Sunday, February 25, 2007

My Head Hurts

So, I spent Saturday watching Little Miss Sunshine (twice) and Half Nelson.

Oscars - tonight.

Did I mention my head hurts?

When I started screenwriting, I always got the same advice about watching great movies and seeing how they are done. At NYU, they crammed all the great films down our throats - even forcing us to create beat sheets of our own for these masterpieces.

But still...

My head hurts.

I was sitting down watching the “best film of the year”, totally “hilarious and non-stop laughter”. And, guess what? I wasn’t laughing.

I even watched it with the commentary on, and when the directors mentioned why they felt they just had to make this film, my head stopped pounding a bit. Ah-ha. They recognized these characters. Cool, I respect that. It must feel good to get your hands on a script that connects you to a people/place that is so familiar.

You see, that’s what a great script does; it introduces us to characters and places we recognize in ourselves and our lives. Even when it gives us larger-than-life super-heroes and villains, there is still something familiar in the emotions. We feel that the writers, directors and actors have captured an emotion deep within us.

So, it doesn’t matter what you write, as long as it connects with an audience - a UNIVERSAL audience.


A universal audience. Ha! Please tell me what this stock word means, and I’d especially like to hear it from those marketing people who keep cramming down the “18 through 25 male demographic” jargon. Universal, my ass.

There are a shit load of films I’ve seen over the few years of my life, and some of them have touched me so deeply. Then there are movies, while they have been entertaining enough to keep my ADD at bay for a short while, they don’t connect with me on a personal level.

Maybe it’s the same reason it was so damn hard to sell me on a belief in Santa as a young girl. You see, I grew up in a, um... an “economically-challenged” neighborhood (for those on PC watch), and I knew damn well there was not going to be any white man, dressed in some bright red two-peice pimp suit, landing on my roof and trying to fit down a fireplace I didn’t even have.

While I fully understood the sentiments of Christmas and the feelings of joy the belief in Santa was trying to create, there was no connection for me - at least, not on a personal level. Santa was never speaking to me, but I did find his talks to others entertaining.

So, why does my head hurt?

Must I connect on a personal level in order to enjoy a film and see the greatness the movie gods have bestowed on it? Are there films that universally speak to every single, living, breathing, human creature on the face of the earth?


Go see the next two “box-office” films. Maybe even three. Take inventory of the audience - I mean, REAL inventory. If you spot one old man in a trench coat and he’s smiling that toothless grin, chances are he’s really not there for the film. Trust me on this one - I’ve got stories - but that’s another post.

How many people are in the theatre? Take in the faces, try to gauge the ages, sex, race, etc...

Ten to fifteen of one race does NOT make it a universally-appealing picture. A true melting pot is just that - a melting to the point where you can’t count or tell or distinguish.

Go on, think back to when Chris Rock hosted the Oscars. Remember that segment when he went out on the streets and asked blacks what they had seen that year? While it was pretty darn funny, it was pretty darn revealing as to our UNIVERSAL theory.

I would love to see the same thing done with whites being asked about movies like Stomp, Daddy’s Little Girl, Something New, etc...

This is not to say there are no blacks who see “Oscar-worthy” films (WHATEVER THE HELL THAT MEANS - sorry, wrong post), or whites who haven’t seen black films, or Asians who haven’t seen Hispanic films... you get my point... or, maybe not.

So what does that mean for writing a great story? Some of us will have to know our audience and realize that this might place limitations - but, hey, life is filled with limitations and hurdles.

We’re writing a film with the expectations that an audience will want to watch it, and having watched it, walk away with some sort of satisfaction/enjoyment. They felt something familiar, even if it was something new (don’t you just hate paradoxes?).

Knowing the realities of who your audience will most likely be, while hoping to gain and win over new ones, helps to bring focus to the writing, as well.

I seriously doubt that most rappers are sitting down creating lyrics to reach the 99 year-old grandmother who has lived all her life on her family’s farm. However, if they can dig down deep and find something that even she can understand, then that’s the power of creating something truly amazing and beautiful.

That’s what I want to do with my writing, and hopefully, it will get my head to stop hurting.

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