Tuesday, June 3, 2008

"Why I Can't Write A Movie"

I come out of the latest Indiana Jones sequel and the only thought racing through my brain is, “Why did they make this movie? Besides for money?”

Aside from a sword fight involving a guy straddling two cars (which, I believe, I saw some version of in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie) and a few trees full of enchanting monkeys (who had nothing to do with the movie – the monkeys’ faces reflected visible surprise at being involved), the movie felt ponderous and dull, choosing nostalgia over invention, and displaying little visible effort at having the story make sense.

To date, the latest Indiana Jones movie has made over two hundred million dollars, so what the heck do I know? Except this:

I know movies used to be better.

I’m talking major studio motion pictures. They were demonstrably better. What does “better” mean? Satisfying. Enduring. You come out of the theater without wanting to ask for you money back. I know old people like old stuff, and that we live in a culture where “Nothing’s better or worse, it’s just different”, but I’m telling you:

Today’s movies are worse.

Come on, film buffs. 1939. The Oscar winner was Gone With the Wind, the nominees – among others – The Wizard of Oz (Dr. M’s favorite), Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Ninotchka, leaving no room fo Beau Geste, Gunga Din, Young Mr. Lincoln and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Not the mention The Thin Man. May I have your comparable list of any other year? Or any era, beyond the Thirties and Forties, where, by the way, the movie business was just as passionately committed to making a profit?

Yes, most movies were always terrible. But they made more movies back then. If only ten per cent of movies made per year are any good and you make five hundred movies, the result is fifty good movies a year. If you only make a hundred movies a year, the same proportion leaves you with ten good movies. And I don’t believe we regularly reach that level.

Reasons, reasons, reasons.

What makes current movies so terrible? The movie studios were bought up by larger entities demanding reliable profits. This is something I’ve never understood. If corporations wanted reliable profits, why did they go into the movie business in the first place?

Go into missiles. They’re always making missiles. I don’t know why, they never use them. But I’m certain there’s way more money in missiles than there is in movies. If you don’t like missiles, try Wall Street. Or real estate. Real estate guys buy basketball teams.
The best movie people can get are good seats.

And yet, big companies continue to invest in the movie business. Maybe they just like being invited to the premieres. Bragging rights, you know?

“We made another missile.”

“I met Angelina Jolie.”

“You win.”

Here’s me being incredibly ungracious. I have no future in the movie business, so I can say whatever I want. I don’t know how the presidents of movies studios go to work in the morning. What exactly do they believe they’re doing for a living?

“In the name of profit, I eviscerate a formerly flourishing art form.”

That probably wouldn’t be their answer. They’re probably more positive about what they do. But isn’t that kind of accurate? They transformed the movie business into a money machine?

How did it happen?

Well, the first move was “The Lust for the Blockbuster”, with, hopefully, encouraging sequel potential, though even if the sequel potential isn’t encouraging, they’ll crank them out anyway. Indiana Jones has powerful name recognition.

“Let’s go!”

“But we have nothing new to say.”

“Let’s go!”

Then studios discovered “The Youth Market.” Movies for teenaged boys. To see with teenaged girls. Crank up the sound. Pour on the special effects. Forget believable characters and storylines you can follow. Video games don’t have storylines. Give me carefully-timed jolts of visceral excitement. Sex and gore. Not Al Gore. The gore that flies out of screaming honeys when they explode.

Okay, those are business decisions. We can’t fault those. We live in a business culture, and business requires that you to go for the money. If you don’t give the company the profits it expects, they fire you and get somebody who will. Eager to retain your perks and prestige, you hold your nose and drag moviemaking down another notch.

(I know I’m being very negative, but I have to get this out first. After that, I’ll take responsibility for why I can’t write a movie. It’s in my character, maybe in other people’s too. Before acknowledging failure, I need to diminish the thing I’m failing at. Not that what I’m saying is totally without merit. How much merit, is for you to decide.)

Moving on. To our glorious culture, a culture that requires writers to tell only one story. Over and over.

This is the storyline of all American movies:

Somebody wants something. And they get it.

