Friday, December 21, 2007

Internet’s Impact on Cinema

Hey guys,

What do people look to get out of films today? Has it changed since the explosion of the internet? I’m going to share four ideas I’ve been mulling over for quite some time about how the internet has influenced the future of screenwriting...


1. Sex no longer sells.

I wonder if the failure of Basic Instinct II should mark the end of an era where sex in film sells. As a result of free porn on the internet, which has
sent the porn industry into a financial windfall, people don’t look to movies to see nudity like they used to. Even if the hottest movie star shows skin in some new film, odds are that those images will get leaked on the web long before it ever hits the theaters, and thus, the film must fall back on something else to sell tickets – like story? I suspect sexy sells more nowadays than sex.

There was an interesting article by Dylan van Rijsbergen called
Sexing the Handbag. He wrote: “Time has come to start a new movement inventing new images of sexuality and pornography. Time has come for a new Jan Wolkers, male or female, someone who can write powerful stories of authentic sexuality. Time has come for all kinds of individuals in the media, art and literature to invigorate the tired imagery of commercial porn. Time has come for a slow sex movement, which stretches sexuality beyond the single moment of the male orgasm. Time has come to return sexuality to what it has always been: elusive, exciting, intense, playful, authentic, dynamic and sublime.


2. No more political blab-fests.

Did you guys see Variety’s
review of Lions for Lambs?

Talky, back-bendingly liberal but also deeply patriotic, Lions for Lambs plays like all the serious footnotes scripter du jour Matthew Michael Carnahan left out of The Kingdom… Schematic idea sounds bold on paper: three separate events, played out roughly in real screen time across three separate timezones, with each potentially cross-fertilizing the others. Problem is, as the cross-cutting proceeds, it becomes increasingly evident that each yarn exists in its own, very specific frame of reference, with no real human drama to buttress the moral-political conflict… In addressing the issue of the U.S. role as both world policeman and a credible force for good, Carnahan's screenplay thus takes three clearly defined avenues of approach: the practical (Rodriguez-Finch), the political (Irving-Roth) and the philosophical (Malley-Hayes). All three avenues, however, lead nowhere in particular… The to-and-fro of their political debate [between Cruise and Streep] gives both actors a fine workout, and plays to the strengths of their screen personas. But as Carnahan's script dutifully checks off the issues, it becomes clear the discourse is leading nowhere, and is merely a rerun of arguments already extensively aired by media around the world. Roth has no new arguments to propose, and Irving's only solution is more positive action. With almost no character backgrounding beyond repping various schools of thought, the actors largely get by on screen charisma…

There is nothing you can verbally say about anything political in a film that hasn’t already been said in previous films or somewhere else in the media or in greater detail on the internet. Why spend $9 per person to hear someone say something in a film that we’ve already read online for free? While the activism is commendable, looking forward to writing future films, I think the emphasis has to be on compelling human drama, because you can no longer have main characters designed to be simple mouthpieces of practical, political, or philosophical points of view - unless it’s truly unique.

Screenwriting has become a venue for the heart. People look to films more for an emotional and artistic experience than an intellectual one. I love what Francis Ford Coppola said in the Apocalypse Now Redux commentary: “In a way, you know, cinema is more like poetry than literature. It’s all about expressing things and saying things that you don’t say and trying to say it in another way – to use metaphor, or simile, or allegory or any of these other poetic techniques where you express one thing by, in fact, showing something quite different – and the audience puts it together. Cinema is at its best when it expresses things without really expressing them.”


3. Screenwriters will be pushed more into the public eye.

Scripts are regularly leaked onto the web. We have to now expect our scripts to get leaked and analyzed in the media. Not only that, there’s a growing appetite by the public to read scripts, and there’s a lot more public discussion about how well a screenwriter handled a story. I think we’ve reached a place in cinema history where screenplays have evolved into an art form, and writers can no longer fool people with sloppy craftsmanship anymore. All these elements have put the screenwriter into the limelight more than ever been before (the recent explosion of articles about Diablo Cody is certainly an example of that) and an enormously strong fanbase on the web can turn some writers into huge public icons, which may or may not be a good thing.


