Monday, November 17, 2008

Today’s Sermon: “Quantum of Solace”

Let us open with a word of prayer.

“Oh, great film goddess, Pelicula,

who weaves magic for everyone in showbiz from hopeful actors and writers to animal trainers and gate guards, who allows the most magnificent films to be born out of the most nightmarish productions, who turns ordinary moments into serendipitous ones, often propelling careers at the same time…

Oh great film goddess,
Pelicula, we come to you today with humble hearts in this very dark period of cinema history… We beg for your wisdom to see beyond the shortsighted gurus, the endurance to combat all the formula freaks of the world, and the patience to sit with the most ignorant of producers and studio executives.

We need your wisdom now more than ever, as we walk through the valley of the shadow of Hollywood horseshit.

We ask all these things in your honor, and everyone said:

‘AMEN.’”

Friends, open up the Good Book of Screenwriting and turn with me now to the Gospel of Mystery, chapter 3, verse 16:

“And thus saith MM: ‘CHARACTER COMES FIRST!’”

Did you get that? Let me read it once more:

“And thus saith MM: ‘CHARACTER COMES FIRST!’”

Paul Haggis told the world prior to the release of Quantum of Solace to expect
a very minimalistic James Bond. And thus, he provided the very reason we are feeling disappointment today – the delineation of character. What did we just read? “CHARACTER COMES FIRST!”

Consider the words of the critics. What did
Ebert say? “James Bond is not an action hero! Leave the action to your Jason Bournes. This is a swampy old world. The deeper we sink in, the more we need James Bond to stand above it.” How about A.O. Scott of the New York Times? “That one, called Camille, is played by Olga Kurylenko, whose specialty seems to be appearing in action pictures as the pouty, sexy sidekick of a brooding, vengeful hero. Not only Daniel Craig’s Bond, but also Mark Wahlberg’s Max Payne and Timothy Olyphant’s Hitman. James Bond is a much livelier character than either of those mopey video-game ciphers, but he shares with them the astonishing ability to resist, indeed to ignore, Ms. Kurylenko’s physical charms… [While] there is certainly impressive depth and subtlety in Mr. Craig’s wounded, whispery menace — it also makes him harder to distinguish from every other grieving, seething avenger at the multiplex. Which is to say just about every one.” What are these critics telling us?

CHARACTER COMES FIRST!

Can I get an “amen” out there?

“AMEN!”

What makes us love James Bond movies? Is it the action?

“No!”

Oh, please. Give me a “Hell, no!”

“HELL, NO!”

Is it the girls, perhaps?

“HELL, NO!”

How about the pretty locations?

“HELL, NO!”

The gadgets, right? I know some of you feel gadget-envy

“HELL, NO!”

All right, what is it? I give up.

“JAMES BOND!”

I’m sorry. I can’t hear you.

“JAMES BOND!”

Ohhh, so you want to see those films because of CHARACTER…

“AMEN!”

Hehehe

Let’s say the devil comes knocking on your door (looking suspiciously like Robert McKee) and he says “I have a suggestion – write a minimalistic James Bond...” What are you going to tell him?

“HELL, NO!”

What did you say?

“HELL, NO!”

What did Scott Frank
tell William Goldman about characters?
“Character is everything… Character is what makes us give a shit. Don’t you think?” Yes, I do! And what's that verse in Mystery 3:16?

“CHARACTER COMES FIRST!”

Let’s talk villains. There is nothing worse than a WEAK ANTAGONIST, am I wrong? What did Hitchcock say
about villains? “The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture.” So when it comes to the art of creating villains, what's the rule again?

“CHARACTER COMES FIRST!”

What did you say?

“CHARACTER COMES FIRST!”

Hehehe

And now, my friends, it is time to turn your hearts over to the gospel of characters. Choir, I want you to sing “Amazing Characters.” Members of the screenwriting congregation, I want you to come foreward to the alter of characters, confess your sins, and repent…

"Amazing Characters, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretched-screenwriter like me...
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see…”


That’s right… Come on up here…

All you aspiring screenwriters out there, get off your blessed assurances right-fucking-now and come to screenwriting’s precious altar and give your hearts over to characters…

“T'was Characters that taught…
my heart to fear.
And Characters, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Character appear...
the hour I first believed…

All you supposed “pros” out there, do you think you’re so special? Get up here and repent right now, dammit!

