Wednesday, May 20, 2015

You Can't Handle The Truth!

From five years ago...

So I’m cycling from one coffee shop to another and this car *runs a red light* and almost hits me. The driver hits their horn and screams something at me. I’m kind of shook up, and just kind of pause for a moment to reflect on my life up until this point... when it almost ended. Then I get back in motion... and due to traffic, end up at the next stop light right next to the driver. Now there have been times when my common sense got misplaced somewhere and I yelled at someone in two tons of steel that can travel at 120 miles per hour - kind of like arguing with a guy pointing a gun at you - but this was not one of those times. Instead, the guy started screaming at *me* for getting in the way of him running the red light... though he didn’t phrase it that way. Actually, he spoke in a code made up of profanity. I just let him scream, and when the light changed, I flipped him off (okay, maybe I misplaced some of my common sense) then zoomed away. Again, thanks to traffic, I was far ahead of him and did not see him for the rest of my ride. He was probably on his way to his anger management session.

But this is one of those strange things about human beings that we need to work on: when we are wrong, instead of admitting it, we attack the person who is right! I’m sure it’s all a basic survival thing left over from when we were cavemen cutting each other off on the jungle trail - when our vulnerability is exposed, we attack to protect that vulnerability. And we are vulnerable when we are obviously wrong. In fact, the more wrong we are, the more vulnerable we are, the stronger our attack seems to be. We just *react* when we should probably think and then react.

Probably because I am slowly becoming an old fogey (kids get off my lawn!) it seems to me that there is more of this reaction-when-wrong thing than ever before. People seem to be more self centered and more combative and less polite. They also seem to have lost those mental checks and balances that have us think before we speak. Hey, maybe I’m wrong and it’s always been this way but my tolerance has eroded over the years. Whatever, people who are wrong seem determined to fight everyone else to the death... especially the people who are right.

The problem with this is that it just escalates the conflict, and in the end - the person who was wrong is *still wrong*... only now they are even *more* wrong and look *much* worse because they have fought so damned hard *against* what is right.

But people continue to fight when they are wrong and do all that they can to cover it up and blame the other guy, and even try to convince us that right-is-wrong and wrong-is-right. Instead of just deflating the whole problem with the truth and a *sincere* admission of being wrong, they escalate the problem by covering it up and insisting they are in the right.

You see this stuff in politics all the time - and it never ends well. Someone who is head of a group that is strongly anti-Gay, gets caught hiring a male prostitute from a place called “RentBoy.com” to be his companion on a business trip. Now, after being caught red handed (difficult to avoid puns with a subject like this) instead of just saying, “Okay, I’m Gay. Sorry for all of the previous Gay-hatred, but I was actually hating myself and lashing out at others who reflected the part of me I most hated”, the guy escalates the conflict by saying he’s completely not-Gay and had only hired the male prostitute to carry his luggage... and when people don’t buy that, he claims that he did not know that a website called “RentBoy” was an escort service... and when people don’t buy that, he changes his story to say he was trying to show the poor male prostitute the error of his ways while they shared a hotel room on a business trip... and when people didn’t buy that... and on and on it goes, staying in the news cycle instead of being forgotten because they guy just won’t admit that he’s Gay.

Big deal - he’s Gay. A week ago there were millions of Gay people marching in parades all across the country - he’d have just been one in those millions. But instead of being lost in a crowd, he kept himself in the news by denying what just about everyone else in the world figured was the truth... And the end result is always the same: that male prostitute talks to a major metropolitan newspaper and says they had all kinds of sex. Um, if someone rents a male prostitute for a couple of weeks I *hope* they have lots of sex and get their money’s worth. That’s probably not cheap. Wait... did he charge it off on his expense account, too?

By the way - I try to keep politics off the blog, and used this as an illustration of my point because it was recently in the news and went on for a long time due to the guy just continuing to try and cover it all up. Please, no political rants in the comments section. If you want to image some President who said “I did not have sexual intercourse with that woman” when that was not entirely true, be my guest. Politics is *full* of examples on every side of extending the conflict by covering it up and denying it instead of just admitting the truth. There’s a great scene in one of the Tom Clancy movies where Jack Ryan advises the President that distancing himself from some friends who did the wrong thing would be a mistake - the press would easily connect the President to them and that would extend the scandal. Instead, say they were not just friends but good friends. Defuse the scandal by admitting the truth. Once you have said the truth, the news story is over. Nothing to dig up.

HOLLYWOOD, LOOK IN THE MIRROR!

(No, you do not look “Mahvelous!”... look closer)

M. Night Shyamalan’s new movie has been getting a lot of press lately... all the wrong kind. THE LAST AIRBENDER is running at 7% on Rotten Tomatoes, and audiences also seem not to like it much - only a C from the CinemaScore poll. When he was asked about the critics disliking his film he said something along the lines of, If the critics hate it I must be on the right track. Of course, this from a guy who made a film critic the villain in LADY IN THE WATER. Not all film critics make sense and some probably are villains, but film reviews are a lot like script notes: they may not all be right, but sometimes they point out real problems that can be addresses to improve your work. And if many people give you the same script note, that’s a real problem that needs to be looked into. Some notes you might look at and see the point being made, but you disagree with it... so you ignore it. You are the one writing the script or making the movies at the end of the day.

