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Archive for August, 2010

365 Days of Missing Blake Snyder Aug 04

Blake SnyderOne Heck of a Guy

A year ago today, on August 4, 2009, popular screenwriting mentor Blake Snyder died unexpectedly of a pulmonary embolism. It was a tragic loss to those who knew him. Because to know Blake, was to love him.

I was one of many aspiring screenwriters lucky enough to attend several of his legendary weekend workshops. What set Blake apart wasn’t his command of screenwriting craft — though he was one of the most successful spec screenwriters of all time. What truly made him stand above the other so-called “gurus” was his ability to instill in you a belief in yourself.

His optimism and enthusiasm for screenwriting (and screenwriters) was infectious. During the sessions he would often jump up and down like a little kid, and say with each bounce, “I – Love – This – Stuff!” It was not some false cheerleading-style technique; he was literally bursting at the seems with excitement about the mechanisms of story and the possibilities of your script.

More Than Motivational

He wasn’t just a motivational speaker with blinders on either. If he thought you were off about something he’d definitely challenge you. But he’d do it in a way that was not only humorous, but eye-opening.

I remember him listening to someone’s movie pitch, while pretending to be driving down the highway at 55 miles an hour. “There’s your billboard. I’m almost past it…” This, of course, emphasized how important it was to have a clear concept that people could embrace quickly and easily.

Blake Snyder NoteSave The Cat!

If a screenwriter, who’s just starting, out asks me which screenwriting book I’d recommend first, I can answer without hesitation — it’s Save The Cat!

It may not be the most comprehensive book on screenwriting, but if you’re looking for fundamentals on concept, loglines, and structure, this is your book. It’s also revolutionary in the way it looks at movie genres. And it’s all done in that trademark Blake Snyder style — which takes the overwhelming task of writing a screenplay and makes it approachable and fun.

Lots More Blake

In addition to his books, Blake left behind a wealth of information for screenwriters at BlakeSnyder.com. Pick any article at random to read and you’ll immediately feel your spirit buoyed by his patent joy of screenwriting and interacting with screenwriters.

The Blake Snyder team continues to post insightful articles on his web site. Today’s post lets you hear from the man himself. You can listen to a 47 minute interview that’s guaranteed to inspire, because that’s what Blake did best.

I sure do miss him.

My Save The Cat GroupSave The Cat! Beat Sheet Workshop – January 2009
Blake in the purple scarf.
Me on the right in the striped shirt. Ahhh… good times.

Category: Blake Snyder  | 4 Comments
Michele Wallerstein Book Signing Aug 02

Mind Your BusinessMichele Wallerstein — former Hollywood agent, popular speaker/consultant, Scriptwrecked contributor and now author (!!!) — will be holding a book signing and Q & A this Saturday.

As you may recall, I reviewed her new book, Mind Your Business: A Hollywood Literary Agent’s Guide To Your Writing Career, a few weeks back.

If you’re in the L.A. area, have enjoyed her posts, and want to pick up a great book or ask her some questions, please stop by!

Where
BOOK STAR, on Ventura Blvd., in Studio City
(one block west of Laurel Canyon — Michele’s name will be on the marquee!)

When
Saturday, August 7th, at 3:00 p.m.

The Madness of Comedy Movie Ratings Aug 01

Invictus

InvictusA while back I watched Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman as President Nelson Mandela, and Matt Damon as the smallest rugby captain I’ve ever seen. (I know Invictus isn’t a comedy, but bear with me.)

I haven’t read the script (written by Anthony Peckham), but what I do know is that the resulting movie (directed by Clint Eastwood) was just okay. Fundamentally, it didn’t really know what kind of movie it wanted to be.

There were scenes of:

  • political struggle, suggestive of an inspiring story of great leadership… However, the Mandela in this movie seemed to only have one master plan — hope to hell that the national rugby team would win and therefore unite the country.
  • a rugby team striving to become winners, suggestive of an inspiring tale of underdogs that triumph against all odds… However, we only ever really got to know one character on the team. We also got a lot of inexplicable moments where somebody on some team would do something that we were supposed to care about. But if you have no idea what the rules of rugby are, you might as well be watching Blernsball.
  • security personnel working hard to keep Mandela safe, suggestive of a political assassination thriller… However, there were no real threats depicted in the movie. It was all contrived misdirection to add tension to otherwise tepid sequences.

