Archive for January, 2011

Why The King’s Speech Rules01.31.11

If you haven’t seen The King’s Speech yet, you’ve no doubt at least heard about how good it is and seen it winning awards and garnering Oscar buzz. If you have seen it, you know it’s amazing. I went into the film with high expectations and left with them fulfilled. The acting, of course, was incredible, the story interesting, but what struck me as a writer and consultant-the thing we can all learn from this movie and implement into our own stories was the way the writers used conflict and high stakes to keep the viewer intrigued.

As I discussed in my post on Conflict-when writing a letter is harder than going to the moon it doesn’t matter what the goal is, it can be as seemingly simple as writing a letter, or giving a speech, what matters is how difficult the obstacles to achieving that goal are. In The King’s Speech the goal is pretty basic-give a speech. Easy, for most people. But when you throw in a debilitating speech impediment, and the monumentous importance of the speech, the stakes are raised and this seemingly simple task is incredibly difficult for the hero. The audience is engaged and fascinated and feels the same suspense and fear that the hero does as he tries to accomplish his goal.

Keep this idea in mind when working on your own stories. No matter what genre or subject matter you’re working with, the goal must be impossible to achieve. Whether it’s climbing a mountain after losing all your equipment and your left foot to frostbite, or turning in that homework assignment while fighting off invading aliens who have kidnapped your grandmother, the goal itself doesn’t have to be great as long as the obstacles that come up make achieving it nearly impossible, and therefore interesting to watch.

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2010′s Worst01.28.11

As the new year begins, there are a lot of articles and lists online about the worst movies of 2010. Since I think studying bad movies can teach as much if not more than looking at the good ones, I wanted to compile a list. Since I didn’t go see any of these awful films myself since I am not a masochist and could tell they would be abysmal, I had to go by the research of others.

I found six lists online of the worst movies from different critics and websites. I included Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes since they also compile multiple opinions and give each movie a score. The following movies appeared on the most lists so for my list, I dub them the worst movies of 2010. I’ve linked the movie title to its IMDb entry, as well as the Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic entries for each film, so you can research exactly why these movies failed without having to actually watch them.

The Spy Next Door appeared on 2 lists, and received a score of 13% on Rotten Tomatoes, (47% audience) which puts it safely out of their worst 10. Metacritic gives it a hefty 27,  which is pretty good for such a poorly reviewed movie.

Equally bad, and another children’s movie, was Tooth Fairy, which appeared on 2 lists and received a score of 17% on Rotten Tomatoes from the critics but a solid, almost “fresh” 46% from regular people.  Metacritic weighs in at 36 with a 4.1/10 by users. With a tagline like “You can’t handle the tooth” and the Rock in fairy wings, what’s not to like?

I was happy to see The Back-Up Plan on 2 lists, as someone who has been trying to have a child the old-fashioned way, you know, by having sex, I had to roll my eyes at the premise of this movie and how ridiculously they were treating the very important, personal and often difficult process of fertility treatments and IVF turned into a stupid slapstick romantic comedy. The premise irked the hell out of me and I had no intention of seeing this movie. Rotten Tomatoes says rotten with only 20%, audience once again at an almost respectable 47%. Metacritic gave this gem 34 and a user score of 5.8/10.

Yogi Bear appeared on 2 lists got 15% on Rotten Tomatoes, 43% audience and 35 and 3.8 on Metacritic. I can’t imagine how such a deep, intellectual cartoon wouldn’t make a phenomenal film, but if Marmaduke couldn’t hack it I guess Yogi and Boo Boo had no hope.

Before I even started compiling data, I knew Jonah Hex would show up somewhere near the bottom, and it did on 2 lists. My husband, along with 98% of the heterosexual male population, is quite in lust with Megan Fox, and he also happens to love Westerns, so based on trailers this movie seemed custom tailored to be his favorite. When he started to watch this movie and could only sit through 15 minutes before turning it off and moaning about how awful it was, I knew it was bad. I mean he sat through Transformers 2 just to watch Megan. Jonah Hex got 13% on Rotten Tomatoes, and unlike some other equally criticallypanned films only 26% audience score . Metacritic agrees, with 33 and 3.7.

Jonah Hex also deserves special mention because, unlike any of the other movies listed here, which may have royally sucked but at least raked in some cash, it was also one of the lowest grossing films of 2010- rustling up only 10.6 million dollars.

Saw 3D appeared on 2 lists  and got 11% on Rotten Tomatoes but 51% from the audience. At Metacritic, a very low 24 and 4.6. Any movie with this many sequels can’t be expected to be very good, particularly when they seem to be only making this one to take advantage of the 3D craze.

