Thursday, July 17, 2008

Push To Open

Part of writing is understanding characters - understanding human nature - and I am stumped.

I am confused by people who don’t get it. One of the Starbucks I regularly write is kind of shaped like a T - with the seating area on the top of the T and the register at the bottom of the T. The bathrooms and some other things are actually at the bottom of the T - so the area between the counter and the back wall is *also* a passage to get to the bathrooms, and for Starbucks employees to get to the counter entrance, and for customers to look at the pastries... also, of course, for customers who have just ordered their coffees at the counter to get to the seating area at the top of the T. So, it’s *obvious* that the line can not block the passage. The first time I walked into this Starbucks, I could figure that out. In fact, *most* people can figure it out.

But obviously some people can’t figure it out. Today I am standing at the “next” position in a short line at this Starbucks with a gap in front of me so that people can pass... and this guy walks in, ignores the line, ignores me standing there with money in my hand, and blocks the passage by standing behind the customer at the register. Someone else in line said, “Excuse me, buddy, there’s a line” (I wanted to - but I’m usually the person who just grumbles to myself and lets the guy take cutsies) and the guy looks at the line, shakes his head, and *doesn’t move*... but when the customer in front of me is finished ordering - he *must* move so that they customer can get to the drink pick up place and the tables... and that’s when I step up to the register and kind of force the guy to stand in line. He’s pissed off...

But it’s not just the line at this Starbucks - there are all kinds of situations where some people don’t seem to get what everybody else figures out instantly. Why is that?

Another Starbucks has doors with handles on both the inside and outside - and it clearly says “Push” on the inside next to the handle. Yet, when I sit in that Starbucks writing, there’s always one or two people who pull on the handles. And when one door doesn’t open by pulling, they try the other door - pulling on that one. And they keep pulling despite the sign that says “push” and never even *try* to push the door open. When I pull on a door and it doesn’t open, I try pushing. In fact, most of the people who go through those doors and may not have noticed the (obvious) sign will push if pulling doesn’t work. But there is this percentage that will not push no matter what. It takes them forever to figure it out. It’s like - if they keep pulling on the door, maybe it will open.

I have no idea how this applies to screenwriting (or characters) but I can’t figure out why these people can’t figure out those things that nobody else even has to think about. I don’t think they are stupid - the guy who took cuts in line was wearing a suit and a Rolex and looked like a successful business guy - probably not “mentally challenged”. Is there some form of intelligence that governs things like this? Can you be a brilliant businessman and not understand what a line is?

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Story Vs. Character - and THE BANK JOB.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Burgers at Carls jr.

MOVIES: BAGHEAD - Last night I saw BAGHEAD with the directors, editor, cast, etc, doing Q&A. They said they just began making movies - and made a pile of bad ones before they made anything that anyone wanted to see... and on BAGHEAD they had studios interested in funding the film as long as it was commercial. They turned that money down and made their own movie with private funding based on the studio's interest in distribbing. Now, here's the part that's the curse & blessing of making your own movies: you hit the ceiling fast.

BAGHEAD works as a quirky small movie made by a bunch of friends... it's funny and eventually becomes scary. But it's mostly "soft". The story is about 4 out of work actors who attend a film fest screening of a friend's film - that sucks. Afterwards they decide they could make a better film - starring themselves, natch - and decide to go to an isolated moutain cabin to work on the script. Once they get to the cabin, we get a bunch of conversation and character stuff - these aren't really two couples, but two males and two females. One set used to be an item - but now they have broken up and remained friends. The other set has yet to hook up, despite the guy doing everything he can think of to get her into bed. In fact, he thinks the isolated mountain cabin is his big chance to hook up with her. We know that will never happen.

So after a bunch of pointless meandering conversation (some of which is funny) the title character shows up - a guy with a paper bag over his head who is hanging around in the woods spying on them.

The thing about BAGHEAD is that it is endearing as hell - it really does look like it was made by a bunch of friends with a camera for $5. It has that loose, film students having fun quality that allows you to excuse the lighting (not always great), excuse the loose script and improv acting, and even almost excuse the annoying we-don't-believe-in-tripods-or-focus camerawork. It looks like they took their least steady friend and gave him the camera - but never taught him how to use the focus. The danged thing is constantly going in and out of focus - and checking focus in the middle of shots which calls attention tio how artificial all of this is. Kind of at odds with the improv... the camerawork is so unlike what the eye sees that we know it's a movie. This is *different* than BLAIR WITCH or CLOVERFIELD because those films were supposed to be through the lens of someone's camera - here there is no camera, no POV, this is just the way the film is shot... and my eyes focus much better than this after a night of heavy drinking. I see the world more clearly - and the human eye does nothing as artificial as checking focus. Anyway, it's charming because it's unsophisticated - probably made over a weekend on pocketchange. I remember when I was a kid with dreams but no real skills making little movies...