But when Night looks at the problems the critics are pointing out and decides that he is right and all of them are wrong... well, that’s a bit arrogant and a bit self destructive. Also, it’s self delusional - he refuses to see that his career seems to be hurtling in a downward direction. Quickly. Every film seems worse than the one before - and often kind of dopey. And his roles seem to be getting bigger in every film. THE SIXTH SENSE was a really good film (his third as director) and I did not like UNBREAKABLE when it first came out, but it was *interesting* and in retrospective it was much better than LADY IN THE WATER and THE VILLAGE and THE HAPPENING. Though SIGNS was well directed, it had a laughable screenplay that seemed to get sillier as it went on. But instead of Night looking in the mirror, seeing his faults, and trying to correct them and make better films; he *rejects* that he even has faults!

It’s *our* fault for not loving his movies.

The first step is admitting there is a problem, and that it is your problem not everyone else's. Anything else is just making things worse...

But Night is not the only one in Hollywood who thinks this way (duh). When a film flops, studios are quick to blame it on poor marketing or a change in audience tastes or a trend that ended or a star who has faded or something other than THE FILM STINKS! We see the film, and it’s just awful... and the CinemaScore audience poll gives it a bad grade, and critics hate it, but with better marketing people would have liked it. That makes no sense at all to anyone but Hollywood suits. If this were any other product and an entire product line failed, they would be all over that line trying to figure out what went wrong so that they won’t make that expensive mistake again. But movies are *creative* and *subjective*, so you can’t really know why a film fails... except for all of the critics pointing out the awful dialogue and dreadful acting. How many times have we seen films with friends and everyone has the exact same complaints? That’s not subjective, that’s a problem!

But Hollywood doesn’t think it’s *their* problem... or at least, refuses to admit that it is their problem. It’s marketing department or that fickle audience who loved the last movie with a donkey in it, so why didn’t they love *this* movie with a donkey in it?

Those danged suits!

But what about *us*? You know, screenwriters... we get notes on our scripts and react. “They don’t know what they are talking about! They are wrong! They just didn’t get it!” We can easily blame “them” and close our eyes to the screenplay’s problems. We all do it. I do it. Your first reaction is that they are wrong. Hey, sometimes they are wrong... and sometimes we are wrong. When you get that note, and you want to *fight it* and fight it to the death, just take a deep breath and step back and calm down. Let that reaction pass before you say or do anything. Then, when you are in a calmer state of mind, look at the note objectively. At least, as objectively as you can. Do they have a point? Really be open to the possibility that you might be wrong, that your script may be flawed. The thing about a note is that you still get to decide what to do. But part of that decision involves being able to think clearly and not be so caught up in defending your script that you end up defending a guilty party. The reason why we ask for notes, and the reason why getting some feedback is important, is to improve your screenplay.

Now, you may hear all of the notes, give them serious consideration, and change nothing. I have a script that always gets the exact same note: people don’t like the point of the story. It makes them uncomfortable. Well, that was my *intent*, so I am not going to change it. The script was always a hard sell, and making it an easier sell by removing its soul and purpose isn’t going to make it better... just worse in a different way. But other notes on that script were considered and used to improve the script... after I calmed down.

If I were to fight every note because my script is right and everyone else is wrong, I would be expending a lot of energy defending a bad script. And one of the reasons why I would fight so hard to defend it is that I would *know* that it is bad. You defend your weaknesses, not your strengths. But defending your weaknesses does not make them stronger - it may even weaken them more. Instead of defending your weaknesses, acknowledge them and work to improve them. Once they are no longer weaknesses, they no longer need to be defended.

Oh, and your screenplay gets better!

The first step is admitting there is a problem, and that it is your problem not everyone else's. Anything else is just making things worse...

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Unexpected Answers - Why does every rom com end with Hugh Grant running somewhere?
Dinner: Subway Black Forest Ham
Bicycle: Short.
Pages: Below the quota again - but I can get back on for the week tomorrow.

8 comments:

Karel said...

I think it's quite common that filmmakers protect their fragile egos.

Recently here in Australia though, a CRITIC blamed the audience of being lazy when they didn't show up in droves to see a dead-boring, badly made family drama.

And from seeing the stuff that's been funded here by the government (including the turd in question), some suits must have had the same attitude.

Osvaldo Neto said...

Not only in your country, Karel. The suits in Brazil are the government too. I'm truly disappointed from what i see of brazilian cinema on the theaters. There's pratically no love and space for genre cinema, only TV comedies and boring, "oh, that's reality!" "oh, that's so sad!" dramas. Needless to say i don't spend money and time watching these movies.

Richard J. McKenzie said...

My daughter's friend fell asleep during AIRBENDER. Maybe the suits should repackage it as a sleep-aid.

I (and my daughters) have certainly noticed the 'getting older, getting crankier' in yours truly.
I blame it all on everyone else, naturally.

Ryan Paige said...

Not script-related, but I did get into an extended argument recently with someone who was wrong but refused to admit it. It got so far that this other person actually began arguing that 33 was a larger number than 45. TO this day, that person has refused to back off that contention.

In terms of scriptwriting, I guess because I suffer from low self-esteem, I've never had a problem with considering notes and, frequently, using them to help my work. I figure just about everyone knows better than I do.

Emily Blake said...

This is a lesson that took me a while to learn, but now I just let things go, even if I know I'm right.

Unless it's a spelling Nazi. I really hate spelling Nazis.

Gene said...

Reminds me of the old man driving down the interstate with his new cellphone. His wife calls. "Exit, quick! There's someone on the interstate going the wrong way." He says, "A person going the wrong way? Are you kidding me? There's about a hundred of them."

David CC Erickson said...

I would love to just be in a room getting notes from people interested in producing my script. That would be a nice step up from the weekly writer's group notes. Which are some times quite ruthlessly on the mark. Damn porn spam!

ObiDonWan said...

This is a character study, ripe for a movie. what fun that would be to write! Shall we all have a go at it?

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