Vampires Suck made it to 2 lists with an embarrassingly low 4% on Rotten Tomatoes, (33% audience). Metacritic was a bit kinder at 18 but only 2.9/10 user score. When you put the word “suck” in your title you’re opening yourself up for puns and criticism, but I thought it was a clever title, and with all the vitriol swirling out their against Twilight I thought perhaps a spoof on it would do well. Clearly, most critics are closeted Team Jacob Twi-hards, so this film, which was no doubt of the utmost quality, suffered.

On 3 lists, When in Rome wins the award for the only one on my list that I saw-in the theater even. I was on a trip with a bunch of girls and this was the girliest movie available so we saw it. It was pretty bad. I’m all for structure but this was so formulaic it wasn’t even interesting to watch, I knew by the time I was done with the trailer how it would turn out, and the gags and slapsticky gimmick-based comedy wasn’t funny at all, nor was there any chemistry between the leads. They were together because they were supposed to be and for no other reason. 16% on Rotten Tomatoes (44% audience). Metacritic gave it 25 and 4.4 user.

While I have seen every single episode of the Sex and the City TV series I have yet to see even the first movie, let alone this one, which is apparently godawful, making it to 3 worst movie lists, with a sad 27 and 3.9 on Metacritic,  and 16% (49% audience) on Rotten Tomatoes. Something about four slutty-er-um, free-spirited-girls prancing around Dubai seemed like a recipe for disaster to me, and it looks like I was right.

Furry Vengeance made it to 3 lists, earning a vengeful 8% on Rotten Tomatoes (37% audience) and 23 and 2.2 on Metacritic. Oh Brendan, how far  you have fallen from your glory days of George of the Jungle and Bedazzled. Just kidding, he’s been in decent movies too and I personally loved him in George-not many men can pull of the loincloth look so well.

The Nutcracker in 3D was on 3 lists with 0% on Rotten Tomatoes (34% audience) and 18 on Metacritic. Apparently critics were weirded out by the retelling of the classic using a metaphor for the holocaust. Who knew Rat-King Nazis would be offensive?

Killers showed up on 4 lists with 11% on Rotten Tomatoes (45% audience) and 21 on Metacritic (3.5 user). I am not a fan of Ashton in anything other than That 70s Show and Dude Where’s My Car? so I am not surprised at these ratings. His upcoming movie with Natalie Portman is definitely going to tarnish Natalie’s reputation as a sophisticated, talented actress.

The Bounty Hunter made it to 4 lists and earned 22 (3.1/10 user) on Metacritic and 7%  (42% audience) on Rotten Tomatoes. Why anyone wouldn’t want to watch Jennifer Aniston scream at and fight with yet another actor in a poorly written rom-com is beyond me, I mean look how enjoyable The Break-Up was.

And the worst 2 which were featured on 5 separate lists were The Last Airbender and Grown Ups.

Grown Ups got 10% on Rotten Tomatoes but a surprising 60% user score, and  30/5.1 on Metacritic.

The Last Airbender got 7% on Rotten Tomatoes (42% user) and 20 (3.1 user) on Metacritic. At a certain point, you have to start wondering why anyone in Hollywood keeps giving M.Night more money to churn out so many flops.

In an upcoming post, I’ll look at why these movies failed and what they had in common, and how you can learn from their mistakes to improve your writing. But now I’m off to see The King’s Speech.

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The Worst Movies01.13.11

There is something to be learned from screening the good, the bad and the ugly movies out there. Though most of the movies that make it far enough to be widely released have some merit and some level of production quality, there are always truly abominable films that squeak through, and watching and studying them is good for your screenwriting career. Not only can you learn from the mistakes of others, you will be encouraged and heartened.

Watching a well-written, acted, and directed miracle of a film is enjoyable, but it can also make the process of getting your script read seem daunting and overwhelming. Unless you’re ridiculously cocky, you may think you never have a chance if that’s what it takes. When you watch bad movies, a little voice in your head (the one that prompts many to pursue screenwriting in the first place) starts screaming: “This crap made it? Your script is a zillion times better than this! You can do it!” Watching a bad movie is like watching one of those (sometimes bad) teenage movies where the dorky girl or guy finally gets with the Homecoming King or Queen of their dreams. It makes you think (whether it’s true or not) that if they can do it, surely you can too.

While researching the worst movies of 2010 for an upcoming post, I found this interview of Michael Adams, who wrote Showgirls, Teen Wolves and Astro Zombies about his quest to find the worst movie ever made. Check out his book, then check back here, in an upcoming post I’ll be discussing some of the worst reviewed and biggest box office flops of the past year, and what you can learn from them.

