#ThinkpieceThursday – The Adventures of Tintin: Another Spielberg Misstep

tintin-movieIt’s hard to understand how a seasoned storyteller like Steven Spielberg can make such basic mistakes in both War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin.

One of the most common problems with scripts that don’t work is the lack of a clear and specific want vs. a deep and powerful inner longing.
The want pulls us through the story. The need draws us deeper into or inside the character. If this bedrock conflict isn’t clear the script won’t add up to very much.

Let’s look at the simple issue of who is the protagonist in Tintin. The protagonist in a story is the central character whose actions set off the chain of events that pushes the story forward. So far so good.  Tintin buys a model ship that holds a long-hidden clue and sets off a chase for treasure. The protagonist must have a physical goal in the story that he or she actively pursues.  The goal for young Tintin is clear enough, solve the mystery and find the treasure. This is what TinTin wants.

What the character needs is an inner ache or yearning that the character is unaware of, denies, suppresses or ignores. It is a deeper, more abstract or intangible human longing. It is not physical or concrete. It is an emotional or spiritual urge or inner call to live up to one’s higher nature. For example: to stand up for one’s beliefs, to become a better parent, to forgive another, to act with integrity, to find one’s faith, to become more altruistic, to be a better friend, to face the truth, to love unselfishly, etc.

To embrace the need, the character must abandon the specific goal (or object of desire) and address more fundamental and far-reaching human concern. One of the most common problems with scripts that don’t work is the lack of a clear and specific want vs. a deep and powerful inner longing.

This is the case in Tintin.  There is plenty of external conflict in the chase. There is a good amount of relationship conflict in the centuries old feud between the Haddocks and Rackhams.  But there is no inner conflict for Tintin. There is nothing the boy needs to over come in himself in order to succeed.  He falters for a very brief moment late in the film but is immediately cheered up and on his way without missing a beat.

Captain Haddock goes from being an irresponsible drunk with low self esteem to someone who sobers up and rediscovers his own self-worth.  He is no longer intimidated by his illustrious ancestor and realizes he has courage too.  Tintin, like the young  protagonist in War Horse, is as plucky, courageous, determined and resourceful in the beginning of the film as he is at the end of the film.

At the climax of a film the question is, who makes the biggest sacrifice? Who pays the biggest price? Who undergoes the most powerful personal transformation. That person is the protagonist. It doesn’t matter how big a star or how well known a figure is “supposed” to be the protagonist.  It doesn’t matter how much screen time the “supposed” protagonist has.  If some other character makes a bigger personal sacrifice, is more powerfully transformed or pays a bigger emotional price, he or she is the protagonist.  If a secondary character plays this role the film will disconnect emotionally. That is the case with Tintin.

Perhaps the character worked better in a comic strip where Tintin acts more as a narrator/journalist telling someone else’s story.  But this is a movie and the requirements are different.  Mistaking which character is the protagonist is one of the most common reasons why a film doesn’t work emotionally for the audience. Spielberg should know better.

#ThinkpieceThursday – THE OTHER WOMAN and Video on Demand

otherwoman_MAINThe means of distribution are changing and will continue to change.  I believe we will soon see the rise of films made for “straight to streaming.”  Straight-to-video always had a stigma attached which I don’t think will be the case of movies that go straight to Netflix or Video on Demand.

Most movies don’t require a big screen– small character dramas and films without explosions, elaborate action sequences or lots of effects.  Many, if not most, “home theaters” have surround sound as good or better than older theaters. The view ratio of a large flat screen TV is about the same as the reduced screens in most multi-plexes.  By view ratio, I mean that a person’s field of vision is only as wide as most large flat screen TV’s.  It’s what they can view without having to turn their heads.

True, you miss the social experience of watching a movie in a crowd but for parents of young kids a movie date can cost upwards of $100 after you factor in the babysitter, parking, ticket prices and concession treats.  If the movie isn’t amazing why bother with the hassle of traffic and the cost involved.  Most parents I know would rather watch at home with a glass of wine after the kids are in bed.

In the excerpted article below, Eric Kohn gives an interesting take on VOD and the fates of Natalie Portman’s “triple-assault” releases BLACK SWAN, NO STRINGS ATTACHED and THE OTHER WOMAN:

A few years into the proliferation of video-on-demand distribution, the strengths and weaknesses of the format are apparent. VOD excels at creating instant, heretofore unavailable audiences for odd little features that would otherwise dwindle in obscurity.  For example, Michael Tully’s eccentric brotherly drama “Septien,” which became available in households around the country concurrent with its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last month (alongside four other movies released by IFC Films). A single passing notice for “Septien” in the New York Times may have led dozens of audiences to switch it on and discover a distinctly weird experience they may never find at a local theater. This process of discovery allows all kinds of unconventional cinema to catapult its way to the attention of larger audiences.

