Writing On Spec

An award caliber procrastinator discovers a new and dangerous pursuit to keep him from actually writing another script. Why another Blog? I love to talk screenwriting. I love to talk story. I live in Richmond, VA. It's almost easier to get produced than find another screenwriter here. We are the anti-LA.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Manipulation

Well, still no further on the ideas. Not liking that much at all. Although, on the bright side, after watching some other movies, maybe I'm overthinking the whole concept of the story actually making sense. I mean, really...winners at contests are small, character driven movies that nobody watches (and I'm not writing) and the big budget stuff is rarely as well-written (although there are a good number of great writers). Maybe all I need is a few fart jokes and get the damn thing on paper. Food for thought.

But while I'm mulling this over, I get Dirty from Netflix. I've read the article in Script about the writer (Chris Fisher) and it sounded interesting, so into the queue it went. Well... um. Spoilers alert if you're dying to see this flick...

As I go back go my issue of Script to glaze over what was written, I realize I had this movie all wrong. I thought this was a story-story... you know, shit that's made up and fits together. But this really isn't. This is, as Chris says, a "fictional true life" retelling. Meaning, some of the stuff happened, but he's had to change names, events and such so that you know what he's talking about, but nobody in real life is named, so can't sue.

Unfortunately for me, I'm not in LA (that may be a good thing too), so I don't know about the LAPD scandal that this movie is based upon. Strike 1.

I'm also in Virginia. Not a lot of hispanics and gangs roaming the streets. Strike 2.

I'm not a cop (although one of my neighbors is one), so I really don't sympathize with what these guys are doing. Strike 3.

Overall, the movie is quite suspenseful. It's really gripping for much of it's length. However, that's not that difficult (to me). Put a gun in a scene with two people who don't like each other and - bingo! Tension.

What I didn't like most about the film are two things that harken back to other films.

1) Arlington Road - I hate this movie for two reasons. 1) The main character is supposed to be smart, but makes the most boneheaded decisions at the end. 2) The villain is not a psychic, but would have to be to plan the whole thing and 3) What's the lesson? The theme? The message you get as you walk out? "Bad guys are smarter than the good guys" or something akin.

Dirty is similar in that just about everybody in the movie is bad - aka "dirty". If that's the world, maybe we're better off with a meteor taking us out. I understand that there are bad elements in our world, but, frankly, I prefer to see some sort of redemption. That's wholly personal and no real strike against the film.

2) The Usual Suspects and The Sixth Sense. I loved both of these movies, but what I believe the Sixth Sense does great, the Ususal Suspects and Dirty fail. They all have a "holy shit" ending. But while the Sixth Sense has shown you the clues all along, you just have to see them, both the Usual Suspects and Dirty flat out lie to you. What you'll hear (and what I've been told) is that "you're dealing with a unreliable narrator". Uh...no shit, they straight up lie to us from the git-go. However, problem with that is that you have no reason not to believe the narrator and thus, you believe them. How easy all our mysteries and thrillers would be if we just up front fucking lie in the beginning.

Dirty does the same thing. Lie to us from the start and then reveal the lie at the end. Just like The Ususal Suspects, the lie is necessary or the whole "holy shit" ending just falls flat - it's expected. People would figure it out. That to me, is manipulation. Your audience loves to be involved in the story - to guess what will happen ahead of you. How many people do you know who proudly proclaimed after Bruce Willis was shown to be dead, "I knew it all along. I told you." Well, of course he was! There were a million clues when you go back and look. Many of us just got lost in the story and it was all a big surprise. Either way, it was fun for both sides.

Now, if the writer goes and starts off lying. What fun is that? Where's the participation? You can't win because the writer's changed the rules without telling you.

Lastly - and here's the spoilers - I don't get the story.

It's about a cop who is unable to deal with the fact he shot an innocent person. So he's going to rat to IA about his department.

Okay - that's fine. However, the entire story (you find out at the end) is an elaborate plot to get him shot so he won't talk...uh... that's not the same thing as above. That's somebody else's story... like, maybe his partner... a dirty cop goes along with setting up his partner in order to keep him from ratting out the department to IA. But he's not the main character - it's not his story.

So, while it's entertaining, I can't say that it's a particularly well-written story.

Wish I was going to Expo this year. I'd love to catch the Pixar guys talking about story. That should be pretty good.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Unknown Screenwriter said...

Good post... Didn't like DIRTY. Liked TUS more than SS because I knew what was going to happen... I guess I was only one of the few... LOL. But you're right... TUS just flat out lied and that's what I loved... THE FUCKING BALLS to do that to us!

I saw it on opening night and literally half the theater audience was pissed off... I will never forget it.

I was with two other people and they were pissed too. I laughed my ass off because I was entertained all the way through to the end and then, find out that more than likely, NOTHING happened as I just finished watching it.

BALLS. I love it.

Unk

Friday, September 8, 2006 at 3:19:00 AM EDT  
Blogger wcdixon said...

I guess I should conclude that if I liked Usual Suspects, I should see Dirty (never heard of it). Yes TUS lied, but the 'experience' of it in a theatre was still worth it.

I've got a script that begins at a funeral for an unseen person and a VO from the lead character proclaiming 'he cannot tell a lie' and that 'he did it'. And then we jump back in time to meet character and ultimately learn who is in coffin and what he 'did'. What inspired me here was the notion of a character who 'cannot tell a lie'... and is the narrator in a tale with a lot of twists and turns. Tricky stuff.

Friday, September 8, 2006 at 2:18:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Dave said...

I really like TUS. I just find the up-front lying clumsy when compared to 6th Sense.

Unk - Dunno if you "knew" the ending to TUS or not, but perhaps the difference between you figuring out the story and not in the two films is because of the lie in the beginning?

If we don't witness Verbal watching the shooting of Keaton, how does it change the story? All of a sudden, Verbal is now a possible suspect. That, to me, isn't balls, but cheating.

Don't get me wrong, I still own two freakin' copies of the movie (original & godamned special edition), but as far as story goes, I was still lied to and lying doesn't take balls to me. I think it was the only way to pull off that ending successfully.

From that perspective, it's a necessary gimmic to the story.

Real point of the post was that TUS is the same story from the moment they're all brought in for questioning. It's an elaborate plot by Verbal. With Dirty, it appears one way until the ending, and then a totally different story after the revelation. You're tricked in the beginning about a crucial fact, then see the entire film through the main character's perspective.

At the end, you realize that the real story was totally different and that he's been jerked around the entire time.

A little unsatisfactory for me - even though it was gripping.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006 at 3:48:00 PM EDT  

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