Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Follow Through and Third Acts

In the ten days since I finished (finally) a polished enough draft of my latest opus to send it off to my agent, I've seen about 6 movies. Perhaps more. An embarrassment of movies really.

So, I figured there had to be some fodder for discussion in those films. Problem is, my brain is broken, or at least badly sprained, such that critical analysis of anything really hurts.

But one of the movies got me thinking about a workshop I attended recently on high concept. The author who gave the workshop made a comment at some point that it doesn't matter if your actual book/story is that high concept, just that the pitch is, implying that it's more important to sell the concept to editors and/or Hollywood than it is to please the eventual readers. Now, to be fair to said author, I'm sure this isn't really what she meant. Or I hope it wasn't. But I wasn't the only one who heard her say this...

But I think the people involved in the film Hancock might have gone to her workshop, too.

Hancock has an amazing concept. Stellar. The first time I saw a trailer I immediately wanted to see the film, nearly rubbing my hands together with glee.

What a high concept. Alcoholic super-hero creates as many problems as he solves. Okay, I'm not good at pitch lines. And that was my first crack at it. But it's an amazing idea. You could even bring in the very funny Jason Bateman character to make it his story... PR man tries to improve the image of an alcoholic super-hero who creates as many problems as he solves. Or add the Theron character to that: PR man tries to improve the image of an alcoholic super-hero who crates as many problems as he solves, only to discover his wife and the super-hero have a secret past.

Okay, that includes a spoiler, but it's foreshadowed in the film out the wazoo, so I'm not really ruining it. BUT. I am ruining the point of this post. As usual, I've gotten off track.

What I meant to say was that the movie never really fully delivers on this fabulous high concept premise. They set us up with all this amazing potential for heart-wrenching conflict between the three main characters, but then resort to blowing things up instead of ensuring the audience fully understands and appreciates that conflict that never really gets resolved properly. And the result is a mediocre film that could have been AMAZING.

The third act didn't even make that much sense to me... If they can't be around each other, how come that only starts being a problem after the audience is told they can't be around each other? Why wasn't it a problem before that? And why did Theron all of a sudden start to wear black eye-liner once it's revealed she's a god????

Sad thing for me was this film was directed by Peter Berg, of Friday Night Lights fame (not to mention being Dr. Kronk of Chicago Hope) . But Berg didn't write it... and it's hard to know whether or not to blame the writers, since so much happens by committee in Hollywood movies. Although I did notice that the two writers have mostly TV-writing credits. And as much as there is amazing writing happening on TV these days... TV is different. You have an entire series to develop characters and tell a story, with each episode being like a big chapter or something. In a movie, especially a genre movie, you need a great, tight, story structure with a strong third act, and Hancock was all high concept pitch, and lack of follow through.


Sinead M said...

I haven't seen it and based on the reviews it wasn't going to make it to my top of the pile.

But it is something I've noticed with some of the books I've read lately. Amazing beginnings, fast paced, riveting, until two thirds of the way through and it felt like the author lost all their steam and couldn't figure out a way to keep the story going.

Which is a challenge. The first chapter may be hell, but sometimes the last three are harder.

Maureen McGowan said...

I agree, Sinead. I've put down so many books recently... Great beginnings, no follow through.

Sinead M said...

this is coming from me, the plot queen, so take this with a huge grain of thought, but I think it's because writers haven't put enough thought into what sort of plot fills a wordcount.
So they either have to wrap everything up too quickly, or stretch to make a pagecount, and neither works well.

Molly O'Keefe said...

I really really hear you on this right now - as I am trying to plug through some brainstorming for another series, I've realized that I need to take what is my black moment and make it the second act - so that nothing drags or gets dull as I stretch word count to get to that black moment, which also means Ihave to think of new black moments.

Marjorie M. Liu, whom I still love, is beginning to feel this way for me...great opener, great concept, drag drag drag, surprise finish.

I think when we initially sit down and go - okay here is my idea, here are my characters, here is the black moment - we have to, when fleshing things out - get creative and flexible. Otherwise, the writing stage becomes my last mms.

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