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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Are Viewers Changing?

So last weekend the Wave-inatrix and the Mini-W saw Hancock and Wanted - back to back. At the Arc Light's Cinerama Dome. It was a vertiginous experience to say the least. The Mini-W plans to review both movies here on the Rouge Wave but what really struck me was the frenetic pace of Wanted - which, without spoilers, I will compare to The Matrix meets Fight Club. Great cinematic innovation, jaw-dropping set pieces and breakneck speed. There were only four words that really took me out of the movie with a giggle: The loom of fate. You have to see that part. But anyway, the experience led me to wonder if audiences are changing at the same speed as the technology all around us.

The abundance of truncated media experiences like Twitter, webisodes, mobisodes, cell phone novels and blogs (mea culpa) make me wonder if audiences can handle or even want slower, more emotionally powerful experiences anymore. I am a big anti bemoaning the past person; life is always moving forward and evolving, we have to not only accept that we have to ride the wave with joy. But what if your script isn't a lightning speed MTV video of sensory explosions? Will industry executives be interested? Who cares if your story is about people loving, betraying, hurting or uplifting each other? Who cares if that's not dressed up with "bullet-time" or speeding Lamborghinis? Is your story engaging if it doesn't need CGI effects? Do audiences have the patience or even the hard wiring to sit through a story about humans being human?

The answer is YES. Humans being humans with all the attendant betrayal, shifting loyalties, heartbreak, sacrifice and - I'll be old fashioned and say it - love - will never go out of style. Our hard wiring ain't goin' nowhere. What is it about Wall-E that is touching audiences? Why is THE BUCKET LIST (a movie I admittedly really disliked) having such legs on DVD? Why did BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN or CHILDREN OF MEN touch audiences? Why is everybody on my block, right now, in this moment sitting outside on their stoops watching in fascination as three cop cars and a helicopter are trying to get a belligerent man out of his BMW? There's no Michael Bay explosions going on but it's human - who is this guy? Who talks to cops like that? What did he do that a flotilla of cop cars is surrounding him and a helicopter too? Are we going to witness an LAPD moment here? Who are you rooting for? The guy in the car? Or the cops?

We are curious, we humans. And we hurt and we wonder and we need to know that other people share our experiences too because it helps us make sense of life. At the core of just about every movie (I won't go as far as saying all) there is a human story. Wanted is a coming of age story as is Hancock but more than that - both are movies about identity and what it is to be a man. Don't let the breakneck speed fool you - that's just the presentation.

Are attention spans getting shorter? Maybe. The story has yet to be written; novels still sell, whether they are read on a Kindle or not. Humans are still fascinated by other humans; the stories we generate simply by being on this planet are endless. So don't be discouraged if you are writing a drama or a script that is in some way quieter than some of the summer blockbuster fare we are seeing in the theaters. Just write a compelling story with universal resonance; pluck the strings that lie within every human heart.

In DAYS OF HEAVEN, the magnificent Terrence Malick film I just flipped out over, my favorite scene is when Richard Gere, having convinced the love of his life to marry the ailing wealthy landowner so they can inherit his money when he dies, walks away from the landowners house the day of the wedding and glances up at the light in the bedroom window - it's such a tiny moment, and so fleeting but - so powerful. Was it worth it? What kind of plan did you just set in motion?

And for the record, most of the neighbors have gone back inside, but the standoff continues. Three policeman surround the BMW with hands on their guns and the guy inside is still complaining belligerently about things I can only guess at. Wonder what's going on?

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JPS said...

Julie, I'm in the BMW. It's a rental, and I'm trying to explain to these goons that all I want is a cupcake. It was a long flight and there was nothing to eat, and--damn--this guy's got a gun pointed right at me and

Some Guy in Burbank said it, I didn't said...

As I've maintained all along, the film market will change to that of niche films: mass market entertain-them-story?-we-don't-need-no-stinking-story-just-blow-some-shit-up-toss-in-a-dysfunctional-hero-who-can-kill-even-if-he-or-she-used-to-be-an-accountant-before-being-the-savior-of-the-universe and stories with heart that touch us in our soul, aka the human experience. There be other niche films as well (dumb-as-shit-say-fuck-a lot-and-dick jokes will be one such niche film style) but those two will be the main thrust of the niche marketplace...

Personally, I think we're heading back toward the early days of film, action which passes as plot, not a whole lot of story but plenty of escapism and then we'll evolve again toward to real story driven films, but until then the mass dumbing down of the movie biz is still going strong.

In the film business it's always been the tug of art vs. commerce. Commerce always wins, why should now be any different?

Christian M. Howell said...

Howdy Julie. Great post. I think viewers are beginning to be less "picky," because all of the stories have really been told.

Look at Juno or SATC or The Visitor. These movies are very small, yet people loved them.

Even Hancock, which has been critically panned due to plot and story crap, has taken over the box office.

I personally like small movies about people with problems or hurdles to climb.

I think elements have become the new plot. If you have certain elements without crappy content, you will succeed at the box office.

I mean, I can see a trailer and immediately know if it will be worth seeing.

Anonymous said...

A poem to the The Department Department...

Everybody loves "Wanted"
Yeah that's okay
And give me more of "Wanted"
The script is so of my kind
I got to let The Script Department know this
I've got to let world know -- Cinema is changing forever
I need more
I'm not sleeping
There's something about the future of movies
That makes me wanna cry
How do you feel?
All I want to do is write like "Wanted"
What do you think?
Whatcha gonna do?
Repeat -- "Wanted" is the future of cinema
Gonna live my life like "Wanted"
The Script Department- you have good taste
"Wanted" -- coverage.