“It’s all those movies from my youth that made me want to get into this—all the popcorn movies. The Die Hards, Empire, the Star Wars films. Those are the films that made me want to be a filmmaker. Recalling those—the excitiment of being a 10-year-old kid in a theater again, writing for that kid is a big part of doing those kinds of films.”
Writer/director Stuart Beattie
A couple of years ago I worked on a small video project with Deion Sanders who was not just one of those rare athletes who could play both professional football and professional baseball, but he’s the only athlete in the history of civilization who has played in both a World Series and in a Super Bowl. That is he played two completely different sports at the highest level possible. If anyone earned his nickname it was Prime Time.
A few days ago in my post Simple Stories/Complex Characters (Tip #95) I quoted screenwriter Stuart Beattie saying, “I’m a big fan of simple stories, complex characters. I love when stories get from here to here. I know then I’ll have room for great character stuff to go on.” But in yesterday’s post I wrote how he was one of the credited screenwriters on one of the most successful blockbuster franchises in Hollywood history—Pirates of the Caribbean. The lesson, of course, is that it’s really not an either/or question. The film world is big enough for Blanche DuBois and James Bond.
Human beings have an amazing ability to enjoy contrasting things. Off the top of my head I recall being one of about 100,000 people once at a Bruce Springsteen rock concert at the Los Angeles Coliseum, but also going to a small theater with a couple hundred people to hear a concert with classical guitarist Christopher Parkening. Granted, both concerts had guitars on stage, but they were two totally different experiences. And both enjoyable as I watched talented performers at the top of their fields.
Movies are no different. This year I went to see the intimate character driven Polish film Ida three times in the theater. But that doesn’t mean that the blockbusters Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark aren’t some of my favorite all-time movie going experiences.
Stuart Beattie explains the differences between writing a character driven story and a Hollywood blockbuster.
“The big blockbusters—you have to have a certain amount of spectacle, that’s why they’re blockbusters. You have to have that eye candy that people come back to see again, again and again. So that usually means more complicated plots and just more stuff going on. Car chases, explosions, exciting moments—all that kind stuff. The plot stuff expands and the character stuff shrinks. You don’t have a lot of time to set up characters, you’ve got to get the plot rolling, things like that. Something like Collateral takes its time. In blockbusters you’re hitting [the audience] in their seats, you’ve got to provide those thrills, have them jumping all around. It’s a ride. It’s the difference between a roller coaster ride and a ride in a horse carriage around the park. It’s a different beast completely. Just as fun, just as many challenges [to write], but a completely different beast.”
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters interview with Mike De Luca
Joss Whedon wrote and directed the blockbuster The Avengers and then turned around and wrote the script and directed Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Jon Favreau directed the blockbuster Iron Man and this year has a hit with the character driven Chef, which is closer in scope to the first indie film he wrote (Swingers). Swingers in turn was directed by Doug Liman who went on to direct The Bourne Identity. All great examples of writers and directors at the highest level who’ve made character driven stories and blockbusters—and done it at the highest level.
But if there’s a Deion Sanders of filmmaking my vote goes to director Steven Spielberg who made Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List back to back—and that was just a couple of years after he directed The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun back to back. Spielberg is Prime Time+Oscar TimeX3.
P.S. A good example of a complex story and simple characters is Edge of Tomorrow. Maybe a little too complex. As I walked out of the theater it was interesting listening to various audience members trying to explain the film to each other (especially the ending). While the $178 million film is doing fine globally ($341 million) one of the reasons I think it was a disappointment in the States is the story—despite solid reviews and being full of spectacle (and exposition)—was a little too complex to get good world of mouth advertising.
But you’ve got to give Hollywood credit for producing such an ambitious none-sequel project.