That’s it. That’s the American story. Everyone gets what they want. Whether it’s a sports movie or a romance movie, the outcome is obligatory: the team wins; the couple ends up together. It’s not the studio’s fault. The audience demands these endings. Otherwise, they feel cheated. They’ve wasted their time.

“I watched an entire debate movie where a team from a small, black college takes on Harvard and they lose? What am I doing here?”

Somebody wants something and they get it. In movie, after movie, after movie. Like a kid who demands that you tell them the same bedtime story every night. The only exceptions are the movies that are made for Oscar consideration. Then, there’s a twist. For the Oscar-aspiring movies, it’s

“Somebody wants something, and they go crazy.”

Or die. Or go blind. Or lose a leg. Or get assassinated. It’s an odd thing. “Winner” movies rarely win the Oscar. Maybe the Oscar voters think:

“They already won in the movie. Let’s give it to the schizophrenic.”

(I know there are exceptions. The exceptions are my favorites. In sports movies, I love Rocky and The Bad New Bears. Both of them lost the title. In romantic movies, I’m crazy about Lost in Translation, and I really liked Once. Those couples didn’t end up together. What makes those movies memorable, for me, is their rejection of the “and they get it” resolution and their resonating humanity.)

I can’t get excited about writing a movie where, not only I, but the entire audience – and maybe the universe – already knows the ending. What’s the point? To be in the movie business? It’s not enough.

The only challenge in writing movies where everybody knows the ending appears to be in the skillful disguising of the inevitable. That seems like a lot of work for zero surprise.

“Can you believe it? The underdogs won the cheerleading competition.”

“Yeah, and against such enormous odds. I’m completely blown away.”

Let’s hear it for “The Sarcastics!”

And yet. Anthony Lane, a gifted and reliable movie critic for The New Yorker injected this in a review of Baby Momma:

“Not that predictability weighs against a film. What counts is not the well-tried grid of the narrative, but the kind of energy you send through it.”

When I read that, the first thing that came to my mind was,

“This movie critic has just given up.”

Predictability is okay as long as you send energy through the well-tried grid of the narrative?

No, it isn’t.

Unless you’ve seen too many movies and have decided to throw your hands in the air and “mark on the curve.”

I believe a writer owes the audience something they haven’t seen before. But that could be a personal quirk. When I wrote the pilot of Major Dad, there was a place in the script where a “Knock-Knock” joke was required. I admit it. I bought the definitive “Knock-Knock Joke” book. I read every single “Knock-Knock” joke. Some of them were pretty funny for “Knock-Knock” jokes. Then, you know what I did?

I made up a new one.

It’s probably just my “Good Boy” nature. I am not wired to steal someone else’s “Knock-Knock” joke. Unfortunately, I totally lack the “new ‘Knock-Knock’ joke” counterpart of a movie idea. I simply haven’t got one.

I wrote for television for thirty years. Not every story I wrote was original, not every joke formulation surprising, but that was always my goal. That’s probably what made the work harder. Trying to be startlingly original in every regard. Larry David pulled it off, but I wasn’t at his level.

Over the years, I’ve written three original screenplays. None of them sold. Being the negative person I am, I then stopped writing screenplays. Unlike other writers, who keep banging away, three “No’s” and I’m out. That’s all the rejection I can handle.

So there’s that.

But there’s also something generally about television writers and the movies. Not a lot of TV writers have successfully made the move. At least, not in comedy. Some of them didn’t want to. Besides the fact that television writers retain far more control over their scripts than all but the biggest movie writers, there is also the question of longevity. Ed. Weinberger, a hugely successful television writer/producer used to say.

“I’ll go into the movie business, when I can have a career in the movie business.”

Go to IMDB. Compare the resumes of television writers and movie writers. Television writers have consistently longer careers.

More importantly, however, there’s the meat and potatoes, the “doing the actual job” consideration. I’ve given the matter considerable thought, and the best I can come up with is that TV and movie scriptwriting are fundamentally different.

The difference is not just that one form is longer. It is that it has something to do with a compositional rhythm. It’s like the difference between a writing a hit tune and writing a symphony. The hit tune has to hit you early, hard and often. The symphony, without lagging, can be more deliberate, luxuriate in its detail, and build methodically to its crescendo. Hit tunes don’t have the time. Neither did sitcoms. Especially the non-cinematic ones I worked on, that were filmed in front of a live studio audience.