4. Standards of screenwriting & filmmaking will forever remain at an all-time high.

With the explosion of film bloggers (like the popular ones on my sidebar), there is now a more intense public scrutiny of films in general, such as Emerson’s study on
Opening Shots. We have to be ahead of the game, more knowledged than the bloggers, and incorporate more thought into every single detail of every scene. Elite closers will no longer be able to get by on name alone and must deliver home runs every time they’re at bat. Aspiring screenwriters must now have a god-like knowledge of not only the craft of storytelling but also the craft of filmmaking as well as the world of the story you’re writing.

What do you guys think?


Anonymous said...

interesting post.
I think there's no doubt that audiences are far more televisually literate than ever before.The internet has definitely de-mystified film via youtube and facebook with everyone posting and re-posting favourite clips and pastiches etc. But it has perhaps also cheapened the film experience and devalued the quality of the filmic moment. The poetics of film may even become obsolete..
In terms of your list - I tend to agree with no 1 (great quote there)

Disagree with no 2. Maybe the future represents an end to the big screen polemics - but the fragmented, unheard and untold voices will see a growth through online audiences.

Don't know about 3. Think its is more likely we'll see an emergence of multi-taskers and multi-faceted creatives - writer/director/online-content maker etc. Screenwriters, unless they are pretty will never be happy to be pushed too far into the limelight. Maybe they/we'll extend the ways we self-publicise and push projects online...

and yes 4. may well be true..

elver said...

#1. Regarding Dylan's call: "Time has come for a new Jan Wolkers, male or female, someone who can write powerful stories of authentic sexuality."

Yeah. It's not so easy. I wrote a screenplay for a low-budget, er, adult film earlier this year. Does Dylan have any idea how impossible it is to get that produced?

There are no agents for this sort of stuff. Production companies have their own stable of directors who can shout "moneyshot!" at the end of the day -- they aren't even vaguely interested in screenplays. Serious film companies don't do porn and the one that asked for the script loved it, but thought it way too controversial.

I've got a few ideas about what the next wave of story-based adult films will be, but it doesn't matter. Hollywood is probably easier to break in to as a screenwriter. There's no place for a writer in the adult industry.

Emily Blake said...

Good post. There's a lot there to consider.

I like the bit about sexy overselling sex. The sexiest sex scenes (oooh alliteration!) I can think of are all about the situation. Two people who've been desiring each other forever and finally act on their desires. That always interests me way more than lots of naked bodies sweating. The best sex scenes don't even show the act itself because we can fill in the blanks physically. The characters provide the emotion.

elver said...

You're right. It's a bit like with horror. Things you don't see are scarier than the things you do see. Similar thing with sex. It's sexier if you don't actually see the details. (It reminds me of what Al Pacino's character in "Glengarry Glen Ross" said about sex. Great film, btw.)

I've been of the opinion that a sex scene is just like any other scene. If it serves no purpose, cut it out of the film. If you need nudity and explicit sex to convey some part of the story, then put it in.

Star Trek fans imagine the perfect scene to be one where Geordi explains in detail the workings of a warp reactor. Thing is, if scenes like that were to be put into many Star Trek episodes, fans would hate them. If the geek porn doesn't move the story forward, it's just boring drivel.

Same with long, explicit sex scenes in movies and on TV.

In 70s porn chic, sex was integrated into the story. It was a device for storytellers to use. As making adult films became cheaper and cheaper, the story aspect got lost. The genre was distilled to its signature elements: excessive amounts of grinding and the moneyshot.

There have been some attempts recently to revive porn chic with shows like "Tell Me You Love Me", but it's failing, because the sex scenes aren't used to tell a story. They're there just to make the show stand out. And it's not working.

just me said...

do up and coming screenwriters really need to know all about film making, or just how to tell a damn good story?

Spending too much time trying to know everything will undoubtedly leave you lacking *something*.

Unless you're a genius. And then everyone will just hate you.

Christian M. Howell said...

First, I really enjoyed that Opening Shots blog. It'll make my list probably.

That is something I always consider. The Opening shot gives you the best opportunity as a filmmaker to suck in the audience.

