Show menu
Shooting People
By continuing to browse this website you are agreeing to allow us to use cookies

Anybody else totally, totally over box tick movies?

Anybody out in SP Land totally, totally over box tick movies?
A friend has been writing a supernatural crime drama and sending the script out for coverage. I was surprised how multiple analysts had pretty much the identical comments. It’s as if they were reading from the same playbook.
You know why?
I realized they were!
Take a look at your own scripts. Are all the beats in your script exactly where they should be according to SAVE THE CAT?
Does the script adhere to all the guidelines in ANATOMY OF A STORY?
Have your read THE WRITER’S JOURNEY and incorporated enough nods to THE HERO’S JOURNEY?
Have you incorporated the trendiest demographic memes?
Congratulations! You have a great future churning out product.
I keep glancing at my watch during box tick movies. Let’s see, time for a reversal. Oops, now it’s time for the hero to be at her/his lowest point and miraculously rebound. Etc. etc. etc.
Maybe because I’m a Sagittarius I hate predictability and routine. I watch movies to be shocked, astonished, surprised, to peer into words that upend expectation. I hope that my scripts exhibit the same lack of bureaucratic compliance. As one producer remarked (after a period of silence) about one of my pitches during a Raindance Live Ammunition event, “Well, it is certainly off-the-wall.”
Am I alone in my curmudgeonly attitude?
Ps. The same friend just alerted me to a recent NYT movie review. Money quotes:
“THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW isn’t just another straight-to-streaming genre mediocrity. It’s a high-end genre mediocrity.”
“This is not an uncommon phenomenon these days, as prestige television and studio filmmaking and the publishing industry converge to produce glossy commodities that are appealing partly because they resemble things that people remember liking at some point.”
My friend concluded his email with the comment, "Soon, all movie scripts will be written by AI.”

  • Complaining about beats being formulaic in film is like a jazz musician complaining that all the real money is in 4/4/ time, or a Japanese Noh! artist lamenting that the Brits just don't get it.

    Sort of missing the point.

    Most audiences most of the time like "experimentation within familiar bounds". In most pop music, the beat is 4/4 and the experimentation lies in the way it's played/sung. In film, the beats are the bounds. The experimentation lies in the characters, the dialogue and the Direction.

    And sane investors know that there is so much that can fucked up within that, that they are wary of also taking risks with beats.

    Because if the beats are unfamiliar, while that can get reviewers raving over it as refreshing and dynamic, it can also get kiss of death reviews like, "boring, obstruse, difficult".

    Complaining that film investors don't appreciate one's genius is fun, but I suspect that even David Lynch has a draw full of scripts even he can't get made.

    1 month ago
  • No, you're not alone in your attitude, which is by no means curmudgeonly. I cannot see how anyone serious about any art form could really give a fuck about story "beats", "hero's journeys" and the rest of it. And while tempting, seeking comfort in the possibility that with so many dedicated to the "by numbers" approach, the field is thereby left open for those who aren't, I think is mistaken. For example, while Stalinism used violence and terror to silence "curmudgeons" and enforce conformity, modern society uses mediocrity and boredom to drown out dissent. But the worship of power and money are the same in many respects, and produce similar results.

    1 month ago
  • Hmmm … so much for the "Discussion" section. Lynwood's post seemed a pretty worthwhile subject to me. I'm quite surprised by the lack of response here. And while I'm not certain I totally agree with Marlom I enjoyed reading his reply. Should I perhaps have adopted a less provocative tone in my response? Is the phenomenon of "tickbox" cinema not worth discussing here? A pity if so as I'd be fascinated to know what people think, especially in the light of recent remarks by people like Martin Scorsese. Is he not someone worth listening to?

