Monday, April 11, 2016

The Great Un-Purge, Day 1: Does the story satisfy the basic human urges that get people to buy and recommend this genre and sub-genre?

We’re doing things a bit differently this week. As I explained yesterday, I’ve already cut the whole Tone chapter from the manuscript, but I’d like to salvage some questions, if possible.

On appeal: Does the story satisfy the basic human urges that get people to buy and recommend this genre and sub-genre?

Why it was added: This is hugely important. It’s easy to come up with a perfect concept/character/structure, etc. only to discover that there’s no reason for anyone to actually like the story.

How do the checklist movies answer this question?
  • Alien: Yes, lots of big scares and gory kills
  • An Education: Sort of. It substitutes aesthetic pleasures for sexual, romantic, or crime pleasure. It’s entirely execution-dependent.
  • The Babadook: Yes and no. It’s very scary, but there are no deaths! There is very little sexuality or transgression to be punished.
  • Blazing Saddles: It’s hilarious.
  • Blue Velvet: Yes and no. It’s an effective Hitchcockian/erotic thriller in the end, but it doesn’t “feel” like a thriller for most of its run time. What it feels like is an art film, and it mostly satisfies those viewers, but not entirely. It’s stuck somewhat between the two audiences.
  • The Bourne Identity: Yes and no. It subtly replaces our normal spy movie expectations (gadgets, secret lairs), with more modest ones, then it fulfills those expertly: awesome car chase in a beat-up car, down-and-dirty fight scenes, etc.
  • Bridesmaids: Lots of raunchy laughs.
  • Casablanca: Yes and no. It’s got romance and international intrigue, but both are muted. This movie is ultimately execution-dependent.
  • Donnie Brasco: Yes, lots of whacking and suspense.
  • Do the Right Thing: Yes, it’s very funny also a satisfying drama.
  • The Fighter: Very much so: All four sub-genres end heroically.
  • The Fugitive: Very much so.
  • Groundhog Day: Somewhat: Guys might feel it’s not quite raunchy enough for comedy or sci-fi enough for sci-fi, but seems too male-centric for girls at first glance. Of course, everybody loves it once they actually see it, but it’s a hard sell beforehand, and it had to build its own audience through word-of-mouth.
  • How to Train Your Dragon: Lots of eye-popping 3-D, lots of action, lots of giggle-worthy-comedy, beautiful imagery.
  • In a Lonely Place: No. No crimes are committed onscreen, there is no climactic act of violence, the crime is also solved offscreen, and the perpetrator is someone we don’t know.
  • Iron Man: Very much so.
  • Raising Arizona: Lots of big laughs, such as the big chase scene.
  • Rushmore: Yes, it’s funny and touching.
  • The Shining: Yes, lots of blood and scares.
  • Sideways: Not really. It has little of the usual joys of the manchild-driven comedy (T&A, turning tables on snobs, etc.).
  • Silence of the Lambs: There are only a few scenes of physical danger, but they’re exciting enough to satisfy all urges.
  • Star Wars: Lots of swashbuckling fun and otherworldly imagery
  • Sunset Boulevard: Pretty much. The movie goes down easy, despite its unusual elements: it’s enjoyably funny and creepy throughout.
Deliberations: Those are pretty interesting answers. A shocking number of great movies here have mixed responses, but it’s interesting to see how movies break this rule cleverly and carefully.

The verdict: I’d really like to keep this one. I think maybe I should move it to the concept section?


Brian Malbon said...

I'm not a fan of this one. It basically boils down to "if it's a comedy, is it funny? If it's an action movie, is there good action?" Not only are those elements very subjective (I can tweak every terrible movie I've seen to answer yes you this one if I want to), a lot of the answer boils down to other factors that go into filmmaking besides writing.

I think that if you're writing in a certain genre you're likely to come in worth a fairly good understanding of the genre elements people most want to see, and a genuinely good story can be made to subvert those genre expectations.

Mark said...

I agree that the "no" and "mixed" answers are fascinating, but that might be why the question should be cut - it doesn't really answer much about whether it's a good story or not.

It does answer something about marketability - you talk about how films like Groundhog Day had to rely on word of mouth, etc. But I don't think it really adds a lot to that conversation either.

Harvey Jerkwater said...

The ones that you say are "nos" are fascinating and worth chewing on.

What is the genre expectation for In a Lonely Place? It's hard to tell, and that's by design. We don't know what the kind of story we're getting, and that lack of certainty adds to the intensity of the climax.

I'd argue that Casablanca's romance may not be loud, but it's incredibly intense. To me, it's a strong yes for fulfilling the romance genre. It's about heartbreak, desire, the complications of reality in the face of romance, etc. That's...pretty standard romance. You could call the ending a genre subversion, but I'd say it's not. That ending is the second acceptable romance ending.

The Babadook raises the question of "what are the genre expectations for horror?" Given that the movie is widely accepted to be Scary As Shit, wouldn't that answer the question of "Does the story satisfy the basic human urges that get people to buy and recommend this genre and sub-genre?" have to be yes? Maybe you're placing restrictions on the genre that aren't necessary.

Honestly, a lot of the genre stuff here seems less about writing good stories and more about writing marketable ones. On your list, the yeses tend to be the bigger, more successful movies, while the nos tend to be smaller and lean towards cult-level fame.