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Beyond Likable, Relatable01.05.11

When discussing likability, variations of this question often arise:“What about so-and-so from such-and-such movie? He/she was a total jerk and I still loved that movie and it made a gazillion dollars and won 50 Oscars and so you’re wrong!” Common screenwriting terms like hero, likable and sympathetic often give the mistaken impression that the only way to craft a hero your audience will relate to is to make him or her flawless and courageous, rivaling Superman in their unselfishness and service to humanity, and being perfectly perfect in every way. In fact, the opposite is often true and the more mediocre misanthropes work as “heroes” that may not be likable, but are, more importantly, relatable. After all, one of the most satisfying parts of the movie-watching experience is seeing a character grow and transform because of what they learned. When a character starts out as perfect in every way, there is nowhere for them to go. And since most people can relate more to an average slob than a perfect superhero, flawed, everyman types will engage your audience.

There is an extremely fine line between a relatable, sympathetic, down-to-earth character that audiences can relate to and a jerk that will offend and piss them off. You have to make sure you don’t make them so imperfect that they become unlikable and your audience roots for them to fail. Audiences will root for and relate to underdogs or the wittily sarcastic, but not total assholes. Flaws can make your characters more relatable than perfect people with no problems, but they have to be flaws, quirks and life situations that most can relate to.

Characters are often weak, not brave, shown at their worst moments, their weaknesses and bad sides revealed to the audience to see, so that even if they appear gruff and cruel when interacting with other characters, we see and understand their vulnerability and what they’re really like when they’re alone.  In As Good as it Gets, Melvin is a jerk, but a relatable, sympathetic one that we worry about and feel sorry for. The glimpses at his obsessive compulsive disorder show us that he is vulnerable and damaged, so that we can forgive his gruff exterior and the insults he dishes out left and right. Something is very wrong with him and that brings him down to a level that the audience can relate to, worry about and sympathize with.

In Shrek’s opening montage, Shrek is shown behaving badly-we can relate to the slob he is, the gross little grooming things he does are funny because they’re ogre-ish, yet strangely relatable and familiar. We get that his gruff exterior and crudeness really serve to maintain his isolation, and that he is not so bad below the surface (or the onion layer).

Most members of your audience have not enjoyed a perfectly smooth ride up to massice fortune and success. The majority of them, even the relatively successful ones, have dealt or are currently dealing with failure or disappointment, so they will relate to characters facing the same.

In Sideways, Miles is shown at his worst -on the toilet-he has no shame, he is washed-up, stuck in an unfulfilling job, failing as a writer, bitter and low. Nothing is going right in his life and all he has is his love and extensive knowledge of wine. Despite him acting like an unscrupulous jerk (giving her shitty flowers for her birthday as an afterthought, and then stealing money from his own mother, helping his friend lie so to cheat on his fiancée) he’s not exactly likable but he is relatable. We feel his pain, we have felt this low and down-and-out, so we forgive him his sins and sympathize with his predicament, we want him to succeed and pull himself out of this rut. We want to see him enjoy life, love and that bottle of wine.

In Groundhog Day, Phil is an ass throughout, but a charming funny one. Though he is often rude, his cutting sarcasm is funny and honest. The town is weird, the holiday is stupid, and the people are irritating and overly sentimental. Even though he is mean, most people would be thinking the things he says, and seeing him say them is refreshing and satisfying in a way that makes him relatable, despite being a bit of an asshole. When he becomes stuck in an endless day, we’re with him, relating to him because he is the only one that knows what is going on and sees the truth, and we start to worry about him and if he’ll ever get out of this repetitive cycle.

In The40 Year Old Virgin being pathetic makes Andy relatable. We may not all be 40 year old virgins, but most of us can relate to feeling socially awkward at times, being confused about how to act on a date, or what is expected of us, and trying too hard to fit in with friends or coworkers.

Most people relate more to the underdog and the working man than the boss or the generic evil corporation. Even the most successful, powerful CEOs have at one time been in jobs or positions where they felt unappreciated. We’ve all had the sense that life shouldn’t be spent in a gray felt cube, so we admire and cheer on Peter’s antics in Office Space, even though, in reality, he’s being selfish and immature, and is screwing over his coworkers and his company. If you had a coworker like Peter, you’d hate him and complain about how his slacking hurt you, but on screen, we all relate to what he does because most of us have been in his shoes and felt the way he felt and only wished we could rebel so fearlessly.

Bella from Twilight appealed to so many teenage (and okay some 29 year old) girls because she was not the cool kid.  As described in the book especially, she was clumsy, average looking, quiet, socially inept and the type of person that most girls in high school (whether they’re popular and hot or not) think they are deep down inside. Women love the idea of someone (like Edward) loving them for who they are, despite the fact that they aren’t perfect, so this character was broadly relatable enough that nearly every person (even coordinated, bubbly blondes) could relate to Bella and feeling like Bella, especially in High School.

Keep in mind what makes you like other people you know in real life. Of course there are those who you look up to and admire, who inspire you to be better because they’re so darn perfect and successful themselves, but chances are, you feel the closest to and the most comfortable with the people in your life who have let down their guard and shown you their weaknesses. Apply this to your characters, and craft flawed, realistic people that the audience will relate to.

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