Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Trouble with Trailers

We all know what trailers are.  When's the last time you saw a really good one, though?  I can't remember.  I'm shocked when I see a trailer that doesn't make me roll my eyes at least once.  Even movies I like have trailers that are stupid.  When I saw TERMINATOR: GENISYS, every single trailer I saw before the film either gave me too much information in the form of spoilers or stupidity, or they gave me not enough information to determine whether or not the movie would be any good at all.  Is there a solution to this problem?  Or is it just really really hard to make a good trailer?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Saving FANTASTIC FOUR: Break the Formula

One of the big problems with Hollywood has always been its urge to make it easy for itself.  Why actually take the effort every time to write a good script when you can plug variables into a formula and BANG you have a shootable script people will put their butts in theater seats for?

Put simply: Formulas don't work.  Not by themsleves.

Sure, they may seem to work for some films, but how likely are those "success stories" to be rewatched?  The key to a crowd-pleasing movie that is also a good movie is to have a formula guide you as a writer, but not to have it dominate your choices.  

FANTASTIC FOUR can be boiled down to an equation.

Young White Male + Problem that Needs to Be Solved + Complications + Implementing the Solution = Climax

Aside from the most basic of backstories given to two of the characters (Ben and Johnny) there is nothing of ANY interest included in this film.

No spoiler alerts for this piece: There is nothing in FANTASTIC FOUR that could be considered a spoiler

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Problem with Pilots and How Solving it Will Make All TV Shows Better

Unlike a lot of pilots, the first episode and the first season of
BEING HUMAN did not suffer from Not Enough Planning
Syndrome.  Sadly, later seasons did. :(
There is a general understanding in Hollywood that TV pilots just aren't very good.  There's a saying in screenwriting circles that says "always start your script as deep into the story as you can."

In Hollywood, today, the former is embraced while the latter is ignored.  At least, that's how it seems to me. I've seen several first episodes of series that seem to have no idea what they're doing.  When ever I mention this to other writers, what I usually hear back is the excuse: "Well, pilots always suck because they haven't figured out what the story is or who the characters are."

I wish so many of us writers weren't so eager to defend half-ass writing.  I get that all that really matters is if people watch, but aren't your story and characters things you should work out before you hand in your "finished" script?  And if you have a clear plan for them in mind, don't you think that will make your pilot and any episodes that follow stronger and more likely to get an episode order?

Seriously: how can you defend the idea that it's OK to flesh out your story and characters further into the series?  Too many shows suffer from Not Enough Planning Syndrome.  It's so easy (though it's also time consuming) to just sit down and answer questions about your story and about your characters.  Just make choices.  Your bosses/fellow writers will let you know if they don't work or if they are just horrible directions to go in.  Figure out where your plot is going beyond the first episode and even beyond the first season.  The question to ask yourself is this: what is the long arc of both my story and my characters?

When Not Enough Planning Syndrome Strikes, We Are All the Victims!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

POWERS that (Should) Be (Better)

I am finally getting around to writing up my take on the Sony Playstation Network series POWERS.  For anyone who is not familiar, this is a show that is based on the Brian Michael Bendis comic series of the same name.  It's a comic I am unfamiliar with, so I won't be talking about it's adaptation, but I will talk about how the show adapts the general super-hero idea to the small screen.
"REAL POWER LIES WITHIN" a better script. :(

One thing I won't be doing is praising it.  This show falls prey to a number of common problems.  The biggest is giving into the syndrome I described in my piece about the Wachowskis SENSE8 (read it here).  Internet First Syndrome, put simply, is when producers and writers behind the show decide they can take advantage of the no-commercial structure of Internet-First TV shows and just take everything slowly--too slowly.  In too many cases, this manifests itself in the form of padding. In this case, it takes POWERS about 7 episodes of not much importance to get to a big plot point.  Remember how Netflix's DAREDEVIL took what should have been a pilot episode and stretched it out into nearly an entire season of episodes?  Yeah, like that.

POWERS in a nutshell

Sadly, POWERS comes across like a show on a budget--gritty, but featuring weak-looking gore, no FX make-up,  props that look hokey, featuring a very simplistic, predictable story.  There were no surprises, no interesting characters, and action that looks like a fan-film.  Actually, I recently saw the fan film, PREDATOR DARK AGES, and it had better action and FX than POWERS.

POWERS left me wanting so much more.  I will never read the comic if this is how good it is.  The show tries to be tough and gritty, but it fails on almost every practical level.  It tries to say important things about the nature of fame and power, but does so in a way that is not compelling.

Ultimately, it felt like a show that didn't know exactly what it wanted to do beyond that one huge (and hugely obvious) plot point that takes forever to actually happen.

Look--even they seem underwhelmed by this show and they're
starring in it!
What worked in POWERS

Not much.  The universe of POWERS is developed, but boring.  The budget, I assume, keeps the story in Los Angeles, and it's an LA that looks a lot like real LA--not like an LA that would change due to having super-powered people around.  That said, we know there is a world beyond the borders of the story.  That's cool and interesting and not something other shows get right.  ARROW and FLASH never give the impression that there are is a culture evolving around super-heroes.  POWERS nails that and it's the most interesting thing about the show.  Sadly, that's not the focus of the show.

Another thing that worked, but was also not the focus of the show, was Retro Girl's place in the universe.  I really understood where she was in her life and career as a super-hero and I got her conflict.  I also liked what they were going for with the African-American partner.  The dynamic between her and the lead white guy was interesting, but really underdeveloped, sadly.  I really wish the show had been about that partner because her character is far more interesting than a washed-up, ex-super-hero-turned-police-detective.  I mean, that is a pretty old character archetype, isn't it? This doesn't mean it's an inherently bad choice, but it sure as hell doesn't make it instantly a good one.

One last thing that (sort of) worked for me was the gritty violence.  I thought it looked not-so-great, but I got the point. When there is violence, it's a mess and it's brutal.  I got the sentiment, even if the budget wouldn't allow for it to show like I felt it should have.  Seeing blood splattering everywhere is cute, but not all there is when making disturbing visuals.

What Didn't Work in POWERS: IT'S SPOILER TIME, KIDS!  You've been warned!