Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Scary Stuff

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.

FADE IN:

“Let’s talk, you and I, let's talk about fear.”
“Some terrible, warty horror is menacing Elmville.”

---Stephen King, in his Foreword to his short story collection, “Night Shift”

Here we are at Halloween, and Hollywood has trotted out its newest creepy entries. It’s no accident that, once again, the scary movie that is blowing the doors off the competition is the one that gets its results through subtlety, suggestion, and audience anticipation.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is on track to become the most profitable movie of all time:

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT cost $60,000—some sources say $35,000—but to be conservative, I’ll use the higher number
and is listed at $248,639,099.00 for its box-office gross. That makes it the most profitable film of all time (an R.O.I., or Return on Investment of 414,399%!!!). So, costing a reported $15,000, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY only needs to gross $62,159,850.00 to equal that success. After only its first wide-release weekend, it is a third of the way there, and probably on track to take the profitability crown.

And, unlike the latest SAW incarnation (SAW VI), P.A. does it with nothing more than clever manipulation of its audience.

For me the most interesting question that arises is why don’t more filmmakers and producing studios understand this? Even when they re-make a classic like THE HAUNTING, they ignore what worked and slather on the special effects, the technology, and the silliness. The result is something so shrill it’s beyond belief.


First, let’s get something out of the way. I used the “M” word above: “manipulation.” The PC crowd considers anything that manipulates the audience to be dishonest and therefore bad.

NEWS-FLASH: ALL COMMUNICATION IS MANIPULATION!

Anyone who thinks that the latest commercial entry from Hollywood is manipulative, while that recent winner at Sundance that came out of nowhere, that film that is so “personal,” so “refreshingly honest,” is not manipulative, is fooling himself. (Interestingly, BLAIR WITCH was a Sundance dark horse hit; it needed an independent film festival to get noticed).

Personal cinema is no less manipulative (
nor less artificial) than any other cinema, including SAW VI. In fact, I’d wager that it is a good deal less honest about its manipulation than almost any porno film! Personal films are not documentaries of personal experiences or sensibilities; they’re not didactic narratives or objective reporting. They are, instead, dramatic expression, and, therefore, they are just as subjective as the more commercial film product out there, if not more-so.

By their unique specificity, rather than a more common—and Hollywood-preferred—universality, personal films express a “reality” that is usually foreign to wider audiences and, therefore, less accessible than any found in the commercial product. They manipulate their audiences by persuading them to become interested, to find the commonalities they inevitably share with them, to like their heroes and dislike their villains. This is true be the villains people, simply plights out of life, or the merest ideas. Just like their Hollywood cousins, they manipulate their audiences to watch, breathlessly, as they plunge their characters and their audience’s biases into jeopardy or doubt, and ultimately to desire satisfactory resolutions. So, manipulation is persuasion. And no matter how you dress it, persuasion is sales!

The real question, then, is whether the manipulation positively serves the story, whether it positively serves the audience. If said manipulation acts in service to the filmmaker’s intentions, and they are artistically reasonable and ethical as evidenced by a generally satisfactory result, then such manipulation is valid and acceptable. Notice that I did not say the result had to achieve its ends through honesty. Deception is an axiom in art. The question, rather, is, “Does it serve the work effectively and to the benefit of a satisfactory audience experience?” So, while there is bad audience manipulation, all audience manipulation isn’t bad. As we’ve said, all communication is manipulation. The operative term, then, is “mutually-positive”—for the story, and for the audience—manipulation.

Scary movies succeed for the same reasons all movies succeed: they satisfy their audiences. Audiences aren’t satisfied by ever-larger explosions, ever-more diabolical torture devices. They are satisfied by having their expectations exceeded, by being happily or thrillingly surprised, by being entertained, not shown a demo-reel of new technology. They’re satisfied not by the quantity of blood, but instead by the quality of the experience.

So, how to achieve said quality? It’s a well-known principle that fear is far worse before the fearful event than it is during. That implies that what goes on in the audience’s mind is far more powerful than what goes on before its eyes. JAWS Director, Steven Spielberg, withheld the shark’s appearance until well into the film for a reason. He knew the audience’s imagination would generate suspense far better than he could with a rubber shark. As the Carly Simon song goes, “Anticipation… It’s makin’ me crazy.”

So, what’s scary?

