Sunday, February 17, 2008

Creation Loves Constraint

I saw Once again today. What a marvelous little film. It's a musical. It's Irish. It's made for under $100K.

It's nominated for an Oscar.

It's competing against films made for five hundred times as much money. In a way, those other films are at a terrible disadvantage. When you've got that much money, and that many interests fighting for supremacy, it's hard to shoot a good story. You're showcasing too much. You're selling too much.

With a $100K, you have your story and not much more. It's got to be stripped down and direct. It has to be evocative. It has to invite the audience into the characters.

So often when I'm struggling with a scene, I realize that I'm trying to tell the audience everything about the characters at once. I'll put in a nice little touch that tells us what's going on. Then I'll go back and underline it. Then something else looks out of balance, so I'll get clever with that. Then I need an extra line of dialogue as well. Then I go for a walk because I'm frustrated.

When I get home, I either throw the scene out and look for the simple solution -- one scene idea that speaks immediately and tells us all we need to know. Often it's there, but something the best scene is no scene at all. What's great about a good story is how the audience builds it in their own head.

With a $100 million budget, you can't afford to take that risk. You need to drill that sucker into the audience. There needs to be one clear meaning, no matter how banal, that keeps the audience contented as consumers. And that's a heavy burden when you're trying to tell a story that matters.

So many novice screenwriters are hell-bent on winning a competition and then landing the big development deal and all that stuff. I've evaluated so many scripts that are at a real beginner stage. When we're done, they tell me they'll be sending it off to Spielberg next, and how soon should they expect to hear from him?

You probably have just as good a chance sending a mock up of a new car idea to General Motors. This is a business, and you're not going to get anywhere without a lot of hard work and a subprime mortgage on your soul.

Of course, if you want to get to the Oscars, it's probably easier to tell a simple, great story.

No comments: