Monday, June 9, 2014

Bigger isn't always better. Better, is better. Always.

And now, a short rant on the old (Hollywood version of the old) adage, and a question:

"Bigger is always better!"

Is it?

No, I don't think is is.

Do you think bigger is always better? Want more then? Okay but, be careful what you ask for.

As a writer, a viewer and, a reader, I am so sick of this "bigger is better" mentality that is so Hollywood and somewhat the book publishing industry. Though granted, Hollywood may very well be the worst proponent of that banal mentality.

Case in point, volcano movies. I've never ever seen a good volcano film. One of my first was one I was thinking about just the other day. It was at the premiere of a film at the Cinerama in Seattle in 1969. They had a special showing for regional theater managers and their families and my step father was an Assistant Manager at a local drive in theater, so we got to go. The theater was amazing! The film, not so much. Well, it was amazing, but not in the way the theater was.

They showed, "Krakatoa, East of Java" with one of my favorite actors, Maximilian Schell and, I hated it. The special effects did not play well in 70MM widescreen, to say the least.

Here's some advice for filmmakers, don't make films about volcanoes.

In writing screenplays, you get that mindset from people all the time.

"Can't we add in a connection between the protagonist any other thing that will make this bigger, increase scope, increase the effect, make it, "better"? Can't we add in an explosion or six? Guns? There's no guns, how about guns?"

And so it goes. More, bigger, Bettererness! Must have Betternesses!

I see it most especially on TV lately. Do we really always need an A and B line in the story? Okay, maybe so (thanks MTV?), but do they have to be so intimately tied together so that even a moron can see it? Even if you want them to be similar, parallel story lines, can't we make them (see I'm working with you here, I said, "more"), more similar and less exacting? I mean, when you have the A line story going on about divorce, do we really have to have the B line story be about the protagonist's child breaking up with his girlfriend (or boyfriend if he's gay)? It's BORING!

Can't instead, we have the B line be about loss in a clever way, or some other elements of divorce so that we're not merely rehashing the A line story in B? Maybe something new, some unusually ignored elements of divorce? I'm really sick to death of it. Because I know that once I see the A line in a show, I'll merely be watching the same damn thing in the B line, even if it's "different". Give me something more if you want, but come on, I can handle it; make it smarter not "bigger and better" in how you usually perceive it. I bet most of America can, in fact, get it.

Challenge me on the B line, don't bore me with it just wanting to get back to the A line. That's a pathetic technique. Don't make the B line mere filler. Make it exploratory, push the boundaries, make me think, at least, a little. Let me veg out on the more obtuse A line, but make the B line a bit more obscure so that just maybe AFTER the show, I'll reflect on it and go, "Oh, I get it now! Nice work!"

Bigger is not always better.

It's like with what happened to the James Bond franchise. It is perhaps the ultimate example of that. "There was an explosion in the last film. We have to do better. Put in two explosions in this next film." And there it began to the point of utter lunacy. When did Bond get better again? When they pulled back, added tension back in. Brought the human back to the story line which really was what the books were all about that made them popular in the first place.

Yes, films are different than books. But better is the same. Sure explosions work better in a visual than a conceptual format (film over books). But you have to use it sparingly or you become a parody of yourself. Which, eventually, Bond films achieved, self parody (Roger Moore became a prime example of in his later Bond films. He was incredible as The Saint on TV. Though Ian Fleming wanted him as Bond in the films and not "that brute", Sean Connery (who was awesome by the way and Ian did eventually come around on that one). But Moore was not Bond, he was, The Saint. That is what he excelled at, not Bond.

But that's beside the point. The point int he Moore Bond films was they took it to absurd levels (Jaws as a case in point), because they didn't know how to go bigger and better anymore. I will give Moore points for one thing. At a time post 60s when things like MI6 (Bond's agency in the UK) and the CIA in America and the military in general (and government) had falled into disfavor with the post 60s rebellious kids who had now grown up,

Moore allowed Bond to limp along into a new age, setting the stage for a new actor to take over and take it to more serious and at times, melodramatic levels. But then, it did get better. Timothy Dalton took over and I thought did a wonderful job. It wasn't his fault the screenplays weren't that good. But he got us back on the right track with the right idea acting wise, anyway.

Where this annoys me most (bigger is better) is in my own writing. That is, in how I'm "supposed" to write if I want to sell; or in how some respond to a story I might write, or want to write. You get replies like, "it needs to be more "Hollywood" (to paraphrase), or "A and B lines have to be more the same", or "Punch it some up more with more banal boringness." Yeah, I'm being ridiculous, for a reason.

What really is better, is not just what's bigger, what's more, tossing off more explosions, more connectedness. Sometimes more is in the disconnect, the disparity, the unexpected, where the awesomeness lay.

Yes, I agree, better is, well... better. But bigger isn't, not necessarily and I'd argue, not usually.

That's not to say a story I wrote is boring to begin with. Or that at times perhaps, I could conform a bit more to some standard protocols. But aren't we tired of remakes, sequels, formula? I am and I'm doing my best to avoid that, to break that plastic wrap ceiling and get something out there that is fresh, different, unique in some ways and not the same pablum we have had force fed to us again and again and again and again and... well, you get the idea. You do, right?

That is why I now say, seemingly more and more all too often:

Bigger isn't always better. Better, is better. Always.

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