Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Push To Open

From 2008...

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”. I don't think he was being rude, he just didn't seem to be able to figure out simple things. Is there some form of intelligence that governs things like this? Can you be a brilliant businessman and not understand how a line works?

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Plot Twists Are The Answer - and STAY vs. GET OUT!
Yesterday’s Dinner: One of those Starbucks Thanksgiving sandwiches - it was free.

MOVIES: ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD. Did Michelle Williams practice Katharine Hepburn's accent? Did Christopher Plummer study John Houston in CHINATOWN? Was that Kevin Spacey getting off the train in an early scene? The interesting thing about this film is that it's based on a true story about the richest guy in the world who refused to pay the ransom for his kidnapped grandson... and that's the premise. After that it's kind of a dry, just the facts story. The trailer makes it look like a suspense film, maybe with Michelle Williams kicking ass along with Marky Mark in order to get her son back. But much of it takes place in boardrooms where lawyers look over offers. One of the interesting things in adapting a true story is *how* you adapt it, what you decide is the important part of the story and what you leave out - and maybe what you create (was Marky Mark's character truth or fiction or composite?). I've done Script Tips on "casting a story" in a genre to take what might be a little dry and making it exciting... and here they didn't do that. This *could* have been a race against time thriller, with the decision by Getty not to pay the ransom as a big twist, and the machinations to get the grandson back as conflicts and twists with time running out. But they didn't take that path, here. They even downplay the emotions when it comes to the boy's mother - played by Williams. There is a scene near the middle of the film that could have been a big emotional twist - and seems to have maybe been written that way - but ends up filmed so "matter of fact" that it's just a scene.

The best scenes of the movie are when Williams and Plummer are on screen together, basically playing a high stakes chess game against each other with the boy's life in the balance. But that's just business. Which is maybe the issue here - there's a line Getty has about how emotions and even caring about *anything* is how you lose a business deal. You need to be cold. You need to be able to walk away. But the problem is - that ends up what the story is about. William's character doesn't get what is necessary to get her son back by *caring*, but by being cold and besting Getty at his own game. She becomes just as cold and calculating... and that may be intellectually interesting it's not very emotional. There *are* some exciting and emotional scenes - it's hard not to feel for the kid when the kidnappers, um, remove a body part as "proof of life", and the end sequence in the village which reminded me of that early scene in GODFATHER PART 2 builds some suspense (though not through techniques, more just because a kid is being hunted by killers) but the film often feels dry. A scene where Williams' character comes face to face with her ex-husband might have been about two strangers. In addition to the good scenes with Williams and Plummer, the scenes between the kid and the lead kidnapper character (who steals the show) work well. Plummer does a great job considering he's a last minute replacement in a pivotal role. It's a well made movie with good performances, but it's like reading a non fiction book that sticks to the facts... or one of Getty's pieces of "investment art".


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).

Anonymous 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.

Anonymous 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.

Anonymous 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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