Transformers-4-Poster-Preview

What’s the quickest way to get a writer riled up? Bring up your writing process. There is nothing writers are more protective over, or feel more passionate about, than what is the proper way to write a script.

Go ahead, invite a few writers over and ask their opinion on outlining. Make sure to hide anything sharp beforehand. One writer will tell you outlining is essential and that there’s no possible way to write a good script without one, while the next will angrily defend the natural process of discovery that comes from free-form writing.

This kind of debate extends to structure, to theme, to characters. Writers always have strong opinions about these things and will fight other writers tooth and nail to prove that they’re right and you’re wrong.

If you ever find yourself in this situation and need to defuse it quickly, I have a solution. There is one thing that every single screenwriter in the world can agree on. That the Transformers movies are the worst written movies ever.

I don’t like to rail on films. I really don’t. But something about this franchise angers me. Transformers is the epitome of what’s wrong with the Hollywood system. The films are the poster-children for style over substance and a black eye for a trade that already struggles to be taken seriously.

How can you be proud to be a screenwriter when your peers are pushing this garbage onto the masses? Transformers is the leading generator of the all-to-familiar line: “I could’ve written something better than that.” It makes us all look like fools.

The crazy thing about all this? Transformers 4 is going to be the biggest movie of the year. If I’m a producer reading this entry, that’s exactly what I’m saying. “Yeah? Well if it’s so terrible, why is everyone going to see it?”

That’s a good question. And I don’t think we’re doing our jobs as screenwriters unless we’re trying to answer it. Because those producers are right. People are eating these movies up. And I don’t think it’s as simple as saying, “Yeah, that’s because people are idiots.”

There are idiots out there. But audiences vote for quality more often than they vote for crap. The Avengers, Toy Story 3, Avatar, The Dark Knight, were all #1 movies from years’ past. Those films were loved by both critics and audiences. But Transformers 4 is rolling by on a mere 17% Rotten Tomatoes score. So why is this happening? What is this film doing that’s making its awful script so insignificant?

shiacrazy2Bonus Question: Is Shia better or worse off without the Transformers franchise?

Believe it or not, Transformers DOES do something right. You’ve heard it a million times from me but it never hurts to hear it again, since it’s the most crippling mistake a writer can make.

Write something that people will actually want to see.

Transformers is one of the coolest straight-up ideas ever. Note I didn’t say “concept.” There’s no concept here. This is an idea. But it’s such a great one, that it alone is responsible for 50% of the film’s success. Cars that turn into robots? Boys love cars. Boys love robots. Having the two transform into one-another? It’s genius. It’s the only toy idea that’s ever been announced as a movie where I’ve gone, “What took them so long?” The idea alone is a billion dollar idea.

This is important to note because a script is the sum of its parts. Assuming each part is given a number value from 1-10, your goal is to get as many high numbers for those parts as possible. If one part is a 2, that doesn’t necessarily mean your script is screwed. You could get a couple of 10s, and you’ve still got something pretty good. What nobody ever talks about, though, is that “idea” or “concept” is a weighted number. It’s more important than all the other numbers combined.

So when you go through the number values of Transformers’ parts, you get this: story = 0, characters = 3, dialogue = 1, structure = 2. You’d think the film couldn’t possibly survive numbers that low. Except when you get to “idea,” Transformers is a 100. Which means the sum of the parts is still high.

Another thing Transformers has going for it is it’s the ultimate “edgy” family movie. There aren’t too many movies that an entire family can go to and enjoy. Pixar films are the gold standard. But what if you have a 14 or 15 year old who thinks those movies are too sweet and saccharine? They’re not “cool” enough. Transformers is the perfect “next step up.” It’s edgier, yet still light enough that you can bring your 9 or 10 year old as well. I don’t have kids. But if I did, I could see my son wanting to see this movie and me shrugging my shoulders with a, “Hey, at least I get to see some awesome special effects.”

Here’s what I don’t understand though. Why CAN’T Transformers be a good story as well as a great action film? What’s preventing it from being both? Isn’t it a screenwriter’s job to take an idea and figure out a way to create a fully-fleshed out compelling story?

Look at Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the writers of The Lego Movie. That source material had WAY less to work with than Transformers, and they turned in a fun heart-warming action movie. What’s preventing Transformers from doing the same?

Besides the obvious (the director, Michael Bay, isn’t interested in the script), the reason they haven’t been able to do this is because of the mythology.

Mythology is the set of rules and backstory you create for your artificial worlds. It’s a crucial, often under-discussed, component in writing sci-fi or fantasy. If you don’t set up a set of rules for your world that makes sense, nothing you write on top of those rules will matter.

The mythology behind Transformers has never made sense. A group of alien robots come to earth to… turn into cars? Why?? It’s so silly, it’s ridiculous. By trying to stick with that mythology, the writers screwed themselves. Everything you build on top of “ridiculous” will be even more ridiculous! Screenplays need to be built on stable ground, not fault lines.

If you want to see mythology done right, watch The Matrix. There’s a lot of exposition in that movie. But after it’s all over, you understand why all the characters can do what they do. We know Neo can defy gravity but can’t breathe fire. The mythology has made that clear to us.

Once your mythology is set up, the next step is structure. Transformers fails spectacularly in this area as well. First off, each of its movies is well over 2 hours long. That alone tells you how little the writers (or producers and director) understand structure. The whole point of structure is to generate form, to give its subject a container. If you ignore it, your characters and story go off on numerous tangents.

Yesterday, Miss Scriptshadow confessed she’d been struggling with structure and wanted to know how I defined it. I explained it this way. Imagine Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. But all you have is Ferris and Cameron. You don’t have the “day off” part. You just have two characters who are friends.

An “unstructured” script would show these two going to class, eating lunch, maybe getting into trouble after school. It would be a series of unconnected scenes. “Structure” is when you add the “day off.” Now your characters have purpose, have a goal, have something to do. They must try to outwit the principal and get away with ditching school for a day. That simple addition of a container is what gives the script structure.

From there, you create little mini-movies (mini-goals) inside of the script to keep the story focused. First, Ferris must get Cameron on board for his plan. Then he must find a way to get his girlfriend out of school. Then they must have lunch at the best restaurant in town without getting caught. These little mini-movies keep everything contained and focused, and consequently, give the script momentum.

Nobody seems to know this in Transformers. Instead of clear focused goals, multiple characters have loads of unclear foggy goals, which continue to stack up on top of each other without clear resolutions. Characters do things without a point. There are long passages where we’re not sure why things are happening. The whole point of structuring something (typically through outlining – ahh! Sorry! I know you non-outliners hate that) is to prevent this. To give the story direction.

I know this isn’t a black and white issue. The industry will argue that any hit movie is good for the movie business. And studios will say that the Transformers’s on their slate are what allow them to make more challenging films like Black Swan and Silver Linings Playbook (although I wonder about this, since they were able to make these types of movies just fine well before Transformers came around). So I’m curious which side you come down on here.

Are there any screenwriting lessons to be learned from Transformers doing so well (you’re not allowed to say “That people are idiots)? And do you think these films are necessary for studios to make the more meaty stuff? Or is that BS?

  • Midnight Luck

    I have always been baffled about that exact question.

    Take the biggest properties out there. Take the summer movies that are going to do the biggest BO, and what do you always get?

    The worst scripts and stories.
    Why?

    They have all the money in the world to get the best writers. To make sure they can tell the best story.

    But they ALWAYS go sideways.
    All I can guess is they run out of TIME.

    They are more concerned about getting the movie released on their start date, than making a well conceived, interestingly structured, and grounded movie, so that part just gets thrown by the wayside.

    I think a book about how to do this should be called: “THE HOLLYWOOD ASS-BACKWARD GUIDE to SCREENWRITING and FILMMAKING”

    But, as always, What Do I KNOW? It made $100 Million opening weekend, so, I guess their plan works.

    Who cares about a good script? No one this weekend.
    Who cares about solid characterization? No one at all (except aspiring screenwriters).
    Who cares about the emotional content of a Blockbuster? No one anymore.

    I said it a few weeks ago. I predicted T4 was going to be the biggest of them all, and probably one of the biggest films of the year. And I think I might be right.

    Not that I wanted to be.

    But you swap Marky Mark instead of Shia, throw in a ton of CGI and Auto – Bots, and maybe some sort of various Hot Chick Piece of Ass (Nicola Peltz, Who?), and it is a gold mine. That is all you need. Cha-Ching!

    (p.s.: the last question, yes it is total B.S. At one time Studios created all these special divisions for their smaller indie movies when indie’s were big : Fox Searchlight, etc. Then when they discovered, all they needed to do was make 1-4 BIG movies a year, and they had less of a gamble, and MORE money overall, they shuttered all those smaller studio sidebars. Had nothing to do with the big movies allowing them to make the others. They just choose NOT to now. It is ALL about more MONEY, LESS effort, LESS gamble, as it always has been.)

    • Brainiac138

      Fox Searchlight is still going strong and still very profitable, they focus mostly on fare for baby boomers with an occasional edgy, buzzy festival film.

      • Midnight Luck

        yeah, i just name dropped the one that is still around,
        but I am pretty sure Paramount Vantage and many others are no longer.

        • Brainiac138

          Yeah, Paramount will release something every once in a great while under the Vantage name, (maybe Nebraska was?) but it is more to give the project some cred. The problem is that there are a lot of great films under those “indie” arms of the major studios, they just shouldn’t be distributed from studios. IFC Films, Tribecca, and Oscilloscope are much better equipped to getting these mid-range budgeted films into theaters and finding the right audiences for them. The majors want to always go for a broad audience, even when the movie is as niche as can be.

    • JakeMLB

      Well you pretty much nailed it.

      Ever listen to studio writers talk about the studio process? Listen or watch THE DIALOGUE interview with Kurtzman and Orci and you’ll see what I mean. These guys are talented writers. They know film inside and out. But they also know how to get things made. And that’s no small feat. It’s so incredibly hard to have even a single script appear on screen and yet these guys churn out 3+ a year. And it’s because they give studios exactly what they want and they do it quickly.

      Remember, major studios see films as BRANDS so when they hire tentpole writers every single aspect of the script and story are scrutinized dozens of times over in order to fit the brand. From character to setting to story to casting, each aspect is scrutnized in order to appeal to the broadest audience (without offending anyone) and to keep the film within brand.

      Kurtzman said it best, and I’m paraphrasing, but he said something along the lines of the studio will give you the skeleton of your story but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for creativity in the meat. That’s a terrible paraphrase but the point is that writers really shouldn’t take the blame for these tentpole disasters. They are functioning as employees hired to produce a branded film. There exists some room for creativity but it is only within the minutae of scenes or settings or character and even then, often times, those creative moments are made to die because producers are worried that audiences in China won’t understand character X’s motivation because the writers tried to be subtle.

      I haven’t seen Transformers yet but I have no doubt that Godzilla was worse.

      • Midnight Luck

        I have no doubt that Godzilla is worse as well. Just sounded pathetically terrible. I can see the Raw power of Transformers, Godzilla though, ugh, nothing there. However I have not seen either.
        I saw T1, then someone talked me into seeing T2, jesus that was terrible, so haven’t seen another one. My speed isn’t Blockbuster speed. I can appreciate them, but don’t really like them. The last one I enjoyed, really enjoyed, was the first 3/4 of The Dark Knight, all because of Heath L., that was just pure, crazy, fun, then it just got silly stupid for the last quarter with 2 Face and all.

        I haven’t seen The Dialogue interviews with them, but I’ll have to check them out.
        I’ll have to be honest, writing for these Brand films doesn’t sound very interesting or fun, but the money would be nice.
        I think most screenwriters that get a film made probably only get one paycheck and then done. Unless they are able to parlay or spin it into another project.

  • Dale T

    I don’t think people are idiots for watching Transformers, I think most people know the story is going to suck and dive in only for its substance, fully knowing well ahead they’re going to waste two hours of their lives just to get to the action packed ten minutes towards the end. It’s the most concentrated form of candy in existence with absolutely zero nutrients. It caters to our tastebuds rather than the health of our bodies.

    Now why people are clamoring to Transformers where they didn’t for Edge of Tomorrow? It’s because it offers audiences something they haven’t seen yet, and that’s giant fucking robots beating the shit out of each other. And while Transformers has the benefit of being a universally known product for decades, another giant robot movie, Pacific Rim, did extremely well itself.

