Romancing the Story


Their eyes lock across the crowded room. Inexplicably, they are drawn to each other by some invisible force, a magnetism that no wall of humans can inhibit. Entranced by each other’s company, the bond steadily grows, developing until it blossoms into a ceremony of public declaration of love. A writer meets the one, the story that opens up the mysterious catchment of creativity, dwelling deep in the soul which means that the writer and writing are now one. They are compelled to be together until death parts them.

Over the top? Maybe. But really, if we are not ‘in love’ with writing then how do we convince our audiences to read – or in the case of film, watch, our stories? If our characters aren’t evoking an emotional response in us, then where does that leave our audience? They are sitting in the dark for a couple of hours wondering what else they could have done with their money, and even more importantly, their time. More than likely, it will be: I wonder what I could have watched on VOD tonight instead? Our movies should be evoking a visceral response from the audience on some level. If not, then we have failed. We have lost the soul of our story. Could it be because even we don’t like our characters or we’re not moved by our own story?

Has formula replaced creative storytelling in an effort to secure ROI? Many would – and do – suggest that this the case. And to a point, I agree. It would seem that we have lost our way and sold out to the demands of the studios in writing scripts that are almost guaranteed success – the sequels, the prequels, and even adaptations because the story and characters are established. In that way, the movies have become like episodes of an ongoing story or series, like television or even a book series. And while that concept is not wrong, it becomes tired and jaded when it is being pumped out just a little too often.

And so now we see a resurgence of television with the emergence of binge watching, the ability to watch up to a whole season in one sitting via the Netflix or Quikflix or any other VOD company. And with that, we have seen the quality of television programs available through this method rise dramatically in excellence – House of Cards being the prime example.

And what has made these programs so successful? It’s not just accessibility or the viewers’ ability to control how much they watch at a time. These programs are great stories. The characters are engaging and we want to know more, every episode.

So it may be said, cinema has lost the plot. And yet there are some wonderful films being made by both the indie film crowd and the studios. But most of these are not original stories. It’s like we have fallen out of love with storytelling. We have become so clever in our efforts to ensure the ROI for investors (don’t get me wrong – this is important!), we have lost our love for storytelling, engaging, fun, dramatic, adventurous, edgy, storytelling.

romancingthestory1We must find our own romance with our stories, rediscovering what drew us in to this amazing craft that enables us to create worlds and characters that we can share with others. Telling stories that expose and explore human nature and teach us a little about ourselves. Of course, to do that, the writer must also be willing to bare their soul to an audience who may not share the writer’s POV. But still, the stories must be told. That is how humankind operates. We are the only species that tells stories. So why have we lost the romance of storytelling and replaced it with scripts that are more in line with an accountant’s calculations and demographic assessments than whether an audience will be moved emotionally, stimulated mentally and even inspired to change their own world.


The Value of Real Life Heroes

CameronCroweDirector_reallifeOne of the best things about writing fiction – in whatever form, is that we create a world with its own set of rules and parameters and people who live in that world. We then put our unsuspecting characters through all sorts of dramas and impossible situations after setting them goals which they probably should never achieve. And our audiences travel on the journey with them, enduring the emotional rollercoaster, danger and heartbreak that is a part of a great story. But this is the magic of fiction. Of course, we claim to make it all up, but the truth be told – it is those people around us – friends, family, neighbours or even across the other side of this ever-decreasing globe who influence and inspire us more than we often admit. Unless we say, ‘based upon the true story of’ . . . And so it should be – these really are the best stories.

However, the current glut of remakes, reboots and comic book hero adaptations, primarily by the studios, has led our audiences to think that we filmmakers have run out of ideas and that they are only worth rehashed stories with a 21st century tag to make it contemporary. Now I enjoy a good adaptation and the likes of Marvel and DC comics stories, but it seems the studios have decided that this is what makes money. There have been many articles, speeches and conferences about the state of the industry and its outdated model of both creation and distribution in recent times, so I will keep my comments minimal. The model needs to change, it’s that simple. But the dynamic of that change may well be determined by the audiences themselves. What about the real-life heroes?

I endorse Cameron Crowe’s point. In these times, more people than ever have access to the technology that allows them to make – and star in – their own movies. And get an audience. And in some cases, a sizeable budget with which to do it all, thanks to the crowdfunding platforms. I think, well go for it. Why not? The challenge then returns to the screenwriters, directors, producers and the whole gamut of fantastically creative people dedicated to their craft to conceive, carry and deliver their stories to screen to entertain our audiences. Because despite the lack of respect that the entertainment and creative worlds might endure as ‘real jobs’, the reality remains that the arts and associated industries provide essential components to any healthy society. They bring the opportunity for the soul to soar and be expressed through both artists and audience. Our emotions are given time to be explored and touched and our hearts inspired. Even a good horror flick can give you an adrenaline rush and a chance to have a laugh at our own expense as we shriek along with our fellow audience members. Just for a little while, a bunch of strangers sit together sharing an experience that no other would ever have connected these people.