    1 month ago
  • I think you are right about the boring familiarity of everything, due to everyone complying with the same school of thought. Even my friends who are not in the film industry think it’s rare to be surprised by a film and have noticed the tropes. Imagine if Quentin Tarantino was an unknown screenwriter sending his script for Inglorious Bastards for ‘notes’. There’s a 40 page scene in the middle of it that is very dialogue heavy and that I think is the best scene in the film (when they’re at that bar with Diane Kruger and the nazis). It would probably get demolished.
    I think the root of this problem is that only instinct can tell you if a script is good or bad and even then, a lot depends on who makes it, regarding whether it turns out any good or not. People like to think that there is a right or wrong way of doing things and that there is some list of steps you have to take to make things ‘right’ so they read the same books and think if you open a script at page 30 you have to have this moment the story. I’m not saying there is no useful advice in books about screenwriting but it’s taken as if it’s THE blueprint for any script and nothing should get made that doesn’t tick the box.
    As William Goldman said ‘Nobody knows anything’ but people want to give the impression that they have some expertise and they can’t just say I think it’s good because I enjoyed reading it and my instinct tells me other people will enjoy it. They want to say I think it’s good because, as per xyz book, it has this beat on that page. This makes them sound more like experts, especially since all the other people who agree with them read the same books.

    1 month ago
    • I agree with all your points in theory Anca, but I must say that Inglorious Bastards is a very strange choice to hang your argument on. It's a real Frankenstein's Monster of a film, assembled from constituent parts that don't gel crudely bolted together. And the scene in the basement bar DOES go on for far too long. Frankly, that scene deserves to be demolished.
      Apart from that, right with you!

      1 month ago
    • @Dominic Stinton I LIKED that was a monstrous mess :-)

      1 month ago
  • There are actually many films made that avoid beats, acts etc. They're call experimental films. And some even get picked up and find distribution, albeit on limited runs and at specialised cinemas. But it's certainly doable.

    But all that aside, to be successful in your trade, a director, writer, producer etc. you need to learn, understand and master your market. What are the rules you need to follow to 1) break into, then 2) stay on top of your competition to survive and not get booted out of your industry sector. And let's not forget, breaking in is, in the greater scheme if things, somewhat easier to achieve than actually maintaining your place once inside.

    So, for a writer, the industry expects a well written screenplay, asking with those, expertly and creatively integrated, beats, acts etc. Unless you are a big heavyweight writer with box office breaking movies behind you, you're a nothing compared to the greater cogs of movies as a business. If you don't tick the boxes then you've failed the very first test of your industry. You've failed to learn or understand or play by the rules.

    Learn your sector first. Then try breaking in second.

    4 weeks ago
    • Well … I’m with Mr Scorsese on this – cinema is an art form. Yes, it’s a business as well. Naturally, a coherent plan is necessary if you want to convince people with money to help, so it makes sense to follow industry guidelines. But as far as I’m concerned, that’s all they are, guidelines. I think prescriptive ideas about how to structure a narrative need to be taken with a pinch of salt. They definitely appeal to a lot of people though.

      3 weeks ago
    • @Lloyd Raworth That's perfectly fine for the Mr Scorsese's in this world who have the ability and permission to do their own thing. But let's be realistic for a moment, 99.9% of people on SP, and even in the wider filmmaking community, are not in his league and so have no control. Therefore, the rest of us have to follow the rules if we wish to break-in, or ignore the rules and never break-in.

      2 weeks ago
    • @Lee 'Wozy' Warren While this is all quite interesting, I’m not entirely sure what authorises you to declare people failures if they don’t follow “the rules”. Your comments might make more sense (to me anyway) if the big chains/multiplexes/Netflix etc were regularly showing loads of great films. Personally, I don’t think they are though. I realise that’s just my subjective opinion, but it is something which been attested to by a number of well-known directors for some time (and the majority of people on this thread).

      I’ve also found the “how to” type of scriptwriting books, and various gurus and so forth to be of limited value. Most of the stuff in this vein seems to be cannibalized from Russian Formalist film theory from the early part of the last century and repurposed for the Hollywood production line. I’m not saying this hasn’t produced many great films, but it seems to have become very dogmatic.

