Thursday, January 28, 2010

RIP Salinger

I grew up reading the old classics, like the classics that were classic when my grandma was young. Dickens was my favorite, but I also enjoyed Little Women, Wizard of Oz, the Bronte sisters, and then thrown in for good measure a silly teen novel or two to keep my head down to Earth.

It wasn't until grad school when I took a class on analyzing how writers write that I read my first Salinger story. Yep. I got all the way through grad school as an English major without ever reading Catcher in the Rye. I eventually read it a couple of years after I became an English teacher.

But Nine Stories. Oh, Nine Stories was a thing of brilliance. I know Catcher is supposed to be the big thing, but just like VS was my first encounter with Pearl Jam so I kind of love it better than 10, Nine Stories was how I discovered Salinger.

I didn't know you could have characters talk that way in a story. They cut each other off, they ran with complete non-sequitors, they made conversations about nail polish interesting. It's a wonder Salinger didn't make his career in theater. The man had a gift for dialogue.

He also had a gift for subtlety. "A Perfect Day for Banana Fish" is probably tied with Updike's "A&P" as my favorite short story of all time. Seymour Glass has all this incredible sadness, but he never has to say a word about it. In fact, he behaves quite the opposite by playing in the ocean with the little girl. You know his life isn't right despite his cheerful facade. How did Salinger do that? It's amazing.

I also always get a thrill out of how he'd get his titles from lines of dialogue in the story. For a while I did that too.

Remember when Stephen Colbert joked that he had Salinger as his guest the next day? I wasn't sure if he was serious, but just in case, I waited on baited breath to find out. I always thought Salinger would come out of hiding one more time, give one last interview where he could gift us all his wisdom as a writer before he left.

But he didn't do that. Instead, he hid his talent away in anger and pouted, just like Holden, and refused to risk anymore public failure. My great hope right now is that somewhere in a big room in his house is a massive stack of manuscripts he's been typing up all these years, pages and pages of brilliant dialogue for us to pour over now that he's gone and nothing can hurt him. If he kept that from us, too, I'm gonna be pissed.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Couple of Letters

Dear everybody, but mostly journalists and politicians,

Stop saying "unprecedented." Stop it. That shit you keep saying is unprecedented is completely precedented. This is not an unprecedented economic downturn because we had a fucking Depression way back when.


Very Much Annoyed

Dear Me from Five Years Ago,

Hey there. Your script sucks. Don't cry; it's totally okay that it sucks. And I hate to break it you, kid, but all the scripts you wrote suck. Except maybe that LOST spec - that's not too bad, but unfortunately they're about to kill off Shannon so your script is kind of useless. You don't want to do TV anyway.

Know that guy who works at that really high profile management firm? Don't send him that thing about the henchman who cuts off that other guy's thumb. What the fuck is it with you and cutting people's limbs off, anyway? But while we're at it, that decision to cut his thumb off was spontaneous and brought about by the way you let your passion guide you while you were writing. Do more of that. Your best scenes will come out of spur-of-the-moment decisions where characters go to the extreme with their emotions. And don't send him that piece of shit about those kids who travel all over LA with their teacher. It's stupid and has no redeeming qualities. Just burn it.

Instead, keep writing. Email that guy every now and then. Invite him to parties. Then, in four years, you'll have a pretty good zombie script you can give him and you won't have fucked up your best opportunity.

Later this year you'll be at a big old party for Jamie Kennedy movie. You'll meet some celebrities. One of those celebrities will introduce you to his agent. Later, the agent will come up and try to talk to you because he thinks you're hot. And asshole you will later come to loathe will call you at that exact moment. DO NOT ANSWER THE GODDAMN PHONE or the agent will walk away forever.

Actually, you may just want to not deal with that asshole at all. He's a detour in your life that you don't need. He'll be a small man with the world's biggest ego to disguise his incredible insecurity.

The point here is, don't blow your opportunities. Don't be afraid to meet people and keep up relationships with them. People like to help others succeed in this town and you've got what it takes. Don't ever doubt that. Just know that it will take a lot more time than you want it to, so you might as well earn some salary points and go for that raise at work.


You From the Future

Monday, January 25, 2010

Thoughts on the film: 9

I saw 9 yesterday. I'd been wanting to see 9 for ages, and initially planned it as a reward for finishing pages by a certain time, but then I didn't finish the pages so I didn't see 9 until yesterday. I was looking forward to it because I love that post-apocalyptic burlap sack people type story.

Which is why, I suppose, I feel a little let down. It wasn't a bad movie exactly, but just not one to wow me as much as I'd hoped. It all starts with the protagonist.

Here be spoilers.