It is my belief that the muscles you develop writing in television can be liabilities when you try to transition to movies. Though I wouldn’t deny that what I just said may simply be an excuse.

Nah. It’s true.

One of my favorite comedians from the past was Victor Borge. Borge was a Danish immigrant who once described his transition to life in America this way:

“There was a point, after I’d been in America for a while, where I’d forgotten all my Danish, but hadn’t learned any English.”

That’s pretty much describes my condition moving from television writing to movie writing. It also describes my unwillingness to write anything I've seen before and my inability to come up with anything new. Both situations render me

Speechless.

39 comments:

rivergirlie said...

what an interesting blog this is! i chanced upon it while googling the word 'jejune'. i think that says it all!

biloxi said...

You sure do have alot of blocks to overcome, but I'll be glad to have said, "I knew Earl before..."

My take on this movie nonsense is that every story has been written, and someone out there is afraid of simplicity and "the basics". I mean, take an apple...you can drop it from a building, let it sit on a counter and rot, dice it into fruit salad, inject that whole religious agenda. Or you can just show Carey Grant EATING an apple, and audiences start to drool.

Which brings to mind...maybe there aren't any good enough actors? Perhaps actors who've suffered enough (other than rehab), actors like...

Anonymous said...

Why do they call special effects special? They look like computerized effects. In the old days, you were more mystified as to how they pulled off the seemingly impossible.

Max Clarke said...

When I was a kid and our family went to the movies, it was like entering another universe. Even the bad films showed you a new world. These days, you can get that experience from video games, any number of cable channels, and DVDs. That has an effect upon moviegoers, and it also has an effect upon the people who make movies.

Jeff Tompkins said...

Earl, this is a great blog. I came here via Ken Levine's recommendation and link and I'm glad I did. Definitely will be reading and following your blog.

john brown said...

Business school mentality has had a negative effect on almost everything. A national book store chain closed their store in our town because it was under performing. It was making a profit, just not enough of one.

The Thin Man or Philadelphia Story would never be released today by current movie executives. Too much talking, no exploding hobbits.

Scott said...

Obviously you haven't played video games in a while if you think they do not have a story line.

Also, if you have written three screenplays, and they have not been sold, could you post them so we can see if it was the industry or just yourself that lacked imagination?

Kiki DeMeer said...

Obviously you haven't played video games in a while if you think they do not have a story line.

Also, if you have written three screenplays, and they have not been sold, could you post them so we can see if it was the industry or just yourself that lacked imagination?


Aaaaaaand the angry gamer nerd delegation has arrived. Good lord, you dudes are predictable. Go on, tell us again how GTA made more money than Jesus blah blah blah?

domino87 said...

Wow, chill Kiki. All he's sayin is that a lot of video games these days have storylines, some almost movie like in there presentation and quality.

Likin' the blog so far. Also came via Ken Levine's link. Your take on the movie business being all about profit reminds me of a David Simon rant on "raw unencumbered capitalism".

Randall Bobbitt said...

Great Writing. Unfortunately, audiences don't go SEE good movies anymore. Or for that matter, watch good TV.

TCinLA said...

Well, as a long-tiome movie writer who even managed to wake up one morning and discover I had written a "cult classic" (according to the sciffy channel when they showed it again last week and didn't send the residuals check in - again), I have to say that you are entirely right.

Nowadays what they want are widgets. I used to go to the movies religiously every Friday night to see what was new. The last time I subjected myself to the torture of going to a movie theater (the experience of the theater being even worse than what's on-screen) was November 2003 when I went to see "Master and Commander." The only "trilogy" of the past ten years worth looking at is the "Bourne" series, and a worthless waste of innocent film stock like "The Departed" gets the director of "Taxi" and "Raging Bull" his Oscar for phoning it in, while an incredible movie that not only takes you some place you've never been before but turns your consciousness inside-out forever, "Blood Diamond" doesn't even get a nomination past the acting.

