Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Audience Shrinks

CANBERRA 02/06/09 - The Dept. of Health and Ageing has allocated $35m to aspiring writers and Medicare will refund manuscript development costs since a report commissioned by Minister Roxon links creative writing with a balancing of the mind. Commenting on the controversial move, a department spokes person says: "Who cares if it bores audiences? It saves lives."(*)


Did or didn't you consider for a split-second the item might be real? There is some truth in the fact that first-timers often write auto-biographical material. And writing from the pain of your heart does work cathartically to a degree.

As a matter of fact, many successful writers' first screenplays remain the best of their careers, just because they are the most personal, vivid and direct, inspired and moving.

Why then, don't more writers succeed in getting their autobiographical screenplays financed and produced?

Because they care about their own catharsis, not the audience's.

The audience is now taking the place of the shrink. This system kind of sucks, because shrinks usually don't pay but get paid. And rather handsome amounts.

Still, there may be serious currency in self-analysis. All you need to do is tell your story in a language the audience understands.

The Greek tragedies we know were written around a character arc that would lead the audience through a journey towards change.

This journey would show them a mirror image of themselves and help them accept certain painful facts of life - and learn how to deal with them, how to become a better person, a stronger character.

The plays that stood the test of time were written for the audience's entertainment, not in spite of their catharsis but because of it. They were also meticulously structured.

When you want to transform a personal story for a large audience, you must take into account this need for structure and adapt the true facts to a work of dramatic fiction.

Writing a screenplay with autobiographical elements is in many ways just like adapting a biography for the screen.

(*) Yes it is fake and I will apologise if I must. But if you think this is tasteless link bait, my original heading was worse.


Last month quite a few of my workshop students urged me to go see IRON MAN. I do like some mindless entertainment so now and then and I hadn't seen a good popcorn movie in a long time.

However, I was reluctant because superhero movies hardly ever offer interesting character journeys.

They are mostly just about someone trying to get a job done.

In my view, the superhero type of movies is even dangerous to aspiring filmmakers. Because it shows you don't need to create a great character to draw the masses.

Needless to say the whole argument about established franchises and billion dollar marketing is wasted on these inspired souls.

Saying that I was pleasantly surprised about IRON MAN is an understatement. I had a wonderful time: here was a totally entertaining film with a structure that didn't feel formulaic at all.(**)

With its double transformation, I wouldn't hesitate to call IRON MAN a character-driven screenplay.

Tony Stark first transforms from mindless war monger to mindless peace keeper, then his character grows from an immature, toy-obsessed playboy to an adult with clear focus and moral compass.

In a way it is the Spider-Man mantra revisited: "with great power comes great responsibility."

Too bad "IJ4" blew Tony out of the cinemas. It seems David Koepp could have learned a thing or two from IRON MAN.

(**) Although I suspect it has a clean Eight-Sequence structure. Watch the Premium Ed. for the analysis in the coming days.


Oscar said...

When you say "superhero movies hardly ever offer interesting character journeys", do you include Batman Begins or Spiderman 2. Peter Parker in Spiderman 2 has an interesting character journey, because it is essentially the mundane assuming of ordinary adult responsibility that (almost) everyone in their early 20's goes through, albeit with the added complications that "great power = great responsibility".

And then there's the brilliance of Fantastic Four...

Karel said...

I agree that BATMAN BEGINS is an exception. In that context, have a look at Complications Ensue.

Not so sure about Spider-Man 2. I would need to look at it again. If my memory serves me right, Peter is just reminded of the change he underwent in Spider-Man 1, where he learns to take responsibility rather than playing around with his newfound power (much like Stark in IRON MAN).