google.

That article I just linked claims that social media clips are used as marketing to draw viewers to the show — but I don’t see it. I see it more as being a new end result. I’ve seen 5 or 6 of James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke videos — but I’m never going to turn on his late night show. Probably.

But, this gets me thinking a lot about movies. I never watch movies. Hardly ever. But, I watch YouTube clips of movies all day, every day. A lot of times for movies I’ve never seen. I’ve watched Anchorman, the movie, once, but I’ve watched this clip of Jack Black kicking Baxter off the bridge a dozen times.

And, I’m probably never going to go back and watch Anchorman again, but I’ll definitely go back and re-watch this movie clip. Maybe a dozen more times. So, for me, the end result of the film, for me, isn’t a 2 hour movie I’m always sitting through. It’s a funny bit that just happens to be pulled from a larger narrative piece. And, again, this is easy for comedy films. Comedy films are, a lot of times, just comedy bits strung together with a loose narrative. Especially those Marx Brothers films — they’re vaudeville bits with a story.

And, I treat those films the same way I treat Anchorman — I don’t want to watch an entire Marx Brothers film — I just want to go back and see my favorite bits. I want to watch Groucho sing Pop Goes the Weasle — I don’t want to watch an ENTIRE film.

I think I want to start to make an effort in my screenplays to create vignettes that are easily turned into self-contained clips. I mean, if you’re trying to make a viral video, and you have already spent 100s of thousands of dollars on high-quality art, actors, cameras, etc., you might as well get some good social media views out of it.

The trick is writing something that makes sense in the narrative structure of the film, while also allowing it to stand on its own.

This is what I think is great about Proust. I’m never, ever going to go and re-read In Remembrance of Things Past. But, I regularly go back and re-read some of my favorite vignettes, or passages, from the book — such as The Death of Bergotte and the time where he sees the milk-girl while on the train.

The problem with doing this as a screenwriter, then, is that everyone must be on board. You have to convince the director and the producer to keep the scenes as written — to preserve their spot in the narrative and also their independence. And, they must be filmed, and then they must be distributed through social media.

You can write it — but it doesn’t mean it’s going to get done.

An excerpt from the milk-girl scene in Proust:

that handsome girl whom I still could see, while the train gathered speed, was like part of a life other than the life that I knew, separated from it by a clear boundary, in which the sensations that things produced in me were no longer the same, from which to return now to my old life would be almost suicide. To procure myself the pleasure of feeling that I had at least an attachment to this new life, it would suffice that I should live near enough to the little station to be able to come to it every morning for a cup of coffee from the girl. But alas, she must be for ever absent from the other life towards which I was being borne with ever increasing swiftness, a life to the prospect of which I resigned myself only by weaving plans that would enable me to take the same train again some day and to stop at the same station, a project which would have the further advantage of providing with subject matter the selfish, active, practical, mechanical, indolent, centrifugal tendency which is that of the human mind;

Which, always reminded me of this scene in Citizen Kane:

Perhaps, however, this cannot be done with film — whose main predecessor is the play. Yeats, referring to the power of these vignettes, or episodes, in his essay “The Praise of Old Wives Tales,” said:

No playwright ever has made or ever will make a character that will follow us out of the theatre as Don Quixote follows us out of the book, for no playwright can be wholly episodical. . .

Brobdingnagian Vastness: Antony & Cleopatra, Moby-Dick, Moonstruck

I have been reading Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra lately. And, I’ve been reading critical works about Antony and Cleopatra.

I was just reading through Julian Markel’s “The Pillar of the World” and he said something in one of the last chapters, on page 145, that I had to Google what it meant. He said:

The most striking quality of the imagery is what the late S. L. Bethel called its Brobdingnagian vastness.

I didn’t know what “Brobdingnagian Vastness” meant. So, i looked it up, Brobdingnagian just means giant — apparently Brobdingnag is the name of the island of giants in Gulliver’s Travels. I’ve never read the book or seen the movie(s) so I didn’t know that.

