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I make cartoons and voices. I've put a lot of stuff on Youtube and Newgrounds

Monday, April 16, 2012

Audience Dominance

Relating to the post 'An Increase in Escapism' I mentioned how audiences have become followers to entertainment as opposed to just watchers. There is a clear increase in dedication to following movies and TV shows. I feel this has changed the job of a director, turning him/her more into the branding aspect of the movie.

This is very present in Tim Burton, who's style is beyond just recognizable, worked on various types of stories. Leaving his own perspective and finger print on the movie. But look at his latest work. It's the same. Not that each story is the same. From a selling point, it's the same strategy. It's like a second nature pattern. The surprise is all gone. Which is a bit sad for me specifically because I love a lot of his older work.

It's almost like there's one director per tone of movie. You want bleak and misery? Arronofsky. You want complex and mind fuck? Christopher Nolan. You want glorified visuals and badasses? Zach Snyder. I can go on. But I want to make it clear that I'm not pointing this out as a BAD thing in these movies and directors. I just think it's an interest phenomenon. And I wonder if it's a business move or these artists really just want to do just that. In Tim Burton's case. It does seem to have changed because he's made so many different kind of movies in the past, up until recently.

Now a days, scripts are almost written for specific directors. It's almost hammered over your head constantly that this is a "Mr. So-and-so's movie" as you're watching it. It's resulted in directors or creative people making basically the same kind of movie over and over. While of course they'd naturally be attracted to similar ideas based on their taste, it's gotten pretty extreme and I wonder what this does to real creativity. I think the doom of an artist is to get too comfortable.

It's even encouraged by audiences following these directors to not stray from the path. Because of this follower mentality, an audience to a director... or "fan" (fanatic)... ravenously change franchises into holy scripture inadvertently forcing the creator to not change their Dogma.

It's interesting how the world is becoming. As the people get more connected, the collective consciousness is putting individuals into very defined categories with specific purposes. Like a body of entertainment and each organ is providing a service. Just think of how limiting that is for an individual. Or is it defining?

As a creative person telling stories, I think it's always important to consider your audience's feedback. After all, you are providing your material to them. You need to know what they want and how to give it to them. They are who you're making it for, therefore make sure it makes sense... or else you'll make them mad.... make make make... sorry.

But... One thing you can't do is let the audience govern the creative decisions of your story. Remember, thats why they aren't doing what you do after all. A good example is the Star Wars series. The old ones were more straight forward adventures that said what needed to be said to tell the story. The new ones were fan-serving nightmares that tried to reveal too much unnecessary details about the universe. Those details ended up clouding the real reason to make the prequels at all. (Although it's arguable if they even needed to be made. You can read my post where I cover such things in a bit more detail.)

The Matrix 2 and 3 are another example. People watched the Matrix, fans wanted to see more of the universe. Andy and Larry chose to explore that, but how constructive was that to the story? I mean even with 2 movies, a collective run time of about 5 hours, they tried to explore so many side- characters. While they covered interesting themes and ideas, it was very forced and draining. If they wanted to explore the universe, a Matrix TV show probably would have been better. Where the medium fits the narrative much more naturally. You can afford to focus on more things time-wise. On this subject, read the previous post "The Run-Time Effect" to see what I mean in more detail.

All in all, the minute an audience's opinion dominates the creative process. It's no longer a show, it's a church lecture. People just hearing what they want to hear and can almost word for word predict what that artist is going to present. Creative people then have to resort to cheap shock value or cheap tricks to create any sort of surprise or wonder in their work when this happens. Which has less value in its experience.

I mean think of it. If you give an audience exactly what they want, is that truly satisfactory? Isn't part of the reason to watch movies, a medium that requires you to sit and watch someone basically tell you something, to be surprised?

Think of how that's making us perceive stories now.

It's no wonder there's a lack of "classic" stories lately. Instead we're seeing the creator before the story. That clouds the immersion of the narrative. This perspective on directors reminds me a bit of how A-list actors are treated. It's funny how much they prepare for a role to get into that character so the audiences believe it. But then the audience just can't see past the actor into the character and just thinks "He's playing the character so amazingly well!" Well wait a second. Shouldn't the actor's identity be basically invisible to the character he's playing if he's doing it right? That's one benefit out of animated movies. The facelessness of the actors helps that level of immersion.

But my point is, the same way people are seeing actors (or characters in the stories), that's moved onto directors (or the stories themselves). And I wonder...

