Thursday, June 10, 2010
Storyteller’s Rulebook #27: You Can Do Anything (As Long As You Do A Contained Thriller First)
It’s so liberating to go to the movies and see something utterly great and strange like There Will Be Blood. It feels liberating. Movies can do that?? Movies can be ambitious and literary and sinewy and tough?? It expands your whole idea of what a movie can be. But I always try to rein myself in when I start granting myself the same license. Before I start to say, “My next one will be like Oh Brother Where Art Thou meets The Matrix meets The Prestige,” I always remind myself that I don’t have the clout that those filmmakers have. Ambition is great, but everybody has to pay their dues first. And how do you pay your dues? For all of those filmmakers, it was by making a nifty little contained thriller.
For Paul Thomas Anderson, it was Hard Eight. For the Coen Brothers, it was Blood Simple. For the Wachoski Brothers, it was Bound. For Christopher Nolan, it was Following. If you’re familiar with these movies, you might notice a pattern. A small crime. A pulpy atmosphere. Bold, slightly strange camerawork. A small number of locations. High pressure. A shocking plot turn about two thirds of the way in. Maybe a few minor stars who are lured into a small role by a great script.
And this has been true all the way on back, all over the world: Godard and Truffaut started with Breathless. Bergman? Kurosawa? Lots of little crime movies at the start of their resumes. Even the exceptions seem to prove the rule. It’s easy to forget that Wes Anderson’s first movie, Bottle Rocket was marketed as a crime movie, even if it was quirkier than the other examples.
Every time a mind-blowing movie comes along and breaks all the rules, it makes me happy. And it makes me re-double my efforts to write a nifty little thriller, so that one day I, too, will have that much clout.