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Friday, December 28, 2007

All of us are in the gutter

Tis the season when the Wave-inatrix catches up on all things movie. I look forward to it every year. I decamp to my narco-couch and local theaters and take in every movie I have been hankering to see all year. I find that one cannot be disgruntled and elated properly while watching the Golden Globes or Academy Awards if one has not viewed the fare in question.

Today I saw THE SAVAGES, with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney. One word: WOW. It was sad and funny and meandering and complex. Just like life. But what a satisfying movie. And of course (as most things do) it led the Wave-inatrix to think about the way this nasty old industry works. THE SAVAGES (and its precursor, THE SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS) is the kind of movie that most deeply satisfies my movie-going urges. Yes, I take in the big action pictures and yes I do enjoy them - but they don't stick in my brain and they don't inspire me as a writer.



Most often, when I write about the art and craft of screenwriting in the Rouge Wave, I am referring to the rules and expectations that most mainstream production companies and agents would have of your average spec script. Scripts like JUNO, LARS AND THE REAL GIRL and THE SAVAGES - three of my favorite movies of 2007 - would not pass the litmus test that is applied to spec scripts floating around on the market. And yet they were all fantastic, complicated, entertaining movies which collectively have made less at the box office than NATIONAL TREASURE made in its opening weekend.

So what is an aspiring writer to do? Write based upon the template of selling scripts, or write from the heart and hope for the best? It's a cliche but still good advice to say just write a good story. Write the kind of movie you'd love to see; write from the heart and damn the torpedoes. And if you never find "success", i.e., a sale, you can still know that you wrote for the only reason to do so - because you had something to say.

In the same breath, it is important for aspiring writers to have a sense of what goes on in the corridors of production companies in Hollywood, where the deals are made. Mostly, what transpires is a bit heartbreaking and depressing - but what do we become as writers if we don't reach for the stars and write outside of the box? We have to be able to straddle reality and our aspirations as writers. What if Van Gogh had only painted what was popular at the time? What if Hemmingway wrote what he thought would sell? Make no mistake, writers need to eat and of course, every successful writer has taken paying the bills into consideration. It's pie-in-the-sky to think otherwise. But we can't be unbalanced in the way that we approach our writing; it's bread and circus and paying the bills, it's zeitgeist and heartfelt and everything in-between.

Yes, there a lot of terrible movies made and yes, scripts like JUNO outstrip the quality of writing in many box office giants. Know thine enemy and keep your eyes on the prize. The ability to write is a gift. Use it to support yourself, use it to express yourself and never forget the writers who came before you who took risks, money be damned.

All of us are in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars...
Oscar Wilde


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4 comments:

Jake said...

Forget the much critically acclaimed and over-hyped, "Juno." Hands down the best movie/script of 2007 was and is, "Once." Read the script, there isn't a flaw in it.

To me, "Juno" is almost written too good. And it reeks of a writer trying to be too clever. Yeah, people are falling in love with the movie, all that does is prove just how important good press is and the power of PR...

1. Once
2. Once
3. Once
4. Lars and the Real Girl
5. Away from Her

As good as 3:10 to Yuma was, it's not nearly as good as the original.

Christina said...

I agree with Jake - Once was the best movie of the year, in my opinion. It was subtle, surprising and very satisfying.

I liked the screenplay for Juno a lot (haven't seen the movie) but I hate to say it - I see a lot of Enid from Ghost World in the dialogue. Diablo Cody said the only script she read before writing her script is Ghost World. Ghost World happens to be one of my favorite all time scripts. I've read it cover to cover numerous times. And Juno...is Enid. Diablo Cody's voice to me feels like a watered down Terry Zwigoff/Daniel Clowes. Most people wouldn't catch this, because most people haven't read Ghost World 10 times.

Still, Juno is a great script in that it I was turning pages. It's damn readable. I could see it unfolding and I liked where it went. I liked that the story was simple, but each scene goes deep.

What does this mean for me? It means I've got both commercial and arty scripts. I have my sell out rom coms, and I have Whacking Betty, my dark comedy set in a halfway house for wayward women. If someone gave me $2 million and said - make one of your scripts, I wouldn't hesistate to make Whacking Betty. But it's not going to be the one that sells to someone else...

Laura Reyna said...

I've read the script for JUNO & have the same problem with it as everyone else-- it tries too hard to hip & clever (I know who The Stooges & Richard Hell are too, so F-ing what?). It feels too written. And the story is is well... it's very small, very simple & not very original. But still, I felt something for the char's at the conclusion. I wish it had been that heartfelt throughout, instead of just at the end.

After I read the JUNO script I found out about the GHOST WORLD connection & came to the same conclusion as Christina (& i've only seen GW once or twice). Supposedly, Cody read GW in order to learn SP "formatting", and JUNO & GHOST WORLD have striking similarities. Coincidence? I think not.

But this whole Diablo Cody thing only re-enforced what i've alredy concluded: People are overly-impressed with showy dialogue. And if a writer has a flair for showy dialogue, it will take her/him far... and may even distract people from some of the weaker aspects of his/her writing.

Give people the SIZZLE and they'll think your steak is that much more tasty-- even if deep down we know it's really not.

Haven't seen ONCE yet but keep hearing great things about it. Looking forward to it.

~L

steven said...

I saw the movie yesterday
Here goes:

This was a very good movie.
And none of you wrote it.

You want to pick on it's flaws,
my wife up a few:

Juno's was still in the house when the puppies came at the end where did her dog allergies go?

How come she didn't talk to her boyfriend until she was five months pregnant.

What was that almost pedophile moment with Jason Batement about?
not very convincing or realistic

And oh yeah, we're writers too.