That means you Paul Haggis! Think you’re above the law of characters because you got a little gold statue for Crash? Don’t ever “minimalize” James Bond or any other character again! You have sinned and fallen short of the glory of screenwriting! Get up here and repent!

Through many dangers, toils and snares...
we have already come.
T'was Characters that brought us safe thus far...
and Characters will lead us home.

Those of you who adapted video games this year, turn your hearts over to characters! Skip Woods, where are you? Get up here for writing Hitman! You failed to learn from Swordfish. Beau Michael Thorne, I know you’re out there. Confess before Pelicula today your sins for all the shitty characters in Max Payne!

Characters have promised good to me...
Their word my hope secures.
They will my shield and portion be...
as long as films endures…

Lawrence Kasdan, you need to find peace over the disaster that was Dreamcatcher and promise you will never fail characters again as you did with your Clash of the Titans script… Akiva Goldsman, why are you looking so smug? You ought to repent for every Batman script you ever wrote… and for putting exposition above characters in The Da Vinci Code. Repent, you bastard writer, repent! David Koepp, get your pompous little ass up here. That’s right! Get on your knees, mother fucker, for the travesty that was Indy IV

When we've been here one hundred years...
bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing Characters’ praise...
then when we've first begun.

Woody Allen, where are you? The voice over in Vicky Cristina Barcelona delineated your characters! Get up here and repent! J. Michael Straczynski, you cared more about moral injustice and historical accuracy than you did the character of Christine Collins! Repent! M. Night Shymalan, you are not God! You are a sinner! Pray for forgiveness for Lady in the Water and The Happening! That means you, too, George Lucas, you failed all of your characters in Star Wars with those damn prequels… You failed Indiana Jones, too! Embrace the gospel of characters or find yourself in movie purgatory!

Why am I singling people out? The entire industry needs to beg for forgiveness! That’s right! Not just writers but producers, too! You people approved those scripts! What the hell were you thinking? Get up here! Everyone, and I mean everyone, ON YOUR KNEES NOW! REPENT TODAY! Cry out to Pelicula, “I have sinned and lost sight of my characters! I failed to listen to my characters… I cared more about action than arcs... I imposed my own personal agenda ahead of the goals of my characters… I admit, I failed them… I hereby place my faith and trust in characters… I will never turn back…”

"Amazing Characters, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretched-screenwriter like me....
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see…”

18 comments:

David Alan said...

Legendary.

Joshua James said...

I can see . . . I can see!

terraling said...

Out-fecking-standing. Amen to all that. You excel yourself MM.

(Who are you again? "Man. Mystery Man.")

Anonymous said...

I agree. Quantum's protagonist was weak, its characters unexplored, its plot half thought-out. Bond goes rogue has been done at least twice before, right? To boot, there was never any emotional impact or resonance to his rebellion. It feels like he never left the service because the script doesn't force him to rely purely on himself rather than his license to kill. They seemed to be aiming for Bourne and executing it badly.
I find it interesting that Haggis is credited first this time, suggesting he did most of the initial lifting. Time for a new writing team?
The producers also have to take responsibility here for allowing the franchise to slip into some of its bad old ways. I have to say, I don't think Bond is that strong a character in the movies preceeding Casino Royale. There are certainly flashes of characterization, but to my mind nothing that feels like an arc. That's what Casino started and Quantum, I feel, has almost wasted. The next one needs to return to form before the series becomes endless cliche and smug one-liners again.

James said...

I guess none of you saw Dr. No.

You know, the original James Bond picture.

Of all the James Bond flicks (what 22, now?) I thought this one was the most similar in tone and character to Dr. No.

What do you want MM? Sappy soap opera James Bond? Where he cries his feelings on M's sleeve.

I liked Quantum. In fact, this is what the Bourne Supremacy SHOULD have been.

My biggest problem with the film isn't the plot or character -- it's the action.

A wide shot, please.

Also please, please, please establish a setup before you payoff the action.