With the direction you posted, I mainly agree.

1. Sex will never really sell again for the very reasons you stated. Sensuality will sell. Sexuality will sell, but not sex. Women are becoming more open but also more demanding as this generation has seen some things.

2. Politics for the sake of a political discussion is dead, but "politics" covers everything from people's relationships to employment responsibilities. I think it is mainly to do with the Internet and the fact that you are a website away from every country and its culture.

3. I think that screenwriters will grow more into the role of filmmaker in the future in order to stay ahead of the Tarentino\Rodriguez curve. The writer's strike will definitely push "us" more into the spotlight as people realize what "we" actually do. I think Diablo is an example of the stars aligning, not a precursor to a change in perception of writers.

4. I think screenplay quality is an unquantifiable term as most "movies" are made in the filming. It's nearly impossible to write a "perfect" screenplay in my mind as subjectivity is a constant factor.
Do we look at screenplay in terms of the images that it would create or the dialogue it emotes or the amount of complexity in the plot?

Is it a factor purely of 3-Act, Trottier structure or is it an amalgam of relationships than can only be expressed visually using the screenplay as a guide?

I am totally intrigued by the craft of screenwriting as it is by definition a "fantasy" related by a real person. Even a true story. It is limited only by the imagination. What is the truth behind why "Lady in the Water" flopped yet "Pan's Labyrinth" excelled. I personally thought they both sucked.

That's why I will always believe that I've done the right thing. I write so that it is a bare canvas to be painted by the director with the actors as subjects.

I even think that genres will change slightly as from the Opening Shots blog quotes;

By the way, Dr. Lecter offers an excellent Socratic lesson in the principles of critical thinking here:

Dr. L: I've read the case files, have you? Everything you need to know to find him is right there in those pages.

Clarice: Then tell me how.

Dr. L: First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius -- of each particular thing ask: What is it in itself? What is its nature? What does he do, this man you seek?

Clarice: He kills women.

Dr. L: No! That is incidental. What is the first and principal thing he does? What needs does he serve by killing?

Clarice: Anger. Social acceptance. Sexual frustration --

Dr. L: No! He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? Make an effort to answer now...

Clarice: No. We just --

Dr. L: No. We begin by coveting what we see every day. Don't you feel eyes moving over your body, Clarice? And don't your eyes seek out the things you want?

Those words ought to be inscribed as an example in every classroom. See each thing for itself. Then consider its context. Understand how your enemy or adversary thinks. What may seem most important to you, may be only incidental to him...

And the best thing about screenwriting is:


only cooperative. The debate of film is what makes it better. The nuances of the craft only allow for a certain "visibility" in the screenplay before it becomes cliche, camp or too expositional.

Julie at Rouge Wave had an interesting piece about how the actor or director can affect the final outcome even of the construction of the script up to and including the presentation of the material on film.

I think it cements the thought that screenwriters need to have actors and directors maybe as much as they need us and we have to be realistic about the "who(actor\director)" as much as the "what(story)."

Wow, talk about a serious topic for debate. No wonder I haven't been writing (blog or script) lately - day job aside.

P.S. Maybe actors and directors should blog more. I mean, to take a quote from the strike, "We're all on the same page."

David Alan said...

1. I agree with what you guys are saying. But I still think sex sells. You just have to have the right person to sell it. Halle Berry and Angelina Jolie are old news. Now if you get Jessica Alba to bare it all in her next film, I believe there would be a great turnout.

2. Yes, yes, yes. Every political film this year has flopped. I hope Hollywood takes the hint and stops churning out crappy political movies.

3. I don’t think a trend is starting.

4. Three things here. One - nobody sets out to make a bad film. The standards are always high. Two - there is only so much the writer can control once the script is complete. A thousand different things could happen to turn a great story into a full-blown disaster. Third - it's good to remember that some people *like* tripe...a good no brainier movie...such as Transformers...but that’s Hollywood.

Fred said...

Very insightful, MM.

Sex never really sold per se and not surprisingly, blatant sexuality no longer attracts for the reason you've pointed to.