    It’s not just cool, it’s different. And people will continue watching Transformers as long as there aren’t other movies that are providing action that is, stylistically, fresh, until the market for giant robot movies becomes saturated.

    I thought what Peter Jackson’s King Kong brought aside from retelling the classic tale in a more digitally advanced vision was that scene of him fighting against the T-Rexes. People have seen T-Rexes before, not giant apes fighting T-Rexes.

    What this new Transformers did right to make it stand out even more from its predecessors? Optimus Prime riding a dinosaur. That’s reason enough for millions of people to flock to the theaters on midnight on Thursday night while disregarding Rotten Tomatoes’ opinion on it.

    I don’t think people are idiots for watching Transformers, they’re just shallow for it, and they damn well know it.

    • andyjaxfl

      I think you bring up some great points. Optimus riding a dinobot is one of those trailer moments that get people excited to see the movie. In fact, I think the first trailer was cut really well, and included quite a few butts-in-the-seat trailer moments: “I’m only going to ask this once… where is Optimus Prime?” followed by the
      transformer walking in slow motion through smoke while his huge ship looms overhead, and “Oh my God!” courtesy of the super-awesome Stanley Tucci.



      Nostalgia also plays a big role in getting butts in seats for T4. The cartoon/toys were huge when I was a kid some 20+ years ago, and there are millions of men my age (mid to late 30s) who watched the cartoon, bought the toys, ate the cereal, and now they get to revisit their childhood for 2 hour and 45 minutes through 3D blinder goggles. Their heart says, “This is so awesome!” while their brain rebukes, “Holy
      shit, bro, you can’t really think this shit is any good?”

      Audiences avoiding Edge is quite complicated because every piece of evidence you throw at a theory for its financial failure can be quickly squashed.
      Tom Cruise fatigue? Not really,because the last Mission Impossible movie was only 2.5 years ago and was a smash, as will the next one for Xmas 2015. World Cup? Doubtful, because other movies continue to thrive during this madness. A storyline they’ve already seen before in live, die, repeat? Not so much. We haven’t seen that since Groundhog Day. Besides, audiences don’t mind seeing the same shit over and over again, evident by the box office
      returns of the remakes/reboots and sequels that retread the same ground as the
      first movie. Sure, there are exceptions, but we wouldn’t be seeing so many movies based on TV shows, remakes/reboots if most weren’t striking gold.

      Maybe Edge failed because of the threat of an unhappy ending? I know at least two people who won’t see the movie because they think Emily Blunt is going to wind up dead at the end.

      Either way, I think number crunchers are going to be analyzing Edge for a long time because it doesn’t make any sense. Great reviews, excellent story, enough SFX to get the kids in… why?? We’ll probably never know.

      “I don’t think people are idiots for watching Transformers, cause that would sort of imply that they didn’t know what was coming. They’re just shallow for it, and they damn well know it.”

      Spot on, though my circle of friends is in denial that they are even bad movies.

  • Scott Chamberlain

    “There aren’t too many movies that an entire family can go to and enjoy.” I think this is a big part of it. Haven’t seen the film, so don’t know if it really is “binge-watching the death of the human spirit” but… let me offer up a little story and a theory.

    At my firm, we celebrate the end of the financial year by booking out the Premium lounge at the local theatre and laying on dinner and drinks and a film for staff. It’s always a problem choosing the film. In the past, we’ve gone Pixar. This year that was not an option. So, we sent around the list and asked the team to vote. Here was the result:

    1 Transformers
    0 X-Men: Days of Future Past
    1 Edge of Tomorrow
    X Maleficent
    0 The Fault in our Stars
    1 The Rover
    2 Blended
    1 22 Jump Street
    1 The Two faces of January
    0 Jersey Boys
    0 Belle & Sebastian

    (“X” = don’t care what as long as not this one…)

    So, the only film more popular than Transformers was Blended which has 14% on Rottentomatoes…!!!

    So, here’s my theory. Movies are communal events in both senses of the word – you go in a group and it is a special occasion. TV is a solo activity – you do it alone and it’s not a special occasion. It was explained to me that a 3/5 star film is better than a 5/5 star film because it is more likely to have broader appeal. The 5/5 star film is more likely to be perfect for a certain audience, rather than tolerable to a broad audience, and,so, when the gang is deciding what film to see the 3/5 becomes the compromise between the two 5/5s that are poles apart.

    Further, TV – and the current strength of TV – means people want more from their movies – they want an event, not just a story. Because if it’s story you want, TV holds all the aces. They want to see something they cant see (or can’t enjoy as much as seeing) on TV.

    Transformers ticks these boxes. It’s an event. It’s harmless, if brain dead. And almost everyone can see it. Its the classic compromise pick when all you want to do is go see a flick with your friends.

    For the record: by executive decision we’re seeing Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

    • cjob3

      Two votes for Blended?! I’d have quit on the spot.

    • Midnight Luck

      Does that mean you get to see it before it is in the theaters? That is pretty killer.

      I think in todays times a 1/5 to 3/5 star rating is the leader. Those are the movies everyone goes to. It is a very interesting way to look at ratings. That those have the broadest appeal, whereas 4/5 and 5/5 are just for specialized targets and therefore have less appeal for the big Prod Co’s. (except around Oscar time)

      I cannot believe the highest chosen movie was BLENDED. Just goes to show, people have no taste (apologies if you were one of the ones who chose that one. Adam Sandler should be put on a deserted island so he can no longer make “movies”).

      • Magga

        Except that Adam Sandler is the star of one of the top 15 movies of the century. No movie in which a major city gets destroyed from the last thirty years reaches Punch-Drunk Love’s toenail, and yet the story is and character is pretty similar to every other movie sandler’s been in. Just goes to show the power of ideas and execution

        • Midnight Luck

          I am not sure what list you got that off of. There are 10 million best of lists.

          I remember when Punch Drunk Love came out, it was the only Sandler movie I ever had any interest in seeing. It got TRASHED by every critic, the public, everyone. It was Hated universally. People talked about why Sandler would make such a movie and if his days of success were over. It wasn’t much of a success B.O. wise either.

          It may be one you love and found to be one of the top 15 movies of all time, but I doubt there are many others who feel the same. And I doubt ANY of his other movies would even place at all on a best of list.

          I found some of it interesting, but didn’t find it that great over all.

          • Magga

            I meant it as a personal opinion, but it’s very highly regarded by many people. It won the Best Director award at Cannes, and Francis Ford Coppola recently mentioned it as one of those movies that grew on people like Apocalypse Now did. Box office is of course no indication of quality, as this article shows, and I said century (21st), not all time. Anyway, I hate Adam Sandler as much as the next guy. But his existence did give us this masterpiece.

          • Midnight Luck

            I am in absolute agreement that B.O. is of no gauge for the quality of a movie.

            I don’t think Sandler gave us the movie as a masterpiece. He was in it, but Paul Thomas Anderson wrote and directed it. Yes he was a part to it, and if you feel it was a masterpiece, he did play a roll in that, but many others made it what it was, not just him.

            I can’t stand him in so many ways, but like I said, this was the only movie he has been in that piqued my interest and I was looking forward to see. Sadly, I didn’t love it like you did. I appreciate it for what it is, but I didn’t find it that great. Definitely just all of us with our personal opinion.

          • Magga

            I’m a sucker for all movies where you don’t know what genre you’re watching until the very end

      • Ange Neale

        I think Scott’s an Aussie, Midnight. End of financial year here is June 30, so no sneak previews.

  • Jim

    Here’s the thing with Transformers and their kinds of film: just like that first round QB draft pick who just signed a sweet $50 million deal with guarantees – only to become a huge bust – these movies will ultimately suffer for never reaching their fullest potential. Just like that football player wastes all that money instead of focusing on preparing himself in mini-camp, training camp, the film room and learning the play book – choosing a life of style over substance and living in the fast lane – so too do these movies when it comes game day and we see how they perform up on the screen: they could have been so much better if they would have at least stuck to the fundamentals instead of what they thought was fun.

  • ripleyy

    There’s no science to it, because all it is, is “curiosity”. Can we please just stop trying to dissect this and wanting to know why people will go and see it, when it comes down to curiosity. That’s it. That’s all it is.

    The greatest gift a screenwriter has is arousing enough curiosity in a person to get them to check out their movie. Your film will suck, sure, but you successfully managed to get a person to pay a handsome amount of money to see it.

    So when you go to sleep tonight and wonder why the hell Transformers is a multi-billion franchise, or why you went to see that one movie and wondered why the hell you saw it? It’s because, in its most basic form, you were curious what it was about. It’s not your fault you fell in the trap, because the bait was so well camouflaged that you weren’t quick enough to notice.

    • andyjaxfl

      Curiosity is the Occam’s razor answer. It’s simple, yet factually true given the box office receipts.

  • Ken Kerns

    Assuming for a moment that most people don’t read critics’ reviews (or at least don’t rely on them) when picking movies, there are several reasons why movies like Transformers are watched despite being unwatchable: some people watch for the spectacle of the SFX, some people watch and hope for a decent story, some people because other people are going, and some people go to hate-watch the movie.

    I wouldn’t blame the bad stories on just the mythology. After all, plenty of other media have covered this franchise without necessarily bad stories. They could have shown the aliens on their homeworld. They could have done an X-Men style story around hiding their identities, or pull a superhero move and say they transform to hide in plain sight while doing secret missions, or even slow it down and make a more suspenseful film like Gremlins but with tiny “toy” robots.

    Rather, I’m more inclined to believe that Michael Bay had certain action scenes in mind and told his writers to work a story around those set pieces. And with each successive movie the action and SFX get bigger and more ridiculous as if he’s trying to one-up himself on the spectacle of it all. I remember for third film there was a lot of talk about a scene involving parachuting in Chicago, that it was a big deal – so they had to work that into the story somehow, which I guess is how they ended up leveling the city in that movie.

    Spectacle for spectacle’s sake is becoming a staple of the summer tentpole, and for some reason a lot of movies attract big enough audiences to keep up the demand. I just wish that the spectacle helped service an actual story, rather than be the whole point.

  • maxi1981

    Unfortunately I would have to say that these types of movies are a necessary evil because without them Hollywood wouldn’t be Hollywood. What I mean by that is that these movies follow a specific formula which is to make the “dumb it down movie” because unfortunately a lot of the movie going audience – me included- every now and then want to go see a “dumb it down movie”. A lot of explosions, simple dialogue, very little to no plot or structure. Also as Carson says, these are movies that whole families can go together to see, so the profits go up exponentially, the screenwriters get to put very little effort into these scripts, the acting can be done without barely breaking a sweat, and the producers get their big summer blockbuster.

    The point about mythology is a very good one too. In order to understand mythology and apply it properly to a screenplay its crucial to understand what mythology is and why its important, many screenplays that delve into the mythology of the film elevate it and give it substance over style, and it can be done for Hollywood blockbusters, that’s why Star Wars worked on both levels and why Indiana Jones also worked, its why Inception and why Nolan’s Batman movies worked. The hardest thing is getting a good balance of substance and style, usually style wins over 99% of the time.

  • Steffan

    Carson,

    You wrote something on the blog in the weeks leading up to the release of “The Dark Knight” that really stuck with me. It went something like this: “40 year old women and 12 year old boys want to see this movie. That’s why it will be huge. What is it about Batman/these movies that can bring such disparate people together?”

    My latest script, an action-adventure based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, attempts to recreate that same sort of draw. I was very excited that it earned an 8 on the Blacklist site and then I read a reader’s comments about its “prospects”. I’ll quote the reader:

    “Whether or not the fact that it’s based on Macbeth will help to draw in an audience is difficult to assess, and could well depend on how successfully the project is marketed. The script may find itself in an awkward position of trying to cater to two different audiences, an older audience that wants to see a Shakespeare movie and a younger audience that’s more interested in the script’s [unrelenting action.] Those can coexist, but it will take a major feat of execution. This isn’t a fundamentally uncommercial project, but producers and financiers probably won’t know quite where it fits in the marketplace, which will mean an uphill battle to being produced.”

