Wednesday, November 16, 2005


I recently had drinks with a Hollywood agent at a major agency. We got into a little debate. He kept saying that good films are hard to make, otherwise everyone would be doing it. That sounds good, except I rarely meet practitioners of story who have bothered to do any real study of their craft. They try to reinvent the wheel every time. Or they use a formula that only concentrates on the masculine elements of the story because they perceive that is what audiences really respond to. Or they write something that only uses the feminine elements of the story and then curse the audience for not responding.

The fact is, some storytellers throughout history have been able to have repeated success during their lives, and their stories live beyond their own limited lifespans.

How is this possible? They must be using methods that allow them to speak deeply to a large group of people across culture and time. They were able to repeat their successes, and if you learn their techniques, you stand a better chance of doing so yourself.

In the summer of 2003, the studios were baffled when they released a slew of sequels and franchise films that made much less at the box-office than expected. They were all parts two, three, or based on comic books.

According to the New York Times: The Hulk, director Ang Lee's eagerly anticipated version of the comic book saga, opened robustly on June 20 (a $62.1 million opening weekend), ticket sales plummeted 70 percent in its second weekend.”

Another film expected to do well that summer was Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.

Also, from that same New York Times article: “The Charlie’s Angels case is a fascinating one, because it had all the earmarks of being a phenomenal success,'' said David Davis, an entertainment analyst for Houlihan, Lokey, Howard and Zukin, an investment banking firm.

''A very expensive marketing spend, all of the stars doing publicity—it
had everything going for it. I don't know, maybe after so many of these kind of movies so many weekends in a row, it was just one weekend too many.''

Most all of these summer films were a disappointment to the studios that made and released them and to the audiences that saw them. Notice how the analyst does not mention the quality of the film’s story when he speculates on the film’s poor reception.

That same summer, Pixar, once again, had a huge hit on their hands with Finding Nemo.

The good folks at Pixar are almost exclusively concerned with story. They will work on a scene for months only to throw it out if it doesn’t enhance the story. And they have, at the time of my writing this, nothing but hit films under their belts. Further making my point, Finding Nemo went on to become the highest selling DVD of all time.

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