I can tell you that there is a whole gaggle of movie writers who have crap produced credits like mine (when you look up the IMDb) who have no trouble getting their latest spec to places high up on the A-list, where the script gets you a nice meeting with people who tell you how much it moved them, what wonderful writing it is, and then tell you that unfortunately they just don't have the energy left to make the fight it would take to turn the script into a movie. My Vietnam script that made my reputation was once called "the best unproduced Vietnam script in Hollywood" by no less than American Film after seven major studio presidents went down the tubes yelling "I want to make this movie!"

The problem is not that good movie scripts are not being written. They are. They just don't get anywhere, because they're not "widget movies." Jennifer Davisson Killoran had to spend 5 years making "Blood Diamond" happen and it wasn't until she became DeCaprio's producing partner that she could push it over the goal line.

But don't crow about TV either. Between September and May of any given TV season in the past 10 years, 99.9 percent of what the networks put out doesn't even make it to the level of the crap that gets put in movie theaters.

But then there's June-September nowadays: "Mad Men," "Damages," "The Closer," "The Shield," "Rescue Me," "Burn Notice" - the list goes on.

But not on network TV, which is now even more a "vast wasteland" than it was 45 years ago when Newton Minow had the courage to describe the swamp for what it was.

git me outta 'ere said...

Oh God, what have I started. These angry guys must be from my neck of the woods. Couldn't get a laugh outta 'em if a walleye bit 'em in the ass. So sorry, I left the scented trail.

Doug Walsh said...

I was with you right up until you said videogames don't have storylines, then I spit coffee all over my monitor. Thanks for making a mess of my office.

Sure, not all of them do. You don't need a story for a racing game and many of the kill-em-all shooters are actually better off without a story, but there are a few games (and more each year) where the story is every bit as important as the gameplay. I suggest you take a look at the "Shenmue" wiki page for one example and also take a gander at "Bioshock" as well.

The only quality entertainment one can rely on consistently is the Discovery channel.

TCinLA said...

Actually, it's not a surprise that the latest Indiana Jones movie is crap. I've watched "Raiders" 20 times and will likely watch it another 20 before I die and will love it each and every time. I cringed through "Temple of Doom" because I had a screening pass and didn't want to embarass myself walking out, and then went to the last one to see it because a good friend was "the man in the hat" in the prologue, and then walked out 20 minutes later.

Same with Star Wars. I've watched the original 39 times and as a professional s-f writer still love it in either the original or enhanced bersion and could watch it another 39 times without problem. Saw "Empire" three times (the 2nd and 3rd times to convince myself the first time was as bad as it seemed), cringed once through "Jedi," walked out of "Episode 1" over the cheesy story and effects and incompetent direction (all Lucas' fault), and didn't waste time or money on the last two.

Spielberg and Lucas are both vastly over-rated, and are only good on the first one, then they just copy themselves and like a bad xerox copy being copied into the 10th generation, the movies jsut get more and more awful. Spielberg's at the point where he sleepwalks through even his "good" stuff ("A.I." "Minority Report," "Munich"). The truth is that if "Private Ryan" didn't have the first 30 minutes it has, it would be a third rate made-in-WW2 WW2 propaganda movie.

I havea good friend who is a very good computer animator, who thought he had "made it" to be hired at LucasFilm for the "first trilogy" of Star Wars." He discovered Lucas wanted it to be cheesy and quit before subjecting himself to the next two. He went to work for a good filmmaker, Peter Jackson.

30 years from now Spielberg and Lucas will be seen for being the pernicious influences they are and have been for the past 30 years.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Television isn't better, just ten to fifteen years behind, as always. The changes you describe in the movies are happening in television as well. There is less and less room for ambiguity and negativism in television. See the succes of Ugly Betty, Men in Trees, etc. Compare Men in Trees to Northern Exposure and you'll see what we have lost. There's a whoole generation out there that is not prepared to laugh at itself or exept the image of themselfs as people capable of failure. Taxi was the last sitcom that was structurally about learning to live with failure. After that, everyone is a hero.

on a star said...

A little off topic here (looks like Tuesdays are hoppin')...but if anyone wants to get in on the giftlist exchange, I'd be simply honored. Especially if you showed us yours, Earl darlin' (and maybe your wife's).

Will said...