Ultimately, the arts are about connection – with ourselves, with others and with the artists. And while escapism into impossible situations and miraculous escapes seems to be quite the opposite to connection, the experience of stepping into that realm for even just a short while can change someone’s perspective and maybe give them a way to cope with whatever real-life situations they may be facing.

If this can happen with the ‘possibly-might-happen-stretching-the imagination’ type of film, how much more when we create characters and stories around real life and actual events? Now there’s real connection. Nothing gets to me more when the movie is not only well-crafted, performed and produced but it has the elements of an authentic life lived encased in the story. Sure, the details may not be completely accurate, but the essence of the story is there and each person can draw from it whatever they need. Where historical fact and detail is necessary, then be true to it but otherwise, be inspired by the real life heroes and write your own story from their experiences, adding your own flavour to journey. After all, isn’t that what story-telling is all about?

We can wax lyrical about movie-making models and distribution, but no matter how it gets to our audience, let’s give them cracking stories to engage and entertain. Society, in general, seems to have become a generation of observers. I believe that cinema and media have the power to contribute to a move to stir us to participate again.

Batman, Nolan & Why Cinema Matters

Like millions of people around the world, I was so excited to finally get my chance to see The Dark Knight Rises. I faithfully avoided reviews, comments and anything I felt would colour my viewing of this much-hyped event. And was I satisfied? Did it meet my own expectations? Absolutely. And frankly, as a movie-goer who paid for my ticket and sat down in a theatre with other movie-goers, that is all that mattered to me.

I have heard fellow writers speak about where it failed, or didn’t work; and yet others who feel as I do – Nolan nailed it. And I can see where they have their point, and of course, are allowed their opinion – as we all are. But, I loved it. I look forward to seeing it again. I know there is much I need to revisit, just to absorb the film better. And considering Nolan stated in his farewell to Batman letter that he did not originally plan to do two movies, let alone three, he managed to tie up all three stories in the last instalment.

Hathaway’s Catwoman was terrific, and provided a much-needed relief character, usually provided by Caine’s Alfred. She was often the Court Jester, and the character who would follow her own path yet act as the catalyst in propelling our hero on his journey. And running down the subway tracks in those heels – well, step back Batman!

The story is convoluted, but who watches a Nolan film for a simple story? No – we love Nolan because he manages to get so much into a film, and yet not lose the plot (pun intended!). But there are also times when ‘simple’ fits the bill for me – I love watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers tear up the dance floor!

But I’m not analysing or making comments on structure – I need to see it a couple more times for a proper look in that way. Certainly a trip to see it in IMAX is a priority! But what I did really love was the hype, the interest and the conversation about the film before it came anywhere near a public screen. People were excited about going to the cinema, seeing a film outside their living rooms and being taken on a ride out of the everyday. Whether the critics or other filmmakers thought it was Nolan’s best work or not, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that film and movies and characters and stories are still an important part of people’s lives. They are choosing to spend their hard-earned leisure time and money on what filmmakers are putting on screens – whether they are independent films or backed by a large studio.

And as one who is a writer and on a learning curve as a producer, I can say that is great news! There will always be a job for me and my colleagues as long as people want to see films. And our job is then to ensure we make the stuff that keep audiences turning up. The recent horrific tragedy at Aurora, Colorado will naturally affect people’s decision to attend a cinema, but ultimately we will remember that events such as this are out of the ordinary and we will not have our freedom determined by the irrational actions of an individual.

The late Blake Snyder, in his response to someone who disagreed with Snyder’s assessment of Nolan’s Memento, made this comment about why making entertaining cinema matters:

‘And on a personal note, I am a reverse snob when it comes to film. I think there is something beautiful about entertaining lots of people; it’s selfless, it’s giving, it’s thinking of an audience first and your “growth as an artist ” second.

I think there is something terribly arrogant about many filmmakers who create movies to “make people think.” People can do their own thinking thanks. What they can’t do on their own is be entertained, taken away, lifted up, inspired, and delighted. That’s what “commercial” films do best, and I think it’s a pretty noble pursuit! Hollywood does it better than anyone in the world, and I am the defender of that philosophy — despite the fact that it often leads to overemphasis on box office.

To me, making money is not what being “commercial” is about.  But if you want to know how people vote with their ticket buying, the only way to see what works and what doesn’t is box office — and that’s why I emphasize it.’ (January, 2009;

And in a final comment, people who make films do so because they love it; money is a poor reward for the effort, hard work and hours poured into creating a world into which our audiences can disappear for even a short time. There are far easier ways to make money. As Walt Disney said, ‘We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies.’