      2 weeks ago
  • Thank you all for responding. I am very touched that you took time to read and reflect, and I respect very much your insights, experience and expertise.
    From differing perspectives, everyone says is indeed very valid. I was particularly struck by Wozy’s observation about the current state of the industry.
    “…to be successful in your trade, a director, writer, producer etc. you need to learn, understand and master your market.”
    I am willing to bet that the filmmakers who created masterpieces from Wizard of Oz to Citizen Kane to Casablanca to Apocalypse Now to Space Odyssey had nary a clue about “the market.” If film producers were so market obsessed, they certainly wouldn’t have given George Lucas 100% of the franchise rights (action toys, sequels,) etc., a mistake they only made once.
    I know I’m in a minority, but I want to be a completely different person when I walk out of a cinema than when I walk in. (Which is why I got in this cockamamie business to begin with - if movies had that much power to transform me, I want to be associated with something that has the power to transform others). I don’t want my preconceptions to merely be reinforced.
    Also, Marshall McLuhan made a very valid point about “hot media”, e.g., film, where you go outside your home (e.g., movies) to be disturbed and “cool media,” (e.g., TV), where you are essentially inviting a cascade of strangers into your personal space. Which might explain the flattened affect of so many movies-pipelines don't want to stream anything too unnerving.
    Interesting that Marlom mentions music, which is a most fascinating template to examine.
    In the 1980s, the MBAs/accountants realized that people who wrote and produced books, songs and movies were amateurs in the truest sense of the word (they did what they because they love doing it), and had absolutely no real expertise in mass marketing. Nevertheless, they were making money hand-over-fist..
    “If we modernize the music, publishing and filmmaking business,” the MBA/As said to each other, “rather than releasing a song, book or movie based on a somebody’s random whim, we do market research and program a song, book or movie to fulfill a market need, (and later, AI to predict success), the sky is the limit as too how much money we make.”
    In 1968, I saw Hendrix and Chicago for $3.50 ($22 in 2019 dollars). It was a wonderfully laid back convivial experience Two years ago, I saw the Cure in Hyde Park for £80 ($112). It was an okay experience despite the ludicrously overpriced food and drink and the Stasi-like security to make sure you didn’t try to smuggle any contraband chocolate digestives into the venue.
    Adjusted for inflation, in real money terms, this is a 500% increase. The accountants have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
    Going back to music, you know what the result of 40 years of implementing modern management techniques in the music business have accomplished?
    “The 643 participants, typically aged 18 to 25, maintained a steady memory of top tunes that came out between 1960 and 1999.
    “It was when asked about songs from the 21st century that musical knowledge faded.”
    This was brought home to me when I was living on the South coast. I would write my novel sitting in a table in my local. All the bartenders were in the their 20s and 30s, and the music on the house system was invariably from the past century.
    “Guys,” I once asked them, “why are you listening to this stuff? Some of it’s sixty years old. It would be like listening to songs from 1910 in 1970.”
    “Because the music was so much better then,” they all chimed in.
    The accountants can only hope that the films from 1960 to 1999 suddenly don’t become as freely available as the songs from that era.
    Or else enough box tick movies will flop and the movie going audiences will start supporting movies with fresh vision and an emotional heart.
    Ps. Yes, great stuff is indeed out there everywhere but in the mainstream. I’m fortunate to be part of the Booth Haus Arts collective and constantly receiving leads on striking off-the-wall music, books and movies. But I imagine for most people the effort of discovery is not worth it.

    1 week ago
    • I think that it's fair to say that the world and the 'market' in the current 2020's is so very different from that of the 1930's, 1940's, 1980's etc. of those films you mention.

      The filmmakers in some of those films were the actual studios and who were also the distributors, so they had the power to do whatever the heck they liked. They were the one's setting the rules.

      The others, 2001 A Space Odyssey and Apocalypse Now, were both made by highly successful directors who had already proven themselves.

      There are always exceptions to any rules. But learn the rules first before breaking them. Kubrick wasn't sprung fully formed into a genius director. He had to learn the ropes just as we all do.

      Woz ;)

      "...the filmmakers who created masterpieces from Wizard of Oz to Citizen Kane to Casablanca to Apocalypse Now to Space Odyssey had nary a clue about “the market.” If film producers were so market obsessed, they certainly wouldn’t have given George Lucas 100% of the franchise rights..."

      1 week ago