Monday, May 30, 2005

Being Distinctive

So this weekend, on top of packing boxes and cleaning up for the big move this week, I've been watching movies based on the directives from my story meeting - "Make it like this, but don't make it like this." So, I went to my local video store and bought a bunch of flicks in the "Used" bin and took them home to spur the creative juices a bit. I've gone through a bunch of them, picking up bits here and there, and noticed something:

A lot of them were the same story!

Transposed to a new setting of course, but there they were - the same! Same character archetypes. Same creature and rules. Same shots in some cases.

It got me thinking - Whatever happened to being unique or distinctive in moviemaking?

I started going through and logging the same shots, same lighting, same music. It was depressing, because there was little that was new or unique. The movies were all about laying story pipe, throwing in some scares and finishing up. Nothing "new."

(And the pros that are reading this are going, "You're JUST finding this out, Bill? Sheesh!")

I'm just saying that I have to set the bar higher with my story - that's all. Over on the Retromedia board, we were lamenting the fact that the art for the new D2DVD titles were far better than the movies (something I've always said). I'm repeating myself here, but there's no point in doing a scene the same old way. Alex Epstein was talking to Shelly Erickson about this very thing on his blog, Complications Ensue. She was talking about making a scene fresh by making it at odds with the information the characters need to relate.

This means that I'm going to have to really come up with a really new take on this idea. New visuals, new scares...something "distinctive."

That's really what they mean by a screenwriter's "Voice."

Enough rambling, back to work...


Rock said...

It is incredibly sad. Everyone tells you to write it unique, make it new, then when they get it, the notes will always tell you to make it more like..., or change this so its more like...

Unique is a dying breed in Hollywood.

Carnacki said...

I get the sense that the people want to make something unique but once they begin signing for the money, they want to play it safe. Playing safe doesn't make for great movies (or books).

RogerRmjet said...

Interesting post. I just finished reading Robert Rodriguez' book, "Rebel Without a Crew," for the second time, and this is exactly what he was saying about the Spanish video market when he was trying to sell El Mariachi. The people to whom he was trying to sell admitted that their products were crap (not too far off from Hollywood), but they keep cranking out the same product anyway. Griping about it does no good, of course. The only way to combat the problem is to do what RR did -- get out there and do it yourself.

Anonymous said...

Bill --

you have to give us a little more to go on. What movies were you watching? Since you said same creature, same rules, same character archetypes, I'm assuming they were horor films.

It seems like a lot of horor or creature films I see follow the mold of Alien/or Aliens (and I'm sure both of those are based on something even older).

In a certain way, it goes back to your post about marketing from the ground up. The way I view it, marketing from the ground up, is about knowing the story you're trying to tell and also meeting audience expectations for the story. To discover a new way to tell the story, you've got to twist the story into some new directions.

The best version of this that I can recall is David O. Russell's Three Kings. It starts by being a heist flick in a war zone. Then, somewhere along the way, it becomes a kind of anti-war film (I'm thinking of Mark Whalberg's torture scene) and then it becomes something else--not quite sure--a humanitarian film? But to me it still works. Now some people would call that sloppy filmmaking but Kings still seems fresh to me because the story choices are so unusual. A heist flick has certain conventions (think: The Italian Job). There must be a couple of heists at the very least. Once you start breaking away from those conventions, you either a) risk losing your audience b) or find something better (hopefully).

That's my three cents.