In "Screenwriters' Masterclass," p. 25, screenwriter Ted Tally (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) recounted how “Jonathan (Demme) was told once by Roger Corman, ‘The scariest shot in all of movies is the camera approaching a closed door, that you know somebody’s got to open it. The anticipation is much scarier than anything, it’s the most terrifying shot in the movie, it’s not expensive, it’s not special effects.’”

Anticipation.

Former editor (along with director, Robert Wise) under legendary 1940’s producer, Val Lewton, director Mark Robson (PEYTON PLACE, FROM THE TERRACE, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS) described a technique he came up with in the sound editing room for the low-budget Lewton horror films:

“In each of these films we had what we called the ‘bus’, an editing device I had invented by accident, or possibly by design, on CAT PEOPLE, that was calculated to terrify people and make them jump out of their seats.

“It derived from a sequence in CAT PEOPLE in which a girl was walking through the transverse in New York’s Central Park, imagining that she was being followed by somebody or something one supposed could be a cat of some sort, a leopard possibly, though one couldn’t tell. Looking over her right shoulder in terror, this girl backed away from the mysterious sound, ready to accept anything that might jump on her. From the other side of the park a bus came by, and I put a big, solid sound of air brakes on it, cutting it in at the decisive moment so that it knocked viewers out of their seats. This became the ‘bus,’ and we used the same principle in every film.” - "The Celluloid Muse: Hollywood Directors Speak," p. 237.

Surprise.

I remember seeing John Carpenter’s original HALLOWEEN on initial release with a group of friends from college. I had the unfortunate luck to sit next to a woman who felt the need to grip my leg above the knee as the film progressed. I recall that by the end of the film my leg had what appeared permanent nail impressions that had come through my denim pants enough to draw blood. Like a virtuoso conductor, writer/composer/director Carpenter brought his audience to the brink over and over, from slow build to pay-off, again and again, so that by the end we felt exhausted by the experience. And bloodied.

Rhythm, Timing.

A few years later, a friend described seeing Wes Craven’s film, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. He praised it for its genuinely fresh visual approach, describing a dream in which a menacing figure had grotesquely long and frightening arms as it emerged. The effect was at once new and uncannily weird.

Fresh. Different. Weird.

I took these influences to heart when I wrote my first scary screenplay, THE JUPE. In designing my tale, I looked for events that I’d never seen before, that were chilling and strange; I orchestrated the rhythm of the narrative to build to crescendos; I came out of nowhere with shocks that nonetheless were logical and believable after the fact; and I set-up situations so that my audience’s expectations would grow to the point of no return. I even paid homage to Val Lewton by finding a way to work in a “bus.” When I had a table reading of the script, many people remarked at how effective it was. Unusually, the script—a haunted house tale set in an old movie palace—was entirely written in the projection booth of the theater it was set in, …in the night, in the dark. Many nights over that period, while writing, I scared myself so badly that I almost could not leave the booth and make my way down and out of the empty old theater. The script has a sense of place that I’ve never equaled since.

I guess I’m glad so few films are genuinely scary. See, it’s rhythm and timing again. The bad ones serve as valleys before the run-up to those peaks that are. #

FADE OUT

Lee A. Matthias

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Woody's View

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.

FADE IN:

Consider this from Woody Allen:

“I’ve never been asked to teach filmmaking, and frankly, I’ve never been tempted, either. Well, actually, Spike Lee, who teaches a class at Harvard, once asked me to talk to his students. I was perfectly happy to do it, but in the end, it was a little bit frustrating. The problem is, I feel there’s so little you can teach, really, and I didn’t want to be discouraging to them. Because the truth of the matter is, you either have it or you don’t. If you don’t have it, you can study all your life and it won’t mean anything. You won’t become a better filmmaker for it. And if you do have it, then you will quickly learn to use the few tools you need. Most of what you need, as a director, is psychological help, anyhow. Balance, discipline, things like that. The technical aspect comes second. Many talented artists are destroyed by their neuroses, their doubts, and their angst, or they let too many interior things distract them. That’s where the danger lies, and these are the elements that a writer or filmmaker should try to master first. ...for those who can do it, there’s no big mystery to it. One should not get caught up in thinking it’s some kind of mysterious, complex thing to do. Just follow your instinct. And if you have talent, it won’t be hard. And if you don’t, then it will be impossible.”

That's from the book, "Moviemaker’s Master Class," Interviews by Laurent Tirard, Faber & Faber, 2002, p. 38.

