Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ranting from the Creative Mind (part three)

Oh, just one more thing about collaboration… 

It's important not to think that a good collaboration means you always agree on everything. In fact, many times it's the opposite. Arguments are to be expected, but it's nothing personal… 

It's all in the search for truth and logic. I don't care if you're talking about a romantic comedy, an intimate drama, a slasher film or a sci-fi fantasy… As imaginative as the situation might be, you still have to have a basis of truth in your characters and how they behave and relate to each other. You don't have that, you don't have squat… Pure and simple. We all know what bullshit smells like and we've all had a whiff of it in way too many movies to be satisfied with it. 

Now comes the rant

But I am sometimes frustrated with the indifferences of audiences today. We've become satisfied with "good enough." We've become so numbed by ugly, homemade, two-minute videos on YouTube that no one takes the time to appreciate the art of the image or the subtle impact of a good performance or an in-depth story anymore. 

Quick is better! We live in a world of highlight reels… give me the spoiler so I can move on… without any build up or suspense… We all want to get to the destination without the journey and we really cheat ourselves out of so much when we do that. It's well known that the journey is the best part. 

But it's like we're okay with the bullshit so long as we get the spectacle. It's like eating cotton candy. It doesn't fill you up or have any nutritional value, but it's sweet and colorful and it gives your jaws something to do. 

And not that the audiences don't realize this. They do. People constantly complain to me about why movies are so bad, but what they don't realize is that they are just as responsible as the filmmakers. They pay to see these movies and the bean counters surmise that this is what they want. I don't think I ever met a single person who liked a "Transformers" sequel, yet they all go see them. And I'm guilty of it, too. It's like we keep getting suckered into the same ponzi scheme hoping that this one will make us rich but it never does… And the corporate suits laugh it up all the way to the bank. 

The term used to be "Show Business" but now it's strictly business. Creativity is relegated to the marketing campaigns, not the storytelling. 

And the disdain that producers and execs have against the artist - especially writers - is extremely palpable. I recently had a meeting with a finance person and a producer about a story that I had created and neither one of them spoke to me once the whole time I was there. It was like I was at a tennis match. I sat between them, looking back and forth while they dictated the future of my project. And whenever I tried to interject, I would receive this annoyed glance as if I was a child who had spoken out of turn.

And what I find most interesting in these meetings is that the producers never talk about the quality of the story or the characters or how to please the audience with a great movie, it's more about the numbers and acquiring the pieces they see as more valuable. What's trending today? "We should put some superheroes in the story. Who cares if it's based on a true story, superheroes are big now." How much in tax breaks can we get? What star will get the most in foreign pre-sales? 

Say what you will about the studio moguls of Hollywood's Golden Age… Sure they treated the writers like second-class citizens back then, too… but at least they understood the importance of a good story and they were willing to take risks with talented people who had vision. 

Today, Studio execs read financial charts, not scripts. And the ones who do, watch a two hour seminar on the fundamentals of screenwriting and think they know all there is to know. All you have to do is follow this simple formula and that's it… "Save the Cat" and Presto! Instant success! And that's why every damn movie you see nowadays is the same damn movie. And then they stand there and scratch their heads and wonder why no one's going to the movies anymore. 

And what's worse is they don't even follow the fundamental rules of good storytelling.

Seriously, if you've ever taken a Screenwriting 101 Course, one of the first things they beat into your brain is to never and I mean never… rely on exposition to tell your story. 

Yet, you go see any $200 million tentpole extravaganza and I guarantee you within the first ten to fifteen minutes, you're going to get that scene where somebody pulls out a folder and goes down a grocery list of attributes that will explain everything you need to know about your main characters.

Which brings me to another pet peeve I have… 

When someone tells me that a movie wasn't very good but it was… "entertaining." "All you have to do is turn off your brain and you'll enjoy it."

"What the f**k is that?" 

It's such a cop out and it's just plain lazy!… Lazy writing, lazy filmmaking and lazy viewing. Life is too short. Why waste your time? 

But that just goes to show how much we've allowed the bar to be lowered. We're not demanding enough. We are a generation lost in creative ignorance. We're now perfectly happy with looking at a stick drawing instead of the "Mona Lisa." 

With that kind of logic, I should be satisfied staring at a brick wall. I don't have to think about that either. Our passivity and lack of interest has made us boring!

But what really pisses me off is when some producers come at you with this condescending attitude like… "Oh, you artist! You're so precious about your art… I live in the real world. I'm a business person. I care about making money." 

And I'm like… "F**k you! I like making money as much as the next guy. I love money! I've lived with it and I've lived without it and I will tell you right now, it's much better with it. But I also believe that the best way to make money is by creating a quality product. I guess, you could say I have that APPLE mentality… Yeah, it might be harder to create something good, but the rewards could be so much more than just trying to cheap it out and make a fast buck ."

You see, I still have faith in the audience, because I am the audience, too. Just like me, they want quality. They've shown it time and time again when they support those little gems that come out every once in a while that redefines everything. 

And the one thing you can never lose sight of is that the audience is your boss! Even more so than the producer, studio exec or distributor… it really comes down to your audience, whether or not they are pleased. And if you underestimate them, dismiss them or take them for granted, they will slaughter you, cook you and eat you!

And as filmmakers who take this job seriously, we constantly have to ask these two simple questions… "Do we buy it?" "Is this something I want to see?" 

Once we can answer "yes" to those, you can be pretty safe to say at least two or three other people will, too.

(Next, preproduction and casting begins…)

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