If you don't know what makes a movie – get the hell out of my face.

Got an odd friend request on facebook today. I checked out the guy, and thought okay, let’s be friends. Then he sends me his idea for a movie. Now it all made sense, why he friend requested me out of the blue. He had this “brilliant” idea for a movie, and was looking for someone to make it happen. He sent me the details, which would have lasted all of MAYBE three minutes of screen-time. That’s nice, but what about the other 87 minutes?

Okay, that can be figured out. Scenes that grow the interest in character, discover their flaw/weakness, give them a conflict to overcome, and that guys three minute scene can fit in for the character’s moment of clarity and and resolution. Yes I am simplifying, but here is the thing. You need to have a character that is interesting, something that attracts people, and gives them something to be interested in. When I asked this guy about it, about what is so interesting about his personal anecdote he replied “It’s true, it happened to me.” Then he proceeded to un-friend me from Facebook. Thin skinned, inexperienced, waste of my time.

Who cares if it is real, if it happened to him. NO ONE cares but him and his friends.

You can do a documentary on real events, but who is going to care? You can make a fiction film based on real events but who is going to care? If the audience doesn’t care, they are not going to watch, not going to tell their friends to watch, it is going to be a waste of everyone’s time. These are vanity pieces made for you and your close friends – which is fine, if that is what you want to make.

Just because you had some personal experience that was extremely beautiful or meaningful for you doesn’t mean that it will resonate with an audience. There’s a phrase in editing “Kill your darlings” – basically when you have fallen in love with a shot – for whatever the reason – it is a sign that the shot you love, needs to be cut out of the film. It could be anything that has made you lose your objectivity about the shot or scene: – the difficulty in getting the shot/scene, how the shot was filmed just as the sun came up, perhaps craft service was really nice that day. In any case once you’ve lost your objectivity – the game is over.

The same applies to someone who has a “brilliant” idea for a movie. I was once approached by someone who had an idea about a movie with model airplanes. Interesting idea, basically a standard army mission movie, the twist on the idea was the model airplanes. So your audience is Model airplane lovers, and???? So the movie isn’t really about model airplanes, it isn’t unique, the model airplanes are just the twist. So now I have to tell this guy, his movie about this thing that he loves, it isn’t all that interesting. Nobody wants to hear that their incredible story isn’t important to the rest of the world. He walked away saying “million dollar idea.” Maybe, but the model airplanes aren’t what is going to make the film a “Must see.”

Try to explain to someone that some part of their story may be interesting, but it isn’t enough that it is a true story, and it uses something really specific to you. Invariably defiance and belligerence follows. It is so STUPID (my daughter tells me not to use the word stupid, but it is what it is.) It is the same thing every script/movie goes through. Who is going to find it interesting? Who is going to invest $10 to $15 bucks and two hours of time to sit and watch this movie? This is the question. Answering the question is probably why there are so many sequels, and remakes being made.

I’ll suggest a script of my own – it’s a horror film. Why? Because horror films have an established market. Lots of people like to be scared in a movie theater (see The Magic That Happens Between The Frames), so that’s a great place to start. I’ve added in a few elements that I find interesting, and do have a personal interest to me, hence the log-line – “A sleazy contractor gets his due when he moves into a haunted fixer-upper.”

Because really I’ve had to deal a lot with contractors and it is almost always unpleasant and annoying. Now I know from talking to lots of people that this experience with contractors is pretty much universal.  Wouldn’t it be fun if he was trying to fix up a haunted house and kept getting smacked around by the spirits????

YES, it would. So it is maybe a comedy.

An aside – The script I’ve written is both Writer’s guild registered and Copyright registered with the Library of Congress. There is a website for this script/film – The Resurrection of Blake House, and there is a lot more to the script than I’ve mentioned here. So you can read more about it at the website, and you’ve read about it here, and been informed that it is copy-written, so don’t be trying to steal my idea (but you can buy it from me.) Aside over.

