Loss of Subtlety

Belieive it or not I'm walking on air...

Belieive it or not I'm walking on air...

Subtlety has escaped Hollywood. Hollywood, however, is a representation of what the market will bear. Market being the peeps. Us. What we’re likely to pay a whopping twelve bucks to watch.

To be more homogenous, movies must have:

• Action • Suspense • Romance • Mystery • Redemption • Revenge • Comic relief • Strong female lead • Coupled by a backward-thinking male lead who learns to love the strong female lead finally realizing that she’s his everlasting soul mate for all time and beyond • A chase scene either by foot, car, truck, or air, with shoot outs that lead to a climactic battle between God and Satan, where armies of orcs, elves, muggles, wizards, witches, followed by mere men and women, and a child who was born with a butterfly tattoo preordaining her to cure the virus that has threatened life as we know it and must complete a special training that will make him (wasn’t it a her?) nearly invincible (nearly because we have to have tension in our epic fog of a story) • And a Hollywood ending where the child cures Satan of his issues, and both God and Satan float off into the sunset • The End

Ebert and Scorsese

Ebert and Scorsese

One of the things I do is read reviews of movies, Roger Ebert being my favorite. They don’t have any bearing on what I watch. But I can learn a lot about story telling by people’s likes and dislikes, and they’re fairly common. As a story teller, the market is important to a certain point. But as J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyers has proven, good content creates the market. We see this in the explosion of wizardry and horromance in the media today.

I see you

I see you

When reviews are either good or bad cohesively, there may be some merit. On Fandango, I had looked up the times for Hereafter, directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Matt Damon. Part of the movie was filmed in San Francisco in an apartment building my friend lives in. So it was cool hearing stories of how filming went.

Fandango had a rating of yellow, meaning most of the people who saw the movie thought it was “so-so”. That’s the middle rating. But Jackass in 3D got a bright green rating, the top, a “must go”. A red means “oh no”, stay away or lose two hours of life you can never get back.

Most people complained Hereafter was slow and uneventful. But you can’t have a good story with substance based purely on the afterlife. You may point out Paranormal Activity, but it’s just cheap thrills. Would you stay in a house that haunted you for any length of time? I’m brave. But I ain’t that brave. And none of the Paranomal movies explored why they stayed or what issues being haunted brought up. It represents nothing. It's like going to a strip club, paying to get a hard-on, then walking home with with no relief.

Not that I know of those kinds of naughty, naughty things.

A good story with substance uses something as the backdrop, like the afterlife, to show case interpersonal issues. Hereafter does that from three different perspectives: a psychic who can communicate with the dead, a journalist who had a near death experience, and a boy who yearns for his dead twin.

Work it, work it

Work it, work it

A good example of backdrop is Casino Royale. I'm not a huge Bond fan. I never knew why until I started to study story. James Bond is a classic character. He's suave. He likes all women. He sleeps with all women he desires. He likes his drinks to be shaken, not stirred. He can get out of any situation. He's a master fighter, can wield any weapon made available, and is witty.

But as a character, he never changes.  He doesn't go from having no confidence to being confident. He doesn't realize the error of his ways. He doesn't learn to be loyal because he already is. He doesn't have any bad qualities.  Qualities that a writer can hang his hat on to change.

Except for one. He's emotionally detached to the women he's intimate with. He never falls in love. Then Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green, shows up in Royale. She's confident, brash, reads Bond for who he is, and just as every bit competitive. Through their competitiveness, Bond falls in love with her. A huge change in both character and in the movie. When Vesper dies, he must struggle with the pain, something all humans go through. As a result, Casino Royale is one of the best reviewed Bond movies.

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Nothing New Under the Sun

"What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun." Ever heard this?

As a storyteller, this can be a very limiting view.  Or is it?

Romeo_and_JulietWilliam Shakespeare's version of Twilight

A prominent screenwriter in Hollywood, David Freeman, gave a seminar.  There are hundreds of seminars I could have attended, but why did I go to his?  If you go to his site, he talks about techniques in writing.  No theories.  In fact, he gave so many techniques, it was like getting a trunk full of tools.  And in any one job, it’s highly unlikely you’ll use all of them, but you’ll definitely use enough to make your story emotional, something he emphasizes a lot.

He agreed with the quote above, but in a very un-limiting way.

I love going to movies, and one of the pleasures is seeing the previews.  I hate missing the previews like I hate missing the beginning of any movie.  One movie I’m anticipating is Avatar.

When I first saw it, I thought, James Cameron stole my idea!  WTF Cameron?  How’d you hack into my PC?

As I watched the preview, his premise was different.  Similar but different.

Then an image sparked in my mind.  American Indians gazing out into the sea as English ships sailed toward them.

The story of the Native American Indians against pioneering pilgrims is a familiar one.  It’s empire building.  The conflict?  The natives don't want to leave.

Look at Braveheart.  I love that movie.  It’s the same thing.

Look at the battle of Thermopile, 300.

Look at the Mongols invading China.

Look at China’s history of the seven independent states warring against each other for power.

Look at Star Wars.

Look at King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

We have tons of stories based on the idea of oppression.  Sometimes the story ends with unification, like China and the seven states.  Sometimes we have stories of independence, like William Wallace’s fight for Scotland’s freedom.  But they all stem from a single idea.

Avatar is no different.  A powerful force, in this case us in the far future, wants something, a valuable mineral.  To mine it, we have to “politically” move a native race.  Easy enough.  But wait!  The native people don’t wanna move.

And the story begins.

Freeman said there were an unlimited amount of stories that could be told using the story computer.  Look at any story that you love or connect to.  Find a variation.

Turn the hero into a heroin.

Change the race.

Change the time.

Change the setting.

Change anything.

Look at Romeo and Juliet.  Change the time to the present.  Make the male a brooding, James Dean-looking vampire.  Now you have Twilight.

The Princess and the Frog is a great example.  What do we expect to happen when the princess kisses the frog?  The frog should turn to her prince.  But Disney was like, “Hell no. Dat’s been dun.  Da princess should turn to a frog, sucka!”

OK.  I doubt Disney execs would talk like that.  But they used the story computer to churn out what seems like a great story.

The Seven Provinces is a familiar story.  It's about empire building.  It's an underdog story.  It's about a man trying to protect his family in a time of war.  It's about oppression, betrayal, tragedy.  And much more.

There may be nothing new under the sun.  But that doesn’t mean new stories can’t be told using familiar themes.