    I was really angered by that. Here’s a person saying that not the project itself, but the marketing of the project to make as much money on it as possible, will be a hindrance in spite of the fact that it can reach across the aisle and get a varied audience. I mean, when I wrote it I kept thinking what is something that has true international appeal: action and Shakespeare… what can go wrong? Well, I guess action and Shakespeare, perhaps.

    The thing is, I don’t think that 40 year old women are going to see Transformers. This is a case of a classic write a movie that younger males will see. In that regard, I might disagree with what Carson is saying about it being The Edgy Family Film. I still do not think the franchise appeals (or even attempts to cater) to females in any way, shape, or form.

    Mythology is a huge component to understanding this whole thing. I think Carson is right about that but, in our pop culture “mythology” has come to mean “lore”, but those two concepts are fundamentally different.

    There’s lots of lore that surrounds World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings and Star Wars and (sorry, Carson) when someone starts talking about Star Wars lore everyone who isn’t into Star Wars lore girds themselves for the tedium of a lifetime. But, the Star Wars mythology–the “Dark Father”, the “Scoundrel”, “The Force”, “The Twins”–people don’t mind listening and even talking about that. Because mythology transcends time and place. Lore makes things REALLY specific.

    This is to what Carson is referring when he says boys (and I would change that to Americans) love cars and they love robots. They love the myth that is already embedded in these objects. However, the fiddly lore about robots on the moon and God knows what–who the hell cares. Seriously.

    That’s why I hope my Macbeth adaptation can gain some traction in the marketplace. It’s got Myth on its side. Fingers crossed. If anyone wants to read it I’ll send it to them. It’s more than pretty solid–it’s the best thing I’ve ever written and I’m proud enough of it to share it with people.

    -Steffan

    http://scriptshadow.net/amateur-friday-inhuman/

    [I apologize for any typos or things that didn’t get fleshed out. I was dancing to repeated renditions of “The Farmer in the Dell” with my 18 month old as I wrote this.]

    • Matthew Garry

      With two Scottish Play derived scripts on the 2013 Blacklist (“Line of Duty” and “Mississippi Mud”) I’d say you’re in good company on a rising tide, or, alternatively, there’s already stiff competition in a space that you may have considered a niche. I guess it can go either way.

      Regardless, more bard on the market is always a good thing, so I hope it’ll go places. Good luck with it.

      • Steffan

        Yeah, Matt:

        There’s actually a Macbeth movie that’s shopping for release presently and a Branaugh Macbeth on Broadway right now, but I didn’t know any of that when I started writing my script. The crazy thing is that I’m confident enough in the script that I’m not worried about the competition.

    • Scott Chamberlain

      Macbeth is due for a comeback. The tragic consequences of over-weening ambition can never fail…

      I suspect the main problem would be this: Macbeth is a tragedy. But Action/adventures are almost never tragedies, save for the self-sacrificing hero, which Macbeth is not. Macbeth is not Myth, at least in the sen Truby defines that genre – a hero who goes on a journey only to find himself. It is more akin to House of Cards than, say, Star Wars.

      So, at first glance, it seems an uncomfortable mashup.

      • Steffan

        Two things, Scott:

        First, my script isn’t told from Macbeth’s perspective so I cheat it in that sense. I sort of pull a Wicked–if that makes sense.

        The second thing is that you’re actually not right about Macbeth not being myth. One of the beautiful things that Shakespeare does in Macbeth is that he sets up dueling Hero Quests side by side and hides them in a dark, psychological/supernatural thriller.

        So, if we’re going to say that some of the major beats of the Hero Quest are: Call to Action, Refusal of the Call, Supernatural Aid, Challenges and Temptations, a Mentor, Entering the Underworld, and Returning Changed; Macbeth hits them all. And, the really cool part of Macbeth is so does Macduff.

        MACBETH’S HERO QUEST

        Call to Action – His ambitious drive to become King kicks in twice in Act One
        Refusal of the Call – But he denies it and tells his wife that he won’t kill Duncan
        Supernatural Aid – The Witches (when they approach him and when he seeks them out)
        Challenges and Temptations – He tries to control his growing paranoia, but fails
        Mentor – Lady Macbeth tries to help him, but he turns from her and goes to the witches for their “false” mentoring
        Enter the Underworld – He slaughters Macduff’s family
        Returning Changed – He becomes alienated from his own people/his own family (although Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are together in every act they never are in the same place during Act V–after he kills Macduff’s family) and ultimately allows himself to be killed in battle.. the complete opposite of who he was at the start of the play.

        MACDUFF’S HERO QUEST

        Call to Action – Macduff is the one who discovers Duncan is dead
        Refusal of the Call – He doesn’t do anything about it at first. Instead, he retreats to his home and refuses both invitations that Macbeth offers (Macbeth’s coronation and the feast in honor of Banquo).
        Supernatural Aid – He had a “special” birth (which will be the reason he can kill Macbeth in the end).
        Challenges and Temptations – He is the only person who personally challenges Macbeth, though he loses during Act Two.
        Mentor – He meets an Old Man along the way as well as Ross–you can say that these two offer a false/true mentor because Ross might actually betray Macduff later on (depending on how it’s staged). He also mentors and is mentored by Malcolm, Duncan’s son in Act IV and V.
        Enter the Underworld – After Macduff’s family is killed he enter the war and helps lead the assault against Macbeth.
        Return Changed – He is avenged and is no longer just a Scottish citizen, but now also has political ties to England.

        That is just one reason Shakespeare kicks ass.

    • gazrow

      Hey Steffan –

      Why not post a link to your latest script? That way people can take a look without feeling obliged to give notes or feel under pressure to say they liked it if they didn’t.

  • brenkilco

    For decades now critics have bemoaned high concept movies. Where all that matters is the big shiny hook that can be sold in a trailer or poster. Your thesis is that high concept is so last century. Today studios want and need even less. Killer shark at a beach resort is at least a situation. Cars that turn into robots is nothing but a cool visual. And by itself it’s worth a billion bucks. So is the audience composed of idiots? The target audience for most big movies today is a physical or mental fourteen year old who doesn’t speak english, and who doesn’t want to listen to a lot of dubbed chat or, God forbid, read subtitles any more than an American teenager does. An audience of unsophisticated, testosterone crazed, junk food zombies. Idiots? Why split hairs.

    • Randy Williams

      Disagree a bit with this. Most kids worldwide into the big concepts, sci-fi, monster, super hero stuff are pretty sophisticated when it comes to those concepts.

      They are reading and discussing the source material for everything we’re seeing today long before we discuss it as a movie. The “Edge of Tommorrow”? Old stuff. An 18 year old I know, (born out of the U.S) knows every manga and anime story, every comic super hero, read every source material for what screenwriters continually dive into for film today and has been discussing it routinely online with friends since he learned how to peck letters on the keyboard. They are routinely disappointed with how some aspects are handled but they, in their youthful optimism, find something to be enthralled by.

      • brenkilco

        There are some smart and sophisticated teens in every generation. Though I’m not sure simply being obsessed with Scifi or Manga necessarily makes a kid sophisticated or discriminating. But for the most part I think producers are operating on the assumption that their target audience will be satisfied with empty flash, speed, cg techno wow, and large scale pg-13 violence. And it’s hard to say they’re wrong.

      • filmklassik

        Not sure how the fourth installment in a franchise based on a line of children’s toys your father probably played with as a boy is any less “old stuff” than EDGE OF TOMORROW. Yet that installment, while terrible, is making bank while EDGE, a terrific genre flick, is hemorrhaging red ink.

  • Magga

    This is pretty much the end of cinema as a mainstream art form. It’s been happening for the last fourteen years, but this is the pinnacle, and we’ve either reached a breaking point where the pendulum swings the other way, or it’s just over. The idea that big movies support small movies is dead: Many studios have announced that they’re now only in the big movie-game. The market is now the entire planet, foreign viewers make up about 70% of many movies’ audience, and while “what did you do last night?” is difficult to translate into French, “Boom” is not. But this movie is the nadir simply because it’s a co-production with China and by extension the Chinese authorities. Want to know why they go to China for the last act of the movie? A deal with the co-financiers. What other demands have they put on their co-productions, of which there are planned enough to make it the dominant form of blockbuster creation within five years? To wit: “no vigilante-ism, no civil disobedience, no explicit sex. On the genre front: no horror films: no ghosts, no vampires and no werewolves, no religious-based films, no time-travel movies.”
    I could personally agree with many of these no-no’s, but as demands from financiers it’s pretty dumb. The mid-range budgeted film has been dead outside of Oscar season for years. And please tell me how you’re supposed to write a coherent story if you have a gazillion different producers’ wishes to take into consideration, none of which concern the quality of the writing (or direction, acting, photography etc.)!
    I’m finishing up an English-language script to send here, but the way things are going something tells me I should just stay in Norway. Hoping for at least a 60% drop for Transformers next week, because as they (should) say, “you are what you watch”

    • brenkilco

      As you say, the death of the medium budget genre films-and most of the greatest Hollywood movies have been medium budget genre films- was probably the death knell for Hollywood. But while it’s incalculably harder today to turn out good movie, it was never easy. Read about Coppola’s travails with The Godfather sometime. Initially all the studio wanted was a fast, relatively cheap gangster picture. Coppola was contractually obligated to deliver a two hour cut. He did. Fortunately producer Evans had previously seen the three hour version the director intended, and had sufficient taste to realize how good it was. Even back in the day good movies needed luck.

      • Magga

        Initially the studios wanted hippies in it, and they wanted to turn the mob Irish and cast Robert Redford. And I think today they would have gotten their way, and you would have been seen as snobby to complain

        • Hadley’s Hope

          THE GODFATHER (the reboot circa 2016)

          Michael Corleone (Mark Wahlberg) is a bad ass mercenary with an exoskeleton suit and advanced experimental weapons at his disposal. He returns home from a proxy war, after his mentor (Sylvester Stallone) dies in the opening battle sequence. This was his last tour with the big private military contractor. Now rich beyond his wildest dreams, there is now no need to get into the family business.

          Don Corleone (Giancarlo Gianni) is head of a global black market smuggling operation. The hot-headed Sonny (Dwayne Johnson) is the muscle, while fast talking Fredo (Aaron Paul) the wild hacker genius is always finding new ways to make money and expand the family business. Cool and collected lawyer Tom Hagen (Michael Fassbender) keeps things relatively legal. Sister Connie (Gina Carano) gets her hands dirty as a sexy assassin.

          When rival gangs try to take out the Don, gang warfare erupts. It is up to Sonny, Michael, Fredo, and Connie to arm up and go into battle, because these rival gangs and mobsters lead by the treacherous Sollozzo (Keanu Reeves) and ruthless Barzini (Mark Strong) are the real enemies. This way the Corleone family are seen as heroes cleaning up the streets like some sort of high-tech Italian American Charles Bronsons in a slicker version of Death Wish. To pull this off, Michael enlists the help of a cop fed up with the corrupt system. Detective Kay Adams (Charlize Theron) is that disgruntled cop, and love interest who can kick ass with the best of ‘em.

          Directed by: Michael Bay

          • drifting in space

            This would make $1 trillion. Or bomb.

            You had me at Gina Carano.

          • Hadley’s Hope

            I forgot to mention two things:

            1) 50 Cent and Lady Gaga will be collaborating with Hans Zimmer on the score.

            2) The sequel – GODFATHER II: The Black Hand. Michael and the others uncover a plan to rewrite history. None other than the sinister secret syndicate known as The Black Hand are behind this scheme. Using a prototype time machine to send its agents into history, they must be stopped. For both his family and the people of Earth, Michael infiltrates the present day Black Hand. Gaining access to the time machine, he travels back to an earlier time, when his father was a young man trying to make it in America. Together they are stronger than one (tagline).

            I’m still brainstorming ideas for the third film in the franchise, GODFATH3R$: [insert subtitle here].

          • Ange Neale

            GODFATH3R$: More bang for your buck.

          • Hadley’s Hope

            Perfect!

            We gotta go all out for part three. Taking place in the future, Michael returns from the past to find a rebellion against a corporate controlled US government (puppets of a revitalized Black Hand) who are going after the underground markets in a ruthless manner. The Corleone family is just one of many on Executive Sam’s hit list. Now a man without an identity, Michael moves through the shadows, recruiting a team of operatives from his mercenary days as well as from rival gangs and crime syndicates.

