Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"Constructive Criticism"

I love it when I get feedback that starts out, "Well-written script with good atmosphere..." then winds up tearing your work down because...well, because it doesn't follow the rules of the plot point diagram or build characters in the way Syd Field and Michael Hauge and Lew Hunter and their teaching associates say they should be built.

You see, in today's scriptwriting the protagonist has to have a clearly defined goal, and the antagonist has to be set against him or her. The protagonist needs to have a special skill that seems like nothing but winds up becoming his or her main tool in fighting back against the antagonist. And there must be some link between them to show how parallel in nature they are. Then there must be a plot point every 10 pages (which lately has been every 6 pages), with strong turns of events at the 1/4 and 3/4 marks in the script and a major one at the halfway point.

Flashbacks are a no-no or to be minimized. The antagonist must be active. Period. Everything must be externalized in some way, but there should be hints of something the actor can use to help build a back-story. It has to be in a three-act structure (not 2 or 5, as a couple of mine have been). And last but not least, it has to be original while not being all that different from everything else.

And the truth is, movies like that can make a lot of money. Look at "Titanic", a disgraceful reworking of a seminal tragic story into a Hollywood action piece that's made close to $2 billion dollars. Even William Goldman praised the script as very well-structured. And the massive number of super-hero films coming out this summer fit into this paradigm perfectly, so will probably make tons of cash, as well.

This is why "Find Ray Tarkovsky" has done decently enough in competitions and gotten fairly positive reactions from people. I have fun with the rules while still allowing them to be seen in the structure. It's my most Hollywood script. Seems its one big drawback is, it's set in Hollywood, and no one I've approached with it wants to make a movie with that as its background. Of course, the second most common complaint is, it's not sadistic or funny enough (I can understand the second part of that complaint since I'm not a huge comedy writer; but the first part? That's just creepy).

I should add, the script I'm talking about at the top of this post is "Blood Angel", which is more of a tone poem to sex equalling death than a Hollywood screenplay, and those who get it, love it. Thing is, you have to read it, not skim it, because everything's in there as to what's really going on but it's not overt. This is the one I've gotten some hideously nasty coverage on and response to...and yet it has come in Second and Third in a few script competitions.

Still, even though I can dismiss the criticism as coming from someone who didn't really pay attention, I can't help but feel one of my babies has been dissed, and that brings me down a little. And it takes me a while to get back in gear.

What the hell, even Hitchcock got hurt and depressed when his favorite work, "Vertigo", got dismissed as a "Hitchcock and bull" story. Guess I'm no different.


Penman said...

I had an editor reject a story for an anthology titled, "Everything in my closet is Blue" They were love stories based on gay, blue collar workers. He loved the dialog but didn't care for the ending. Why?? It wasn't happy ever after. The protagonist was rejected at the end. Funny that never happens in the real world, especially in gay life where it's always happy-every-after.

JamTheCat said...

It's amazing the limitations people want to put on others. I like happy endings, but not everything can be. Look at how I ended "How To Rape A Straight Guy". Hell, the end of "Blood Angel" can be seen either as happy or tragic, depending on your mindset. I think I like "Anna Karenina" so much because it has both happy and tragic endings, like life.

People are so stupid.