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.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Is all that old stuff just crap?

So, I'm all cranked up, after Unk whipped me into a screenwriting frenzy, to write a new entry when I sit down and catch (unintentionally) a documentary (Captured on Film: The True Story of Marion Davies (2001) on Marion Davies. Watching bits and pieces of her performances led me to dig deeper into my reasons for not watching all the golden oldies. I've still never seen A Wonderful Life all the way through and have little interest in seeing many of the older films that have garnered so much acclaim (i.e. Citizen Kane).

I started thinking about what it was that turned me off some of these old films and came to the conclusion that I'm just not relating to many of them. Now, a lot of these films have universal themes, you say, so how can I not relate? Well... I think it's a little of me and a little of the times they were made. I was reading the current Script and they are talking to Robert Osbourne about the Oscars and their history. He mentions that Mrs. Miniver was a great film, but that to truly appreciate the film, you need to put yourself in their perspective. That is - we'd just entered the war and everybody was terrified we'd be invaded.

Over time, our values change as humans. It's why it's difficult to appreciate the finer, perhaps character defining moments of specifically the older films, foreign films and perhaps some of the newer independent films. Mainstream Hollywood caters to the largest common denominator, so odds are, if you're an average individual, you at least "get" the movie. Liking it may be another story, however. Yet, with these other films, you just may not "get" them. If you don't understand where the characters in a movie are coming from - what's driving them - it's hard to invest yourself in their plight. And if you're not emotionally invested in the characters, I guarantee you won't think much of the film.

Thinking back to the older films, what takes me out of them immediately is the society. While I understand that all films are not "real life", when you put in Narnia, you don't expect anything close to real life, however, when you toss in, say, The Seven Year Itch, which is based in our real world, you expect to relate. However, in the opening, we have a man sending his family off on vacation and staying home. Now, while I'm sure there are families like that, mine is not one, and I'm going to guess after seeing all the families on my vacation, most don't these days.

There are little things in the film that just remind you that this is not from your time - the attitude towards people or things, the jargon used at the time, the innocence of some of the characters. Rarely do you see an adult portrayed as possessing any innocence these days - even Nell was more savage than wide-eyed positivity. Our times today are defined by sarcasm, bittersweet, the unfairness of life instead of over the top romance or wackiness.

What does all this point to? That as writers, we need to be conscious of our audience and as an audience (or reader) we need to try and put ourselves in the time of the writing in order to immerse ourselves in the story. A good story is told from a universal perspective - we still fear, love, hate, strive to succeed, are jealous of the achievements of others. Find themes that mean something to you and then put characters people can relate to into those stories.

Science fiction has a difficult time connecting with people due to it's inherent fictionalization of just about everything, but one story set far, far away in another galaxy caught the attention of millions of people and is still popular today; Star Wars capitalized on universal themes and characters who, while we were unable to relate to the specific needs, we were able to relate to their story needs (falling in love, growing up to be successful, stopping the bad guy, learning new skills, finding your family).

The more universal your character needs, the better chance you have of connecting to your audience.

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