VOD also enables the popularity of lackluster product driven solely by its intrinsic commercial appeal, a phenomenon epitomized by “The Other Woman.” Prior to its theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles, the movie has already become a sizable on-demand blockbuster, landing upwards of $1 million in ticket sales from home rentals, according to a report by Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times. Shot nearly two years ago (it premiered at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival under its original title, “Love and Other Impossible Pursuits”), “The Other Woman” is mainly useful now because it illuminates an earlier era in the current Oscar nominee’s career, when she was more susceptible to bad choices. Ironically, the VOD numbers inadvertently validate those choices long after she has moved beyond them.

Factor in the curiosity quotient here and it’s clear people will take a chance on an odd little movie or a movie featuring a early performance, which wouldn’t be worth risking a high ticket price and all the other ancillary costs involved.  If you’re an artist who wants his/her content seen by an audience this is an amazing distribution boon.

#ThinkpieceThursday – A Hope-ful survey on the state of indie films

2004+Sundance+Awards+Ceremony+Fs5aFTdZ87vlTed Hope presents an exceptionally glowing outlook on the state of the independent film business.

Yes, the business of indie film is back.  The rapidity, volume, and consistency of deals blossoming ($30M and counting!) at Sundance should give investors more confidence that you no longer have to rely just on foreign; the US acquisition climate seems quite robust again.  Whew.  But the good news does not end there.

Indie Film has been infected by a new breed that — like those that came before them — refuses to ask for permission.  But unlike the earlier wave, their go-get-them attitude doesn’t stop at production, it extends into all the pillars of cinema — from discovery and participation on through production, distro, appreciation, and presentation.  The content, the form, the plans of cinema are not only for re-examination, but the rules have been thrown out.  Time to get out of the way, and let the fresh air disrupt the stale space.

Hope makes a strong case, pointing out that last year, 15 Oscar Nominees have come from Sundance.

As long as corporate filmmaking fails to offer realistic takes on women’s lives, Indie Film will always thrive as a welcome alternative.  Sundance must be acknowledged too as a tremendous generator of quality content; Sundance’s responsibility in delivering 15 Oscar nominees is nothing short of mind-blowing.  If the world was just, the Oscar would be renamed the Bob.

#ThinkpieceThursday – Skins: No Consequences

mtv-skins-tony-480x270Lots of controversy has been brewing around the new teen drama “Skins” on MTV.  I think the problem here is a lack of good storytelling.  The three crucial elements of any good story is 1) want, 2) need and 3) price.  Dramas that don’t work most often don’t attach a price to the choices a character makes.  Unless there is a cost, the action doesn’t feel urgent or compelling.  The higher the cost, the more intense the story and the emotional journey.

What a character wants is a clear and simple ego-driven goal.   It is something he or she can physically have or obtain.  It is clear.  It is simple. It is concrete.  It is specific– The booze, the drugs, the girl, the party invitation.  The want is a finite object of a character’s personal desire.  It is something tangible that would gratify or benefit a character personally and immediately.

What a character needs is an inner ache or yearning that a character is unaware of, denies, suppresses or ignores.  It is a deeper, more abstract or intangible basic human longing.  It is not physical or concrete. It is an emotional satisfaction that enriches the character more deeply– to be accepted for who you are, to be intimate with someone in a meaningful way, to find joy or to connect with someone in a true and authentic manner.

To embrace the need, a character must abandon specific selfish or self-centered goals and address more fundamental and far-reaching human concerns. Every great story ever told since the beginning of time is about the war between the things of the world (the satisfaction of the ego by obtaining worldly trophies, prizes or thrills) and the things of the heart, the soul and the spirit (the deeper satisfaction of embracing our essential humanity).

420x316-alg_mtv_skinsWhat is the cost of obtaining the want or object of desire?  What is the cost of embracing the need and living up to one’s highest, truest, most authentic values?  Which price is a character willing to pay?  What is a character willing to sacrifice or surrender to obtain the want or embrace the need?  The tougher the choice is, the better the story.  If choices isn’t expensive– if there are no expensive consequences– a character’s actions seem episodic and gratuitous.

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David Carr writing in the Business and Media section of the New York Times put it this way:

Now that MTV is back on its heels, you will hear arguments that “Skins” merely describes the world that we already live in. There’s something to that. MTV didn’t invent “friends with benefits,” oral sex as the new kiss or stripper chic as a teenage fashion aspiration. And MTV didn’t employ the teenage star that posed semi-nude in Vanity Fair; the Disney Channel is the one in business with Miley Cyrus.

But when you hear talk about how innovative and daring “Skins” is — and you will —that argument is no more credible than the one made by the stoned teenager out after curfew. “Skins” is pretty much a frame-by-frame capture of a British hit. “Kids,” the film by director Larry Clark, plowed the same seamy ground back in 1995. (And films, at least, are more regulated: “Kids” initially received an NC-17 rating, which meant that some of the youngsters who were in the film could not legally see it.)

“Skins” is nothing new, only a corporate effort to clone a provocative drama that will make MTV less dependent on reality shows and add to the bottom line. True, MTV is not alone. Abercrombie & Fitch built a brand out of writhing, half-naked teenagers, as Calvin Klein once did.

But since its inception, MTV has pushed this boundary as hard as any major media company ever has and may have finally crossed a line that will be hard to scramble back across. The self-described “Guidos” and “Guidettes” of “Jersey Shore,” MTV’s breakout hit, have probably already set some kind of record for meaningless sex.

(More questionably, MTV exported the show to some countries with the tagline, “Get Juiced,” a clear reference to the obvious steroid use on the show.)

But while Snooki & Co. may act like children, they can legally drink alcohol and give consent to what might ensue: the age of 21 may seem like an arbitrary distinction but it’s an important one and, besides, it’s the law.

Even in the most scripted reality programming, the waterfall of poor personal choices is interrupted by comeuppance. People get painful hangovers, the heartbreaks are real if overly dramatic and the cast members have to live with their decisions.

Not so on “Skins,” where a girl who overdoses and is rushed to the hospital wakes up to laughter when the stolen S.U.V. taking her there slams to a halt. Teenagers show children how to roll blunts, bottles of vodka are traded on merry go-rounds, and youngsters shrug off being molested and threatened by a drug dealer. And when the driver of the stolen S.U.V. gets distracted and half a dozen adolescents go rolling into a river, the car is lost but everyone bobs to the surface with a smile at the wonder of it all.

Any adults on “Skins” are of the Charlie Brown variety, feckless beings who are mostly heard off-screen making bummer noises. MTV leaves it to real-life parents to explain that sometimes, when a car goes underwater, nobody survives and that a quick hookup with cute boy at the party may deliver a sexually transmitted disease along with a momentary thrill.

Read the full article here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/24/business/media/24carr.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=Skins%20+%20MTV&st=cse

#ThinkpieceThursday – Other Internet Success Stories

When Federico “Fede” Alvarez came to Hollywood two weeks ago, he was a total unknown. But in a matter of days after arriving in Los Angeles, the young Uruguayan filmmaker had the kind of amazing movie deal that would seem far-fetched, even by “Entourage” standards.
After seeing his short film, which depicts an invasion of Montevideo by a battalion of giant robots, Mandate Pictures agreed to bankroll a $30-million upcoming film for Alvarez, with the filmmaker getting a cool $1 million director’s fee. Alvarez also made the rounds of the talent agencies and ended up leaving town with a CAA agent team as well as a deal with Anonymous Content to represent him for commercials. Most important, Alvarez also came away with an A-list Hollywood godfather, “Spider-Man” director Sam Raimi, who will serve as a mentor and producer, through his Ghost House Pictures, on Alvarez’s first American film.

This is from Patrick Goldstein’s column The Big Picture in the Los Angeles Times. It’s the story of an unknown director from Uruguay who made a $30 million dollar deal based on his $500 budget YouTube short film.

6a00d8341c630a53ef012875f4ba8d970c-300wiWhen Federico “Fede” Alvarez came to Hollywood two weeks ago, he was a total unknown. But in a matter of days after arriving in Los Angeles, the young Uruguayan filmmaker had the kind of amazing movie deal that would seem far-fetched, even by “Entourage” standards.

After seeing his short film, which depicts an invasion of Montevideo by a battalion of giant robots, Mandate Pictures agreed to bankroll a $30-million upcoming film for Alvarez, with the filmmaker getting a cool $1 million director’s fee. Alvarez also made the rounds of the talent agencies and ended up leaving town with a CAA agent team as well as a deal with Anonymous Content to represent him for commercials. Most important, Alvarez also came away with an A-list Hollywood godfather, “Spider-Man” director Sam Raimi, who will serve as a mentor and producer, through his Ghost House Pictures, on Alvarez’s first American film…

…Alvarez’s sudden ascension also speaks volumes about a continuing power shift in the movie business. What’s especially noteworthy about the flurry of interest in the filmmaker is that it unfolded almost entirely outside the studio system. Alvarez didn’t bother to meet with any top studio executives, in large part because today’s creatively cautious studios, who’ve been spending much of their energy reining in talent costs, are increasingly out of the loop when it comes to discovering new talent.

Full article is here http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/the_big_picture/

This next success story is a 15 year old Nebraska boy pulling down a six figure salary and a movie deal based on a character he created on YouTube over the last three years.  That’s right, he started the series when he was 13 years old!  He shoots and edits the video episodes himself at home.  The amazing thing is that at the time his channel hit a million subscribers he was barely a teenager with little understanding of marketing or promotion and very unsophisticated production values.  He just created a compelling character that  a million viewers wanted to watch.

Lucas-CruikshankWebTVWire reports that Fred is the six-year-old alter-ego of a 15-year-old kid from Nebraska… Lucas Cruikshank is already reported to be making a six-figure salary from playing Fred. And he’s now set to star in a movie based on the character he lovingly crafted and has nurtured for the last three years…

Cruikshank will be starring as the titular Fred, with other recurring characters such as Judy, Bertha, and Kevin currently being cast…

Filming on Fred: The Movie (working title) is set to begin on November 20, with Fred chasing his would-be girlfriend Judy across the States in what sounds like a road movie of sorts.  The full story is here:  http://www.webtvwire.com/filmmaker-federico-alvarez-secures-30-million-deal-for-panic-attack-youtube-short/

Fred Figglehorn’s Wikipedia Page says this about the character:  Cruikshank introduced the Fred Figglehorn character in videos on the JKL Productions channel he started on YouTube with his cousins, Jon and Katie. He set up the Fred channel in October 2005. By April 2009, the channel had over 1,000,000 subscribers, making it the first YouTube channel to hit one million subscribers and the most subscribed channel at that time.

The character lives with his recovering drug-addicted and alcoholic mother, whose voice is heard often in episodes. (Fred usually communicates with all characters off-screen unless it is an animal). But Fred’s Mum has been seen in one episode, called “Fred on Halloween”. It is implied that Fred has been the victim of child abuse (like being locked in a dog cage for three days), but he frequently speaks of his love for his mother, particularly after she was at rehab. He also has a crush on a girl in his Kindergarten class, named Judy. Fred has described Judy as, “so mean… yet so attractive.”  Full write-up is here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Figglehorn

#ThinkpieceThursday – More Thoughts on Rewriting

Woman-typing-on-laptop-etbscreenwritingIn further discussion of yesterday’s post– How do you tackle a daunting rewrite? My best suggestion is to outline your current script draft. Write what actually happens in each scene. What are characters doing? Briefly summarize what people say. Don’t get lost in tweaking dialogue on a major rewrite. Instead, look at the big-picture. In order to do that– An outline is critical.

Once you’ve outlined your current draft, go over the outline scene-by-scene. Ask yourself a few key questions– Is your story urgent and active enough? Does your story have enough adrenalin moments?

Ed Hooks, in his terrific book, Acting for Animators, defines adrenalin moments as story events your character will remember on his or her deathbed. They are the highest highs and the lowest lows. Make a list of your character’s adrenaline moments in your story. You should have at least eight. They are:

* The event that starts the story off

* The event that propels your character forward into the story (The die is cast. The penny drops. Your character makes a run for it. A door closes and your character can’t go back

* The event that shows how your character has changed significantly through conflict

* The event that shows your character seizing the initiative in the story or taking things into his or her own hands

* The event that shows your character’s biggest struggle between his/her want (ego-driven goal) and the need (deeper human longing)

* The event that demonstrates your character’s choice between the want and the need

* The event at the climax of the story (or the final showdown)

* The event that finally resolves the story

Where are the adrenaline moments in your story? Are all these events vivid and visceral? Do they have a big enough impact? Do they make your protagonist feel really vulnerable? Make these events unforgettable by making your main character feel increasingly exposed and personally at risk during each story event.

Remember to use cause and effect. What does your character do to bring these events about? How do your character’s actions make these highs and lows happen? How does each action cause a chain reaction?