          • stuwillis

            That’s my kinda film :)

            [PS, Hadley aka LV426, you very kindly watched my film PAYLOAD and I even featured your pull quote on the film’s website (www.payloadfilm.com) Do you have a twitter and/or things?]

          • Magga

            All kidding aside, I’m 100% sure that if The Godfather was made today we would start with Michael in WW2, not just hear references to him being a “war hero”

          • Hadley’s Hope

            Probably.

            Maybe he ran into Col. Indiana Jones while fighting the Axis of Evil.

      • filmklassik

        You are 100% right about THE GODFATHER and how even in Hollywood’s Golden Age (and there have actually been a few of those) there was always a heavy element of luck involved in the making of first-rate motion pictures.

        That being said, studio production slates looked different then. Their priorities were different, and their schedules were mostly filled with… mid-budget genre films! And even though some of these sucked hard, and a high percentage were just okay… you could usually depend on ten or twelve good ones each year… and one or two bonafide classics.

        No longer.

    • Hadley’s Hope

      sacreBOOM

    • filmklassik

      Your post perfectly encapsulates the reason I cry myself to sleep every night (okay, not literally, but you get my drift).

      The movies that made me fall in love with The Movies simply aren’t being made anymore, and while top-shelf serialized drama in this Golden Age of TV has somewhat filled that void, it isn’t quite the same, as the narrative imperatives are different.

      In other words, even the greatest long-form TV dramas (and I’m looking at you GAME OF THRONES, TRUE DETECTIVE, THE SOPRANOS, BREAKING BAD and THE WIRE) simply don’t have the same resonance as, say, CASABLANCA, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR and CHINATOWN.

      • Magga

        I view Mad Men as 82 brilliant movies, and in that regard we’re doing pretty well this century, especially if you add The Sopranos. Breaking Bad and The Wire are too serialized to view that way, but treasures nonetheless. Game of Thrones I’m sort of forcing my way through, but I’m perfectly aware that that’s my problem with dragons, the undead, magic and so on than any fault with the show itself. We’re living in a fantastic age of popular art, music is great, TV is great, games are pretty good, I’m no nostalgic, but movies… Yeah, it’s a tragedy, really.

        • brenkilco

          I agree that television has probably, strike that, definitely never been better than it is today. Still, I have trouble comparing a great TV show to a great movie. A TV show can never give you everything because there’s always next week and next season. No matter how self contained the episode it can never have the completeness of a great film. All TV shows end but they are not designed to end. As witness the somewhat slapdash wrap ups of even a couple of the great ones you listed above.

          • Magga

            Agree, but do check out Black Mirror if you haven’t. Two seasons, three episodes each, all of them complete, standalone stories with new characters and new futuristic settings, every one of them absolutely riveting.

          • brenkilco

            The Wiki entry makes it sound great. But it’s not on Netflix so how does somebody on the west side of the pond get it?

          • Magga

            I certainly can’t encourage you to do anything illegal. This is a public forum after all. But if you were of the opinion that if producers were making it impossible for potential costumers to pay for their stuff then it would be tolerable to find it by other means, then that would, hypothetically speaking, be quite easy to do

        • filmklassik

          Well, since I take a much different view of MAD MEN and the SOPRANOS — seeing them not as mini-movies but as well-written, well-performed, impeccably made TV shows — I’d have to say we are doing pretty abominably this century.

          I’m definitely with brenkilco here: The best motion pictures have a sort of “completeness” about them — a satisfying shape and unity that allows them to deliver — with unprecedented force — the kind of impact that even the finest television dramas can’t muster.

          Nothing on TV has haunted me like the endings of CHINATOWN or CASABLANCA., or shocked me like the endings of BODY HEAT or THE STING or roused me like certain key scenes in SHANE, ROCKY, THE VERDICT, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE GREAT ESCAPE, DIRTY HARRY and the list goes on and on, and out the door and around the block.

          We tend to remember individual scenes in motion pictures much more vividly — and for a much longer time — than individual scenes in even the finest TV shows. You might talk about individual scenes in THE SOPRANOS a day or two after an episode airs… but five and six years later we tend to think of even the most beloved shows more holistically — more in toto. So someone might say, “I loved THE SOPRANOS!” and then proceed to talk about the characters and certain catch phrases…

          …but with movies we remember the story and the characters AND SPECIFIC SCENES AND MOMENTS.

          Thus we can talk about the jump off the cliff in BUTCH CASSIDY and the awesome “Shooting the swordsman” moment in RAIDERS and “My sister my daughter my sister my daughter” as Nicholson slaps Dunaway silly in CHINATOWN and what about when Michael shoots the cop in the Italian restaurant in THE GODFATHER and remember Eddie Murphy acting up in the redneck bar in 48 HOURS and backwards reels the mind.

          Maybe it’s because of their compactness… or the unspoken “contract with the viewer” that what we are about to see is the single most important event in a given character’s life… I don’t pretend to know… but for whatever reason, the greatest features tend to resonate with me in a way that even the finest serialized TV dramas do not.

          • Magga

            As much as I think Mad Men is what Billy Wilder would aspire to had he been young now I’m certainly not going to disagree that we need better movies today. There have been maybe fifty or sixty movies from this century that I would place among the greats, and that’s not enough by a long shot. And yeah, it’s getting worse, not better right now. Hopefully there will be more TV movies soon, as that’s where experimentation is possible

          • filmklassik

            To say this century has served up 50-60 great movies is to be far more generous than I am prepared to be… then again, I’m a curmudgeon.

            What’s more, I am a frustrated curmudgeon, as 90% of the movies I love are mid-budget genre movies… the very species Hollywood is making extinct.

            Don’t get me wrong, serialized TV can be fine, but once again, its pleasures are not the same. It’s a different animal.

            So fucking sad…

  • Citizen M

    Transformers are a blend of two known crowd-pleasers — WWF wrestling and car crashes. They don’t need a story, they just need to be big and destructive and we’ll watch.

  • Randy Williams

    There can’t be too much dialogue, character, or structure, can there? If it resembles an actual “movie” then you have characters that actually bleed. This is pure escapism, we shouldn’t have to worry about innocents being pulverized in skyscrapers or cars. The mythology is set in stone. No one should have to debate afterwards whether the robot should have hiked through Oregon or killed his Nemesis.

  • Buddy

    I understand the article, but I also understand why so many people go to see movies like Transformers.
    it’s a bit like eating fast food : we know that this is not necessarily good for us, but it’s a guilty pleasure…

    I guess many people wanted to eat burgers this WE ;-)

  • kent

    The best mythology ever in a blockbuster movie? For me it was Pirates of the Caribbean. They got it right and then got lazy later in the franchise and tried to ride their own coattails.

  • ChadStuart

    “There is one thing that every single screenwriter in the world can agree
    on. That the Transformers movies are the worst written movies ever.”

    Actually, I can’t agree with this. These movies aren’t written in the normal sense of the word, so I’m not going to blame the screenwriter for something he didn’t do. These movies are Michael Bay’s movies. The screenwriter is basically a member of the storyboard team and not much else.

    For instance, Damon Lindeloff took a lot of shit for his rewrite of “Prometheus”. But, all he was doing was what Ridley Scott directed him to do. Sir Ridley shepherded that movie from beginning to end. I obviously wasn’t in the room for every decision, but I’m willing to stake my life on the fact that most of them were his.

    If anyone has ever developed a script with a director, they’ll be very familiar with the way directors tell a writer what they want, and a writer basically has to do it. I can certainly see Lindeloff explaining why it’s a bad idea for the guy who made the damn maps to get lost, but Ridley simply saying something to the effect of, “yeah, but I like the irony of it.”

    Michael Bay is a similar type of auteur. If Ehren were to say, “why would Optimus be in a movie theater in Texas?”, Michael would just say that people in China won’t be asking that question. It looks cool, and he wants to shoot in an abandoned movie theater. And Ehren just has to write it.

    Too often writers are blamed for director’s decisions. At the end of the day, it’s the director’s final call on what goes in or what gets cut out of a movie – but writers are so often blamed for those decisions.

    So, no, I don’t think these are the most poorly written movies ever. I don’t like them (I like the reviews about them, they’re fun). I won’t see them. But I won’t bash the writer when it’s very, very obvious that Michael Bay is at the wheel.

    • MGE3

      This is exactly right. When working at that level, writers have little to no input on what the script really looks like. If they are working with a director like Michael Bay, Ridley Scott or Roland Emmerich, then the draft goes to them first before the studio sees it. They control all the creative decisions and will stand over your shoulder if need be (and if they have to for too long, you’ll be fired or worse — marked ‘difficult to work with’).

      In the case of a $200 million tentpole, the writer’s job is to execute the director’s vision, just like the DP, editor or VFX Supervisor. The only thing we can do is write the best script possible, within those narrowly crafted confines.

    • SinclareRose

      Didn’t Michael Bay and Megan Fox get into it because he was trying to tell the actors how to act, too?
      Maybe that’s why Shia’s freaking out right now – Michael’s not around to tell him what to do all the time.

    • D.C. Purk

      This is incredibly insulting to not only talented directors, but to adults who take responsibility for themselves. I am so tired of hearing “aspiring writers” blame hollywood and directors and producers and ANYONE BUT THEMSELVES when a movie ends up bad. I’m sorry, please don’t take any passion or aggression behind my words as a personal attack, but you need to seriously read through your comment and reflect on what it says and how it makes you look (and how all the “likes” and popularity of your comment makes this blog’s community look as well).

      Have you seen the movie “The Rock”? It’s actually pretty damn good (by action
      movie standards). It’s Michael Bay’s best movie. Know why? Because the script is good, it’s got a good cast, and it has Bay’s usual visual flare (with an actual story behind it). Wasn’t Bay in charge of this movie too? And somehow the writers still made it work? (One of the them was Tarantino, but there were 3 credited, and I’m guessing Tarantino mostly did a dialogue polish). So the fact that The Rock even exists just completely destroys your “it’s not the writer’s fault” pity party, because Bay apparently didn’t feel like ruining a movie all on his own that day.

      And did you even watch Lost? Have you counted all the plot holes, unfinished storylines, wasted characters, and the overall incomplete narrative from that show? THAT’S where Damon Lindelof got his reputation as a mediocre writer. And his feature credits don’t do him any favors, especially Prometheus. People aren’t “Lindelof haters,” they just look at his work with honest eyes and judge it for what it is. You know, like we do on this website.

      And what about Alien? Blade Runner? Gladiator? How many great stories has Ridley Scott told? And here you are pawning him off as some sort of clueless hack, just because he doesn’t hold the title of “screenwriter.” I can’t think
      of anything more childish or self-involved. Maybe Ridley Scoot leaves a certain amount of his movies up to the SCRIPT and maybe on Prometheus the WRITERS DIDN’T COME THROUGH.

      So here’s an alternate perspective. Maybe the writers of Transformers just don’t
      take the job too seriously. Maybe they phone it in for the paycheck, because they know the CGI robots are the star of the show. Maybe they let themselves
      apathetically fail because they know they can get away with it. Ever think of that? And maybe, just maybe, if a writer stepped up and added some actual story, Bay would welcome it with open arms, just like he did with The Rock.

      Again, I’m sorry if I sound fired up but I am so infuriated by the fact you not only posted this comment, but that it’s popular. Well if this is how the majority of the
      scriptshadow community looks at things, then spoiler alert: 100% of the scriptshadow community is going to fail.

      So when you get hired to be the writer of a movie? BE THE FUCKING WRITER AND OWN IT.

      Seriously people. This isn’t even insider hollywood information. It’s adulthood 101.

      This has been an anti screenwriter rant from an aspiring screenwriter. Just trying to help. Sincerely.

      :)

      • ChadStuart

        Hmmm, let’s step out of the film world for a minute and just talk about a regular job that adults work everyday. Okay?

        So, I work for a midsize company and report directly to the CEO. We’ve worked on many, many, many projects together. Often times we disagree on aspects of that project. Sometimes we’ve even gotten into heated debates. In one meeting, twelve of us were on one side of an issue, and the CEO was the lone voice on the other side. Guess which way we went?