Like -- when James Bond attaches an anchor to an inflatable dingy during a high speed boat chase, it would be nice to see it actually tied/hooked to/caught on something else first -- that justifies the boat flying backward.

To quote anonymous (that's funny~)

"I have to say, I don't think Bond is that strong a character in the movies preceding Casino Royale. "

He's not. He sleeps with the bitches. Saves the world from destruction.

He was a series of short stories for Playboy magazine that later became a series of pulp novels.

QUANTUM definitely embodies ~that~ Bond. And that's the Bond I want to see.

Not sure what James Bond you guys have been watching for the past decades.

Anonymous said...

What's funny, James? I can have an opinion and not a name, it's hardly stopped you disagreeing. State your opinion, but why make it personal by getting snide?

I have problems with the character and plot because there was next to none of either.

As for the Bond I've been watching, you're right. He's been little more than a caricature, and after 20 outings with the same blank slate I was tired of it. Maybe you can get away with it in playboy and pulp novels (I have a problem with neither), but those became movies. They evolved. The last movie worked hard to establish character, plot and story. I'd like to know why he saves the world and sleeps with "the bitches", as you so charmingly put it.
Casino Royale tried to explain how he starts to become this blase killer. Quantum wasted the chance to further that story and unless they check their course, the series will head straight back to the shallow, gadget-laden, effects-driven production line that Casino Royale rescued it from. I want character. I want story. I want plots that make sense. Must be I'm picky.

Emeka Amakeze said...

Amen! I'm an aspiring screenwriter and have repented of my.... sang the amazing character. Wonderful post.

crossword said...

Reverend, you are right!

lol

Lisa said...

Awesome post.

Christian M. Howell said...

You now have articulated why I don't give a damn what "OPINION" people have about my MOVIES - I don't write scripts.

NOBODY KNOWS NOTHING. Except the audience. Every word I write is designed to give the audience a chuckle or a thought.

Every character I write has at least one moment to shine - EVERY CHARACTER.
If a lead doesn't appreciate other characters havign good lines, THEY SHOULD BE FIRED. ONE star does not a successful movie make.

Imagine trying to pull of the Ocean's movies where only one character stands out.

Can you say flop?

My characters are all that I care about. They may not have a back story but they will make you understand them.

I actually prefer the non-character arc. He's lost it you say. No. I just like to start with a goody-two-shoes character and push them to the edge.

Everyone loves to see someone stop taking crap. A hero who begins to kill is more interesting than one who kills the whole time.

BTW,
glad you're back with a discourse with some meat.

Characters make situations. Situations make scenes.
Scenes make a movie.

That's my simple technique. I was finishing off a comedy last week and I was glad to see my characters go off on tangents. They decided they wanted to change the ending and it works even better I think.

The first thign I do after a logline or premise is to develop the character most juxtaposed to the situation.

The WORST rape victim: a virgin
The WORST next of kin: a violent cop
The WORST murder target: an ex SEAL


You notice these are not the BEST. That's because you want conflict and tension so you define the least likely person to handle a given situation rationally.

James said...

"What's funny, James? I can have an opinion and not a name, it's hardly stopped you disagreeing. State your opinion, but why make it personal by getting snide?"

That wasn't personal or snide.

I found it funny citing "Anonymous" as a source. Calm down.

marnie said...

Inspiring!! You have me speaking in tongues!

purpletrex said...

I am really beginning to think that nobody gives a crap about characters anymore. Sure, critics love characters, but the general audience today has been weaned on an overabundance of utter trash on t.v. over the past twenty years.

Take for example the crapfest "Max Payne." It had no characters and no real plot, yet when I walked out of the theater, several people actually said that they wanted to see "Max Payne" again. One of my co-workers, who is a college educated parent of three kids, said that she liked "Max Payne," and was going to buy it on dvd when it came out.

If a movie like Max Payne, based on an almost nine year old video game, that has no plot, no characters, and no real violence, can make almost $66 million dollars in a month, then pretty much it's "game over."

It pains me to say this, but why complain anymore? Ouantum of Suckace still broke box office records last week and will most likely break box office records this week as well, even with that retarded vampire movie coming out.

