Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Best Writing Lesson I Ever Got: Part One

It's been a tough couple months for the Yes/No movie reviews. When I started them, it seemed like an ingenious (ie easy) way to pop out some quick content for the website. I would see a film or show, read a book, catch some theatre and I'd just say "Yes" or " No." "Go" or "Don't Go."

What could be easier.

And for awhile it was. United 93 was a fantastic film, (the best film I've seen so far this year). An easy "Yes".

X-men III
came out and maybe other people liked it more, but I thought it was a mess: simple "No."

But it got a lot tougher... I took flack from friends and strangers alike about my "Yes" on Nacho Libre. Sure I was disappointed, I knew there was no way the film could live up to the trailer, I heard rumours of bad reviews, my expectations were suitably lowered when I went to the theatre... and I still laughed my butt off. How much is a laugh worth? I'd happily pay a buck for a good solid laugh. I got my money's worth from Nacho and stand by my positive.

But then.... the second wave of summer blockbusters comes.... Superman Returns was Superman: The Movie Redux. I was enjoying it from the opening credits... and I'm going: I get it, just like the first movie, only a little updated... (I should have known then what was in store). Brandon Routh did a great Christopher Reeves imitation. Parker Posey was an interesting Miss Tessmacher... but the movie stopped holding my interest about half way through.

Pirates of the Caribbean: II
followed shortly thereafter. It had like five movies stuffed into one there was so much action, so many subplots... trouble was they never got around to finishing any of them... unsatisfying.

And big budget films haven't been the only ones to leave me wanting more. I saw The Notorious Bettie Page this past week at City Cinema. The subject matter was interesting, the presentation fun but about two-thirds the way through... whatever was interesting in the story Mary Harron, et al. were telling was done. It kinda just eventually rolled to a stop.

This is an unfortunate situation. How could I possibly tell my school-age self to give Superman or Pirates a miss because it was "unsatisfying"? There was still a lot to enjoy in both films. Why should people miss Gretchen Mol's terrific performance or the interesting conversations that arise from the issues that surround Betty Page just because the movie peters out... so to speak.

All this to come around to one of the best writing lessons I ever got.

I was having lunch with Mike Clattenburg at Churchill Arms one day. What? Is that too name-drop-y? So how 'bout... I was having lunch with Mike Clattenburg in this pub/restaurant in Charlottetown.... Okay fine, I was having lunch with this guy who directed of what I predict will be the biggest grossing canadian feature film ever) and I was telling him about this feature I was working on and started in on the standard pitch. He stopped me...

"Just tell me the last big scene"


"Just tell me what happens the in climax scene, tell me everything that's going on!"


Yeah. It wasn't a show stopper... but it was a pitch stopper. My ending wasn't a bang but a whimper. I stuttered a little bit about "context" and "performance-based"... but I wasn't a fast enough talker to convince myself (or Mike) that the ending was anything but unsatisfying in every way.

But, you know, it makes working on scripts a lot easier now. I just make sure I ask myself: "How does it end?"

Writers, myself included, spend so much time on the first couple scenes of their script... as they should. But on behalf of movie lovers everywhere I beg you, please spend just as much time on the ending!

Speaking of which... Mr. Clattenburg, sir... I'll be watching!

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