Friday, December 28, 2018

On Sophistry in Storytelling: "It's a Wonderful Life" - Atheist and Communist Propaganda?


This post is primarily about appreciating valid evidence to back up your story's argument, or why some stories fail when their argument is false.

Second, it's about the perennial hit, "It's a Wonderful Life" (IAWL), and why many films never get a second "release" on life.

Third, I hope to encourage you to develop a story premise (i.e. the moral premise) that has a valid world view (i.e. a universal moral truth). If you don't the world will never connect with or view your story.

How do you know your moral premise is valid when you don't have the time for it to stand the test of time, as IAWL has done?  (1) There is prima facie evidence—first impressions by a third party. (2) There is, upon a test audience's reflection, an appreciation for the premise to contribute to social order—without social media depreciating your premise. (3) There is, upon further analysis, confirmation that your story's moral fabric does not fall apart at the seams.

Now, having said all that, there are obstructionists to such grand story schemes.


Sophists, you may remember from Greek history, were philosophers and teachers who bragged that they could teach anyone (esp. lawyers), to defend a false position as if it were true. Wikipedia puts it this way:
Sophist: A paid teacher of philosophy and rhetoric in ancient Greece, associated in popular thought with moral skepticism and specious reasoning.
Most politicians and all advertisers are sophists; and as you can readily observe that if the reasoning of an acquaintance is not sophist, then he or she is probably not an advertiser,  politician...or a lawyer.


Sophistry is what college debate teams learn to do in an effort to deconstruct what the other team claims to have learned. That is, debate teams are trained to argue either side of a position, even the immoral one -- as if the moral high ground is to use a false premise to win an invalid argument to defend a moral wrong, rather than use a true premise to win a valid argument to defend a moral good. This is what has crumbled the formerly firm foundation of our culture. Pundits, journalists, and politicians take pride in winning, regardless of the natural truth they lose in the process.

I heard a politician brag about how escalating and relentlessly repeating a lie about an opposing candidate was a "clever technique" her team used to convince the public of their "truth." The politician was resuscitating the heart beat of sophistry. To the sophist, alignment with nature matters less than the nature of alignment. "Truth" is the defeat of the opposition, whatever the cost.


If we take this position in creating a story, however, we are guaranteed the loss of our audience that we have worked hard to keep.  Sophistry rings false with general audiences, because audiences subliminally know what is true. Although, if we choose a biased audience for the previews, we will believe the lie of their approval.

Case in point. Acquaintances of mine previewed their movie at the Toronto Film Festival, some years back. They won the audience award, and a major distributor, excited about its box office potential, picked up the movie. When they released the film, however, it hit the floor. No support. Why? Their premise did not align with the general audience's understanding of nature. The filmmakers traded natural truth for the sophist views of their supporters.  But what about the Toronto audience award, you ask? An investigation revealed that the audience in Toronto was anything but broad in constituency, but was rather stacked with the filmmaker's friends and supporters who had forced the filmmakers into the sophistic position.


I just came across a text book example of this in the form of a sophistic essay about a true to nature movie. It's a 2015 Christmas review from the New York Post by a writer whose tripe is that "It's A Wonderful Life" is atheist, communist propaganda. I guess that's why IAWL is so popular every Christmas—it's anti-Christmas—which is both a Christian and capitalist holiday—and we all see no credibility in either, so we watch IAWL to reinforce our atheistic, communist values.


I've written previously about IAWL HERE, in two posts (one an interview and one a review). I'll try to add to the discussion.

First, the sophist at the New York Post (back in 2015) declared that IAWL is a salute to atheism because God is not present in the movie. This is the argument from ignorance, that if you can't see something it must not exist. This is the conclusion he sees because "God" is not seen in the film. This makes sense to the sophist, because what is present must be said to be absent, and what is clear must be revealed as muddy. Frank Capra, the director has made George Bailey's "thoughts," "dreams" and "angels" visible, so it's logical that the sophist is required to say they can't be seen, and therefore do not exist. George whispers a prayer, but the sophist can't hear it. God sends an angel (Clarence), but the sophist claims God is not represented.  That is the job of sophist pundits who are required by some obscure sophistry to argue that what is good, true and beautiful is really bad, false, and ugly.

