Thursday, April 23, 2009

Watchmen, The Room, and the Shared Experience

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing two films recently that I enjoyed very much, for wildly different reasons. What I want to focus on in this post is the audience response to these films: in one case, unusually divergent, in the other case, eerily similar.

Watchmen has led to a lot of debate amongst people I know and fellow bloggers. Opinion is definitely polarised – and in my opinion, more so than most films. People are responding to the same film in very different ways. I liked the sex scene set to 'Hallelujah' – for others, it’s the height of ludicrousness.

Which brings me to the other extreme.

On Monday, I had the pleasure of seeing The Room for the first time. If you enjoy 'bad movies', you have to see this film. Put simply, it’s the greatest 'bad movie' I have ever seen. The Room is so funny and particular that watching it was a sublime experience, and one I'm looking forward to repeating.

And something I found particularly fascinating was that The Room manages to create a very similar shared experience across viewers.

The four of us who saw it found it hilarious. We laughed at the same points – we made a number of ‘original’ wisecracks. Following up on the film the next day, we realised that most of our off-the-cuff observations were echoed across the Internet – sometimes down to nearly exactly the same line. What we found funny about the film was precisely the same stuff that the legion of Internet/LA fans find funny.

As a result of this, The Room has actually built up a ritualistic set of audience responses in the same way as the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Self-styled super-fans enjoy the shared experience of shouting lines (and spoons!) at the screen. It sounds like they get pretty much the same experience time and time again.

It got me thinking about authorial intention in cinema.

Is The Room a success for delivering such a consistent response, and Watchmen a failure because the audience responds so differently?

Is the aim of screenwriting to get the audience to feel a certain way about your work? And do you fail as a screenwriter if the audience doesn't respond as you expected?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Why I Write: For the Money (2)

It’s hard to argue with the idea that screenwriters should be properly recompensed for their hard work, and that they should insist on decent writing rates and conditions.

But equally it’s hard to argue with the screenwriter that is willing to work for free in order to ‘break into the industry’ or simply get their vision up on screen.

I can see the virtue in both sides of this argument. So this is a debate where polarity management comes in useful; polarity management being the idea that apparently opposite sides of an argument can each have a good case to make, and the aim is to acknowledge and manage the debate rather than claim one side as the winner.

Helen and I were talking about this yesterday, and we came up with a principle that I feel incorporates the two sides of the argument for me. It’s this:

If someone is going to make a profit out of your work, then you as the screenwriter should be making a profit as well.

As screenwriters we don’t want to get ripped off. So it’s up to us to protect the investment that we’ve put into our work. And therefore to insist on decent writing rates and conditions.

But the ‘if’ in the principle above is a big one. A lot of films aren’t really making money, so where is this profit we’re meant to be earning as a screenwriter going to come from? So even though we should protect ourselves, we should be realistic about the expected return.

And sometimes that return won't be money - there are different kinds of 'profit'. As a screenwriter, you want to make sure that your input into the finished film is properly recognised, and therefore you're rewarded in that way.

Something that further confuses the situation in the film industry is that it can often be hard to tell who’s making money and who isn’t. For those of you who haven’t seen it, Hix has linked to a very good post about Monkey Points. The key idea: make sure you sure you’re in line for a percentage of the gross profit rather than net profit. You’ll probably never see another cent if you wait for the net profit to come through.

Oh, and here’s a link to my earlier post on writing for the money as well.