Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Spin

I wish I could say I read every one of those blogs over there –> every day. Some get read almost every day, some I forget about then go over and catch up on, some of those bloggers post so infrequently I’ll check back after a month a find only one new post (some - no new posts!), and some... well, I hardly ever read. Sorry if that is yours.

When I check my blog hits (almost every day) I like to check out where people came from - what website they were on immediately before coming here. Usually people come from my website or a link I’ve placed somewhere or some other screenwriting or filmmaking website. Most people probably do what I do - I kind of cycle through the websites I regularly read to see if there’s anything new and exciting. Of course, a few of you come here directly from a graphic gay porn site - I still am not sure whether my website is popular in the gay world for some reason, if many gay people are interested in writing screenplays, or if it’s just some of you screwing around with me because you know I check out where my readers come from. You may owe an apology to that little girl and her mom who were sitting behind me in Starbucks last week. That kid may grow up to think all guys can do that without needing immediate medical attention.

So, every once in a while I trace a hit back to some blog I’m unfamiliar with - usually in the film or screenwriting world, but sometimes other types of blogs. And if they look interesting, I read them. If I liked it, I may read it a few more times... and if it’s always interesting I may add it to the list. When I found the homicide blog, I kept reading it and thought it might also be of interest to some of you, so it went on the list. But there are other blogs that never make the list... because they are boring.

I recently read a blog that was film reviews that didn’t make the cut. Here’s why - instead of really digging into the films, he would say whether he liked the film or not and then gave a practically scene-by-scene summary of the movie. No play in the summary was a critique or details on why he liked or disliked this scene - it was just the story. And, told in the blandest possible way. Kind of a book report. This happened then this happened then this happened. I actually read 3 entries to see if maybe this guy was just having a bad day, but *all* of the “reviews” were like that. “I liked HANGOVER. These four guys have a bachelor party in Las Vegas...” and then what happened in the movie told in the most unemotional way possible. This guy’s reviews could make a comedy seem like an episode of DRAGNET.

Another blog that didn’t make the cut was by a woman who worked for an ad agency, who told what happened at the office, Now, I’ve watched THE OFFICE and seen OFFICE SPACE and watched a couple of episodes of MAD MEN and read all of Ernest Lehman’s short stories and probably expected to read a sarcastic blog about working in an office... or maybe an expose of the cut throat business world, or maybe some rants about how stupid fellow employees are or corporate politics are. Instead, this blog was more DRAGNET - her boss wanted the Soams File on is desk by 3:30 so that he could prep for his 4:00 meeting but Gary wasn’t finished with his report, so the file wasn’t ready until after 4:00 and... It was like reading the diary or a boring person. A robot could have written this blog! Maybe a robot *did* write the blog... or a pod person.

Another blog kind of had the opposite problem, though really it’s the same problem. This guy’s blog was all this guy’s opinions on the way the film business is run. A complete angry rant (I read a couple) about how he could run the business so much better. The problem here was that it was kind of this guy’s propoganda - his beliefs on how Hollywood should be - but if you read two blog entries, you’ve read them all. Hey, a robot or pod person could have written *this* blog, too. Just programmed to drone on and on about what was wrong with Hollywood in a way that was almost impersonal.

Bland. Uninteresting. Not entertaining.

It’s life as an office worker... but without a “spin”, without a “take”. Just the life, not a way of looking at that life.

Pulp novelist John D. MacDonald said if you gave the same news story to 10 different writers you’d end up getting 10 different stories. Because each writer would find a different way of telling the story, and find a different way of looking at the story, and find different parts of the story that appealed to them. A writer takes reality and runs it through their unique filter, and it comes out unique.

I once checked into a hotel, and when I got to my room the message light was blinking on my phone. What? Seems the person who checked out never retrieved their message. Because I didn’t know that when I saw the blinking light, I listened to the voice mail... some personal stuff from some stranger’s life.

Okay - your character checks in, sees the blinking message light, plays the message... What is the message and what happens next?

Do you think we all came up with the same story from that jumping off point? I think if we each wrote a script with that as the opening scene, we’d have a bunch of different scripts in different genres, and no two would be the same. Sure, a handful of people might write rom-coms with that as the set up, but after that first scene they’d go in their separate directions.

Have you ever seen the movie MIRACLE MILE? Guy answers a pay phone, voice on the other end says...