Great post. I have a running joke with my wife about. How different things will be if the Movie industry doesn't get it's act together. Today people who work in film tend to be slightly condescending towards their TV counter parts. But in ten yours you are going to hear TV people saying "oh you work in movies, how quaint"

Bitter Animator said...

Thing about Indiana Jones is that I can't see why it can't be a shameless cash-in, rake in a fortune and yet still be a well-crafted movie. I had no problem with so many of the elements, but the story just didn't come together.

It seemed to suffer from too-many-draft-itis. Like it was just a patchwork of drafts that didn't connect. A collection of scenes rather than a story.

But there are great writers out there. I've read some great scripts in the last few years. And yet a film like this, with such history, potential and expectations, ends up with a patchwork non-script. I don't get it.

On a side note, TCinLA, I'd recommend you give Temple of Doom another go after all these years. You might still hate it but that, to me, is a film that somehow massively improved with age.

James said...

Couldn't agree more.

And I'm only 28. I find myself wondering what happened to all the good movies.

I think that perhaps we are simply in a transitional phase in the history of film. Much like the advent of sound paved the way for gimmicky talkies cashing in on the new technology, the advent of CGI has dulled the imaginations of not just those that tend to the money machine, but film makers as well --

"Oh, we can fix that in post," is the new mantra.

Unfortunately, it is incredibly difficult to fix flawed story in post. And to be honest -- I get the feeling people have forgotten what story is in the first place.

Once upon a time, story needs drove the need for technological advances in film. See sound. See Star Wars. See Terminator 2.

Now, with the ability to make the most ill-conceived fantasy have a tangible form on the screen, it is now technology that drives story.

I only hope that this phase is on its dying legs.

Richard Marcej said...

"May I have your comparable list of any other year? "

Off the top of my head I'd say, how about 1976?

Network
All The Presidents Men
Bound For Glory
Taxi Driver
(and they lost Best Picture to the mediocre Rocky)

vandrop said...

Someone above said: Taxi was the last sitcom that was structurally about learning to live with failure. After that, everyone is a hero.

Fascinating observation! This has been a delight - the post and the comments both. I would posit that those great movies from 39 that we all love are also about someone wanting something and he gets it. It's kind of what a movie is. Still, dreck is dreck and there's a hell of a lot of it spewing from screens today.

the screenwriter said...

Brilliant post, and fantastic comments…especially because I’m an “up and coming” screenwriter who’s trying to make a career out of it (I know – GULP), and I have the EXACT same sentiments and feelings across the board…from the current state of film (and TV), to the craft of screenwriting, and on to the fact that the same visceral emotions films used to evoke from me are now being evoked by video games.

Instead of passionately reaffirming everything that’s already been said (and I could at great length), I’ll throw out something that hasn’t necessarily been said yet.

What I’ve found on the film side of Hollywood is that a lion’s share of screenwriters do not value their creative contribution (The Story) to the film project as a whole. This lack of value for The Story has been breed out of the screenwriters and into everyone else. There are a lot of (unreasonable) reasons why, and I won’t bother to list those. But do know that it wasn’t always like that, and it doesn’t have to continue.

The greater point is that it means that The Story is CONSTANTLY being hijacked by those people in the production who are not storytellers. This may seem trivial, but it is (along with the monetization of the industry), in my opinion, at the very heart of the problem, at least from my “in the trenches” perspective.

Take your standard film project with your standard professional filmmakers filling their roles in making a movie. Just as screenwriters are not directors or actors, the reverse holds just as true. But, as of right now, you have directors and actors all believing they can craft stories, which is as asinine as a pitcher thinking he can play center field and hit cleanup. Both players are on the same team and have the same goal, but are encouraged (and expected) to focus on their own expertise to achieve that goal.

The other absurd trend is to bring in multiple screenwriters to work on a screenplay. Again, GENERALLY speaking, they don’t do that with directors, or actors, or composers. If the talent the production hired decides that they’re going to phone their performance in, there’s nothing they can do. The movie’s gonna bomb and everyone knows it. But, for some ridiculous reason, everyone things it’s a fantastic idea to have a revolving door with the screenplay, even if the original writer is available. This makes as much sense as having four chefs all come in and work on the same dinner…train wreck much? And for an industry being run by “business” professionals, Econ 101 should’ve taught them the “Law of Diminishing Returns”.