But, after understanding that Antony and Cleopatra employes this “giant vastness” in it’s imagery I totally understood. In my notes on my first read through of the play I wrote down:

Antony is the greatest of all men. All men love him. And all men follow him. And he is the most flawed of all men. And, Pompey is "thriving in our idleness". Antony must shake off his faults, or everything has failed. The men are great. The stakes are great. The moments and events that move us towards our ends are great. Everything is great. Ahab is great. The whale is great. The great monomaniacal forward movement. Thrusting forward. Thrusting forward. The inevitability of it all. Men are made. They are set in their paths. In their characters. In their actions. And the scene plays itself out.

Reading through Antony & Cleopatra I was reminded a lot of the Brobdingnagian vastness of Moby-Dick. Moby-Dick is basically a 500 page build up to the last, final battle. Whaling is the greatest industry. Whaling is the most dangerous activity. The greatest of all whales is Moby Dick. He is white. The most symbolic of all colors. Moby Dick is everything in the whole world. Literally its symbol. Ahab is monomaniacal. Ahab is the most possessed of all men on the planet. If ever there was a great battle, surely it was between Captain Ahab and Moby Dick. Like, Antony and Cleopatra and Caesar. It reminds me of professional wrestling. And, of, uhm, carnival barkers. It’s this great, big hype machine that puts this story in a giant context. A Brobdingnagian context.

Here is a passage from Moby-Dick that exemplifies this:

The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. The intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; . . .All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonism of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it

Later, Melville writes:

Ahab stands alone among the millions of the peopled earth, nor gods nor men his neighbors!

To me. That is like saying “John Cena is the greatest living wrestler on planet earth, and is going to destroy the Rock at Wrestlemania.” It’s so much hype., So much carnival barking. So much Brobdingnagian vastness.

It reminds me of this great scene from Moonstruck, where Nicolas Cage explains to Cher about how Nic Cage’s brother is responsible for Nice losing his hand in a bread slicer, and this woman that works at the bakery says:

This is the most tormented man I have ever known. I’m in love with this man. And, he doesn’t know that. I never told him. Because he could never love anybody since he lost his hand and his girl.

The Brobdingnagian vastness of that is hilarious. All the superlatives.




Henry Vaughan, Dante's White Rose, and the Khatam

I wrote in an older blog post about W.B. Yeats and the Primum Mobile. And, about how Dante described Heaven as the White Rose.

Yesterday I was reading “Peace” by Henry Vaughan where, concerning heaven, he says

If thou canst get but thither,

There growes the flowre of peace,

The Rose that cannot wither,

Thy fortresse, and thy ease.

Vaughan’s description of Heaven reminds me of Dante’s White Rose of Paradise.

A flower in heaven, too, reminds me of the eight-point star, or Khatim. I’ve been interested in islamic pattern art lately. And, the eight-point star is one of the basic shapes you use to construct the art. It is created from circles and squares and intersecting points.



The Trial of Porter Rockwell (2019), Soulkix, and Voice-Overs

I recently picked up a short film (42 minute run time) called The Trial of Porter Rockwell from the Deseret Book store at the mall in downtown Salt Lake. The writer of the movie is a guy named Joshua Michael French. I hadn’t heard of him before this, but had seen another movie he wrote based on the early history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — Carthage. That movie had the same director as this one, John Lyde. I was familiar with John Lyde before this because I had seen a movie he made at the LDS Film Festival called 626 Evolution. It was a science fiction film. People were fighting in a parking garage. That’s all I really remember from it.

John Lyde, apparently, pumps movies out. His IMDb page is stacked. Small budget films. That recoup their small budget. Give him a little pocket money, and enough credibility to make another small budget film. At least, that’s how I remember him explaining it at the Q&A session for 626 Evolution. Respect to him.

Someone else in the movie who I’ve seen around a lot in these films that come out of Utah is Mason Davis. He and his dad came and spoke to one of my classes when I was in graduate school at BYU getting an MBA. I was in a class taught by Jeff Dyer on Innovation. He wrote this book called The Innovator’s DNA, that was about how to innovate if it isn’t something that comes to you naturally. Great class. Interesting ideas. I think about it all the time.

