Usually, when I get an idea, it gets me excited for a very short time, and then it falls apart: I realize that it doesn’t make sense, or it doesn’t mean anything, or the character arc and the plot have nothing to do with each other… Somehow the whole thing fails to coalesce.
Then there are other times when everything magically clicks into place. A compelling character believably finds himself plunged into an exciting plot that builds to a satisfying conclusion! Even better, the whole things is a powerful metaphor for our modern condition! Victory! But then… something happens: I pitch the idea to a friend, or maybe my management, and they hit me with a devastating response: “Well, okay, sure, but why would anybody want to see it?” Often, I have no answer.
Let’s say that your co-worker corners you at the water cooler on Monday morning to tell you about the great movie they just saw. What are the odds that they’ll say…
- “It had a great structure!”
- “It really seemed true to life!”
- “It had a very satisfying theme!”
- “It was a devastating metaphor!”
Not very likely. You have to push people’s buttons. You have to give them something they crave. Here’s a list of things you co-worker is more likely to say:
- “It was so funny!” aka LAUGHTER (comedies, dramadies)
- “It was hot!” aka LUST (sex comedies, some thrillers, some horror, some indie movies)
- “It rocked!” aka ADRENLINE RUSH (action movies, kids’ movies)
- “It was wild!” aka THE THRILL OF TRANSGRESSION (thrillers, some comedies)
- “It was gruesome!” aka DEATHWISH FULFILLMENT (horror, some thrillers, disaster movies)
- “It kicked ass!” aka POWER FANTASY (superheroes, spies, sports)
- “It was so sweet” and/or “It got me laid!” aka ROMANTIC FANTASY (romances, romantic comedies, coming of age)
- “It was devastating!” aka EMPATHY (melodramas, documentaries, indie movies)
- “It was gorgeous!” aka BEAUTY (spectacles, some documentaries, animated movies)
- “It blew my mind!” aka COGNITIVE DISSONANCE (art films, some high-concept blockbusters)
(Some of these are self-explanatory, but some of the others I’ll delve into in more detail over the next few days.) Now, obviously, no movie is going to hit all these, but every movie should try to hit more than one. If your movie is pulse-pounding, then it’s okay for it to be ugly (most recent action movies), but if it’s about ennui, then you probably want some beauty onscreen (every Catherine Deneuve movie from the 1960s).
What are they going to say about your movie at the water-cooler tomorrow morning? It’s good to know.