Friday, April 30, 2010

The Formula

When the man with the two highest-grossing films of all time decides to drop some pearls of wisdom, I'm all ears. I mentioned the article by Peter Howell
on Twitter a while back, but the Cameron quotes were worth repeating. His answer on what makes a hit movie:

“I don’t think there’s a formula, because the films are all different,” he replied.

“But I think there’s a philosophy, and the philosophy is don’t talk down to the audience. Include them. Give them plenty of visual excitement. Play against their expectations. And include them in the emotional response to the movie. These sound very abstract, but it’s the only connective tissue I can find between these very disparate projects.”

He said he’s actually been thinking a lot about this topic, since Avatar took away Titanic’s box-office crown earlier this year. He elaborated on what it takes to make a movie click with an audience.

“I think it’s about creating characters that the audience can relate to, being very clear about what your intentions are, not being too mysterious or too aloof or too above the audience — too hip, if you will. You also have to include the audience in the emotional responses to the film, and making sure that the film fires on all cylinders between visual, character, narrative, surprise and emotional payoff.

“If you don’t hit them in the heart, it’s not going to work. And that’s the one thing I can say declaratively across all of (my) films.”

There's more than a little truth in what he said. Now some might argue that Avatar's success can be attributed to 3-D technology and the story is far from original. But spectacle doesn't always equal box office success. We might want to consider that the use of a simple, familiar tale is intentional, since his focus is hitting emotional beats.

Regardless of genre, it comes down to building an emotional bridge between the audience and your characters. No small feat by the way. Sometimes you get lucky. Right story, right time. Maybe the casting gods deliver the perfect actor. All that nuts and bolts stuff about structure is important, but it won't mean a thing if the audience doesn't give a damn about your characters.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Jonah Hex Trailer

I've never been a big Hex fan and this trailer certainly isn't helping. If I remember correctly, Jonah didn't have any supernatural powers — now I gotta go digging around Wikipedia. Early reviews have hit the net and they aren't pretty. Wild Wild West all over again? We might be looking at the first flop of the summer.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Contest Alert!

The New York Television Festival and Fox Broadcasting Company have teamed up to offer aspiring TV writers the opportunity to win $25,000 and a development deal with FOX!

Enter the 3rd Annual FOX-NYTVF Comedy Script Contest and submit your script for an original half-hour comedy series. 25 Finalists will have their scripts evaluated by FOX for a possible development deal with the network and one winner will receive $25,000 and a development deal. Scripts must be entered by uploading them in a PDF format on the NYTVF upload page, which can be found here beginning June 1, 2010. The submission period will open at noon Eastern Time (ET) on June 1, 2010 and will close at noon ET on June 15. All submissions must be uploaded during this time period, without exception. The contest will stop accepting entries when this period elapses or when the Festival receives 1,500 script entries, whichever comes first.

3rd Annual FOX-NYTVF Comedy Script Contest

A terrific idea fell into my lap this morning, so I'm gonna take a shot at it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

True Blood Minisode

Eric and Pam audition new dancers for the vampire bar Fangtasia. Good piece of content to keep fans interested until the premiere. More shows should do this.

True Blood's first season really rubbed me the wrong way. The overdone accents, near cartoonish performances and meandering plot was almost too much to bear. It felt like everyone was trying too hard. Things settled down and ran much smoother in season two. The mystery surrounding Maryann Forrester (Michelle Forbes) held my attention for quite some time — unraveled a bit at the end though.

I'm looking forward to the new season, although with a few reservations. I can think of better cliffhangers than kidnapping Bill, but that's just me. A bunch of new characters are going to be thrown into mix. Will everyone get quality screen time? We'll have to see how it pans out.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Spawn is one of those interesting misfires from the nineties — long before Hollywood "cracked" the comic book movie code. There are several culprits: questionable script, cheesy production values, inconsistent tone, lack of character development, etc. But it's hard to point the finger at just one...

The premise itself is pretty strong. A murdered black ops agent makes a deal with the Devil: in exchange for the opportunity to be reunited with his wife, he'll lead Hell's army. We all know how deals with Old Scratch usually turn out and this story is no different. Our protagonist comes back to earth — five years later, to find his wife happily remarried to his best friend, proud parents of a little girl. Making matters worse, our hero has a face scarred beyond recognition. It's enough to make most folks go totally Tales from the Darkside. On the plus side, he has a badass costume that gives him demonic super powers. Basically, our guy battles for the last speck of his humanity while attempting to resist the Devil's not so subtle nudges to go full evil — courtesy a demonic (mostly annoying) clown.

While Todd McFarlane's comic was wildly successful in its day and the HBO animated series a classic, the film was trapped in an awkward no man's land. Who exactly was the target audience? Teens? Okay. Gotta tone down the violence for that PG-13 rating. But it's still a story more relatable to grown ups. Costumes and super powers can only take you so far as wish fulfillment. It's hard to see how an action-horror flick involving redemption, lost love and revenge would resonate with the average 14-15 year old. Teens want to be Peter Parker or the object of his affection, Mary Jane. A disfigured agent of Satan who hangs out in cemeteries and dark alleys? Not so much. The similar themed Ghost Rider also underwent a more teen friendly transformation. Neither are examples of great comic book films with wide appeal. However, Rider was relatively closer to the mark.