Anyway, Mason and his dad came in to one class, because they were trying to figure out what to do with Mason’s company Soulkix. Soulkix made silk screened slip-on shoes. Like vans, but you could put pictures on them. Soulkix used to have a store front on State Street in Orem that I’d drive by all the time. It’s empty now. I don’t think the company made it.

But, anyways, the Dad wanted the company to fill corporate orders — B2B stuff. And, the son didn’t. He wanted the company to be B2C. We talked about that for a while.

The actor Danny James, who plays Alexander McCrae in Out of Liberty, had a small part in this movie. In this short film he is the bounty hunter who captured Porter in St. Louis. Also, Brock Roberts, who plays Sidney Rigdon in Out of Liberty, is an extra in the movie.

The movie is interesting.

One of the things I like is that the film’s story involves Porter’s mother — Sarah Witt Rockwell. Sarah is, in my opinion, pretty necessary to telling the story of Porter’s “escape/release” from prison in Independence, Missouri. I tell parts of that story, by the way, in Season 1 Episode 1 of the Strangers and Pilgrims podcast. And, the movie hits, what I believe, are most of her key story points — not by showing them, though, but by telling them. I think it misses one or two of her story points, but that can be excused or forgiven. It doesn’t necessarily take away from the story.

One of the ways the short film covers the story points of Porter’s mother is through a voice over — her voice over. Which, I like that it was her voice over — if it should be anyone’s voice over it should either be her’s or Porters. So, that was a great choice, I think. But, I think the voice over could have been executed much better.

And, I don’t like the execution of the voice over for three (3) reasons:

1) It doesn’t provide us any insight to the mental state / mind of the narrator

2) It is mostly for exposition.

3) It sporadically shows up. It shows up a little at the beginning of the movie. A tiny bit in the middle. And a little at the end.

I think if you’re going to have a voice over, then it better give you something that the story can’t give you any other way. Terrence Malick’s voice overs are all great, because they’re all necessary for the film to be told. Without Malick’s voice overs — you don’t get the story. Martin Scorcece’s voice overs are pretty great, too. Wes Anderson is pretty famous for his use of narrators / voice-over dialogue.

This voice over wasn’t necessary for the film. In my opinion if your movie is going to have a voice over it needs to be part of the theme(s) and perspectives of the story. The form or structure of the film needs to have a functional purpose that relates to the film’s artistic purpose.

And, because no internal dialogue was revealed through the voice over — no emotions, no grief, no understanding, the voice over gets relegated to just giving us more exposition. Which, makes it kind of boring. A movie that is 42 minutes long — of which is mostly exposition — could really spice itself up, and make it more exciting, by giving us emotion through internal dialogue.

I think Voice Overs can either really make a great movie, or really mess it up — if it’s used as a crutch. A lot of my all-time favorite movies are voice-over heavy: Amadeus, The Social Network, the Tree of Life.

Voice-overs can be something that are really great, and provide a lot. They make the film much more of a novel-like experience. Giving internal motivations. Helping you understand the character better. It is the film version of a soliloquy.

I’m not really into writing stories with Narrators, just because I’m more interested in a straightforward, hard beginning / hard ending story telling experience. Shakespearean. Classic.

Jung, Bacon, and Joseph Smith

In my notes I found this quote from this book “The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons to the Dead”. I have no idea where I found the quote. But, it comes from the book’s epilogue:

Contemplating the mysterious panorama of the Seven Sermons, one is reminded of a saying of the philosopher Bacon: “Animus ad amplitudinem Mysteriorum pro modulo suo dilatetur; non Mysteria ad angustias animi constringantur.”

The book goes on to say this is translated as:

Let the mind, so far as it can, be open to the fulness of the mysteries; let not the mysteries be constrained to fit the narrower confines of the mind."