Either way, whether it’s through the directors thinking they can write, or productions sabotaging their own scripts with multiple writers, the end result is the same: The Story gets hijacked somewhere along the way. And when that happens, when screenwriters allow The Story to be hijacked, when they don’t defend what they know is right, then everything else after that point (the direction, the acting, the score, the post-production) is DOOMED. No amount of CGI or mass marketing is going to save it.

As a screenwriter, I have worked EXUBERANTLY hard in my limited experience to establish creative trust as quickly as possible with the producers I work with. Making sure that before any director or actors walk in the door, the producers know that I am more than committed to not only protecting The Story, but am actually capable of (lightbulb!) making it better. And a key component of earning that creative trust, besides striving to always have the best idea in the room, is valuing my contribution to the project.

And I do it not out of ego, though I do take great pride in my work…I do it most of all because I, too, LOVE warm popcorn, cold soft-drinks, sour candy, and being swept away as much as anyone else…and I know that it all begins with a great story.

Anonymous Production Assistant said...

Somebody wants something. And they get it.

The only other option is, "And they don't get it."

So... there's only two stories?

Wayne Kline said...

Earl,
I agree. TV writers have longer careers.

So what was the knock knock?

Mark Mayerson said...

Somebody wants something. And they get it.
Somebody wants something. And they don’t get it.
Somebody wants something. They don’t get it but get something that’s still satisfying.
Somebody wants something. They get it and discover they don’t want it.
Somebody wants something. They discover that they want something else.
Somebody wants something. They get it and discover the real cost of it.
Somebody doesn’t want something. They get it and have to get rid of it.
Somebody doesn’t want something. They can’t get rid of it and have to reconcile to it.
Somebody doesn’t want something. They learn they’re wrong for not wanting it.
Somebody doesn’t want something. They learn they’re right for not wanting it.

I'm sure you could work out more variations.

TCinLA said...

Actually, "Screenwriter," they've been throwing multiple screenwriters at movies since there were talkies. In fact, that and the fact that the studios were reserving to themselves the right to decide who had actually "written" what got made had everything to do with the founding of the Screen Writers Guild (which eventually became the WGA)

As a matter of fact, I've been in this since (probably) before your parents even knew each other, let alone started propagating, and every one of those points you make are points I used to discuss with my old mentor Wendell Mayes and his great good friend Billy Wilder and they talked about that stuff from back when they were at your stage of the game.

Nice to see that with your post here that my theory of "hope springs infernal" is true. Indeed, "there's a sucker born every minute." :-)

Laura Deerfield said...

1976:

All the President's Men
Bound for Glory
Carrie
Marathon Man
Network
The Omen
Rocky
Taxi Driver


That's a pretty good list - and there are comparable ones from every year from 1969 to 1979 (with some stellar films in '67 and '68 as well.)

And of course, 1939 also included Hitler - Beast of Berlin, Barricade, Bachelor Mother, Boys' Reformatory, Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever, and Daughter of the Tong.

Every year has good and bad films.


Though, I do admit, the balance has been off for a while - I think it's cyclical. Film improves every time it's threatened by new technology. In the '30s - there were over 40 million radios in use in homes in the US. To compete with radio shows, the movies had to be better. In the 60's TVs had proliferated - and in the 70's, with the advent of the VCR, movies had to shine a little more to compete with videos.

I think we're about due for another golden age, as "new media" becomes more prominent and studios realize that to compete with DVRs and the Internet, they don't need to make more expensive movies - just better ones.

Anonymous Production Assistant said...

Mark,

All of those variations exist in American movies. Earl said all movies boil down to "Somebody wants something. And they get it."

He's already discounted your variations. My question still stands.

Vigs said...

Earl, your description of every American movie - somebody wants something, and they get it - could well describe Homer's Odyssey. He created the template 3,500 or however many years ago, and everybody's been ripping him off since.

Commerce and craft can go together, as Shakespeare proved. The reason a movie stinks is simply a lack of dedication to the craft and total focus on the commerce.

But don't worry, once film makers figure out how to use the Internet as their main distribution route, and that day is surely coming, the whole calcified edifice will crumble, and a new era will dawn. Keep the faith, brother.