My Response:

Certainly these are truths. But I also believe that those who regularly read blogs on writing and filmmaking, and those who have picked up books on those subjects, in large part, are the ones who have Allen’s elusive “it.” Some instinct within them is moving them to gain these tools. Only the barriers stand in their way. And among those are their own internal arsenal of doubts grown out of among other things, a lack of information about how to access the talents they have.

Allen is right in his dichotomy that some will find it easy and some will find it impossible. But he makes no room for determination and effort and their ability to change who those folks are. For him, here, it will either happen or not, and the implication is that the individual has no effect on the outcome. How many out there will or would "study all their (lives)" before inevitably failing? I have to think that a person's internal spirit will inform him or her if it is a waste of time. So, the mere fact that someone sticks with it is an indicator that they have the potential to make a career out of it. How do I know this? Just read screenwriter interviews for a while. You'll find story after story of how one writer after another just "fell" into his career, never even thinking of becoming a writer. What this means is that it can happen for anybody even if YOU hadn't considered it! I wonder how he viewed that airline pilot who saved his passengers by "landing" on the Hudson River awhile back. Maybe pilot Woody would say: 

"Well, we're gonna crash 'cause there's no runway, so there's nothing to do about it."

The effect of the individuaL is POWERFUL! Hell, it even results in films like ANNIE HALL. 

So, I, here, operate under the assumption that you, the reader interested in writing, really have Woody Allen’s “it.” This blog and others like it (such as those on the right), as well as my forthcoming book on laterally-based story creation can serve as battering rams against those barriers you face. What you do with them, and how long you persist, is up to you. #

FADE OUT

Lee A. Matthias

Friday, October 16, 2009

E-Book Readers Are About To Be Ubiquitous

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.


FADE IN:


I don’t know about most people, but ever since the re-emergence of e-book readers with Amazon.com’s Kindle, I have wanted one. Why? Aside from the cool gadget factor, it’s a great idea. While I love my books, and bookshelves are a great decorator touch in any house, the idea of taking my reading anywhere, ALL my reading: present, past, future, etc., is very attractive. But another device, to go along with the cell-phone and all the other stuff in my man-purse—uhh, I mean BAG—is, well, a negative.


That’s why this announcement from Sam Diaz’s tech blog on ZDNet is so interesting:


“Google challenges e-readers by taking e-books directly to browser”


“Who needs an e-reader or a special app when I’ve already got the only e-reader/app that I need: a Web browser?


“Google said today that it will launch in the first half of next year an online store to offer e-books that can be read on any device with a Web browser, according to a Reuters report. Yup, that means e-book reading comes to the browser on your desktop, laptop, iPhone and probably even some WiFi-enabled handheld gaming devices.


“That feels like a pretty big blow to the likes of Amazon, which has made a name in e-book readers with its popular Kindle brand, Sony and now even Barnes and Noble, which is expected to announce an e-reader of its own at a New York City event next week.”


If you haven’t guessed it by now, we are in a gradual run-up to the point where desktop and laptop computers, smart-phones, game-players, video-content players, stand-alone wireless internet browsers—some game devices and netbooks, and, yes, e-books, will all merge. This day is not far off, but I suspect it is still far enough away that it would not be a waste of money to get an interim device until—(insert angel chorus here)--convergence.


A year ago, netbooks were the hottest thing going in the tech press. Today they are considered a dead end—too little computing power, too little use. But this announcement from Google might have the effect of breathing new life into the netbook. After all, it runs browsers just great, and it’ll do storage and a fair amount of file serving and creation, application-running, and video-playing, as well. Where I wouldn’t have considered buying a netbook before, now, with it’s other features, it’s breached my wall of resistance and become attractive. Very cool news.

Update to this post:

E-Book Readers have some rocky times ahead if this blog posting by Mitch Ratcliffe is to be believed:


Headline 2010: e-Reader Device Failure


Here are the most salient points:


“The market knows best, right? Markets are bloody paths to progress. At this writing there are approximately 52 e-reader devices coming to market in the next 12 months. Fifty-two different devices coming to market (Here’s what I wrote about Steve Jobs’ approach to reader devices when there were just 45 e-readers on the horizon).


“This is the definition of ‘glut’ becoming reality.


“…the coverage will likely make it sound like e-reader failures mean e-book failure.


“They are ridiculously expensive for a market where the vast majority of customers buy one book or less a year—more than 180 million Americans don’t buy a single book in any year.


“Many hardware makers will retreat and e-books, not the glut, will get the blame.


“…we’ll see some of the new e-readers announced this year selling for $59 next year, because retailers cannot get rid of them. That is a result of fierce competition, but leave it to the press and bloggers to turn the whole process into a mandate on e-books, not the expensive hardware.


“…it’s a short step from ‘people don’t want e-readers’ to ‘people don’t want e-books,’ one that hardware manufacturers will avail themselves of to explain to enraged investors why they are bailing out of the e-reader market. That simple syllogism will lead to the wrong conclusion.


“The most optimistic estimates are that five million e-readers will sell in the next 12 months, with approximately one million flying from shelves to eager readers this Christmas. Noelle Skodzinski, editor in chief of Book Business, speaking during the Digital Content Day @ Your Desk conference last week (which you can view on-demand for three months), cites very conservative sales levels, Simba Information’s estimate that only 500,000 Kindles will have sold by the end of this year. That’s a low number, I think.


“For the device makers, it will mean we are getting closer to some kind of ‘iPod moment.’ Skodzinski’s slides from the event compare Kindle sales to iPod sales in 2002, suggesting that we are on the steeper part of the hockey stick, but it’s not the right comparison. iPod marked a departure from the first-generation of MP3 players, but we are still in the stage of the market that music downloads was in the late 90s. There is no iPod, no Walkman, no IBM PC, yet.


“…and that is not to say that a future Kindle couldn’t be the ‘iPod of e-books,’ though my instincts tell me the future of reading is a converged device.”


The key take-away from this is that the media will characterize the failure of the glut as a failure of e-books. It remains to be seen, of course, but it will be interesting to watch. Stay tuned as it plays out, and if he’s right, well… most everyone here but me read it here first. #

FADE OUT

Lee A. Matthias

Monday, October 12, 2009

This Headline is (BANNED!)

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.

FADE IN:

A few weeks ago my daughter casually mentioned that HUCKLEBERRY FINN was banned by her school. No big deal in her mind. Of course she hadn’t read it, knew almost nothing about it, and was unaware that it has often been referred to as “the greatest American novel.” It brought to mind that song by Randy Newman, “Short People,” about people who put down certain other people, but are, in doing so, putting down “their own short selves.”


It was Banned Books Week at the start of the month. But I saw that the top banned and challenged books listed the Twain book, as well as another, FAHRENHEIT 451, a book about banning books… banning them by burning them. Let’s pause and just shake our heads. “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” The question is, “Is there anyone left who does?”


I haven’t read the Mark Twain book since I was a kid in grade school. I read it out of curiosity, it wasn’t required, and after seeing that old movie from the ‘30’s on tv, TOM SAWYER, I wanted to know more. As I recall, though, Huck was friends with Jim, the runaway slave. They depended on each other when they set off down the river. They treated one another as equals. As much as two heterosexual young men can, they loved each other.


Ah, but, no matter, the educational elite might say, “We don’t speak of slavery in school, except in February during Black History month, when we teach how wrong it is! HUCKLEBERRY FINN treats slavery almost casually. It accepts it as present in the world, and that can be seen as tacit approval, if not by the characters, then by society. Children are not sophisticated enough to distinguish between society in the 19th century and society today.”


Uhhh, excuse me, but didn’t society in the 19th century fight a war with itself about that very thing? And didn’t it enact the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all the slaves? Racism, unfortunately, is still with us. Changing every person’s thinking is a bit harder than changing a society’s laws. But we’re working on it. And not just in February.


Banning HUCKLEBERRY FINN sets back the fight against slavery and racism! A child is innocent until changed by society. A child is not inherently racist. Reading the Twain novel is a perfect entry into discussing the subject of racism and how it was once allowed by societies going back thousands of years, and is still allowed by certain societies even today, ironically enough, in Africa. The book does not teach nor approve slavery or racism!


The “edu-crats” nod, knowingly, and agree: “You and I know that, but our school’s families are less familiar with the book. To them it’s a book involving slavery written by a white, southern, male, who lived in the time period when it was practiced. We have to be sensitive to their needs, their feelings. If a family complains, no matter if 2,000 others would disagree, we can’t enlighten that family, we have to respond and take action to protect their children.” The short people.#

FADE OUT

Lee A. Matthias

Friday, October 9, 2009

Swinging Pendulum or Wrecking Ball?

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.



FADE IN:


I came across an article by D.T. Max, from the New Yorker, awhile back that had what I believe is a chilling and prescient observation for screenwriters. It was a profile of screenwriter and director, Tony Gilroy making DUPLICITY, and along the way, the article weighed in on several interesting aspects of movies and screenwriting today. For example:


“Today, the film industry considers adult-oriented drama a small target, and one that is getting smaller. Middle-aged Americans don’t go to the movies; young adults and teen-agers do, and they prefer action to talk, in part because they believe they know every possible movie character already. A screenwriter interested in human behavior can find himself ignored by big-studio executives looking for movies propelled by spectacle and superheroes. ‘The trend is making movies that don’t need screenwriters,’ a top Hollywood screenwriter explained to me by e-mail"


These comments recall and echo a quote by critic, Clive James, one I’ve used in this space before: “If any one thing is wrong with the movie industry today, it is the unrelenting effort to astonish."


Consider Max’s point:


“…they prefer action to talk, in part because they believe they know every possible movie character already.”


This has got to bother fiction writers of every stripe. If true (that they DO know every character), we might as well go home because the video and PC game companies are already cleaning up the battlefield, and we’ve been DOOMED for years. Remember the article’s later remark, “The trend is making movies that don’t need screenwriters.” The Irving Thalbergs will have won (“The Writer is the most important person in Hollywood, but we must never tell the sons-of-bitches.” – attributed to Irving Thalberg, 1939). If it’s any consolation, it’ll be a Pyrrhic victory. Unlike the group experience of movies, people don’t want to play video games in the same room with each other. For one thing, they’d have to change their pajamas every day. So, if they continue to produce video games for theaters…


Screenwriting is not like gunslinging. There’s always someone faster, but if someone brings a gun to a grenade fight, well… The movie industry expects to save itself with the new 3-D technology. But if the audience has already seen it all the last five times out, well you can’t win over an empty house.


But… if, instead, Max’s point is only true by perception (that is, they merely BELIEVE they know every character), then there is perhaps the barest chance that a career can yet be had writing movies with any degree of story subtext or meaning beyond “killing the baddies.” Sooner or later, it ain’t gonna play anymore.


While these quotes are out of an article whose stock in trade may be seen to be making pithy and hip comments, I have to confess that I’ve noticed the way things have been going, myself. It used to be that a movie would come out and it would be seen as a great new take on a genre. I’m thinking of films like BONNIE AND CLYDE, ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE EXORCIST, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, HALLOWEEN, THE WILD BUNCH, CHINATOWN, THE STING, ANIMAL HOUSE, BLOOD SIMPLE, etc. Now, there are gobs of imitators of each of these going back to when they were new. And how many newer “new takes on a genre” have we seen? Fewer and fewer. In fact, the pretty good (or even very good) imitators seem to fade away. Remember BLACK WIDOW? SNEAKERS? SILVERADO? GODFATHER 3? MAGIC? CAT PEOPLE? Didn’t think so. And it’s not Alzheimer’s kicking in, either. I would’ve listed more but, well, I can’t remember them. Unfortunately, having missed some kind of genre-bending transformational event, some paradigm shift as happened in the ‘60’s with the influence of international films and the change in the culture, movies have been exiled into self-reference, self-parody. Oh, sure, they’ve always done it. Now, unfortunately, it’s nearly all they do.


It’s kinda like the way classic rock (from rock’s beginnings through—stretching it—maybe the late ‘80’s) is sooo much better, so much more inventive and relevant, so more varied and interesting, than nearly all of what’s been coming out since. And that’s giving the earlier period its weird spawn: bubblegum, glitter, and disco. Where is this decade’s White Album? Where was the ‘90’s candidate, for that matter? Rap? Grunge? Hip Hop? Emo? Is that all ya got? ‘Cause I’m telling you, my Honor Student from his Clash-revival cover band can DESTROY your freshly un-showered, self-pitying, break-dancing, boy-toy on his worst day! And he doesn’t need Joey Ramone watching his back, either. But we… “happy few” …get fewer and fewer. Like George Thorogood: now, it seems, we drink alone.


In his article, Max goes on to write:


"Gilroy believes that the writer and the movie-going public are engaged in a cognitive arms race. As the audience grows savvier, the screenwriter has to invent new reversals—madder music and stronger wine. Perhaps the most famous reversal in film was written by William Goldman, originally in his 1974 novel MARATHON MAN, then honed for the movie version. Laurence Olivier, a sadistic Nazi dentist, is drilling into Dustin Hoffman’s mouth, trying to force him to disclose the location of a stash of diamonds. ‘Is it safe?’ he keeps asking. Suddenly, William Devane sweeps in to rescue him and spirits Hoffman away. In the subsequent car ride, Devane starts asking questions; he wants to know where the diamonds are. After a few minutes, Hoffman’s eyes grow wide: Devane and Olivier are in league! ‘Thirty years ago, when Bill Goldman wrote it, the reversal in MARATHON MAN was fresh,’ Gilroy says. ‘But it must have been used now four thousand times.’


"This is the problem that new movies must solve. As Gilroy says, ‘How do you write a reversal that uses the audience’s expectations in a new way? You have to write to their accumulated knowledge.’ Before Gilroy wrote DUPLICITY, audiences had been trained by the mixed-up time schemes of MEMENTO, AMORE PERROS, and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND. Moviegoers got used to an aesthetic of disorientation. They also have DVDs, so they can watch a film twice to untangle its story, and the Internet, which allows them to look up a bit of jargon or insider information. Reality is a confluence of fragments, to be apprehended bit by bit; watching a movie has begun to approximate the rhythm of a Google search."


I recall seeing MARATHON MAN and feeling that that reversal was strong, quite effective, but, not nearly the best ever. Despite his films since, I have to go on record as saying the ending reversal in M. Night Shyamalan’s THE SIXTH SENSE beats it. And while I never saw it before hearing about it, I’m told the same is true of the big reveal in Neil Jordan's THE CRYING GAME. Of course, both of those were writing to that “accumulated knowledge” held by audiences. These were shocks by their sheer “over-the-top-ness,” recalling Clive James’s point. Maybe the whole thing started when Jack Nicholson literally beat the truth out of Faye Dunaway in CHINATOWN. Remember, this was 1974… before Mackenzie Phillips bared her soul to Oprah just to jump-start her stagnant career. Talk about over-the-top!


But, I believe that one needn’t feel only an envelope-pushing revelation has a chance with audiences, anymore. Subtlety and concealment can render the most otherwise commonplace reveal circumstantially staggering. It’s context, you see. And context can only work in an environment with dimension, three or four, at least. Or, with Kaufman’s stuff, five. And we won’t even get into David Lynch’s universe. If we don’t grok the length, breadth, and depth of a character, we can’t understand what his actions cost him. When you can appreciate the profound and utterly sublime achievement of Mac Sledge in Horton Foote’s TENDER MERCIES, you can appreciate our notion of subtlety, when it comes to revelation.


Movies need some truly fresh thinking. Charlie Kaufman can’t do it alone. As has been said many times before, good writing comes out of life and living, not seeing some earlier movie about it. As someone who has written way more than his share of material inspired by previous material, I’m not saying that one can’t or shouldn’t. It’s a question of what’s done with it. And it’s also a question of the creative process, itself. In my forthcoming book, LATERAL SCREENWRITING, I explore techniques and methods to refresh writers’ approaches not just to stories, but to the creative process itself. We need to re-think how we think. The mind is not mined out. Using the concepts lateral thinking expert, Edward de Bono developed for the left-brain world of business, I’ve returned them to the right-brain world of writers and artists, where creativity originates. The problem with the creative side is that while it’s potent, like a berserker sacking Northumbria, it’s also chaotic. While this is great for laying waste or getting outside the box, it is inconsistent when it comes to results. Rigorous methodologies and techniques can bring consistency to such chaos, and that’s what LATERAL SCREENWRITING does. It is the first book on screenwriting to really offer anything new in many years.


So, is the malaise and stagnation found in Hollywood product because today’s audience has seen every character, knows them inside out, is bored with them, and so needs ever bigger explosions, ever more outrageous superheroes and villains? Or is it because most of them have only seen the most recent characters, the bad imitations, and these have tainted the old ones out of a lack of context? So, now, because of the bad, they’ve become jaded enough to give up on even the possibility of any good ones?


If that’s true, let’s all start boning up on the intricacies of a weapon that can trump the BFG 9000. Like the gunslinger, there’s always a bigger gun.#


FADE OUT

Lee A. Matthias