Despite all that, the movie rates a 7.5 on IMDB.com. That’s fine. My beef isn’t with the Invictus rating per se — it’s with the fact that many of the best comedy movies of all time rank lower.

A Few Case Studies

Wedding CrashersHere are ten of my favorite comedies off the top of my head, sorted in descending order of IMDB Score. Only two of them beat Invictus.

Most of these movies routinely appear on “best comedies of all time” lists, were all box office successes, and produced some of the most quoted lines ever.

So why the low ratings for these, and other, comedy powerhouses?

My Theories

Perceived Level of Difficulty

In gymnastics, routines are judged based on the level of difficulty exhibited. If the level of difficulty of the moves being performed is high enough, the gymnast is eligible to receive a maximum score of 10. If the level of difficulty is lower, however, the gymnast may start out with a maximum score of 9 or 8.

Even though it’s a widely held truth in the film industry that the comedy genre is the most difficult to write (and get right), perhaps the perceived level of difficulty is lower than for other movies. After all, “It’s just a bunch of guys telling jokes and acting like idiots.”

When many people rate comedy movies, do they have a set hypothetical maximum score that’s less than 10?

There's Something About MaryPerceived Importance

Invictus (IMDB Score: 7.5) tells (or tries to tell) the story of an inspirational South African leader’s journey to unite his country. There’s Something About Mary (IMDB Score: 7.2) is about a bunch of guys who want to bone a hot chick.

The Road (IMDB Score: 7.5) is bleak story about a father and son struggling to survive in a post apocalyptic world. Wedding Crashers (IMDB Score: 7.2) is about a couple of guys who crash weddings so they can bone hot chicks.

Does a more serious plot imbue a movie with a greater perceived importance and qualify it for a higher score? (Or does a “boning hot chick(s)” main plot necessitate a sub 7.5 score?)

Hitting the Right Emotional and Intellectual Chords

Maybe it’s not the plot. Maybe it’s the emotional and intellectual range of  the movie.

Groundhog Day — the highest scoring movie on my spur-of-the-moment list — takes us on a complete journey with the Bill Murray character. When he’s trapped in his recurring day, we go through all five stages of grief with him — Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. We also feel sad for an old man who dies, warmed by the romance of the two leads and enlightened by the main character’s journey.

Perhaps strictly tickling our funny bones isn’t nearly as satisfying as pulling our heart strings and other emotional or intellectual chords. But then again Airplane! scores a 7.8, and that movie only has one speed — fast and furious comic gags.

Jackson PollackSubjective Nature of Comedy

Many people look at a Jackson Pollock painting and see pure genius. I just see paint dribbles. Who’s right? Art appreciation is subjective and so is comedy.

For every person who roared with laughter when Cameron Diaz used Ben Stiller’s… hair gel in There’s Something About Mary, perhaps there were just as many who found the comedy puerile and crass (in a bad way).

Do the rating scales tend to balance out for even the funniest comedies?

Conclusion

There are some great comedies that do indeed score higher than InvictusToy Story 3 (IMDB Score: 9.0), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (IMDB Score: 8.4), Back to the Future (IMDB Score: 8.4), The Princess Bride (IMDB Score: 8.1), The Hangover (IMDB Score: 7.9)… but they are few and far between.

Invariably when you ask someone what their favorite kind of movies are, they’ll include on the list, “comedies.” Yet, for whatever reason, comedy movies just don’t get the respect they deserve when it comes to ratings.

Do you have a favorite comedy that I haven’t mentioned? Punch it into IMDB. You may be surprised by its score. Conversely, would you rate your favorite comedy movies a 10? No? Why not?

As a rule, are the best comedies just not as good as the best non-comedies? I certainly don’t think that’s the case.

What are your thoughts? Do the best movies rise to the top of the ratings heap regardless of genre? Or are comedies judged more harshly than other movies?


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Category: Comedy, Movie Reviews  | 7 Comments