The general public does not give a shit about charcters, or plot, or story, or lighting, or sound design anymore. Just as long as you keep the movie moving forward, and blowing shit up (real good), you'll have a hit on your hands.

Just look at the "Pirates" films. I liked the first one, it was good. The next two "Pirates" films sucked. Why? Because the screenwriter duo had finally realized that they really did not need to spend the time agonizing over characters, plot, etc. All they had to do is keep the movie moving forward, forward, forward!

Eagle eye is another movie that just kept shit blowing up on screen and had the characters run, and run, and run, for no apparent reason till they get to the lame end.

"Wanted" was in such a hurry to start blowing up shit and moving the story forward, that they forgot to let the audience know that the primary characters in the movie were SUPERHUMANS. Still, the people I talked to who saw "Wanted" did not even notice that it was never explained in the movie (it was in the comic) that the characters were superhumans, and that's why they were able to do incredible "matrix-like" stunts in the real world.

Now, I am a firm believer that if someone takes the time to put together a GREAT film, that people will flock to see it. I'm talking about the whole package, not just a great script. Sadly, there are very few people in Hollywood today that can put together a GREAT film.

"The Dark Knight" is the only GREAT film I have seen this year, and it's really fucking sad that off the top of my head I can't think of any other film this year that was better than "The Dark Knight." Please note my observation is not a slight on TDK, but a sadness in that there is no real competition from any other big Hollywood movie this year.

I'm not going to lie. I have been banging my head for the past three month working on my script to make it as original as possible, with original characters, settings, plot, story, everything. But now I realize that I could have just done 1/10th of what I have accomplished so far and it still would be better than 99% of the crap in theaters.

In the end, I just can't turn out something that is "by the numbers." I write movies that I would want to go see, not what the market thinks it wants. I am certain that I am going to be a success, but it's still sad to know that all of the effort and time that I am going to put in all of my movies will be lost on most of the general public.

Mystery Man said...

Thanks so much for all the comments!

Hey James, no I don't want sappy Bond. We almost got too much of that in the new film. No, Bond was always above this kind of brooding behavior. We love him for that! I can tell you exactly how I would've handled the sequel - this would've been about him rising above this shit and turning into the Bond we all know and love. Great comments. And this: "Also please, please, please establish a setup before you payoff the action" was my BIGGEST PET PEEVE about that film. They aimed for surprise over tension, and it just didn't work.

Anon - No worries. We like disagreement here. I need it to keep me honest!

Christian - Thanks for that. Great comments.

Purple - So much truth to that. A friend I went to see the film with told me, "I'll be happy so long as there's some good action." But he walked out unhappy because he didn't realize how much he also wanted CHARACTER. They THINK they don't care about characters; they don't SAY they care about characters, but they really do. I have to believe that.

BTW - Here are some comments I wrote to a friend about tension in QoS:

"Ya know, my theme would've been about Bond rising above the pain in order to get him to become that Bond that we all recognize. To me, they were not interested in shaping his character at all, and those "character moments" were more about striking emotional chords than advancing his story and that never worked for me.

"The thing that grates me about the way they tell these stories (and I had a problem with this last time) is that you don't know what Bond is doing or why until after the fact. I had no idea what the point was of grabbing Camille off that boat or what that had to do with the mission. But apparently, he was simply trying to be nice and they never let us in to understand Bond's thinking here so that we could root for him. To not know the point deflates tension and undermines our interest. How can we care if we don't know what's at stake? If we knew in advance that Slate was about to have a meeting with Camille and Bond needs to intervene, then, yeah, I might've been more involved in that fight scene. Plus, I'd rather see him conflicted about killing men, showcasing some kind of inner conflict (duty vs. personal) in order to give him some depth than to simply see him brutally kill one man after another.

"I don't know if that makes sense. We have to know the point before we see the action so that we'll be involved. At least, that's what I took away from it. It feels like amateurish writing to me to see sudden action without a point."

-MM

Doughnut Queen said...

Brilliantly written.

And that list of those who have strayed from the path of righteousness (or character-ness), spot on

Mystery Man said...

DQ - Thanks so much! You're very kind.

-MM

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