Second, our sophist NYP writer tells us that IAWL is commie propaganda because the bad guy is a rich banker. Let me repeat that: the BAD guy is a RICH BANKER. Therefore every banker is bad. Never mind that our hero is a poor banker who is good, and becomes all the richer for not wanting to be. The greatest wealth is not wanting it. But good capitalism relies on generosity and fairness not greed and hoarding. The sophist communists among us will try to convince us that capitalism is not good. But they equivocate. They claim what can be good and generous is bad and greedy. And, if they say it loud enough, enough will believe it. But a true moral premise will reveal (in real life as well as in fictional movies) that generosity generates business, but greed will kill a business.

Third, our sophist pundit claims that IAWL is anti-Christmas and therefore anti-Christian. But let me cut this long blog short. At it's heart IAWL is a Christian film, because it's hero sacrifices his selfish dream to save others, and in the end discovers true happiness through sacrificial love, not greed. And that is what the real meaning of Christmas is, about giving one's life and resources to save others, as Christ came to do.

So, far from being atheist,  communist, or anti-Christian, IAWL's moral premise reinforces theism, benevolent capitalism, and sacrificial giving.

The New York Post would have the moral premise of IAWL be:
Theism and Capitalism leads to loss of one's dreams; butAtheism and Communism leads to happiness.
But in fact, as I've argued in my other posts about IAWL, the moral premise is:
Selfish hoarding leads to a miserable life; butSacrificial giving leads to a wonderful life.
So forgive the rant, but you're much better off if you write about what is naturally true, good and beautiful and give audiences something natural to appreciate.

As Solanus Casey said: Appreciation is as necessary for social order and harmony as are the laws of gravity for the physical world.

Learn more at

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

F16 Moments - Writing Exciting Scene-to-Scene Movies

Things of Value Come in Threes

1. Years ago, I was in a meeting with Will Smith and a few others breaking a story, yet to be made. We were at somewhat of an impasse about a scene when Will gets up and in his animated way pitches the scene something like this:
Naw! That's not how it needs to go down. Imagine instead that the doors to a big warehouse slowly open, and we hear a might roar of a jet engine, and smoke pours out of the doors, and out of the smoke rolls this monstrous F16 Jet fighter, and it comes down this alley, it's wings almost scrapping the brick walls either side, and it turns onto this boulevard,  and then it sits there at the end of this wide road, revving it's engines. It's vibrating something awesome, wanting to take off, and suddenly it gets the okay, and it begins it's roll. And the camera pulls back, and his F16 jet is on Broadway of all places. And it roars down Broadway, fire flying out it's ass, and suddenly the pilot pops the afterburner and that baby jacks up on it's hinny, and catapults into the sky and disappears. Now, that would be cool!
I spoke up.
Ah, Will. A jet couldn't take off down Broadway because of all the lights, and wires crossing the road. You would be a helicopter, a big one of course, but a jet could never do it.
Will looked at me.
No, Stan,  you don't get it. A helicopter is boring. A jet is cool and exciting and L O U D! Forget the wires, it would be a very cool scene to see that jet screaming along in front of those theaters, flashing lights on the marquees, and buildings, and then zoom up into the sky.
It took a minute, but then I realized he was right. I shut up.

2. Yesterday an acquaintance wrote me:
Have you ever read about how Walt Disney used to work with his story crew? They started with a pre-existing story and Walt asked them to come up with entertaining moments. Then they strung them together.
3. Another successful producer was David O. Selznick (GONE WITH THE WIND). Shortly after he released GWTW, he bought the rights to Scarlet Lily, a book by Edward Murphy that I wrote about yesterday on this blog. I'm reading the book with the intent of discovering what Selznick saw in it. I'm halfway through and just read this morning the Moment of Grace scene that totally changes the story's direction for our harlot protagonist, Mary of Magdala. But what has captured my attention is how each chapter is a single scene with a dramatic profile—they are moments, each worthy of remembrance. It goes back to what Will and Disney were saying: Put the story together with a tight sequence of memorable scenes and moments.

But What About Structure?

The acquaintance that wrote me about Disney also said that there was a tendency of the Disney storywriters (when Walt was out of the room) to string moments together without a clear story or plot. Movie Moment alone don't a story make, but Will Smith, Disney and Selznick are probably on to something.

I'm meeting this week with a screenwriter on a couple of his scripts, and we're going to do this...well, I'm going to suggest he do this....D. are you reading this?

1. Take the Story Diamond and divide the story into 8 short movies or sequences. See my blog post on The Sequence Approach.