Is this changing mentality going to evolve story telling? Or is this meta perspective on movies by our audiences going to be a speed bump or dark age in story telling?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Run-Time Effect

In relation to the previous post about the increasing popularity of long running entertainment, I've noticed something changing in audiences when it comes to movies. One thing I've heard a handful of times is:

  • “Why don't we get to see this other characters perspective, why is it so one sided?”
  • “How come we can't just watch an intimate scene with this character alone?”
  • “Everything always has to be big and important in movies.”
  • “In Breaking Bad, we see Walter flicking matches into the pool and there is so much in that scene. Why can't we see more stuff like that in movies?”

When it works perfectly to the story of a movie, I'll welcome that but, in most cases, this is an opinion from an uninformed mind.

One thing people need to understand about writing for movies is that every scene matters. Not that it doesn't in TV shows but, just from a logical standpoint, you don't have enough time to have those kind of things happen, especially too often. Unless the story is a more intimate one and is completely about that then yes, naturally, those moments can fit. Otherwise, you just weigh out too much time on those moments and are forced to rush other more important elements of the story.

In movies, everything tends to be important because a clever writer needs to use up the time they have to communicate what is most necessary to the idea. There are strategies to weave scenes together nicely and not make it feel like a list of instructions explaining to you what is happening, but that is something I can't even begin to break down. It just depends on the story.

On the whole, the experience you get out of a TV show is very different than a movie. This is where you have to pick which medium will fit your idea most, simply by the ‘run-time’. How do you pick a medium? Well, what is the point and/or scale of your story?
caricature of Sherlock from "Sherlock"

Recently, I watched a TV show called Sherlock. It's great! It's Sherlock Holmes stories set in modern day London. I'm usually a bit iffy on these modernization stories but this one works perfectly. One strategy they used with the TV medium is genius. Each season has 3 episodes and each episode is the length of a movie. This is essentially a TV show composed of movie trilogies per season.

What I like about this idea is that a lot of movie trilogies aren't planned. Many times, a movie does well and they set up two more as a business move. While the business of movies is an art of its own, I'm not here to talk about that. I'm here to talk about the art of telling stories and express what I've noticed and learned over time.

What I learned about the technique Sherlock used was that these trilogies are perfectly written together because, from the get go, all of them are written as one. Each stand alone but the overarching story is connected. It's all meant to be. If this had been a movie, sequels would not be certain. The studios would decide to make each one at a time. Too many variables would get in the way of making a nicely woven trilogy.

A good example is that the cliffhanger endings. A normal movie trilogy leaves you hanging through an unpredictable amount of time and risks losing interest in the audience but, in this case, they stay hooked because of the release schedule of the episodes.

Additionally,  because all three of these movie length episodes are connected, and essentially one story, there is more room to also scatter more intimate moments creating a far more dense experience. Unlike the usual approach to making a movie trilogy. Like Pirates of the Caribbean, or X-Men, or Matrix trilogies.

I'm focusing on the example of 'Sherlock' because it is a perfect middle ground between single movies and longer narrative TV shows like 'Breaking Bad' or 'Lost'. The thing you have to ask yourself when developing an idea is...

"Is my idea more effective alone and concentrated or does this idea
need more room to build and explore to make these certain key points better?"

It's a hard question to answer because it's always tempting to see your idea as a lengthy and exploratory one, but it's also easy to write yourself into a void if it really wasn't meant to be told that way.

Smith giving Neo some advice.

One can't forget that just because you, the writer, can explore your idea doesn't mean that is the story to tell. In fact, when you write a story, you need to explore your characters and possibilities so that you can eventually narrow them down to what story you're going to tell. Don't get carried away with that. (Matrix 2 and 3).

In fact, there is a beauty about condensing to a shorter and more concentrated narrative. One that doesn't explore itself as much as a TV show. If you tell the right story as one piece very well, it can be so powerful that the audience will explore it further on their own. And if it's really special, they will explore themselves because of it too. (Matrix 1).

A solid short movie could sometimes be more timeless if it's well done. 'More' isn't always better. In fact, I can argue that many sucky movies have basically failed at picking the best medium to tell their stories. Trying to tell too much is bad and telling too little is bad. Some TV shows should have been movies and some movies should have been TV shows.

So know this. The run-time can make or break the development of an idea. Really think about what your idea is, what it wants to say and what it can do best, then pick the medium that will tell it best.