Wednesday, November 20, 2013

So How Are We Doing?

So, that’s a ton of checklist roadtests! I’ve still got more movies I want to cover, but I’m a little exhausted, so I might move on to other stuff for a while…

In the meantime, how do you guys feel about the new questions? Are there ones you find particularly revealing? Or not useful? Has the list gotten too long? Any I should cut?  Have the casefiles been useful? (A side point: One thing I don’t want to do is use these roadtests to say, “See, I was right!” Am I being fair or am I bending the rules too much?)

Most importantly, have any of you tried using it for your own projects?  How has that gone?

Let me know!  Comments have been low, but the stats have been high, so it seems like I’ve had a lot of visitors and then pummeled them into submission, but now I’ll give you a chance to respond, if you wish.    


James Kennedy said...

The new questions are great. I've tried them out with some new projects of mine and they have clarified and helped me a lot.

I have an idea for an additional checklist item, if I may. It comes from watching too many movies lately in which the tone is wearyingly unvarying. Stuff like ENDER'S GAME or THE HUNGER GAMES just has this relentless pounding on the same emotion again and again, which leads to a deadened experience for the audience. (Both have this feeling, it feels like 95% of the time, of a tense gotta-do-the-jobness, rarely venturing into anything that would make one laugh or cry or be aroused or whatever.)

Contrast this to, say, STAR WARS or RAIDERS or even AVENGERS . . . there are exciting bits, funny bits, scary bits, romantic bits, shocking bits, weird-for-weird's sake bits . . . the movies run the gamut of many emotions for the viewer. And they feel like they breathe, they acknowledge that we live in a world in which there are many different conflicting and contrary emotional responses to various situations. If those movies don't run the emotional gamut from A to Z, they at least go A to, say, K. But HUNGER GAMES and ENDER'S GAME only go from A to C and they suffer for it.

Whoever's making these movies seems to think that, in order to maintain a certain thematic tone, then the story itself should elicit exactly one or maybe two emotional responses from the audience, and they relentlessly bang on that limited emotional palette for the whole two hours. It's exhausting and boring and self-defeating. You need to let up on the tension to create real tension. You need to have serious parts for the funny parts to hit, and vice versa.

So maybe a new item in the checklist might be like, "Does the story make the viewer experience at least 5 distinct emotions" or something like that. Or "Are there necessary tonal shifts." Basically, a more sophisticated, multivalent version of "Did it make 'em laugh AND cry?"

One of the reasons "Breaking Bad" was so good was because it was so funny. Christ, even MacBeth had the Porter scene.

j.s. said...

The checklist was always useful. Your refinements have only made it more so. I like the fact that not every story fits every step -- the opposite of those too-general charts by gurus who try to make every story jibe their oversimplified Procrustean maps. I also find it useful to consider ideas that might sometimes overlap from different angles, in different categories. So I wouldn't go hacking away at it.

About James Kennedy's point: I get what you're saying. But I'd argue that you've just been seeing too many subpar one-note movies. It's hard enough for any given film or book to create and sustain a mood, period. I've seen some pretty great new one- or two-note films this year: ALL IS LOST, PRISONERS, THE CONJURING, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS. And some of the greatest films of all time take place in a very narrow register. Not every story needs the generosity and full spectrum humanity of writers like Shakespeare, Chekhov and Tolstoy. I wouldn't want LE SAMOURAI interrupted by comic relief or some kind of Ozu-esque sadness at the fleeting nature of things.

Anonymous said...

I think the main need at the moment is a new organization for all your past writing. You've written so much great stuff over the years, but blogger is confusing and difficult to navigate. What to read first? Are all the posts represented on the sidebar, or do I have to click "older posts" a million times to find all the gold? What should I read first?

My suggestion is to put all your energy into moving this site to a different platform, and implementing a new system so readers can find posts in a more intuitive way, with different subjects organized in logical hierarchies, and individual posts tagged.

I guess that doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun. You could also just put that book out!

MCP said...

The new questions have been excellent additions to the checklist!

I have personally used the pre-latest-update checklist on projects and it has resulted in laser-focused stories that have definitely reduced the number of drafts I have to do to get to the same quality point.

I think you mentioned once you might do a checklist more for TV pilots/series ideas, which I would personally love to see. To figure out how to write something more expansive that remains engaging.

Also, Section 5 of the checklist is an area I have found the most enlightening, so any other thoughts you have in that section I will reread tons of times.

Any time you don't get comments on a post, just mentally put one from me saying that it is awesome!

Matt Bird said...

Anonymous: The book is almost done, and hopefully fits what you're asking for. The order of the new checklist is based on the organization of the material in the book, not the blog, and I guess the idea is that, until the book comes out, the links in the checklist form a way to pare down and re-organize the old blog posts into some semblance of what the book will look like.

MCP: I've already posted v1 of the TV checklist, but an expanded and integrated TV Checklist v2 is coming very soon, which will include a downloadable version. Stay tuned!