2. Conceive of each sequence has building to an exciting movie moment that coincides with the 8 Pinch Points or Turning Points that climaxes each sequence. Make each moment exciting, full of tension, and conflict. If you can't think of such a sequence that ends in such a memorable moment, for the sake of your audience CHANGE YOUR STORY!

3. Ensure that the first 7 pinch points or turning points end with the protagonist's failure to achieve the goal he or she had pursued in that sequence, but opens a door for an escalating challenge in the next sequence. If the movie is redemptive, the 8th "point" is the charm and success is achieved. If the movie is tragic, the 8th "point" is the protagonist's final defeat. (Remember that even in a redemptive movie there is likely an antagonist that has a tragic arc, so you can write a story that has your protagonist succeed and your antagonist defeated (ala DIE HARD).

4. In every other aspect follow the Moral Premise.

In summary:
 Every sequence ends with an "F16 popping the afterburners down Broadway." 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

An Example of Great Ironic and Metaphoric Writing


I have been reading Edward F. Murphy books of late. First, there was an out of print novel from 1947, "Pére Antoine: The 1770-1822 story of the most hated priest in New Orleans who became the best-loved bishop of all Louisiana." I picked this out of the shadows because I was developing a screenplay that begins in New Orleans just before the famous 1778 fire. The irony in Murphy's writing captivated me.

I next found what I thought was another novel of his, "Yankee Priest" which turned out to be his fascinating autobiography. Murphy was a poor missionary Catholic priest to New Orleans in the 1940s. He went there as one of the first professors at Xavier University. Ironically, Murphy, had very close connections to the famous Broadway actor, composer and producer Eddie Dowling, and through Eddie's friendship, had considerable affect on Broadway at the time.

Then, I came across Murphy's best selling novel, "Scarlet Lily," a fictional novel of Mary of Magdala, conceived as the harlot who became a follower of Christ.

Most Bible scholars do not believe Mary was the adulterous woman Jesus forgive, nor was she another harlot, but rather just a rich woman from Magdala whom Jesus cast out seven demons. That she was a harlot was a legend started perhaps in the Middle Ages and evident in some gnostic writings, but not supported by the canonical Scriptures or church tradition. Nonetheless, Murphy makes a good story out of it.

"Scarlet Lily" won a famous novel writing contest sponsored by The Bruce Publishing Company. Before "Scarlet Lily" was released as a novel, famed Hollywood producer David O. Selznick picked up the movie rights as his next big production after Gone with the Wind and attached Ingrid Bergman to play Magdala.  Alas, the movie was never made for a variety of political reasons, one of which that with the end of WWII, biblical epics were suddenly out of vogue. [Yes, I'm wondering, was a screenplay written? I've been looking.]


I've just started reading the "Scarlet Lily" and, as expected, I've been rewarded with great prose, and Murphy's talent for IRONY and METAPHOR.

I've written and lectured before about the importance of irony and metaphors in writing (novels and screenplays), and indeed the first of ten lessons of my on-line Moral Premise workshop is all about the importance of irony. ( So, below is a great example from Scarlet Lily.

While Murphy finds it hard to write a paragraph, in anything he writes, without layering on irony, metaphor or similes, this paragraph is the most dense I've read...among many, many writers. So, it is worthy of posting for study and analysis. This is how you should write every line of a screenplay, every scene - - and of course this is what The Moral Premise does—it pits virtue and vice, good consequence against bad, in a single sentence. Just as you've always read that ever scene must have conflict, so every action description should likewise be written, and every doublet of dialogue drip.


Setting: Mary of Magdala is a young, beautiful woman, who out of the tyranny of King Herold's murderous temperament, found herself in the ugly situation of being a highly prized harlot wandering the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. It's about 12 A.D. A week or so before this moment in the novel, she has inadvertently witnessed Jesus in the temple at age 12, dialoging with Jewish teachers (Luke 2:39-52). In that scene young Jesus defines for the much older teachers the virtue that hides between fear of God and love of God—reverence of God. Magdala doesn't know who the young boy is, but she's impressed—there's a glow about him.  But her pimp shows up, putting a possessive arm around her and dragging her away from the discussion, and calls on her to employ her charms to entertain a visiting Babylonia prince. After spending days in the prince's employ, the prince beckons her to leave Jerusalem and travel with him to his kingdom. She ponders the offer, telling her servant: "There is nothing in Jerusalem for me. And, for a moment, I had though there might be everything—." (even there, notice the "nothing" and "everything" in the one sentence. That's Murphy's talent.

