making books The outside world: film people TV wasting time words
by Harry Connolly
Some filmmaker friends are tearing into the quotes from a Disney exec in this article. Essentially, he’s saying that Disney is going to pull back and focus on big, expensive tent-pole movies. It’s the only kind of film that makes sense with the marketing budget they need to bring in really huge numbers of people. (Added later: this particular exec doesn’t actually greenlight films, so here’s a grain of salt.)
He’s also saying that, for this kind of movie, audiences don’t care that much about the story. They like the big budget spectacle, and if the story doesn’t hold together, well, that’s a secondary consideration.
Frankly, I find it hard to refute him. He points to ALICE IN WONDERLAND (which made a billion dollars?? Really?) and I point to TRANSFORMERS. The writer of the article brings up TRON: LEGACY, which had lots of spectacle, a crappy story, and which failed at the box office, but honestly, we can all point to the reasons any individual movies drew (or failed to draw) a big audience after the fact. Everyone thinks they can Monday morning quarterback surprise hits and flops, but no one can predict it reliably.
Personally, I’d love to know what’s driving the success of those movies, but I haven’t seen them. I watch some of them on DVD when they hit the library, but in the theater? Not so much.
However! There is an ongoing TV series that a lot of people really enjoy with plenty of spectacle (on a TV budget), a large and enthusiastic fanbase, and really awful stories. I mean, dumb stories that don’t make any sense at all, or that seem spackled together with bullshit and “Hurry past, don’t pay attention here”. And that’s DOCTOR WHO.
I quit the show when I realized that too often the “stories” were an arrangement of emotion-tugging moments with only the most spurious connection to each other. A really good story will evoke powerful emotions, but if that can’t be managed, the moments themselves can be strung together (“My friend is in danger!” “This is worse that I thought!” “You don’t scare me, Villain Of This Episode!” “Thank goodness you have been safely rescued, Friend!” “Oh, I stare stonily at the terrible cost of battling evil!”). Even without the context of a sensible, well-crafted story, those moments can force emotional responses from our well-trained brains.
Isn’t that what these big “tentpole” movies are doing? They mix spectacle with specific emotion-tugging moments (cue long-withheld hug from father), and if the story makes sense, well, that’s just a little extra gravy.
That’s how it seems to me, and as a person who creates (and tries to sell) stories, this is something I need to figure out.