Definitely agree about political movies. I don't care where on the aisle they fall, politics don't belong in movies except as a platform for drama. And by platform, I mean as a side, lesser ingredient.

I'm looking forward to seeing Diablo Cody. In her case, I think her background as a stripper has more to do with her fame than anything more tangible. The writer will always be a backbencher, alas.

Looking forward to your book!

Mickey Lee said...


I love ya man, but one more article on Diablo Cody and I'm gonna scream

She was a writer who stripped. Not a stripper who became a writer. Let's be clear about that. If I were her, I'd be very wary of overexposure at this point. She's a largely unproven commodity thus far. One good script does not a genius make, as Yoda would probably say.

Mark said...

I would go with Goldman's old saying - Nobody knows anything.

No one can predict what will sell and what won't. No one can predict what will make a great film. That book has been out for over twenty years and no one seems to believe the truth of it. Everything you say is right and wrong.

Trends come and go and there is no way to predict the future.

Right now we are back in the 1950's and the introduction of television. Just like the 50's there is a resurgence of 3D films because of the fear of the internet and television. Fear has created a new spectacle. It's a reaction to the idea that public exhibition will come to an end. I don't believe it. It didn't happen in the 50's and it won't happen now. What did happen was that the studios tried to make the kinds of big films that they thought the audience wanted and they lost their way. It wasn't until the late 60's that personal films suddenly became refreshing.

This is the idea of the trend... Sandal Epics were dead until Gladiator, Pirate pictures were poison until Pirates of the Caribbean, Comedies were stale until recent successes. Sex doesn't sell until (insert your screenplay here).

I just came back from 'Charlie Wilson's War' and it was a fine political film. It was refreshing as it didn't put the weight of the world on its shoulders and approached the telling of the story with levity. It also didn't preach (overtly) about the mistakes of the government and the evils of imperialism.

Each film stands on it's own. Film blogs are places for people interested in film blogs. Despite what we the filmmakers think, people don't really care about us. They want a good experience at the theatre - they want to laugh, cry and scream. Our job is to write it.

Diablo Cody is front page news because she's a great story. A true rags to riches tale that the media loves. After it's all died down she'll be like every other writer, struggling to write a good story. Her story was a great story and she wrote a wonderful picture (I haven't seen it but the reviews tell me so) but your only as good as your last picture... Let's hope she's not a one hit wonder.

I'll stop my blabbering to wish you the best for the season.

Mystery Man said...

Anon - I almost think your comment supports #2. I'm all about hearing fragmented, unheard, and untold voices. That's better than hearing someone recite a point of view I've already heard before.

Emily - I completely agree.

Elver - no, it's not so easy at all. It's funny. I recall reading the last couple of years how the sex in films in some of the festivals like Cannes were more explicit than ever. But those films never found distribution, and images from those films leaked onto the web shortly after the festival. But sexy is not simply how a person looks but interacts with other characters, which is something you'd have to go and see, no? Great comments, Elver.

Just Me - Yes, but it's great fun to study! If you love films, you'll love reading about this stuff. You should check out the Art of Visual Storytelling articles on my sidebar. It's fun!

Christian - thanks. RE: 2) I meant politics about government, but you're right, of course, about other forms of politics. 4) Never read a perfect screenplay, but that doesn't stop me from trying to write one. I thought Pan's Labyrinth was pretty cool. That's very true about directors and editors changing the ultimate outcome of the film and a lot of writers use it as an excuse to not put that much thought into scripts BECAUSE it's so likely to change, and I think that's an excuse to be a lazy writer. Always put as much thought into as you can and make it as great as it can be. You can't control that other stuff so don't worry about it.

Fred - I totally agree. Thanks for visiting, by the way. Great to meet you.

ML - Hehehe... That's hilarious. I totally agree.

Mark - Great comments. I loved it. Good point about 3D. I completely agree. Haven't seen "Charlie Wilson's War," but unlike "Lions for Lambs" at least Wilson is rooted in story and satire to make its points, ya know? Characters are CHARACTERS not simply mouthpieces of certain points of view we've already heard before. With respect to the rest of the comments about people in general and Diablo, I completely agree. Thanks for that.


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