The audience cannot see what a character thinks or feels. They can only see what a character does. How can you make your character’s interior thoughts and feelings observable through action? The audience also can’t see what a character decides. Deciding isn’t an action. Acting on a decision is an action.

Don’t tell us what your character thinks, feels or decides through dialogue. Instead, show us what your character does as a result of thoughts, feelings and decisions. Is your main character an active force throughout the story? Or does he/she just react to others? How does he/she push the story forward? How do we actually see your character growing or changing or pushing, prodding and transforming others?

Ask yourself, could an audience understand your story by only watching your main character’s actions? Could the audience understand the major story beats without any sound (using visuals only)?

Now write a new outline that solves those problems. In your new outline, incorporate more active moments, cut all extraneous material or repetitive dialogue and make any other necessary changes and adjustments.

Rewriting in outline form helps keep the bigger picture in perspective and keeps your focus on the larger issues: filling plot holes, creating action that fulfills the character’s intent (rather than the writer’s intent) and fixing emotional disconnects. It avoids the easy trap of continually fine-tuning dialogue and glossing over the larger problems in the script.

#ThinkpieceThursday – Einstein and Writing

AlbertEinstein ETB ScreenwritingThe German-born theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein, is best known for his theory of relativity and his Nobel Prize in Physics.  His keen observations apply to writing as well as science.  His concise quotes are invaluable and timeless.

Here are five of my favorites.  I’ve commented on them as they apply to the creative process and writing compelling stories.

1.  “A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem.” What specifically are you trying to achieve in telling your story? What do you want your audience to feel?  Who exactly is your audience?  How well do you know them?  Is your character’s emotional struggle well defined?  How well does it reflect your audience’s struggle?  Perfection of everything else (setting, acting, production values, etc.) is meaningless if you don’t know where your characters are headed.

2.   “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” This is an ideology of humility and authenticity.  You are here to serve the audience.  Your story must add some kind of value to their day.  What value are you adding to your audience?  What is it that the audience needs and how are you filling that need.  Too often we believe we are creating television shows or feature films for our own artistic fulfillment and satisfaction.  In reality, we create to fulfill and satisfy our audiences.  It is only when we are of real value to others that we find true success as artists.

3.   “Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.” The buzz word these days is “edgy.”  Often what is termed “edgy” is simply vulgar, inappropriate, crude, gross, aggressive or destructive. None of these things is truly edgy.  It is quite common to encounter the gross, the vulgar or the destructive.  In fact, what is riskiest, the most dangerous and what really pushes the envelope is– to simply tell the truth.  Tell the truth about who you are and tell the truth about who your characters are.  Nothing takes more courage.  Nothing is as a daunting.  Nothing is as surprising or as shocking.  Nothing is more rare.

4.  “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Plots should be very simple.  They should be clear and uncomplicated.  You should be able to communicate the plot of your story in a few quick sentences. Fable, parables or fairytales stand the test of time because their plots are simple and easy to remember.  The most memorable stories are very simple ones– but ones filled with deep, rich, complex emotions.

5.  “Most people say that it is intellect which makes a great scientist.
They are wrong: it is character.”  The same applies to writers and storytellers of all kinds.  You cannot write authentic characters if you are not authentic yourself.  You cannot write vulnerable characters unless you make yourself vulnerable first.  You cannot write from the heart unless you are generous and open up your own heart.  The character of the writer to a large extent determines the quality of the writing.

#ThinkpieceThursday – McCain and Obama: Character Consistency in Storytelling

Obama Mccain ETB ScreenwritingThe U.S. election drama has me riveted.  It is an amazing opportunity to see two Character Types play out their roles on the world stage.  Here are two articles that demonstrate how consistently Character Types are viewed.  The same basic qualities are highlighted in nearly every analysis and review of the candidate’s campaign performance.

Here is what the co-author of McCain’s memoirs said about the stories McCain loves and how they connect with his own story:

The John McCain (as he describes himself in) “Faith of My Fathers,” for example, bears more than a little resemblance to the fictional Robert Jordan of “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Mr. McCain later celebrated (this Hemmingway hero) in another book (about himself) with Mr. Salter, “Worth the Fighting For,” which was named for a line of Jordan’s dying thoughts. (Jordan) was “a man who would risk his life but never his honor,” Mr. McCain wrote with Mr. Salter, a model of “how a great man should style himself.”

Each book is heavy with premonitions of mortality. Robert Jordan and John McCain each confront great tests (the temptation to escape a doomed mission for one, the offer of early prison release for the other) in the service of a lost cause (the socialists in the Spanish Civil War, the Americans in Vietnam). And in accepting his fate, each makes peace with his father and grandfather.

