#1: Write Rad Shit (On Writing)

See reddit user beardsayswhat’s original list of “unpopular” screenwriting opinions here.

1. Most amateur screenwriters write movies they wouldn’t see. I read a lot of loglines that are poorly written, but even if they were snappy and sharp, they’re for what could be generously described as character dramas and more accurately as tedious faux-deep nonsense. Write rad shit. Write things people want to see.

If there was ever a point where I would have bristled at advice like this, I can’t remember it now. This is just common sense, and frankly, I don’t understand why this would be an unpopular opinion. Maybe some read that and think he’s advocating becoming a sell-out, or to stick to churning out formulaic, commercial fare. But what he’s really saying is don’t be boring. Not to never write something experimental, or that explores real issues, or that says something important. Do any or all of those things. Just don’t be boring while you do it.

As for bit where he seems to shit on character dramas, I don’t think he means you can never write a character drama, or that your high-concept script shouldn’t include strong character drama. Remember, this is advice for non-established screenwriters. Writers who are trying to get noticed. A screenplay about a lovelorn white guy who finds new meaning in life when he meets his manic pixie dream girl isn’t going to raise any eyebrows. (I admit that The Lionshare has surface similarities to some of those cliches, but I think it successfully tells a story with deeper meaning. Plus I made that movie seven years ago, sue me.)

Don’t be boring. That’s a great motto. You know how to tell if you’re writing something boring? If you are bored while you’re writing it. Even if you think you’re writing something with limited appeal, if you have enthusiasm for the material, that enthusiasm will come through. Enthusiasm is infectious. Don’t be boring.

This also doesn’t mean you have to write something that appeals to everybody. If it excites you, there are others out there who will feel the same.

In my last entry I gushed over meeting Ronald D. Moore. You know one of the most important things I learned from him? Not to treat your characters, or your stories, like porcelain dolls. There’s no reason to play it safe when you’re writing a story. You can, and should, take risks. If what you’re writing feels perfunctory, take a step back and re-evaluate. What’s the craziest thing that could happen in your story? How would it change things? What if you, gulp, went ahead and did it?

Go ahead. Kill that character. Jump a year ahead in time. Have the will they/won’t they relationship be consummated between seasons when no one is looking. How did that change things?

Maybe you decide it’s not right. That’s fine. It’s probably not a good idea to shock for shock’s sake. Whatever you do should work within context and should enhance the story you’re trying to tell. But, at the very least, this is a good exercise to challenge yourself and make sure what you’re writing is the best, and most interesting, that it can be.

In short, write rad shit.


the ‘death’ of mumblecore

Russ turned me on to an article in the latest issue of Film Comment called The Death of Mumblecore. Take a gander here if you’re so inclined. With such a provocative title, I was very interested in reading this article which I immediately could not help but take issue with. How can a “movement” that’s not really a “movement” already be dead?

I did find some of the information rather interesting, agreed with some of the comments, and whole-heartedly took issue with others. Basically, the author explains that the mumblecore “movement” is a creation of marketing, a ploy of film festival programming, an attempt to brand these films as the hot new thing so that they would do better as part of a group than they could on their own.

Well, okay. I always got the impression anyway that filmmakers branded with the label were always kind of puzzled by it, even put off by it, as well. It reminds me of another much-maligned, commercially-coined genre of which I have been an unapologetic follower: emocore music, more colloquially known as ’emo.’ A label which is unwanted at best and derisive at worst, which no one can accurately define and almost no one is willing to use to define themselves. Most musicians slapped with the emo label would probably tell you that they don’t know what it means either, and they they just make the music they want to make, man. Let the market, which needs everything to be easily classified and defined, make those distinctions. Such is the same with filmmakers of the mumblecore movement.

The emo genre and mumblecore have much in common. Products of both get an inordinate amount of shit for being self-indulgent works of self-absorbed people. And in some cases I’m sure that’s a valid criticism. That said, I take issue with the following point of the article:

The mumbler with the loudest mouth and the director of three defining mumblecore features–Kissing on the Mouth (05), LOL (06), and the aforementioned Hannah–is Swanberg, who commented on GreenCine last year that his work “is not about seclusion, it’s just a reflection of the white, hipster neighborhood I live in.” Deep-throating his own foot even further, he told Filmmaker magazine (in the Spring ’07 issue) thathe didn’t feel he had “anything to say right now about the Iraq war. The story of my life and my friends’ lives are the ones I can tell most completely.” That Swanberg believes that his life and those of his friends are separate from the war or the global meltdown that is upon us seems to me reason enough to bring back the draft. I wouldn’t take these pronouncements seriously, were they not borne out by movies that are just as smug and blatantly lazy.

Emphasis is mine. I don’t think every film, or every work of art, for that matter, needs to be a treatise on the current geo-political state of the world, or contribute to any kind of political debate. Or, for that matter, be relevant to anything at all. I take the author’s point that young people feel separate from the war and uninterested in current events, but you can’t fault the guy for making films about what he wants to make films about. I find this criticism just unfair and mean-spirited.

The author makes no secret of her dislike for Joe Swanberg or his films, but seems to really like both Andrew Bujalski and Adam Katz, calling them the “break-out talents” of mumblecore. I can’t say anything about Katz, since his two films, Dance Party USA andQuiet City haven’t come out on DVD yet and I missed them at IFC in August. But I can see how the latter two perhaps have more emphasis on “craft” than Swanberg. Perhaps.

I don’t like placing value-judgments on films. They are what they are. And I couldn’t help but have a gut-reaction to the article based off of the provocative title alone. I wanted to take issue with it before I even read it. Hannah Takes the Stairs elicited genuine emotion when I saw it, and inspired me to do my own work. And I’m not the only one. What else can you ask from a film? Call it whatever you want, but it’s definitely not dead.

Oh, I also wanted to say congratulations to the Duplass Brothers (who I’m sure will never read this) for their new film, Baghead, getting accepted into Sundance.