Here is the longer pondering...every sentence on a pedestal of irony and metaphor.

That Jehovah was great, and that his visitations were as awful as himself, Mary thought she could plainly see. But that he was lovable, notwithstanding that he had permitted a child to be born in Bethlehem over a decade ago, whose coming meant the murder of many little ones, did not appear at all clear. Every gift of his, however fine in one phase, was fearful in another. Life itself, his greatest [gift], was shadowed by death. Youth and beauty were so brief that they amounted to little more than a withering and a decay. Light sombered into darkness. Stars fell. The earth yielded thistles and thorns as well as wheat and roses. The heart, so suited to hold joy, regularly brimmed with sorrow. The jubilee of today was the sackcloth and ashes of tomorrow. What did it profit to have a warm stream of health in one's veins when the chill of certain dissolution blew steadily over it? What was spring's awakening in comparison with winter's terrible sleep? As for the towers of reason, they enthroned the rulership of fools, for kings and high priests had alike committed Israel to suffering and shame. And the bosom of Abraham — hope of the faithful! — had it not been barbaric, even as Herod's own, with a willingness to slay the innocent Isaac? Love, as an inspiration to good, was better than fear, as a prevention of evil; but how could love grow and bloom in a winter-world? Reverence was ideal; but how could it be the soul-expression of a people whose lambs were led to the slaughter and whose God, to whom sacrifices were continually made, had left the land be stripped of dignity and left it to languish under the Roman heel?  [Murphy, Edward (1947). The Scarlet Lily. Milwaukee: Bruce, p. 62.]

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Will Smith Mentors His Brother-in-Law, Caleeb Pinkett

I guess I'm posting the YouTube video below, because there is a half-second mention in it of me and The Moral Premise.

But there are two important lessons this video conveys that have nothing to do with The Moral Premise.

1. Breaking into the film-industry is not easy, even if you're Will Smith's brother-in-law. Notice the metaphors Caleeb describes. They're apropos.

2. Getting your story made into a movie in Hollywood is hard work, and very unlikely, even if you're Will Smith or his brother-in-law.

Now and then I'll have someone approach me who has heard that I worked with Will on a number of projects, and these folk ask (and sometimes beg) me to pitch their idea to Will. (Sorry, folks it doesn't work like that.)  What these dear souls don't realize is that even Will Smith can't get his projects made. And if Will Smith can't, why would anyone else that knows someone, who knows someone, who once road in a Taxi that Will rode in years earlier, be able to get it made? You might read that sentence again.

That's why I keep suggesting to such dear souls: "Make the movie yourself."

The story and script that Caleeb and Will mention in this video, conceived and written by Caleeb, "The Redemption of Cain," is more than familiar to me and some of my story students who were privileged enough to have Caleeb pitch the developed story to them during a visit to the set of AFTER EARTH. But, as good as Caleeb's story is, and even through Will is attached to star in it, they've yet to get it made. That is the reality of Hollywood. And anyone wanting to get into the film industry needs to understand how hard it is. Caleeb in this video explains quite well just how hard it is. It's a good lessons to all those who are NOT Will Smith's brother-in-law. Can I see hands?

Blessings to all.


Friday, August 24, 2018

Verisimilitude Interview with author WEAM NAMOU

Weam and Stan at Franklin Park in Sterling Heights, MI, August 18, 2018.

Please enjoy this long form interview with Iraqi-American author WEAM NAMOU (WE'am NA'mu) and how finding a chance copy of Gone With the Wind in Amman, Jordan translated into Arabic, perhaps changed the trajectory of her professional life.

Weam Namou is an Eric Hoffer award-winning author of 12 books, a speaker, journalist, and filmmaker. She serves as the vice president of Detroit Working Writers (DWW), a 118-year-old professional writing association, and as an Ambassador for the Authors Guild of America, the nation’s oldest and largest professional organization for writers. Yours truly was the first featured guest on the Weam Namau Show a weekly cable television program from Troy, Michigan. She’s also the founder of The Path of Consciousness, a spiritual and writing conference and retreat. Here is a link to her website, documentary and writing retreat. 

Click here for the INTERVIEW on Soundcloud (just over one hour)