        Ultimately, it’s his decision. He’s the boss. We offer advice. We give our opinion. We fight tooth and nail for everything. But, it’s never our final decision, it’s his.

        Now, what makes you think that it’s any different on a film set? The auteur theory, which guides the modern film industry, pretty much dictates that the director’s say is (mostly) final. He answers to studio heads, but for a guy like Michael Bay they defer to his opinion.

        The point in all this is that any adult knows that working is compromise. You never get your way entirely, so to blame the writer on these movies for all of its flaws is incredibly childish and naive. These movies aren’t written, they’re produced. The writer, in this case Ehren Krueger, is working for Michael Bay and his job is to map out Michael’s vision, just in the same way it’s my job to map out my CEO’s vision.

        Yes, Ridley Scott has made some wonderful movies. But you can’t credit him for success and then blame Lindeloff for one of Sir Ridley’s failures. Are you suggesting that Sir Ridley was somehow beholden to Lindeloff’s draft? That he had the wherewithal to replace the original writer, Jon Spaihts, but not Lindeloff when, as you put it, “(the) WRITERS DIDN’T COME THROUGH?” That in and of itself proves that the movie, and all of its decisions, rests solely at the feet of its director. (Or the fact that you bring up Tarrantino’s script doctor work on “The Rock”, which is evidence that writers are expendable at the behest of directors, and therefore have very little control over the final product.)

        It’s impossible to really either credit or blame a writer for a movie based solely on seeing the film. The film is not the screenplay, it is the film. It is the screenplay filtered through many, many other artists – the director being the single biggest voice in that choir.

        Directors like it that way, and I really don’t think that they’ll be too upset that I assert that a movie is their responsibility. After all, the biggest proponents of the auteur theory has been directors.

        After considering your opinion, I’m sticking with my thought that I will not bash a screenwriter for the quality of this movie. It’s very clearly marked “A Michael Bay film”, and not an “Ehren Krueger Movie”.

      • gregthegreg

        You must also consider the very real possibility that the writers DID have good ideas and good scenes and good characters but they were all changed by the man in charge, Michael Bay. To say the writers didn’t take the job seriously is just as damning as the comment you’re railing against.

        This isn’t a scenario where the writer has a crappy script he doesn’t care about and everybody including Bay just goes along with it because they have to start shooting. In this situation, the writer is there to service Bay’s vision.

        On these movies, Bay is God. He gets to make it as long as wants, as big as he wants, and as expensive as he wants. To suggest that something ended up on screen that Michael Bay DIDN’T want there is a crazy thought.

        Writers just aren’t in charge of big tentpoles like this. When a movie costs north of 200 million, there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. And upper level writers understand this all too well. They know what they’re there to do. And it’s not to write CHINATOWN-FORMERS.

  • Randy Williams

    Shia LaBeouf, Shia LaBeouf.

    Oh, for the days, when only the actors on stage showed up to the theater totally wasted.

  • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

    First, if you think the Transformers films are actually the worst written movies ever, you seriously need to watch more movies.

    Secondly, I disagree that movies are a sum of their parts. Sometimes, a film is greater than the sum of its parts. Sometimes, it’s less than. It really just depends on the film and the parts, because there are too many variables here, and too many instances where you can find an example of something working, and then an example of the exact same thing not working.

    And the 1-10 scale thing, while I’m sure isn’t meant to be taken seriously, doesn’t really mean anything at all. When was the last time a movie made a shitload of money because it only had great dialogue? Or great structure? I think “idea” or “concept” are just about the only two elements that can actually stand out from the others when it comes to getting asses in seats.

    And Carson, am I to understand you believe that the writer(s) of every film over two hours obviously don’t understand structure? Because I can point you in the direction of some of the most perfectly structured films in history that are nearly three hours long.

  • cjob3

    You can’t underestimate the power of nostalgia here. Transformers had a very popular cartoon run, comic book series and animated movie. Not to mention an incredibly successful line of toys. I had a few. They were the Christmas tickle-me-elmo toy of the 80s. Transformers is a big brand.

    That said, I was actively rooting for this one to fail (for all the good it did). It was always a thin concept for a movie. It could barely sustain one movie let alone four. And what kind of god would create robot dinosaurs? Makes no sense.

    • Magga

      I’ll concede that ten year old me would have been delighted if a time traveller went back and told me about today’s movies. “You mean adults are only watching Transformers, Marvel stuff, Godzilla and pirates? Gee, I want to “grow up” as fast as possible!”

      • Hadley’s Hope

        I’m wondering if instead of putting Shia LaBeouf and his wacky sidekicks and hysterical parents in the Transformers movies, maybe they should have used the GI Joes as the human characters. It could be its own Marvel/Avengers style universe with various crossover films and all that jazz.

        Cobra + Decepticons for the ultimate bad guy combo?

      • filmklassik

        Yeah, it would’ve been a case of, Be careful what you wish for.

  • cjob3

    I never understood why they called themselves “Decepticons.” Why would you advertise the fact that you’re deceptive? Deceptive people usually aren’t so up-front about it. And why were they placing a judgment on themselves like that? It’s not like they were fighting the “Noble-bots.” Both groups are robots in disguise. Both are inheritably deceptive. It’s like the Auto-bots are simply saying “We’re robots that turn into cars.” And Decepticons are like “So are we, but we also deceive people on top of that.”

  • Nicholas J

    A few thoughts:

    That T-Rex probably has a hell of a time doing any damage with those stumpy arms. Seems like a pretty severe design flaw for a robot that’s made to fight. And why does it have a tongue?

    What is Shia doing in that photo?

    As for the success of the film, that’s pretty easy…
    1. Explosions
    2. A trailer with BWAAAAAM!
    3. Marky Mark’s Muscle Meat
    4. Hot Blonde Companion
    5. A giant robot fights a giant dinosaur
    6. Fast cars that look totally sweet
    7. Pre-existing franchise
    8. Marketing budget that could be used to buy a small to medium sized country
    9. China
    10. Stanley Tucci

    This movie has everything!

    And I can’t believe nobody has posted this yet:

    • romer6

      This video is amazing. Thanks for that.

    • Franchise Blueprints

      Speechless…

  • FD

    Why do these movies put bums on cinema seats? One reason is because you can only get the full experience of such a movie on a big screen with big surround sound. Smaller movies often lose nothing by watching them on telly a few months later. Also, it’s like asking why do people drink Coke? Content: 60% sugar, 38% water, but it just tastes great.
    And on another topic. What was so great about the scripts of so many of the other popular movies like SLPlaybook (that dance-scene “climax” was pathetic), Black Swan (a chick ballet-dances herself to death? Really? and that ridiculous closing “it was perfect” OMG), Avatar (Pocahontas in space), and I can’t even begin to contemplate how silly the premise of Source Code was (he’s dead but his memory is still alive and can go places it never was when it was alive and talk to people and… oh wow). If these are the mind-boggling concepts that everyone touts as good scripts, then Transformers is by comparison absolute genius. I don’t know why anyone is complaining.

    • cjob3

      Good point. No need for high tech visuals in Silver Linings Playbook. It’ll play just as well at home. Transformers, if you don’t see it on a big screen, you might as well not see it at all.

      • Hadley’s Hope

        I skipped the third Transformers and watched it on my Kindle for free via Amazon Prime. On a seven inch screen. Didn’t feel like I missed much.

    • Hadley’s Hope

      Movies like Groundhog Day, Source Code, and Edge of Tomorrow feed into some pretty darn powerful wish fulfillment. What if you could go back and do something over again? What if you could go back and rewrite your past a bit and make a positive impact on the future “you” or the future world in general?

  • cjob3

    Far be it for me to defend these movies but I will say I appreciate the hired the original voice actor from the animated series to reprise Optimus Prime. That was a class move in a franchise with very few of them.

  • Logline_Villain

    Now that television and movies have switched places in the quality hierarchy, we know that we can go to the tube for substance. Movies have mirrored economic evolution – it’s all about the international market – and Transformers will invariably play better in China than most of what we screenwriters perceive to be quality material. We can draw our own conclusions as to the future of screenwriting…

  • OddScience

    Look at TV: swampers, loggers, fishers, moonshiners, duckers, diggers, etc. You got 4, 5 guys standing around with a total of 8 teeth. ‘Merica’s EASILY entertained and doesn’t want to think too hard during the process. Transformers is nothing but brain candy.

    • Brainiac138

      Those shows make sense since the United States is becoming more and more urbanized and people are growing up never once visiting a rural part of the country. It has been happening for some time, look at the popularity of rural crime literature right now and the movies that have been adapted from it, most recently Joe to quite some success, and the other notable one being Winter’s Bone. I definitely see what you are saying, but the United States’ fascination with stereotypical rural culture right now is something that I think is separate from what makes Transformers popular.

      • OddScience

        +1

      • astranger2

        True Detective.

        • Hadley’s Hope

          Longmire.

          • astranger2

            I’ve never seen that. Good?

            Have you ever watched Deadwood? Only caught that entire series about six months ago. I was amazed how good it is… the True Detective of the West…

          • Hadley’s Hope

            Deadwood is solid. Not my favorite HBO series, but one I enjoyed.

            Longmire is lighter than a lot of cable shows are nowadays. It’s no True Detective, but it is much better than the cop shows on the major networks.

            It’s an entertaining modern western/detective show with a solid cast.

          • astranger2

            I didn’t even know A&E had a lineup. Wow, it’s in its third season… well, I’ve queued one up… sounds interesting…

            It’s odd, but with all the edgy cable shows, I hardly watch ANY network programming, other than news or a handful of sitcoms. Almost all my drama comes from HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, FX or AMC…

            Based on Carson’s recommendation, I watched Tyrant. Pretty solid debut. Not as good as Homeland, but very good, imo.

          • Hadley’s Hope

            Tyrant sounded interesting. I wasn’t aware that it had aired already. I need to marathon Homeland. I saw a couple random episodes from season two or three, just to sample it and see if I might like the show.

            Right now I’m enjoying Halt and Catch Fire while also catching up on Orphan Black and Falling Skies. Under the Dome season two is starting up now too. Extant also looks like it could be good. I’ll definitely be checking out The Strain. I’m kind of burned out on zombies and vampires, but with Del Toro doing creepy crawly vamps I think it has potential.

            I don’t watch the major networks much either, but I also don’t need every series to be dark and brooding serial storytelling. Sometimes a Longmire or Falling Skies helps balance out the Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad type of shows.

            Netflix just added Longmire season two to their streaming service.

  • Logic Ninja

    Every time I hear, “I could write something better than this!” from a non-screenwriter, I want to smack that person with a garbage can lid. That comment frustrates me to no end!

    Why is it, I’ve been wondering, that even bad musicians, sculptors or painters can produce bad work–but people still realize they couldn’t necessarily do it better? Why is it that bad basketball players can toss up brick after brick, but people realize they would do even worse, were they on the court? And why the *&$! is it, that people can’t apply this same common sense to screenwriting!?

    Here’s my attempt at an answer.

    We all know much of screenwriting is problem solving. In fact, so are sculpting, composing, painting, and basketball-ing. Each art form is like a maze which the artist must navigate; a maze in which EVERY TURN but the right one leads to sure disaster.

    Within the maze, every turn, every possible path, represents a choice the artist must make. When finished, the artist has drawn a line from start to finish; from entrance to exit.

    But in screenwriting, all the audience sees is the line. They don’t see the rest of the maze.They don’t see the twistings and turnings, the potential pitfalls, the bad choices the writer had to eschew. They don’t see the darlings that had to be killed, the characters that had to be combined, the sequences that had to be shortened, or the structure that had to be maintained.

    All they see is the line.

    And, after all, ANYONE can draw a line. “My five year old” can draw a line. And looking at that line, up there on the screen, it’s easy to see how an audience might think, “I could do better than that.”

    And to that I always say, “Really? Then do it. They’ll give you a million dollars. You’ll be famous(ish). What’s stopping you?”