Earl Pomerantz said...

Look at movies from other countries. They're not about outcomes. They're about something else, usually having to do with the journey. I know that Zennier than Thou, but there's a difference. This country has a value system in which the final score is all that matters. That's fine for baseball, but it narrows the range of acceptable storytelling.

Anonymous said...

I believe to cavil over seven words in this post -- "Somebody wants something. And they get it." -- is to miss the larger points. What I get from those sentences in context is an argument that Hollywood movies are overwhelmingly optimistic, comforting and wish-fulfilling -- an argument, exagerated as it may be, that's a lot more interesting than snippy comments about semantics and categories.

Earl Newton said...

Earl -

First off, AS an 'Earl', it's odd to be addressing another Earl. It's not like we're Davids or Joes.

Second - one of the things that occurred to me during this post is about the inherent difference of TV versus movies.


But that said: movies are about ideas. Only a few of them are really about characters. Indiana Jones is one of them, but he comes out of the serials of the 40s - which certainly resembles the format of television (episodic, following a single character or set of characters over a long period).

No one goes to Alien Vs. Predator to see if the humans make it out alive. They go to see what Alien will do to Predator, and vice-versa, and to the humans, ad infinitum.

(As a post-script: I think there IS an implied foreknowledge of the end of a TV episode, as much as there is in movies. Audiences know you aren't going to kill off a main character or dramatically change the relationship dynamics. Just like movies, it's about what you do in the middle.)

Earl Newton said...

And I say all that to say: this means you CAN write movies.

But apparently I cannot post on a blog without prematurely "sending".

Let the wisecracks begin.

Anonymous said...

Agree with your take on Indy Jones. Seemed like the guys (Spielberg, Lucas and Ford) got together and said, "Let's slap one last Indy movie together. And, just for laughs, let's open it with a tribute to American Graffiti and throw in a salute to E.T." Where were the compelling characters from previous Indy flicks? I still don't get the UFO/space alien stuff. Were they nice aliens or aliens who wanted to destroy us? But the least believable part of the movie was actress Karen Allen's return as Indy's old/new girlfriend. Not to sound sexist, but couldn't she have visited a gym a few times before shooting? The movie dragged on and on. I kept hoping Cate Blanchett's character would turn into a young Bob Dylan, just to liven things up.

Screenwriter Shep said...

TV is better than Film.

TV writers have far more control than screenwriters.

It's not a coincidence.

There's a reason why, IN GENERAL, that writer-directors make more original movies than directors who don't write.

Compare Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Woody Allen, Spike Lee, Coen Brothers et all to Spielberg, Bay, Ratner, and whoever else you want to throw in -- the latter three make more money, the former make more original movies (though you could argue about Tarantino).

Someone else mentioned it, but in film the people who are the best at telling stories (the writers) have the least control. You have studio execs who've never written a screenplay before in their life doing whatever they want to the script, and if the screenwriter doesn't like it, they're replaceable.

In TV, the creator of the show stays around to make sure the show stays on course. In film, the creator can be replaced.

And I could point to hundreds of examples where your theory of "the character wants something, and they get it" doesn't apply.

No Country for Old Men, Blair Witch Project, Rocky, Se7en, for instance.

The problem is that those movies generally don't make as much money.

And if you're investing $60 million dollars, you're going to aim for the sure thing over anything that has artistic value.

I'd also like to point out that most TV shows follow the same formula -- a character wants something, and they get it. Friday Night Lights -- they win state. Dexter finds the Ice Truck Killer. Buffy saves the world. An American Idol gets a contract.

For the most part I agree, but it's not that there's not good scripts being written, it's that no one is willing to take risks.

James said...

"Somebody wants something. And they get it."

“Somebody wants something, and they go crazy.”

Isn't that all comedy and tragedy? And wasn't this discussed in Aristotle's poetics 2000 years ago?

The Wrong Box said...

I agree about the wonder of 1939, but one tiny nitpick: The Thin Man came out in 1934.

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Anonymous said...

Cleaver a screenwriter? LMAO. Go look at the reviews of his "movies" on IMDB and see how well his masterpieces have done. Hell, he hasn't had anything made into a movie in over 10 years. What a tool