Saturday, October 28, 2006


The world does not like film students. Out of every single major offered at every single college, I cannot find one that is met with more disgust than being a film student. This happens for a few reasons. First off, we're going to head into a field with little to no hope of actually obtaining employment, let alone writing/directing/editing. Secondly, there are a lot of us who are elitist snobs, casting down from mountain high their wisdom that anything in wide release is worthless; the only way to view film is as an art and no one must see it. Finally, we are taking what was designed to be an entertainment medium and scrupulously analyze it, bit-by-bit, pissing off all of your friends who you go with. When you say, "that's horrible framing," you'll get a comment of "just shut the fuck up and watch it."

There is an almost innate longing to pick movies apart not because you want to, but because your view of movies is forever altered. I just watched Good Will Hunting and instead of discussing the scene where Matt Damon and Robin Williams have their first breakthrough discussion, I was telling my roommate Zack about how the director (Gus van Zant) is constantly toying with the 180 rule, even in the shot. This prompted a small but audible sigh from the other roommate Ben, who might not have even realized I get it. Ok, I'm sorry, it's just that I analyze these situations.

In screen writing class, we are learning all of the finer points of a script, such as how characters are developed, what a proper character arc is, etc. A lot of stuff that most of you couldn't care less about. The biggest lesson we are taught is to "show but not tell." This rule is to make the read more interesting. Instead of saying "Billy's estranged with his father and is sad about it," you would write some action like "Billy walks in to his Mom's house and stares at a picture of his family, before knocking the frame over and walking away." Show, but don't tell. You get the idea that something isn't right, which is much more interesting than the mother having a line of, "How long has it been since you shut your father out because he didn't support you enough?"

It is a problem to scrutinize in a theater, but what is it when you start to examine life just as thoroughly? There's a new movie coming out called Stranger Than Fiction where Will Ferrell's character is a character in a book being written by Emma Thompson's character. Will goes to Dustin Hoffman's character for advice, and he suggests trying to determine whether or not his life is a comedy or a drama (drama obviously having more propensity for an unhappy ending). I find myself asking the same questions.

If I make a comment about a couple of black guys in giant winter coats when it isn't that cold out crashing a party full of white people, and I say "well, that's odd," what does that say about me? Well, I could be a middle-to-upper class white suburban teenager who has no idea what it's like in the real world. I could very easily be so sheltered that I only understand what's on TV or in rap music and stereotype every black person as a criminal, a thief, a crook. Inherently I am racist, be it from my upbringing or otherwise, and I will always be this way. The first thought will always be negative.


I could be a kid from Brooklyn who's seen one too many robberies in his life. He has a mother in Manhattan and a deadbeat father who can't take care of himself, let alone his teenage son, and sees both sides of the world as easily as flipping a coin. He runs with the wrong crowd when he has to, and he separates himself while eating dinner on the Upper West Side. But no matter where he is, he is always vigilant, keeping one eye out, because he doesn't want to be taken like his pal Brian did.


He's just a dumb schmuck kid who was raised by a mother who was brought up when New York City was a cesspool. The place that we see characterized in movies now, go to Times Square, and think that it was all made up. It's the kind of upbringing where the city is a scary place until recently, and you're taught to protect yourself. Always carry your wallet in your front pocket unless you want to be mugged. Never take money out in public. Always stash some cash somewhere else on you, where it wouldn't be found (like your sock, you sickos), just in case. Maybe you have a nice amount of black friends, and you know stereotypes don't hold true all the time. Maybe you make a comment about your upbringing, about your perceived reality and how you're brought up, and you're looked at as a racist asshole.

The important thing when writing is to not worry about how your script is perceived. You cannot control what the audience reacts to. If they think a plot line is too disparate, that they don't understand how a kid could be selling drugs in 7th grade, that is not your fault. If they cannot grasp the abstract ideas or flowery language that is flying out of your character's mouth a mile a minute, it's not your fault. You have a story tell, and you tell it to the best of your abilities, and let them sort out the meaning. A lot of times, what you expected them to think never happens, what you put on the page doesn't translate to the screen. There are peices of dialogue that are inherently funny in a dark comedy that some people don't understand. Why are you laughing at a time like this? Have you no decency?

So what is my life, a comedy or a drama? It's the question that I posed but never answered. My script, my movie, my being is up to interpretation, obviously. But instead of scrutinizing everything ("is she ordering a plain hamburger because she's boring, or is it because she was never given choices while she grew up...oh god, did someone sexually abuse her?!") and make myself go crazy, I think it's time to sit back, get some popcorn, and laugh. I hear the first act is pretty funny, the second is full of melodrama that goes nowhere, and the third act is...well...a surprise.

But the acting sucks.


Cara said...

They teach you the same thing as a theatre can't act an emotion or it's have to act an ACTION, and the audience will get it. I feel that.

Pam said...

Perhaps your life is a dramedy.