    • Franchise Blueprints

      Why do non-screenwriters feel they can write something better? I think it comes down to something very elementary. The vast majority of Americans are taught from a young age:

      1st how to identify. (baby hungry, baby hurt, baby sleepy, baby boo boo)
      2nd how to articulate basic needs
      3rd how to speak, hearing speech patterns
      4th how to identify things by words
      5th how to properly pronounce words, listening
      6th learning the alphabet
      7th learning how to pronounce individual letters
      8th learning one’s name, spelling, saying, asking questions
      9th leaning simple words and how to write
      10th learning how to read, reading aloud
      11th learning to associate things, words, letters, writing in repetition, reading silently
      12th learning subject/verb/predicate, writing with structure
      13th learning advanced grammar and syntax, writing with ideas
      14th reading a variety of material, basic writing assignments
      15th asking advanced questions
      16th exposure to different types of literature
      17th advanced writing assignments
      18th public speaking
      19th memorizing repeated passages
      20th being functionally literate and able to communicate before you graduate elementary school

      Learning to communicate is one of the most basic human endeavors. Its the very first thing you’re taught. So if non-scriptwriters have the attitude I can do better. Its not arrogance its something ingrained since early childhood. All the other examples you mentioned aren’t close to being fundamental as communicating. I will make a small exception for those who have perfect pitch. Although the vast majority of Americans can read and write and convey an idea, added to the ease of screenwriting software, makes the playing field look wide open. The biggest misconception is the best screenplay wins. The X Factors are numerous. What most people are afraid to acknowledge is how much breaking into the industry is weighed more on chance and less on skill. As an inspiring screenwriter keep your perseverance and when conditions align be prepared to take advantage of the opportunity.

  • Magga

    I’d like to make a Godard-like meta-blockbuster that has dinosaurs fighting robots, spaceships blowing up cities, muscular men walking with guns in slow motion, sexy women licking their lips and looking into the lens, American flags everywhere, maybe some Chinese flags, bombs ticking down, maybe some actual footage of war, torture and terror intercut with the action, random people saying catchphrases before shooting each other, things that are super easy to film being CGI’d for no reason (like a fence or a lamp) and so on, with no plot, structure, cohesive elements or characters. It should either be called “The Troll”, “You’re Welcome” or “Everything”. But it would be the most expensive point ever made, and besides, we already have every movie released every summer every year.

    • Hadley’s Hope

      Add in some ridiculous musical numbers and I think you’d potentially have something truly great. At the very least, I’d watch it in IMAX 3D.

      • Magga

        A duet between Godzilla and King Kong. Ker-ching!

        • Hadley’s Hope

          Can you have Godzilla eat one of the chorus members who sings a note out of tune?

          • Magga

            Sure, whatever the public wants

          • Hadley’s Hope

            Don’t forget to think about the fast food happy meal tie-ins.

  • Cuesta

    These movies are demographics done right.
    They basically scrap the rules of screenwriting- the painfully boring setups, the expected turns at the expected times, the sometimes unnecessary flaw, the arc because it always has to be an arc, etc- and keep the fun stuff, whatever appeals to the target.
    And people reward it. Shocking, huh? Who would’ve thought that all that rules sometimes aren’t needed? That sometimes they just hinder the fun?

    The trick here it’s that these kind of movies are only possibly made by powerful guys, like Bay or Tarantino, people that somehow, the rules don’t apply to them.

    Because the only drama here is the readers, and their evolution, the critics, whining.
    They whine because that shows that the whole nitpicking isn’t necessary, because it’s easier to skim over ten pages and say the script is shit because it has a four-line paragraph, or a typo in the first one and they just know is going to be bad :( ; or because they lose power, status and trust when a film like Transformers succeeds-
    They say it sucks, they people says it doesn’t. Style over substance, eh? Sure, because people are stupid, and we are not.

    But, you know what? it’s easier to debate about how Pulp Fiction fits the save the cat beat sheet than upending the tea table of filmmaking and caring about the product.

    • Matthew Garry

      That’s like saying aerodynamics are useless because with enough thrust, anything can fly.

    • Citizen M

      There have to be some rules. Otherwise how do you explain major flops like 47 Ronin, The Lone Ranger, John Carter, Green Lantern, Cowboys and Aliens, etc etc.

      There’s more to movies than just stringing a bunch of crowd-pleasing special effects together.

      Even movies that were just clowd-pleasing highlights strung together like the That’s Entertainment series had some sort of structure with stars reminiscing.

  • drifting in space

    People want to be entertained and these kind of movies entertain. It makes a billion dollars. It’s a business. No one really cares about your arts film that makes $12 opening weekend. They want to make money. This makes money. It’s not rocket science.

    Some people put too much weight in what a movie needs to be. Not every movie needs to be The Godfather. Or Jaws. Or whatever movie you want to defend as the GOAT.

    There are still tons of movies released in addition to these movies. Go count them. Take all of the effort you put into worrying about what everyone else is doing and just focus on what you can control. If you don’t think you can compete with Transformers, then give up. There have been big budget action movies forever, they aren’t going anywhere.

    Go write something great. Then you can count your millions when you get hired to write Transformers 10.

  • Ryan Sasinowski

    Y’know, I think you just hit the nail on the head, Carson. I could not, for the life of me, figure out why these godawful movies were being made. But their concept does make for a good appeal. Me, I never had cable when I was a kid, so I missed out on plenty of shows and crazes. I think that’s why I was never hooked on the concept and focused more on the cool effects and how painful the characters and dialogue were.

    I think a shiny new concept would absolutely get asses into theater seats. However, Transformers has the advantage of being a toy line, which few to none of us aspiring screenwriters would be able to have access to. I mean, sure, we could create one, but that doesn’t guarantee success and a recognizable franchise.

    I think for a unique concept, we would need to do something LIKE Transformers, or Star Wars and maybe to an extent, Avatar. Star Wars covers a whole galaxy with different planets and alien races, while Avatar took place on one planet that Cameron so meticulously crafted that there are books and websites dedicated to the flora and fauna of Pandora.

    My point is, if you put enough effort and research into developing your own unique world on top of a good story, people are bound to recognize that.

    • Hadley’s Hope

      Bold new “high” concept?

      How about… Sentient otherworldly entities that come in the form of clothes that take over the mind and body of the person wearing them. The only people capable of stopping these evil shirts and sinister shorts are a mystical race of ninja-like “weavers” who live in the shadows. They weave new garments, turning bad pants into good trousers in an eternal battle for the domination of Earth.

      Title: THREADS

      It’s like TRANSFORMERS meets INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS with a little high fashion mojo sprinkled on top.

      Merchandising tie-in: replicas of the clothes in the film can be sold to the masses. Toys are so “been there done that” don’t you think? Underpants are the next merchandising frontier.

      • Ryan Sasinowski

        Could be interesting, yeah.

      • Citizen M

        You mean when people say, “These shoes are killing me” they are actually being devoured by aliens?

  • Steffan

    I’m a firm believer in putting your money where your mouth is. I’ve been trumpeting my latest script which is a tent-pole action-thriller based on an IP we all know: Shakespeare.

    It’s called “Fleance”. As a big-budget Shakespearean adaptation it’s full of broad themes, a deep mythology, and stakes very dear to the characters’ hearts.

    I think the SS community will enjoy it. As I am angling for a second review on SS, if you check it out and enjoy it,,, pass it along. If not, harangue it.

    https://www.mediafire.com/#0fl7cg6xxeh1s

    Steffan
    http://scriptshadow.net/amateur-friday-inhuman/

    • witwoud

      Is that the right mediafire link, Steffan? It just takes me to the log-in page. The one you posted below works.

      • Steffan

        It surely isn’t then. I will fix it now. Thanks for the info, witwoud. I’ll re-post it in a few.

        • Bifferspice

          i’d change your original link too. i got very confused trying that before reading this :-D

          • Steffan

            Good call, Biffer. Did so.

    • Hadley’s Hope

      Interesting.

      Reminds me of how UNDERWORLD was pitched as “Romeo & Juliet with vampires and werewolves.” These classic old stories and myths can be remixed into new things. ALIENS is basically a sci-fi twist on Beowulf.

  • RO

    “One writer will tell you outlining is essential and that there’s no possible way to write a good script without one, while the next will angrily defend the natural process of discovery that comes from free-form writing.”

    I always found that outlining was the natural process of discovery regarding a story. I mean, with outlining, you are essentially making it up as you go along. You can outline to your hearts content, adding in formatted pages, lines of dialogue, personal notes the whole deal. You can do it as many times as you want. You can read it over and over as a whole, refine it if needed, get re-inspired to add something in or change something for the better. It’s almost like writing ten drafts before you actually go to a properly formatted draft. That’s just how I view it personally.

    As for why Transformers makes all the money with such low quality? I’d estimate that a great deal of it has to do with nostalgia for the classic cartoon show, plus all the other versions that have come and gone and are in syndication. There is a massive amount of marketing, most of which tells you you’re going to like the movie. There’s innuendo, action and exploitation of the male and female bodies, cars and robot fight (most of which are a mess and you can’t see what’s hitting what).

    This franchise came about from initially a very lazy and rushed script. I found it very strange because while it was originally a cartoon made to sell toys, it did have a great underlining message regarding the limited resources a civilization has.

    The whole conflict of the old cartoon was that the transformers were running out of energon and the autobots were searching for a new source. The decepticons were doing that as well, but they were willing to destroy civilizations in order to get the energon. The autobots felt obligated to prevent the decepticons from doing that. They crash land on earth and sleep for a few million years, and when they awake they pick up where they left off.

    Obviously you could easily compare that to some wars humanity has fought in the past, and address some philosophical analysis of it as well.

    The other thing that I find a little helpful is that whenever a transformers movie comes out, I over hear movie goers talk about how excited they are for it, but when I ask how they liked the previous ones and if they could elaborate a little of what they did like, I get the vaguest of responses. They had virtually forgotten the previous films. Many of them haven’t seen them after the theatrical release, plus I wouldn’t be surprised if any of them describing one of the movies ended up mixing things up with the others in the series.

    Right now these movies are big and part of our society for now, but I don’t think for a second that they’ll have staying power. I don’t think that my kids will be watching them in their 20s like I watched Star Wars (and countless other real movies) with my friends.

    • Hadley’s Hope

      “Right now these movies are big and part of our society for now, but I don’t think for a second that they’ll have staying power. I don’t think that my kids will be watching them in their 20s like I watched Star Wars (and countless other real movies) with my friends.”

      Transformers will go the way of Roland Emmerich’s 1998 adaptation of Godzilla before being rebooted. By then the whole Marvel approach to big franchises might be a case study in how to properly balance some sort of proper story/substance with spectacle. So I think Transformers could one day be something pretty great, depending on who reboots it and if they care enough.

    • Citizen M

      “They had virtually forgotten the previous films.”

      That’s why the franchise is so successful. If you could remember it exactly you wouldn’t need to see it again. But if you remember you liked it but have forgotten the details, you need to see it again to get the same hit of enjoyment. And Michael Bay can make the same movie over and over, as we saw in the “three Transformers” video.

  • gonzorama

    I think a lot of it comes down to people being hungry for entertainment. I don’t really think anyone over nine years old “likes” these movies. But poll people leaving and I’ll bet most of them felt they got their money’s worth. We’re in a culture of instant gratification, and we want to be entertained quickly and effortlessly.
    There’s still room for films that make you think. But most people don’t want to think when they’re at the movies. It’s a shame, but it’s a part of our culture.

  • Kane

    I have masterpiece Skywarp and Grimlock on my desk as I type this. I showed up to high school with a G1 Soundwave attached to my belt once, only once. It was a good way to learn how cozy the inside of a locker can be.

    I love me some robots in disguise.

    Let’s say for the sake of argument that there are films and movies, and then there are
    moving pictures. Transformers are good moving pictures and my son has forced me to see the first three. He loves them. I HATED what had become of my beloved transformers. But I have some fondness for the child, and beyond occasional food and water, he does not ask for much. So off we went each time, despite how dirty I felt afterward. I tried explaining to him that, while he may have enjoyed himself, it was still wrong. My comparison to a night filled with hookers and cheap booze was somehow lost on him. But here is the thing, he has not yet asked me to take him to see the latest installment… and I now realize with great shame… I secretly want him to… the horror.