This quote from Francis Bacon reminds me of one of my favorite Joseph Smith quotes, from Chapter 22 of his Teachings of the Presidents of the Church book:

I want to come up into the presence of God, and learn all things; but the creeds set up stakes [limits], and say, ‘Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further’’; which I cannot subscribe to.

And this other Joseph Smith quote on the same subject matter, from the same chapter:

The great thing for us to know is to comprehend what God did institute before the foundation of the world. Who knows it? It is the constitutional disposition of mankind to set up stakes and set bounds to the works and ways of the Almighty.

There is a quote along these same veins by H.A. Overstreet in his book “The Mature Mind” that I’ve lost. I’ll have to go re-read the book and find it again.

As a side note, that book “The Gnostic Jung” talks about how Jung was visited by a bunch of spirits one day and wrote a book called “The Red Book” that wasn’t published until 2009!? But, a summary of the Red Book, called “The Seven Sermons to the Dead” was published in his lifetime. I didn’t know any of this. I thought he was just the archetype guy. I’ll have to read into it.

Recording Podcasts is Difficult for Me -- I'm probably doing it wrong.

I’ve been re-recording my podcasts, as has been mentioned in previous blog posts. It takes me forever. It doesn’t come naturally to me — this recording stuff.

It reminds me of the lines from W.B. Yeat’s “Adam’s Curse”

I said: ‘A line will take us hours maybe; // Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought // Our stitching and unstitching has been naught. // Better go down upon your marrow-bones // And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones // Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather; // For to articulate sweet sounds together // Is to work harder than all these. . .”

Recording the podcast for me is so tedious. And, I have to go back and do everything over so many times. So many times. The only answer is I’m probably doing it wrong. It can’t be this difficult and time consuming for everyone. Like, my breathing. I have to go back and edit out almost every single breathe I take because it sounds like a vacuum cleaner got turned on. There is this loud sucking / inhaling noise in between every sentence that is louder than my speaking voice.

But, it’s for a good cause. I’d rather have a product I was proud of than one I wasn’t. Those first recordings lasted a whole year before push came to shove and I changed them. Maybe these ones will last two.

Yeats is good. Pretty mystical. Adam’s Curse is a poem I think about quite often.

Out of Liberty Trailer

Here is the trailer for the movie I wrote with Garrett Batty and McKay Stevens. The story of Joseph Smith and his fellow prisoners in Liberty Jail — and the jailer, Samuel Tillery, who watched over them there.

They did a little write up about the movie in Meridian Magainze today. It’s fun to read about.

You can go to the movie’s website and request that the movie show in your area — if enough people put in your zipcode I think they’ll make an effort to get a screening in a local theater.

Season 2 of the podcast should be finished here in the next few months — for real this time. Unless another script need to be written out of nowhere.

Saints Volume 1, The New Play Project, and Soft Skills

For Christmas, my sister-in-law Rushell gave me a copy of Volume 1 of The Saints — the new history publication about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Volume 1 essentially covers the life of Joseph Smith. You can, actually, buy a copy of the book — or you can read it for free, too.

I enjoy reading it, to see what they said, what they didn’t say, and how they framed their story.

The history of one man’s life, especially Joseph Smith’s, is so complicated and has so many nodes and anecdotes and story lines running through it that it’s hard to give one straightforward narrative structure to the life, or the events surrounding the death.

So, their telling of the story is very similar to mine in a lot of ways, and different in a few ways — so I enjoy seeing how they did what they chose to do.

I’m aware of two of the writers listed in the book — James Goldberg and Melissa Leilani Larson.

I became aware of James when he was involved with the New Play Project in Provo, Utah years ago. I was an undergraduate student studying film at BYU and was writing plays, too. I had submitted a play for one of their shows — to be produced — my play was a comedic retelling of the Story of Adam and Eve’s fall. I don’t think it was an irreverent take on it. But, it was dry humor. And, I thought this play was really good.

Anyway, I’m sure James doesn’t remember this, but I submitted the play to be included in their show, and it wasn’t included. And, I was furious, and shocked. Because, I knew it was good. I thought it was good. And, I thought I was a good writer, and I didn’t understand how my play wasn’t selected.

