Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Webshow - "No one sets out to make a bad movie."

Considering the posts I've either linked to or hosted recently where professional writers like Geoff LaTulippe and Eric Heisserer have offered a peak at the development process that can cause good scripts to go bad like curdled milk, today's topic on the webshow seemed like an obvious one.


  1. Hey, how'd that puppet get so goddamn smart? Shit, my puppets usually just say, "Hello." Then they kick me in the nuts.

  2. These are pretty great, BSR. What's the back story on this: Are you a puppeteer, did you make this one; and does it resemble you? It's clever to have this little dialogues in such an entertaining way. Thumbs up.

  3. Just catching up with these. Top work. But get angry and increase the profanity for the next one ;)

  4. I agree with you for the most part, but let's dig a little deeper into this. Your headline "No one sets out to make a bad movie." may be correct, but in it lies the assumption that the opposite is true, that “Everyone sets out to make a good movie.” and along the way a million things can go wrong. Like you say in your video, profit trumps all and that is the real problem here. It's not that executives deliberately set out to make bad movies, it's that they don't care if they're good or bad as long as they're profitable.

    There's an assumption in Hollywood that hugely profitable movies like Transformers are supposed to be dumbed down in order to reach the widest possible audience. But why has that become the norm? Story is free. Character development is free. You could still have the same amount of exploding buildings, car chases and destruction on screen and still have a coherent narrative. Why are the two exclusive of each other?

    You're spot on when you say let's not waste time arguing about art vs. commerce. Commerce wins that battle every time in Hollywood. Go to Europe and other parts of the world if you believe that art and cinema is part of our cultural heritage and actually benefits us as humans so it's a worthwhile investment for people.

    You've successfully identified the “why” of this dilemma but should we accept it, like you say? There will be no change in the quality of movies as long as everyone just accepts this as a fact and doesn't try to change it for the better. You can blame the movie goers who keep spending their money on these type of movies, but would people not go see these movies if they also had a good story to go with the cool action on screen? Of course they would. People would keep eating junk food if it was loaded with nutrients. As long as it satisfies the taste buds it will keep selling.

    Writers can only do so much so I guess I'm mostly talking to the next generation of Hollywood Executives here: Make something that lasts beyond the opening weekend. There's nothing inherently wrong with making movies based on toys or comic books or fairy tales or any other source material, but explosions, fighting robots and CGI-created creatures get old real fast if they don't have any substance to support them. Keep making great looking movies with the type of exciting action that puts movie lovers in the seats, but please build your empires on good stories. Profit and great stories can go hand in hand and you have a city full of writers that are eager to please but who also want to create something that has a bit more substance than a bag of potato chips.

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  6. Pro bono for El Diablo here:

    Doesn't this commit the fallacy of equivocation twice over?

    Sure, there are plenty of embittered no-talent hacks advancing some conspiracy theory to explain their failure when they make this criticism, but it seems you move from the complaint "Hollywood deliberately makes aesthetically bad movies" to the defense "Hollywood deliberately makes potentially commercially successful movies" -- then turn this around on the critic by saying that's what "you" wanted to see, when he's just said that's exactly what he doesn't want to see!

    I think the stronger reply to this criticism lies somewhere in the Doctrine of Double Effect. Hollywood manifestly does set out to make bad movies (which studio executives fought tooth and nail to keep the Transformers movies from seeing the light of day?) but this is as an undesired side effect of an otherwise normatively praiseworthy act.

    1. You seem to be arguing that the critic expressly says he doesn't want to see commercially successful films, and then use that to indict my contention that attendance receipts are what's used to decode what the audience wants to see.

      Or to put it another way - if no one wants to see these movies, why do they keep making money?

    2. (Once again, this is (mostly) me playing at devil's advocate.)

      If someone says, "Hollywood sets out to make commercially unsuccessful movies" then your reply is decisive. But how many people who make the criticism actually mean this?

      You've been dealing with cranks and kooks and failures since before I knew what a slugline was, so I generally defer to your sense of the polling data, but surely this isn't the only way of interpreting the claim, even if you think this is what it means the majority of the time. When you talk about "art vs. commerce" you are implicitly acknowledging that at least some people leveling this criticism have a different criterion of evaluation in mind. So the response amounts to a change of subject, unless you want to make the much, much stronger claim that BO is the only legitimate standard by which to evaluate a film.

      But the two absolutely excellent pieces on this mentioned in your post (thanks for those links btw) don't seem to buy into this. LaTulippe, for example, even uses verbiage like "just absolutely blows" and "piece of shit". If I remember correctly, Lennon and Garant claim that most Hollywood movies "suck donkey balls". I don't think these are meant as analyses of gross receipts. I think there's a normative or aesthetic element here that's primary.

      Teddy Pasternak makes much the same point above when talking about junk food, which perennially does boffo box office against fruits and vegetables. Is it tacky to point out that American voters sent George W Bush to the White House (well, at least once), but this is no argument for his being a great president?

  7. Sell it and they will come...The greater the lie, the more people will believe...All those golden oldies on the subject: how inexplicable monstrosities come to power. The Transformers? Kids love talking ass-kicing toys, and the kids who had the original toys now have kids -- they're nostalgic and have no problem throwing down $50 in tickets to take the entire family.

    I don't want my childhood repackaged to me. But I completely understand the business and marketing strategy behind it. So long as there is a slick trailer that dips to black on all the right beats, and a line of cheap plastic products to tie into said reboot, chances are the investment will pay off big time (and help pay for several of the smaller movies at that studio's subdivisions).

    For every success such as Lord of the Rings there are ten examples of big blockbusters that seem to have been written (and edited) by a team of schizophrenics. But as the puppet stated bluntly, someone is getting a kick out of these movies or they would stop going. Sometimes we crave a cheeseburger though we know we'll probably feel like hell later. So what? So long as there are tough bloodhounds out there scouring the wilderness for original stories and strong, bold voices, there's no shame in hunting for quality. Keep writing. Directing. Telling your stories with whatever weapons you can collect.

    Original voices such as Tarantino, Soderbergh, the Coens, Spike, Cameron, they didn't have to kill the big action movies of the 80's to rise to power in the 90's. They fought in the trenches, and now they get final cut and their choice of whatever the hell story they want to pursue. Granted, that's a whole different can of worms, and one could argue that, well, look at it, you have to direct your quirky script yourself or no one will ever buy it. It's a valid point. Just caught the XX special screening of Pulp Fiction. Would that 160 page dialogue-drenched screenplay have ever sold on it's own merit? Probably not.