    I’m going to miss the opportunity to rip on this new film. I have gotten countless hours of humor from criticizing the bizarre film logic and cringe worthy stereotyping from the previous installments with both friends and family. One of the robots had gold teeth… gold… teeth. But… there is another more sinister reason I want him to ask me, guilty pleasure, I FUCKING LOVE GIANT ROBOTS that turn into pointless shit for no damn reason! As stated by Carson, it is a hell of an idea. Seeing them, on the big screen, these things are a spectacle. Michael Bey has done a phenomenal job with capturing the mindless mayhem and joy of a kid at play banging together toy robots. Yes, I know there is other stuff to endure between the ssplosions but, um, if you turn your brain off and watch em like fireworks, these films dazzle. Yes, I also know I should not have to do that. It is a movie based on a cartoon made to sell toys, but that original cartoon at least at the start, still made an effort at plot, added a little GSU, simple though it may have been.

    It all revolved around, say it with me nerds, ENERGON CUBES. They were robots in DISGUISE, because they were here to steal earth’s resources and convert them into the
    giant robot lunchables known as energon cubes. See the Decepticons wanted to use that energy to then take over the transformer home world of Cybertron. They wanted to
    keep things on the DL as much as possible till they had sucked earth’s milkshake dry like an automaton Daniel Plainview. So that’s why they changed into shit, cause nobody would be like, hey, I think that Prius is trying to jack us. Don’t ask me why they wore symbols revealing themselves as robots in disguise as they would infiltrate a powerplant, but I’m sure there was a good reason. Like James bond having a code name 007, yet
    everybody knows James Bond and 007 are one and the same, or how Godzilla can
    sneak up on people in the Toho films, or how, anyway… in all honesty, energon may have been involved in the plot of the Bay films as well, or something equally as mediocre, I actually don’t know what anyone, man or machine was trying to do in any of the films, but I know shit BLEW UP REAL GOOD!

    These films make ungodly amounts of money already and I’m sure that the reason plot and character development have been removed is because to add them would create a tsunami of money so large it would destroy the known universe. I for one, like having the universe around.

    So as writers, let us not be discouraged. Just because we enjoyed the local production of Othello doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the fireworks of a Moving Picture. It does not make you an idiot. It’s hard to inject a great script into spectacle. It is hard to write a great script period. But it ain’t exactly easy to put 100 mill worth of asses in seats either and Bey has done it repeatedly, there is a lesson to be learned here for sure. It is hard to create something that goes beyond eye candy, and inspires generations. Everybody can’t be the Beatles, that doesn’t mean we can’t Twerk to a little Miley while we wait for someone to write the next White Album. Take solace in the fact that, you just may be the person to come up with an IDEA and turn it into a script that goes BOOM in our eyes while it splodes our hearts.

    • Franchise Blueprints

      I have masterpiece Skywarp and Grimlock on my desk as I type this.

      +10

    • Magga

      Question, though: Wouldn’t Transformers be so much better if they used models? Seriously, use CGI to integrate them into the environments and so on, but for a movie about ROBOTS, why not make ROBOTS! Large ones for the close ups, like they did in Jurassic Park, smaller ones for wide shots, model cities etc. You would have been able to tell they were models, sure, but you can also tell that the robots, cities, explosions and everything else have been rendered on a computer now. It doesn’t exactly trick the eye. So why not make ROBOTS that look like ROBOTS! I just can’t wrap my head around that! It’s the opportunity of a lifetime! I’m one of those weirdoes who can’t handle movies where people wear capes to mete out justice, or wizards who just say riddles and turn the ocean into a helper, or big monsters stepping on things, but I’d see animatronic robots in a second. I saw 1 and 3 of this franchise at the cinema, but the moral thing if you must see this stuff is to download it and deny the studios money. Its like how it’s bad for your body to use hard drugs, but worse to actually support the cartels and finance their way of life. But animatronic robots… Isn’t it the ultimate no-brainer? How can you put cartoon robots in a live action movie? Aaargh!

      • Hadley’s Hope

        I still think the shot of the terminator stepping on and smashing the skull in the Terminator 2 future war scene packs a lot of power, yet it is a simple shot and the robot only moves its leg and head a bit. It looks totally convincing to me.

        I’ve always gotten a kick out of the ABC Warrior robot from the Stallone Judge Dredd movie.

        http://www.propstore.com/product-images/83/69845.jpg

        • Magga

          Yeah, the lights hit it and everything!

          • Hadley’s Hope

            Maybe I’m just stupid, but it seems to me that it would be not only preferable but easier to use a practical effect (makeup, animatronics, puppets) that actually exists on the set.

            That is until we have S1M0NE tech and AI that can replace actors. Maybe video games will overtake movies someday? I hope not.

          • Magga

            I genuinely can’t believe they didn’t do this with the Transformers series

    • Hadley’s Hope

      “Let’s say for the sake of argument that there are films and movies, and then there are moving pictures.”

      The Transfomers movies are like watching an invisible artist smash giant hunks of metal together into some sort of living abstract sculpture that is then set on fire or blown to pieces by an anarchist pyromaniac, all while unhealthily sun-baked people watch from the sidelines. Just as Bay’s Transformers smash into each other and explode onscreen, we the tanned to leather masses continue to beef-jerkify ourselves as if staring at the Sun all day was a great idea. It is there, up in the sky. It is bright, it burns, and one day it will explode.

      Transformers makes a much better ride at Universal Studios than it does a movie.

      • klmn

        Unlike Carson, you make the movie sound appealing.

  • thedudespeaketh

    I absolutely love coming here every morning and reading all these brilliant thoughts on the film business. Great stuff.

    “Are there any screenwriting lessons to be learned from Transformers doing so well (you’re not allowed to say “That people are idiots)?”

    Yeah. Write one of those fuckers. Should be amazingly easy. :)

    “And do you think these films are necessary for studios to make the more meaty stuff? Or is that BS?”

    When it comes to Hollywood Accounting, I never believe the numbers. A bunch of wonderful crooks. Yeah, so in a sense, I do believe it’s bullshit.

  • Franchise Blueprints

    What I learned later in life after the first Micheal Bay reboot of Transformers. Because the first Transformers movie was an animation.

    Takara created the original idea of robots transforming into vehicles. Hasbro brought the toys to North America. Marvel licensed the Transformers and created the tv show and comic. Hasbro sold the toy in conjunction to the tv show.

    When I was a kid I thought Marvel created the Transformers and Hasbro licensed the toy. The truth of the matter is Takara/Hasbro kept creating robot toys to be introduced via tv or comic. That was the arrangement. Hasbro dictated what the toy was about. Marvel in turn co-created the storyline. Back then the comic and tv show made sense. The Transformers came to Earth while it was still a proto-planet in search for energy and to prevent destroying Cybertron completely. Autobots and Decepticons crash landed before there was any life on Earth. Both sides went into hibernation. The autobot computer accidentally woke up both Decepticons and Autobots due to a glitch in the crash landing millions of years before. The computer scanned Earth and assigned all the Transformers mechanical vehicle disguises to blend in with the new inhabitants of the planet. That’s the origin of the Transformers.

    What Micheal Bay did was take the idea of shape shifting robots and made up everything else from that point. I only liked the first Transformer movie out of nostalgia. Even then he butchered the entire concept. He even said in an early interview how he didn’t ever plan on making the series based on autobots vs decepticons. The Transformers were always the back story and what was going on with Shia and Fox were always the driving factor. They played up the importance of Buster Witwicky to the point of absurdity. The franchise became crippled because of this decision. The franchise has only succeeded because of sheer spectacle. Kids that grew up with the cartoon and comic see the plot holes miles away. People who are seeing it for the first time only know the Micheal Bay version of the storyline and that’s completely acceptable to that audience. There’s more people who don’t know about the original Transformers tv show. Those people will keep the series going, while movie fans and original fans debate the merits of the franchise.

  • Panos Tsapanidis

    “Are there any screenwriting lessons to be learned from Transformers doing so well?”
    Like Carson said, the biggest thing to take away from the success of this franchise is how important the idea/concept is. It’s like the importance of melody in hit pop songs rather than their lyrics.

    “And do you think these films are necessary for studios to make the more meaty stuff? Or is that BS?”
    Makes sense. Profits from past products give you the ability to fund Research & Development on new products.

  • Hadley’s Hope

    I’ve attempted to make some films with local people (I’m not in LA/Hollywood so maybe that is part of the problem). It always turns into a giant mess. Even brainstorming or trying to hash out an outline with another wannabe filmmaker or producer has usually garnered mixed to shitty results.

    Then there are the truly frustrating and demoralizing experiences, for example: I spend a whole day working on someone else’s idea. Helping them brainstorm and outline the story for a short film that not only would I be providing some equipment for, but would be doing the actually nitty gritty writing since this other person had no experience, not to mention the attention span of a gnat. Then when it comes time to discuss one of my ideas for a short film, “nah man, I’m too tired, let’s go to the bar.” FUCK THOSE KINDS OF PEOPLE. No experience, no money to put towards the project, no equipment or other resources to put towards the film, etc. AND THEY CAN’T EVEN LISTEN TO ONE OF MY IDEAS FOR 5 MINUTES AFTER I SPEND ALL DAY WIPING THE SHITSTAINS OFF OF THE WALLS OF THEIR “BRILLIANT” IDEA FOR A MOVIE — which is actually pretty damn cliche and I have to inject a lot of new elements or steer it away from the standard thing that has been done in a billion other movies before.

    End rant.

    Seriously though. This is what you’ll run into nine times out of ten trying to work with people who have never written anything except their name on the back of a check. This is the shit you will deal with trying to put together a short or a feature with people who have not picked up a camera yet and failed. That is what it really is about. You have to start somewhere. Usually this means you start out with a failure of a film or script. Yet the next one is better, and the next one after that is even better and so on. People who have no experience at failure like that think that they can pick up a camera or hash out a screenplay and it is no big deal. It can’t be any different than showing up to their day job and putting in the hours, can it?

    Don’t even get me started on the dude that tried to hijack one of my shitty film projects because he owned a better video camera. Or the dude who I was working on a short film with, who had to go balls out alpha male and try to steal the director’s chair in order to impress a girl who was working on this particular doomed film project.

    It is like the worst you could encounter from some clueless studio exec or coked-up producer, except in those cases you are likely getting paid. You wanna abuse me, then pay me mother fuckers!

    End Rant: Episode II – Rise of the Clueless Filmmaker

    • Sebastian Cornet

      WOW, you ain’t joking. I was extremely, extremely, extremely (multiply that by a thousand) lucky to have worked with a very responsible, determined, and reasonable young director for the shorts that I mentioned. And because it was a school project, the university provided us with the equipment.

      My director friend knew his limitations and trusted me to do my job as a writer. We would try to help each other out all in service of the story. I was on set most of the time to help with anything. The one short I wasn’t on hand for…it went to the crapper. Big time.

      There were some minor inconveniences (actors who canceled at the last second, malfunctioning cameras, etc.) but nothing like what you describe. It was enough to show me that unless I got enough clout to be some sort of Stalin figure, I wouldn’t want to be behind a camera no matter how much they paid me.

      I’ll stick to writing (and being paid, I hope) for the foreseeable future, thank you very much.

      • Hadley’s Hope

        There are good people out there. I have found a few people that are good at working with others and reliable and don’t have giant egos. It seems one just has to wade through a crowd of flakes and whackos to find Waldo.

    • Logic Ninja

      Dude, if you ever have the misfortune to pass near Shawnee, Oklahoma, stop by for a week and let’s shoot a short film. And let’s make it kick-ass. We have the experience, we know it takes working your ass off, twenty hours a day, seven days a week. I have the camera, the lights, the mic, the lenses, and Final Draft. You bring the actors, ’cause they’re few and far between ’round these parts, haha.

      • Hadley’s Hope

        I could always swing by the local community college drama dept. with a van and abduct some eager young thespians.

  • Hadley’s Hope

    I’ve been mulling over a drone/robot story idea that is basically pretty grounded and plausible, except will people even care when they have Transformers smashing into each other on the big screen?

  • Citizen M

    OT: Grendl was spotted among the spectators at the Germany v. Algeria World Cup soccer match.

    • Kirk Diggler

      Did he score a goal or something?

    • witwoud

      Looks more normal than I thought.

    • Hadley’s Hope

      He has his phone out.

      Perhaps he is in the midst of composing a comment for us all?

  • Hadley’s Hope

    I think something that drives people to these films is the way technology is treated as magic. The same can be said for some of the big superhero movies. Tony Stark is basically a smart ass wizard, except instead of using magic potions and spells he uses technology. Instead of a magical knight in shining armor, he builds and operates high-tech power suits that can fly.