Whether we are writing our blogs or writing our scripts, we have to give that reader a unique and entertaining experience. We aren’t just telling them what happens, we are doing it in an exciting and interesting and amusing way. We aren’t just writing a film review that tells you what happened, we want to give it our spin, our take. We want to leave our finger prints on the review so it doesn’t look like a robot wrote it. Maybe the review is funny. Maybe the reviews point out how out of touch Hollywood is with real life. Maybe it’s a Pauline Kael review all about how this movie made *you* feel while watching it - and the review tells us as much about the reviewer as the film. Maybe look at films from a scientific standpoint or a historical standpoint or a social standpoint... you have some *point* you are making in your reviews. It’s more than just telling us what happened - a robot could do that - you are adding a context.

And hopefully, you are trying to be entertaining in some way. Even if I am reading a book for research - for information - I would like to have that information given to me in a way that is a pleasant reading experience. Facts can be presented in a way that amazes the reader, amuses the reader. They are still the facts. You can also bore me to death with the exact same facts.

The most entertaining reviews are usually for bad movies - many of the TRANSFORMERS 2 reviews were incredibly funny. It’s much easier to pull off the gloves and say funny things about a bad movie that say something funny about CITIZEN KANE. Comedy comes from pain and suffering, and no, I haven’t seen the new Rob Schnider movie yet. But a good review can show me the beauty of a film I have never seen, or show me some aspect of a film that I hadn’t noticed at first.

Hey, I’ve had a few boring blog entries. There are times when I realize I need to post something and I write up some rant or something. But even when I’m writing a review of 4 FAST 4 FURIOUS, I start out trying to find a spin or a take on the film. Something that makes it *my* review, not a robot’s. Usually I find some way to use the film as a screenwriting lesson. What did this film do right or where did it go wrong... and how can we apply this to our scripts? Some of my blog entries that I like use small incidents to illustrate a larger point... or use humor to illustrate a larger point. I do wish I had more funny blog entries. Sometimes my blog entries are just information oriented. I’m sorry for the you tube fillers - if something makes me laugh or just amazes me with weirdness, I’ll post it as a filler. I’m guessing you could just look at the youtube filler posts and learn something about me - they aren’t just “this is a new movie trailer that I really don’t care about” posts. I don’t think a robot could have posted those.

What are you trying to say with this blog entry?
What makes this blog entry entertaining?
What makes this blog entry uniquely yours?

I’m sure by now you’ve realized this isn’t really about blog entries - it’s about your screenplays. Sure, it began with me reading a bunch of blogs that didn't make the cut to get listed over there -> but writing seems to be writing, whether it's blogs or screenplays.

You don’t want to write bland, book report screenplays that read like a robot wrote them. You want to infuse your scripts with your unique personality and viewpoint, and make them *entertaining*. Get *inside* the story instead of telling it from the outside. Find the most interesting angle for the story. But, you know, if those three bloggers read it and learned something, I might try their blogs again and might even put them over there on the list.

- Bill

And once again, my sincere apologies to everyone in the UK who might accidentally channel surf past M4M2 and see...

8/6 - 19:10 - Steel Sharks - When a United States submarine is seized by terrorists, a rescue attempt by Elite Navy Seals goes awry. The submarine crew wages a silent war beneath the waves in this tense undersea thriller.

8/8 - 15:40 - Steel Sharks - When a United States submarine is seized by terrorists, a rescue attempt by Elite Navy Seals goes awry. The submarine crew wages a silent war beneath the waves in this tense undersea thriller.

8/9 - 10:20 - Crash Dive - The crew of a nuclear submarine rescues supposed victims of a boat disaster, but the victims turn out to be terrorists intent on capturing nuclear weapons aboard the sub.

- Bill

4 comments:

Christian H. said...

I'm not sure how to classify my blog other than it being an edifying experience for me.
I like the bland, abstract way i think about film making - not saying I thought you were talking about me as I'm not -->

Anyway, if you want a different look at film drop by.

Dave Shepherd said...

That's like something Terry said about screenwriting on Wordplayer that improved my writing instrumentally -- something I hadn't even thought of.

Detail the scene. Every scene needs a spin.

The example I offered to work with was a couple getting chased by a ghost... he gave me four or five ways that scene could go off the top of his head instead of the "non-choice of the pale white apparation".

Spin the scene and add sticky details. Now whenever I watch a movie I look for ways in which the writer has detailed the scene.

Is it Wall-E spraying himself with a fire extinguisher (a brilliantly disguised set-up)? Him not knowing where to put the spork?

Little things make a huge difference.

wcdixon said...

Great post Bill...bang on.

caseydancer said...

I found your blog thru Revealing of the Soul blog (which has like, 5 entries or something but the first one was so boring I didn't read anymore and just clicked the first link I saw with "sex" in it. No, I'm kidding, actually I'd seen your link on enough other blogs to figure it was worth something. I was right.

That said, I always wonder why bloggers use white text on black background. I find it incredibly difficult to read for more than 10 lines or so.

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