So, I found a phone number for the New Play Project, and called up, because I wanted to get to the bottom of why they rejected the piece. So, I call and James answers the phone. I had seen him around BYU at a few things — at a few readings or performances or something., But, I’d never spoken with him. But, you know I knew people who knew him. You get it. And, he, I guarantee had and still has no idea who I am.

Anyway, I’m on the phone with him, and I’m like, “Man. this short play is good. How did this not get picked up by you guys?” And, he said that it was good, but they didn’t choose it. So, I keep pestering him, and he goes on to explain that they already had an Adam & Eve play that was chosen for this block of plays, and that they couldn’t have 2 Adam & Eve plays.

Actually, I knew the guy that had written the other Adam & Eve play — Davey Morrison. He and I were film students together. And we used to read each others stuff that the other one was working on. Davey actually ended up taking that play and turning it into a web series that is currently on Amazon Prime. I’m pretty sure I linked to it in a previous blog post, too.

Anyway, my first reaction to James saying they couldn’t have 2 Adam & Eve plays was, “why not?” But, I just said, “Yeah. but, mine is good.” And, he said that, essentially, the other playwright, who wrote the play, had workshopped his play with the New Play Project for months, and gone to all the weekly or monthly meetings, and was involved in a lot of the direction of the organization, and had been around a lot of the people, and that his was the Adam & Eve play that was going to be chosen / produced.

And, I think about this moment a lot.

A) It’s insane i had the gall to call someone up and argue about why my play wasn’t chosen for their production.

B) Regardless of whose Adam & Eve play was objectively or subjectively better written play, the one that got produced was the one whose writer had networked, intentionally or not, into the production side of things. This story reminds me on a regular basis that a lot of getting things produced, or made, or seen, or even looked at — whether you’re trying to sell a story, or trying to get a job — isn’t about the quality of the material objectively. It’s about who you know, how you’ve networked in.

That’s neither here nor there. It’s just how the world works. The soft skills are, often times, more important than the heard ones.

Out of Liberty at the LDS Film Festival

Yesterday, Wednesday, I put up the new re-recording of the Introduction to the podcast.

Hopefully, within the next week or so all of the episodes will get their new recordings posted. I’d like to do one episode re-recording a night. But, that seems like it might be a tall order.

The movie I worked on last year, instead of doing a 2nd and 3rd season of the podcast, is coming out this year. The director, Garrett Batty, is going to be speaking about it at the LDS Film Festival coming up in Orem next weekend. The movie is called Out of Liberty. I guess I can say that, since it’s listed in the LDS Film Festival Schedule. Garrett is keeping a pretty tight lid on the whole thing. And, as such, so am I.

I’m excited to go to the film festival this year. I’ve lived in Utah for 4 1/2 years now, and this will be the 3rd LDS Film Festival I’ve been to since moving up. I always enjoy going and seeing what is happening in the industry. I especially enjoy the “Current State of LDS Cinema” panels they usually have.

It’s interesting to see what they think is important, or what they think is happening, versus what I think is important, and what I and other 'non-industry’ people thinks is happening. Most of the conversations, I feel, usually tend to devolve into what is not happening — why stories aren’t good, why movies aren’t good, what needs to happen to fix it.

This year I’m planning on dropping the kids off at the in-laws and going to that Friday morning discussion. I guess this year, though, instead of going as an outsider looking in I’ll be there as a nascent-insider looking around. I say “nascent-insider” very hesitantly. Since, a lot of these guys know each other. Go back decades, and are pretty good buddies it seems like. All working on/around each others films.

As a writer who doesn’t even have his first movie in the theaters, or for digital download, yet — I feel like I probably won’t be an actual ‘nascent-insider’ until the film festival next year, in 2020.

I’m looking forward to going to the Jane and Emma Q&A. That movie had some really interesting ideas in it. Some really interesting themes and directions. I think about that movie a lot since I saw it in theaters last year.