Now what is the difference between my script and this guys “brilliant” idea:
With The Resurrection of Blake House (although I was tempted to call it “Angela’s Ashes 2” -remember sequels sell), that started out as a story idea based on my personal experience. Just like this guys idea for a movie based upon a personal experience. Well here is what the difference is. The basis for my script is an almost universal experience – there are a lot of shady contractors out there – and that’s even before we add the haunted house component. This guys film was based on a specific event that happened to him, that is NOT universal.

Also I’ve expanded the scope of the story – it isn’t just about a haunted house and a contractor -for more visit the website The Resurrection of Blake House. I’ve also got a writing partner bringing his point of view and thoughts, and I’ve sought out feedback from many people. This last part is a tremendous step in writing a film/making a movie. If you are writing the movie for you, that’s great, but you got to consider an audience, and ask why, and be able to take critiquing and questioning, and HAVE or be able to FIND the answers. We all want to hear how brilliant and amazing our ideas are, and it hurts when we don’t hear that, but if you aren’t going to hear the negative feedback, let alone listen to it, you are cutting yourself off from a very powerful writing tool. This guy just became all blustery and “yelled” at how he would show everyone who didn’t believe in him – because it was a true event, it happened to him, and it involved his passion for animal bones. I can hear this guy 20 years from now, shambling around, muttering to himself – “How can you all not see, it involves bones, it is great.” (Although with my luck, he’ll win an Oscar for his narrative film about things made with cow bones.)

Now, my haunted house film hasn’t been produced – yet –  and I’ve only now started sending it out to festivals and exposing it to the world. Additionally my first feature script “Winter Money” – an indie chick flick – hasn’t set the world on fire, and is really a personal film that may never find an audience and may not get made. I understand that, so move on. I learned a lot writing “Winter Money” and now with writing “Resurrection of Blake House” I’ve learned a lot more.

What I do know from working in the business is that if you want to make a film, either you are making a vanity piece, or you are trying to make a film that has an audience.

So write your vanity piece, get it out of your system, but don’t go attacking people who don’t fall in love with your script/film. It just means you forgot that movies are a social experience, and you must attend to that. Once you remember that, go write your next film.

Why am I so certain I’m on the right track? Well, even with the limited promotion of my as of yet un-made horror film, I’ve already gotten talent attached and I just received an e-mail asking me if it is available on Netflix, because as the person wrote in their e-mail everyone in this small town in Maine knows about the local haunted house which is a fixer upper , and his sister in law and her husband just moved into it. From out of the blue, from complete strangers who like to watch movies.

Your story has got to have appeal, otherwise you really are just. . . well you know.

Thanks for reading.


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5 Responses to If you don't know what makes a movie – get the hell out of my face.

  1. Maria Olsen June 6, 2011 at 10:12 am #

    Very wise words, Steven 🙂

  2. sgladstone June 6, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    Thanks, glad you like. Now let’s get Blake House made.

  3. Joe Pfeil June 6, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

    Hey Steven, good story! That’s hilarious about the guy who unfriended you because you didn’t fall head over heels for his fabulous idea! Hahahaha, golden.

    I agree about your ideas about what makes a good story. The personality and characters must be interesting. That’s why Shawshank Redemption is so good to me, because Andy Dufrane (spelling?) was so well conceived.


    Joe Pfeil

  4. sgladstone June 6, 2011 at 6:17 pm #

    Great point, he is really well conceived, and yet still at the very end, when Morgan Freeman’s character is digging up the box, I still wondered if it was going to be the gun. I didn’t want to believe it, but I liked the character so much that I was afraid I was going to find out he wasn’t a good guy after all. Tremendous.

    There is “Tucker” which I think is fabulous, and an amazing use of the language of film. I can see why the film isn’t a huge hit, The character, although interesting, we never quite connect to him – at least most don’t, I did, but mostly because although the film was about the Tucker Car, I think that Coppola was really making a statement about making films for the studios, and how that got in the way.

    Thanks Joe.

  5. Prakshi Sama June 6, 2011 at 6:23 pm #

    Awesome as always, keep up the good work!

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