I'll say this about McFarlane's idea for a $10 million reboot with Spawn as a background character a crime drama, not a good one. Even with all its flaws, the film did gross $87 million worldwide. It just needs tweaking in some spots. Maybe a younger protagonist with a less complicated backstory.

Still, it would be interesting to see a reboot in the hands of someone like Guillermo Del Toro, Sam Raimi or even Len Wiseman.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fringe better than X-Files?

The short answer is no. However...

The question has slowly started become worthy of a conversation. Fringe has definitely found its legs this season, fleshing out characters and establishing a unique mythology. While both shows share a few common threads, the X-Files imitator claims are no longer justified. Thursday's time-traveling episode with Peter Weller was top-wish-I-could-write-like-that-notch.

Back in the day, X-Files had the luxury of a Friday night time slot. Fringe goes up against Thursday night juggernauts like C.S.I. and Grey's Anatomy. Ratings haven't been spectacular, but fairly stable.

We finally get the characters. It makes sense why Peter has bounced around all his life, not fitting in. And we now know why folks from that parallel universe so darned ticked off -- Walter brought it all on himself. Up to this point, we've gotten more answers than Lost. Tons of stuff to play with for a TV spec.

Fringe needs several more seasons under its belt before a true argument can be made, but you gotta like where it's headed.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


The Hollywood machine often confounds me. How does a film with a cast that includes Liam Neeson (Clash of the Titans, Percy Jackson, A-Team), Justin Long (Die Hard) and Christina Ricci in various states of undress, open in only 40 theaters? Meanwhile, something called The Black Waters of Echo Pond (with Robert Patrick as the headliner) is released in 400. What gives?

Anyway, I recently came across the script for this psychological (or is it supernatural) thriller. After a car accident, a young woman wakes up on a slab in a funeral home. The mortician explains that she's dead and only he can communicate with her. Is she or isn't she? And we're off to the races...

After.Life would have made an excellent short, but struggles as a feature. Too drawn out. The film does make an interesting point about how we often fear living life to the fullest more than death itself. An intriguing premise that fails to live up -- no pun intended -- to its potential.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

She-Wolf of London: Love and Curses

Well, here's a blast from the past. I can't remember if it was an old UPN series or just syndicated. Might have been a bit of both. We're talking early nineties here, so bear with me. Think An American Werewolf in London meets the X-Files. A beautiful co-ed struggles to find a cure for her lycanthropic condition while solving supernatural mysteries with a Brit Professor.

From what I can recall, the stories weren't half bad, but as you can see, the effects were on the extra cheesy side. Hard to pull off weekly werewolf transformations on a low budget TV series. Wolf Lake had the right idea -- actual wolves, but its story execution was lacking. Fun Fact: the show started out as She Wolf of London, but eventually became Love and Curses to play up the romantic angle between the two leads. A forgotten precursor to the likes of Buffy, The Vampire Diaries and Being Human.

I'd be tempted to pick up the DVD for nostalgia's sake, but the extras appear to be non-existent. I have a vague memory of stumbling across a series bible on the web. Might have to do some digging...

Friday, April 09, 2010

Shutter Island

Hmmm... I don't want to say the wrong thing and spill the beans, so just a few thoughts. A well put together thriller. Some fine performances by a cast headlined by Leonardo DiCaprio. He plays a federal marshal, along with his partner (Mark Ruffalo), sent to investigate the disappearance of a female patient from a mental institution located on a remote island.

The film is very much a jaunt down a deep, twisting rabbit hole. It's chock full of dizzying conspiracy theories, mind-trippy dream sequences, hints of dark Nazi experiments (are there any other kind?) and whatever else the story can throw against the screen to keep audiences from getting bored. Right behind The Departed's $289 million dollar gross, Shutter Island has become one of Martin Scorsese's biggest hits, $245 million worldwide and counting.

And yet...

I've seen too many thrillers. It's next to impossible to surprise me anymore (and I wasn't here). I am surprised at the film's box office performance. If I remember correctly, the release date had been pushed back a few times, which is usually a bad omen -- I'm looking at you Wolfman. But the opening weekend's word of mouth must have been strong. Audiences can be fickle. We'll probably never know what made them latch on to this one. Leo and Scorsese together again? An adaptation of a best-selling novel? Good story, but I wouldn't exactly call it one for the ages.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Splice vs. Species

Both films have a few things in common:

-beautiful but deadly females, driven by instinct
-mixing human DNA with some exotic creature
-rapidly-aging subject
-scientists performing unethical experiments

Splice looks more horror/sci-fi oriented while Species was mostly a sci-fi thriller -- with a good helping of Natasha Henstridge running around. It just goes to show that premises really are a dime a dozen. It all comes down to execution.


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