But BAGHEAD doesn't work as a mainstream film... or even as a film made for over $500k (their budget). The ragged, thrown together, improv look and feel of the movie is endearing on a low budget, but looks unprofessional and, well, thrown together and improvised on a big budget. In fact, when the closing credits rolled and I saw how big the crew was - they had a second unit that was bigger than many pro movies first units that I've worked on, I was shocked. When the directors said they had a 3 week shooting schedule, I was even more shocked. Three weeks? That means they had the time (and crew) to set lights and shots and do all kinds of retakes and... My STEEL SHARKS movie had a 3 week shooting schedule and we exploded submarines! You'd think with all of those people on the crew and all of this time...

And then I began taking points off the movie in that mental scorecard I keep. Sure it was funny and had some great moments - but those were based on this being a film made for pocket change by a bunch of friends in their backyard. As a professional film? Well, that stuff was kind of sloppy. Sure, I know it's a "style" called "mumblecore" - but it looks like it was thrown together by people without any filmmaking skills. As a pro movie from Sony with a 3 week shooting schedule and a big crew - it's not impressive at all. In fact, it's not even unimpressive. It's negative impressive. I can't imagine these guys ever getting a studio gig off this - and maybe they don't want one... except they said that's what they were going for. They want to make mainstream films... just in their own unique way. Huh?

I think it's much easier to ignore the "rules" (like focus) than to follow them. I'm all for letting these guys make their own little movies in their own little way - but I can't see them doing HELLBOY 3. I don't see any evidence of the *competence* required to do a mainstream film. Del Torro does these wild quirky films - but his non-mainstream films are really well made... and his mainstream films (HELLBOY 2) are weird and quirky *and* really well made. He splits the difference - these guys? Well, they should keep making pocket change films - because a film like this made for next to nothing is *fun*... but a film like this made on a 3 week schedule with a real crew?

They end up trapped making low budget films forever, and they may nor be interested in struggling for the rest of their lives.

- Bill

8 comments:

James said...

The door thing cracks me up. Because of California fire code all exterior doors PUSH open.

You don't even have to think to exit because EVERY door you encounter at a store is a push to open.

Of course, this F$@%ed me in Spain. I was the jack-ass American trying to push-to-open doors that only pulled open. And said so in plain writing in front of me (Spanish of course, but that's a poor excuse :p).

ehadams23 said...

I was a Sociology student for four years at UCLA and the #1 thing I learned is that people are stupid, especially in social situations.

ehadams23 said...

Actually, that guy just sounds like an asshole. I'm too important and rich to stand in line like everyone else!

wcmartell said...

The think with the push doors is that often people say "Push!" to the person who continues pulling on the door - and they *still* keep pulling.

And, though the guy may have just been a jerk - every once in a while some other person will not get the line thing - and I've seen it happen in other places. It's like there are some people who don't understand basic things... and that's what confuses me. If I wrote a character like this, people would not believe they existed. It would be "bad writing".

- Bill

Phill Barron said...

Successful businessmen become successful businessmen by not waiting in line.

For us Brits, queueing is the only national skill we have. Sometimes it's difficult to walk along a street without accidentally joining every queue you pass. When someone doesn't understand where to queue it's very disconcerting and likely to be met with a chorus of tuts and in severe cases, a disapproving shake of the head.

As for pulling push doors - why put a handle on a door you push? Handle for pulling, flat plate for pushing - that's much easier.

When it comes to not understanding stuff, aeroplane toilets have to be the best. I love watching a long line of people who are completely incapable of operating the door - first they pull the ashtray out, then they push the bit of wall next to the door, then they get their fingers trapped in the hinge. Occasionally, some genius will back away in confusion and fall through the door of the toilet opposite. If the door's already open, people peer at the toilet before deciding it must be some kind of optical illusion and trying to get into one which is already occupied; and finally, when they manage to get inside - they forget to lock the door and end up flashing the next person desperate to gain access.

I'd like to think it was something to do with the lack of oxygen, but I fear it's just a general lack of cells for the oxygen to get to.

ObiDonWan said...

The push/pull thing and the cut-in in line things are both great, and could work as instant, visual clues about a character in YOUR movie. Maybe the push/pull thing is a hapless lead character or sidekick, and the cut-in in line is going to be the killer. But I'm too nice to steal your hard-earned observations...

I liked SPARTAN enough to watch it twice. I hear what you're saying about no emotional involvement but once I realized the Kilmer character was being setup, and when he committed to saving the girl, I was involved.

Emily Blake said...

I was at El Pollo Loco the other day and a family of three obese people walked in and went directly past the line and up to the counter where you pick up your food. They tried to order there. And when one of the employees called out a number and the customer came to pick up his food, these people did not budge. Their enormous bodies were completely blocking people from their food.

Then one of the employees actually LET THEM jump in line. I think they were afraid these people would eat them.

People are so freaking self absorbed.

The Moviequill said...

"there are all kinds of situations where some people don’t seem to get what everybody else figures out instantly. Why is that?"

selective ignorance or voluntary retardation and it does apply to all walks of life, rich and poor, average joe and celebrity extraordinaire... I also think it is due to people only being concerned with A#1 (themselves) and they forget there is an actual world revolving around them

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