Mr. McCain’s admirers, like Mr. Timberg, have often puzzled over what drew him to Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage.” It is a convoluted psychodrama about a young man with a club foot; he seethes with resentment over his disability and nearly ruins his life in the thrall of a waitress-turned-prostitute who rejects him. But the character’s final realization could fit almost as well near the conclusion of Mr. McCain’s memoir: “It might be that to surrender happiness was to accept defeat, but it was a defeat better than many victories.”

“That explains it,” Mr. Salter said when he heard the line. “Perfect McCainism.”

The full New York Times article can be found at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/13/us/politics/13mccain.html?hp

Power of Idealism characters have a sense of doomed destiny.  They reject the offer of ordinary escape (and a happy life) in favor of the valiant, but doomed attempt.  They embrace glorious defeat (or death on the battle field) in order to live out their own scenario of courage and personal honor.

Here’s what a recent article by a conservative New York Times columnist said about Obama:

“(O)ver the past two years, Obama has… shown the same untroubled self-confidence day after day. There has never been a moment when, at least in public, he seems gripped by inner turmoil. It’s not willpower or self-discipline he shows as much as an organized unconscious (or I might add the collective unconscious). Through some deep, bottom-up process, he has developed strategies for equanimity…

They say we are products of our environments, but Obama, the sojourner (on his quest), seems to go through various situations without being overly touched by them. Over the past two years, he has been the subject of nearly unparalleled public worship, but far from getting drunk on it, he has become less grandiloquent as the campaign has gone along.

…It could be that Obama (as a president) will be an observer, not a leader. Rather than throwing himself passionately into his causes, he will stand back. Congressional leaders, put off by his supposed intellectual superiority, will just go their own way. Lost in his own nuance, he will be passive and ineffectual. Lack of passion will produce lack of courage. The Obama greatness will give way to the Obama anti-climax.

We can each guess how the story ends. But over the past two years, Obama has clearly worn well with voters. Far from a celebrity fad, he is self-contained, self-controlled and maybe even a little dull”

The full New York Times article can be found at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/17/opinion/17brooks.html?hp

Power of Imagination characters are humble and self-effacing quite naturally.  They seek greatness from others and draw their inspiration and power from the bottom up (rather than display it from the top down like John McCain does).

Obama’s grass roots campaign and masses of small individual donations also displays this Character Type’s bottom up view of things.  The danger is they are always collecting allies and consensus and avoid stepping out decisively or with passion on their own, ahead of the crowd, to really lead.  They can be a bit dull and do seem quite ordinary.  Their leap of faith is to move away from the unity of the crowd and make hard decisions that could be divisive.

#ThinkpieceThursday – Mamma Mia: We Need To Laugh!

mama-mia-meryl-streep-etbscreenwritingOkay, I confess.  I LOVED Mamma Mia.  I am not a big Abba fan, although I like their music well enough.  I admit the movie premise is a bit thin but the casting is wonderful.  Everyone on board seems to be having a fantastically fun and silly time. I needed a good laugh that day and got one.

As the US moves into deeper financial straights, I wonder if audiences aren’t headed toward a Depression Era mentality?

The 1930’s filled movie houses across the country with silly comedies.  It was one of the few ways audiences could forget their troubles.  One of my favorite films around that era is Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels (1941).

In the film, John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) is a wealthy young Hollywood director who has had a string of successful but light-weight comedies.  He wants to direct a more sober masterpiece: O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Yes, this is the film that inspired the Cohen Brothers’ film).

Sullivan describes his serious opus as an exploration of the plight of the destitute and downtrodden. Not surprisingly, he is pressured by studio bosses to make another, more lucrative comedy instead. Sullivan refuses and goes on the road to research his film incognito, dressed as a homeless vagrant.

What he discovers is that humor is what saves us when time are tough.  As times get tougher around the world, audience are going to need to laugh.  Maybe you should dust off those comedy scripts you’ve got in the drawer.  Now might be the time to sell something silly but inspired.

Also, if you’ve got a serious piece maybe you can take to the next level and make it a black comedy.  Dr. Strangelove started out as a drama.  Seeing the absurdity in the horror of nuclear war, Stanley Kubrick decided to turn it into a black comedy instead.  It is considered a classic while the competing drama (on the same subject) Fail Safe, never got as much traction or acclaim.

Check out both films as a master class in comedy.