It’s a Mish-Mash Monday, my friends. With the season tissing to be jolly, there is much to look forward to. For instance, I’ve put a Playstation 4 on my Christmas list. I haven’t had a video game system in five years since a good game can easily eat up an entire 12 hours if you’re not paying attention. And I don’t have the time.
But with more and more kids opting to play video games over seeing movies, I have to see what all the hubbub is about. What are these games offering that movies can’t? Would love to hear gamers thoughts on this. I mean, what’s the storytelling like in video games? Is it good? Does it compete with film? Or is it just an exposition fest? Enough to get you from one level to the next?
Speaking of storytelling, I watched Kevin Smith’s latest, Tusk, this weekend. Smith has been upfront that the movie hasn’t done well, yet I’ve heard lots of people say this is Smith’s most interesting work, maybe ever. That was enough to get me on board, Justin Long or no Justin Long. For those who don’t know anything about Tusk, it’s about a podcaster who likes to interview weird people. He eventually finds a reclusive rich man and goes to visit him, only to find out that the man plans to turn him into a walrus, kookoocachoo.
The movie starts off pretty strong. The main character, Wallace, was more likable than I expected him to be. But what bugged me was that, the longer the film went on, the more apparent it became that Smith hasn’t grown as a writer AT ALL.
There’s a scene early on where Wallace is flying back from Canada (he’s just interviewed someone up there), and he has a little dust-up with the Canadian airline checker. The scene lasts somewhere between 8-10 minutes.
Let me repeat that: THE SCENE LASTS SOMEWHERE BETWEEN 8-10 MINUTES!
Typically, a scene this insignificant (getting on a plane) would last 30 seconds. Some writers would probably skip it altogether and cut to Wallace back in America. However, if there’s a plot point or a story reason why the scene needs to happen, you might make the scene 2 minutes, 3 minutes tops. NOT 8 MINUTES!!!!
So what happened in that 8 minutes? Guess. Wallace and the goofy airline checker get into a goofy conversation about Canada. Wallace accidentally insults Canadians, the checker gets upset with him, and then it’s classic Kevin Smith back-and-forth dialogue for the remainder of the scene.
This shows how little Smith has evolved since Clerks. Clerks was a movie built around that kind of dialogue – two bored guys with nothing going on arguing about shit. So in that movie, the long scenes of dialogue at least made sense.
But you’re not writing Clerks anymore. This is supposed to be a horror film, a horror film with some comedic elements, but still a horror film. And you’re still putting 8 minute babble-banter scenes in it?? And again, I’d go with it if there was relevant story information in the scene. But there was none. It was literally jokey-jokey time for 8 minutes straight. This is why people aren’t trusting Smith these days. You have to evolve, but more importantly, you have to change the way you write according to the genre.
At least Smith’s problems aren’t as bad as Sony’s. For those who haven’t heard, Sony Studios was hacked and tons of their internal documents were exposed online. There’s a lot of fascinating information in them, including what their movies ultimately make after every expense is paid off.
Studios NEVER want ANYONE to know this information because if they find out, actors, visual effects companies, producers, writers, agents, everyone can use it against you in negotiations. You can no longer say, “Oh, we have to pay out all this money for distribution and advertising and backend and blah blah blah, that’s why we don’t have enough to pay you.” Because now people know EXACTLY how much you make on your movies.
But the thing that really struck me was how much all the Sony employees hate Adam Sandler movies. They all consider them to be the bottom of the barrel as far as entertainment, and each of them makes it clear that they want the studio to take more chances, to create more original material. They’re creatively miserable for having to churn out these – well, let’s put it bluntly – pieces of excrement.
The reason this is news is because everyone on the outside assumes that everyone on the inside is a stupid robot who doesn’t care about movies. In actuality, it appears that everyone hates making bad movies, probably even the studio head herself. But if these movies (like Grown-Ups 2) bring back a return, what can the studio head do? They don’t really have a choice but to keep making them.
I mean put yourself in the studio head’s position. You have a parent company beholden to their shareholders. You don’t get the choice to play fast and loose with their money. Every decision has to be calculated. And if the last Adam Sandler movie made money, you have to say yes to whatever movie he wants to make next. If you don’t, your bosses at Sony are going to be asking ‘what’s up?’
So it’s not that the people in charge of these companies don’t want to make daring movies. It’s that they don’t work in a system that will allow it. If we want more innovative films, we have to change the system, and that means somehow dissociating the parent companies from the studios. I don’t know how that happens.
But that brings me to my next question. Is the problem really as bad as we think?
As I noted last week, my brother is a non-Hollywood family guy who lives in Portland. And over Thanksgiving, he was the one in charge of getting the movies. So he went to the store and he picked up “The Purge: Anarchy.”
Whereas in the first film a family must deal with The Purge from inside their home, in the sequel we experience the Purge outdoors in all its glory, following a group of characters as they try to make it to safety on a night when every person outside is trying to kill you.
I lost interest quickly. It just seemed aimless. The same thing was happening over and over again. No variety. No purpose. No attempt to evolve the storyline. Just straight up people in masks killing other people.
But my brother LOVED IT. He thought it was great. “What did you like about it?” I asked. He pointed out the awesome scene where some guy in the back of a semi truck propped up a Gatling gun and mowed down any person he saw. “That was awesome,” he said.
The more I thought about this reaction, the more I realized just how different myself and my brother see movies. I watch somewhere between 3-4 movies a week, along with reading a ton of screenplays. He, on the other hand, watches maybe one movie every two months.
To me, I’m looking for a movie that’s different from the same old stuff I always see, something innovative, something with a fresh take. My brother never has to worry about that. He watches movies so infrequently that finding something “different” isn’t part of the equation. For him, he just needs something entertaining to take his mind off all his responsibilities for two hours. And a movie like “The Purge: Anarchy” fits the bill perfectly.
To this end, I wondered if I was looking at it all wrong. I’m focused on finding movies and scripts that will impress the Hollywood guy. The problem is, the Hollywood guy isn’t the one who will be paying $12 to see the movie. That’s going to be a guy who sees six movies a year. And someone who’s seeing six movies a year is going to see a movie like Transformers 4 as a relaxing way to get out of the house and turn your mind off for a few hours. I mean, all of a sudden, Adam Sandler movies begin to make sense.
So how does a writer process this when writing a screenplay? Because the system has been exposed for having a major flaw. Your screenplay has to be liked by two totally opposite sets of people in order to get made.
When I used to teach tennis, I’d occasionally get someone who wanted a semi-private lesson consisting of himself and his young son (usually between 4-6 years old). I dubbed these lessons “lessons from hell” because there is no way to teach an intensely strong, coordinated adult and a barely-able-to-stand tiny child, together. Yet this is exactly what you’re being asked to do when writing a screenplay.
I think that this is why Christopher Nolan is thriving right now. He gives both audiences what they want. For the Hollywood people, he makes them think. But he still gives the average audience member the big fun set piece stuff as well. His movies offer the best of both worlds.
That might be the best insight into how to write scripts. Write something concept-driven, something that would get mass audiences excited, but don’t write the stupid version that ends up on screen. Write the slightly higher-brow version, the kind that excites a reader who reads 15-20 scripts a week. If you get past them, the development process will dumb down your script for mass audience appeal anyway. But you don’t have that luxury at the start. You have to aim higher to get it past the gatekeepers.
That’s how I see it anyway. What do you guys think??