Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Make me! Make me! Make me!

You can't make me. Ever say that as a kid? Well, I'm saying it as an adult. You can't make me. Or maybe you can. Can you?

This is one of the most difficult posts I've ever written. I'm typing on a computer the size of a mousepad and while the keyboard is about 90% the size of a regular keyboard, it gives the illusion that it's about 50%. Don't care. I want 100%.

Hence I'm already cranky as I begin my rant.

Maybe the most efficient way to illustrate my recent film pet peeves is to go to the mattresses where my oldest son engages in performance wrestling and regularly endures some of the worst story weaving imaginable. The offenses go like this:
  • Too much too soon.
  • Vague conflict.
  • Same ol' thing again and again.
  • Shouting instead of drama.
  • One dimensional characters.

Obviously, through the course of a 15 minute match, we're not going to see three acts, character arcs, and plot resolution because these storylines drag on week after week. I get that and in some venues where my son wrestles, it actually works. But most places? Yikes.

The difference lies in the person who controls the storylines. Does that person consciously or instinctively understand how to make the audience take a ride?

Performance wrestling should be more like Tom and Jerry. These guys beat each other up every episode but each ride is unique. Characters are clearly defined and periodically arc. Then the Indian givers take back their arcs and it works. They make us love them.

Now. On to film.

My boys and I recently saw a much anticipated new release. My wrestler son is the quickest to point out bad exposition, cliche lines, and inconsistency. For this particular film, he simply barked in his soft voice that carries a big stick, "This sucks." Basically, the film did everything he was accustomed to enduring in poorly written matches.

  • Too much too soon - The protagonist's pain is over-sold and his heroism is nothing to cheer about. Why? Because it's way too early for me to empathize. Don't rush me. Even a roller coaster gives you a few seconds to anticipate a fall. Make me realize I'm ON a roller coaster before throwing me off of it.
  • Vague conflict - Don't assume the audience gets it. Don't. I may not have read the book or seen the headlines the story was ripped from or ever been to other installments of the same series. Whatever. Don't expect me to get it. Make me get it.
  • Same thing - Picture the last time you saw a person running in the woods and she falls down. Big fake deal. Now the murderer is closer. Now she has a twisted ankle. Yeah. It's the same ol' thing. There was a time when it increased the tension. No more. Make me feel the tension. Scare me. Thrill me. Anger me. Whatever. But don't use the same ol' devices.
  • Shouting is not drama - Making your character yell is not the same thing as giving him something to say. He can yell and say nothing. Or, he can yell and say something. Or, he can just say something without yelling. It's not the yelling. It's the line behind it. Make me hear the line behind it.
  • One dimensional characters - Here's your hero. Now love him. Here's your villain. Now hate him. Really? Is that how it works? MAKE me.

So that's that. Make me. Make me love your character. Make me hate your villain. Make me understand the conflict. Make me feel the tension. Make me listen to the lines. Make me!

My original plan was to purposely fill this post with ridiculous typos and then explain my easy bake oven computer to illustrate that I needed to MAKE YOU understand what was going on - not just expect you to assume from the beginning that there was a logical reason for all the typos. Most readers would ditch this post, though, after the first paragraph and I had to make you read it.

My boys and I didn't ditch the movie. We stuck it out even after my son said "who wrote this crap, I want to punch him in the face," and I had to remind him that he wasn't inside the ropes. We stayed. But we didn't stay because the film made us want to stay. The ticket prices kept us from walking out, not the film.