    The average person might use a smartphone on a daily basis, yet doesn’t know how the hell it actually works. It just does all this stuff. It is cool but mysterious.

    I think Transformers plays into that a bit, at least on a subconscious level. Not only that but also the current fear and fascination the general public has with drone warfare and all the shady stuff the govt. is doing in terms of spying on us through all our electronic gadgets and social media streams. The Decepticons are like covert sleeper agents hiding amongst us, except instead of pretending to be the average citizen on the street they hide in the form of a car or a boat or something like that. They could strike at any time. They are possibly symbolic of terrorist cells.

    Perhaps I’m over-thinking something that is not meant to be any deeper than smashing metal and big explosions lit in orange and teal tones?

  • witwoud

    Carson: “… You’re not allowed to say “That people are idiots.”

    Why not? Of course they are, bless them. Always were, always will be.

    FLASHBACK…

    The year is 1601. The time is Saturday night. As they stroll over London Bridge, a bunch of idiots are trying to decide what to see that evening.

    CHIEF IDIOT: Okay, guys, listen up. So, the options are … We could go to the bear-baiting again …
    IDIOTS: Bears! Yeah! Woo! Growl!
    CHIEF IDIOT: Or else, there’s this new play called, um …
    IDIOTS: Bears! Bears! Bears!
    CHIEF IDIOT: Hang on. Someone said it was actually quite good. It’s called, er, Omelette …
    IDIOTS: Omelette! Hahaha! Omelette!
    CHIEF IDIOT: Or Hamblet. Something like that. Anyway. It’s about this guy…
    IDIOTS: WE WANT BEARS! WE WANT BEARS! WE WANT BEARS!
    CHIEF IDIOT: Yeah, I guess you’re right. Bears, then.
    SHAKESPEARE: (Standing at theatre door) Idiots!

    • Citizen M

      Shakespeare would never ever use one word where he could use many. The penny-a-line hack would say something like

      Be it ounce, or cat, or bear,
      Pard, or boar with bristled hair,
      These swine I cast my pearls before
      Choose monsters o’er my scripted gore.

  • Kirk Diggler

    There is nothing to learn from the Transformer series. It’s garbage made for the meat sticks of the world. The only way it concerns amateur spec writers is if an amateur spec writer wrote a rip-roaring action/adventure spec that sold for a million bucks and then were approached by the produces of this slop to write the next installment.

    The only question after that would be: Do you have the integrity to say no?

  • Ambrose*

    I’m not pushing this viewpoint in the great Outlining debate but I just came across this quote:
    “In the world of your story, your outline is like the 10 Commandments. Unfortunately your characters are all Atheists.” ― Jefferson Smith

    • Midnight Luck

      I love that.
      F-ng rebels.

  • http://j.nelsonleith.com/ John Leith

    In order to answer the question about whether or not we “should” be making films better than Transformers, we’d have to delve into the psychological metabolism of stories. And, the idea that some stories are better/healthier than others makes people raised on the dogma of free expression a bit uncomfortable.

    Transformers is popular because it tastes good. So is Coca-Cola. So is a bowl full of bacon.

    I’m not saying anything as trite and politically motivated as “too much violence” or “too much sex.” The structure, the character development, the internal coherence and meaning, the themes… these are the nutrients of the story and they can be built on violence, sex, or any number of things partisan puritans often complain about in film. But, when these psychological nutrients are substituted by mere sugar and salt, you get narrative junk food like Transformers. Empty flavor that is inherently unhealthy.

  • Ryan Sasinowski

    Like Venom is SM3. Kinda.

  • Robin the Boy Wonder

    “Let them hate. They’re still going to see the movie.”
    – Michael Bay on T4: AOE. This roughly translates to:

  • http://propagandery.tumblr.com propagandery

    Carson, how can you talk about the writing in Transformers without mentioning the writer (Ehren Kruger of the latest film) or the actual script itself? Have you read a Transformers script?

    As a site that caters to many writers who would be happy to take on the job for the experience and pay a movie like this affords, it would be more helpful to talk about how a professional writer who might actually be really good (as Kruger is) can integrate and address comments from a variety of sources – director, studio, brand, actors, etc. – and still make a coherent movie, or not.

    Sometimes a job is a job, and you seem to be placing an emotional value on the quality of writing or that it’s a moral outrage that studios make these movies when they clearly have a global audience regardless of quality. We all write the best scripts we can, and when we get hired for a big tentpole that serves many masters, we’ll serve those many masters as best as our skills allow.

    Would you turn down Transformers 5? Would almost anyone in this thread? Everyone’s gonna say “of course” but the reality is most of us would say yes.

    I know I would.

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      I haven’t read any TRANSFORMERS scripts myself but I’ve (mostly) seen the “movies” and I’m surprised to hear that actual scripts are involved. I’ve also worked with directors and producers on an admittedly low level – compared to Ehren Kruger, I probably had creative freedom all along. Have you done that already ? Do you know how hard it is, even on a low level, to stand up for your ideas and your story ? Do you honestly believe that ANYONE listens to Ehren Kruger during the “writing” process which, I would assume, amounts to nothing more than Kruger having to cram in all the outlandish things others want him to ? Do you think a fat paycheck is enough to be happy with your everyday writing life and immensely proud of the end result on the big screen, not to mention yourself ?

      If any of us would say yes to write T5, it would very probably be because we’re amateurs enough not to have had our creative souls ruthlessly crushed yet. We still believe that all it takes is a good story, that all it takes is for the producers to see how good we are and that will make them go with our great story as it is instead of turning it into fast food. But guess what ?

      So that would be a big fat no from me. I’m not judging anyone who believes in money in the bank more than personal integrity – to each their own. But the reality is that in the big scheme of things, we writers don’t amount to much, they just need us to do what they can’t but with their own ideas, not ours. I believe it takes a lot of detachment from one’s self to be completely okay with working that way – and a huge house with a swimming pool where you can relax in the company of your full-time personal therapist :)

  • ASAbrams

    The more story a movie has, the less room it will have for those great big money shots. The same goes for structure. The way the Transformers movies play out, there’s a big set piece at regular intervals that a structured story wouldn’t allow for. It’s the purest of spectacle movies.

    Besides, plotted stories are divisive because they will inevitably alienate someone in the crowd. That’s hard to do here. You like big, transforming robot-vehicles and robot-dinosaurs? Well, good because that’s all there is in this movie.

  • AL

    First, I must say that this post is very helpful.

    Second, this comment here has nothing to do with the post but rather with myself. I know I’m self promoting myself and this may seem like spam but I really need some opinions on my four short screenplays that I have written. I couldn’t find anywhere else to post them as other sites would only allow part of scene to be uploaded which didn’t help me as people didn’t know what was going on. Please if you have time to read my script, it would really help. Thank you. Apologies for spamming.

    They are all less than twenty pages and tell me what you think. Thank you.

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1E89_teazcUREk4ejFINV9rM2c/edit?usp=sharing

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1E89_teazcUTl90akwzNk80RVU/edit?usp=sharing

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1E89_teazcUYjRsWUdVVWJrWUk/edit?usp=sharing

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1E89_teazcUejE3VU9YQ2pIemM/edit?usp=sharing

  • Paul Clarke

    Love the structure analogy Carson. Very informative article.

    I didn’t hate the movie as much as I was expecting to. The beauty of low expectations I think. Stanley Tucci saved it for me.

    But as far as producers go, I think they have their thinking back to front. They will look at this movie as a success. It’s going to make over a billion dollars and may well be the biggest movie of the year. But that’s the wrong comparison to make. AVATAR was a similar big budget four-quadrant tent-pole film. But with NO pre-existing fanbase. Not even a sequel. Because it has a decent story it went on to make 3 billion. Therefore Transformers should be aiming for exceed that. Hell go for 4-5 billion. And with a good story it could well do that. I’m sure they already paid the writers big bucks. They just need to have the balls to tell Mr Bay he can have as many explosions as he likes, just as long as he follows the script. Having a good story doesn’t hurt any of the other aspects of the film which make people come watch it.

    • Midnight Luck

      Avatar 2 is coming.
      So now there will be a sequel as well.

      • drifting in space

        There’s like… 4 of them in the works.

  • dawriter67

    Carson’s article points out to one thing – a writer wanting to break into the business and whining about how come MY script doesn’t get read bought and produced?

    You really cannot compare writing for Transformer against some of the perhaps more original stuff that is out there (but then again what is original?)

    Transformers can easily be lumped against the following films – Twilight, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and Smurfs, Tin Tin and…The Fault in the Stars.

    They all had one thing in common – LARGE fan bases. Transformers feasted on your nostagalia where dad’s grew up watching it on TV and dragging their wide eyed kids to the theaters to see some shit crackle pop and go boom on the screen.

    The Fault in the Stars was a runaway publishing success – it had a large weeping girly fan base that was ripe for the plucking of their weekly allowance for a movie to be released.

    The Smurfs and TinTin also had large fan bases – The first Smurf’s movie was a hit the 2nd bombed. TinTin was a hit overseas and did just about okay here in the US and I’m a huge fan of TinTin. Was I going to see it? You betcha!

    It’s easy to write those franchise stories because the stories already exist for the most part.

    And those franchises cost money to buy, invest but they reap dividends. They will pretty much only work with proven writers.

    So for the amatuer like me and you, don’t beat yourself up and just write the best spec you can possibly write. Maybe one day you will be hired to write for a franchise.

  • jw

    What I always find odd about people who “review” films and speak about them is this idea that people go to the movies for ONE reason. People go to the movies for many, many reasons. Is it outside the scope of understanding that someone goes to an indie film to get outside of the “formula,” or to a romantic comedy because they love the “feel” of it, or they go to a summer blockbuster because the CGI is amazing, or they hit the Oscar contenders because they want to see the type of story that gets there? I just don’t get why there is never this conversation about the fact that people go to different films for different reasons. And, honestly, much of the time it’s the trailer. People want to see ORIGINALITY in the trailer and part of what opening weekend is, is the reaction to the trailer. Why does Edge of Tomorrow not get that pop? Because the trailer didn’t look original. Why does a low-budget comedy like Neighbors get that pop? Because the trailer looked fairly original. Unfortunately, the film itself didn’t live up to that originality, but by that time they already have your money, so it doesn’t matter. Trailers fill seats, period. The quality of your film will then determine its “legs”.

  • ElectricDreamer

    Apparently, T:AoE is a subversive film about the Iraq War. Now, I’m intrigued…
    http://thebitterscriptreader.blogspot.com/2014/06/transformers-age-of-extinction-is-most.html

  • Malibo Jackk

    Not sure — “Write something that people will actually want to see.” — is the right message.

    An amateur might start off writing scripts that — no one wants to see.
    (Scripts that never make it to AOW? Not sure.)
    Then they progress to — something people want to see.
    (Possibly most AOW scripts? Still not sure.)
    And maybe after 10 years or so they begin to wonder what’s wrong. Why isn’t it working?
    My guess is there are lots of scripts out there that people would like to see — they just don’t know it. And even when you have a great story like MUD, it may get critical acclaim but only take in 21 million.

    If you want your script to make money, your movie will have to compete with 15 others at the cineplex. I’m not sure I see many AOW scripts doing that.

    And if you want to compete with the big T, you’ll need to write a script — that people have to see.

  • Midnight Luck

    Yes it was trashed then, see I am talking about WHEN IT CAME OUT, not now. those are two completely different things. Movies have lives, and when it came out it was universally panned.

    Now 20 years later or whatever, it has become something else. A vote for it now on RT or even IMDB is not the same thing as a vote for it back then.

    I was talking about what the mindset of people back then was about the film and Sandler.

    Hope you see the difference.

    Just like talking about SHAWSHANK when it came out is very different from talking about it now. It is now considered one of the greatest movies made, it has almost universal appeal. But back when it came out it was not loved, hell almost no one had even seen it and so couldn’t tell you anything about it. Then it was up for many Academy Awards, and only then, the NEXT year did people check it out. There was no Rotten Tomatoes, I don’t even know if IMDB was anything back then.

    So, there is a huge difference in talking about a movie when it came out and now.