The story starts as 9 wakes up from creation into a dead world. Does he explore the room he awoke in? Nah. Then he would have found something that would have ended the story a lot faster. But he does go outside and explore the world, where he finds a friend. A mechanical beastie attacks and kidnaps his new friend, named 2, all while 9 cowers like a newborn babe, which I suppose he is.

Okay. He's new in the world. Maybe he doesn't have guts yet.

Then he gets another new friend, 5, and convinces this friend to go with him into the wasteland to find the other friend. They lose their map. They take shelter in a cave - a cave with beastie prints heading into it. 5 doesn't want to go, but follows 9 anyway. In this cave they find and rescue 2 and kill the beastie. Yay! Story over! Oh wait, no. 9, being the retard he is, puts a glowy piece of metal right in the place where the beastie had been attempting to put the glowy piece of metal.

Now I don't know about you, but when a bad guy tries to do something and I defeat him, I do not come along behind him and try to finish his last task. 9, apparently, does. And people die. And if there are nine sentient beings left in the entire world, you should probably try to not get any of them killed.

It turns out that putting that piece of metal in that place awakened a giant death machine that killed all humanity and doesn't feel any better about living sacks of burlap, so now the story is the 8 surviving burlap people have to kill the giant mega beastie that for some reason was shut off even though it was alive years ago when it killed all the people. Maybe its battery was dead. But 9 took care of that by sticking in the green soul battery and bringing the thing back to life.

If our hero had stayed unborn, or maybe had acted with a modicum of sense, nobody would be dead.

So 9 goes back to the survivors, one of whom has been able to keep everybody from dying for years until 9 came along, and 9 tries to convince them to go kill the beastie. He does this by lecturing them on their cowardice.

So let's recap. The guy who got 2 kidnapped and then awoke a giant mega beastie who intends to kill them all is lecturing the others on their desire to stay inside and not go out looking for shit that could kill them. And this is the guy I'm supposed to think of as the hero?

Why the fuck does anyone follow this idiot? He just got here, and already he's fucked pretty much everything up, and other burlap people are just like "Yeah! Let's do what 9 says! Why live as a coward when you can die as a moron!"

And I don't really understand what the metal piece did anyway. It eats souls but then releases souls that somehow kills the beastie but not the souls who somehow make the sky rain when they're released. And it's green.

Come to think of it, maybe this movie IS bad. It was pretty and had some good action sequences and I liked some of the characters, but now that I think about it, the story doesn't make any sense. Stupid people who've been perfectly safe hidden away follow a guy who gets everybody killed, and then use somebody's soul to kill a soulless beast and make rain. That's a hell of a logline.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Mom's opinion

I asked my mom the historian to read my screenplay and tell me what kind of historical inaccuracies I was committing. I did an okay job being all accurate, although Mom thinks I need to remove the sex scene because people don't need to see sex in the movies.

Moms. Gotta love 'em.

The other day she drove to somewhere or other with a friend and told the friend my story on the way. She said when they arrived at their destination, the friend wouldn't let her out of the car until she finished telling my story, so either my screenplay is gonna kick ass with the retired set (unless they are offended by my one sex not very graphic sex scene) or my mom is a terrific storyteller.

Actually my mom is an awesome storyteller. Maybe my screenplay's not as awesome as her story makes it sound.

Either way, Thanks Mom.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

It's theme, stupid

Busy day today.

I thought a lot about my screenplay today. THEME was the answer. I thought and thought and decided that I have been writing about the dichotomy between wanting to protect your culture and wanting to rebel against the status quo. So it's all about rules and a person's willingness to break them.

I needed to add a scene of two people talking for a while, kind of exposition heavy, so I needed something for them to do to serve as a metaphor to get the point across more quickly. If I'm thinking about the theme of breaking rules, it makes sense that they could play a game with a lot of complicated rules. Instant fodder for conversation that reinforces the theme. There's a lot of stuff like that I can do.

It makes complete sense. The movies I love most are the ones with a clear sense of theme, but here I was, well aware I didn't really have one but hoping it didn't matter. Silly Emily. It always matters.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Endings again

Okay this screenplay is officially driving me nuts. I really liked my last draft, but now I don't anymore. I had that high of finishing in a better way than what I had, but now, I dunno. Nobody likes my ending. And after thinking about it, I don't like my ending either. Fickle? Yes. And terribly confused.

I've spent the past two days setting aside every moment of free thought to figuring out my ending. I thought of weird shit and romantic shit and turning bad guys into good guys and turning my final battle scene into a Bollywood dance number, but nothing seems to work.

I emailed people I trust asking for help. I posted my problem on Done Deal. I tossed and turned in my sleep, imagining what scenario could bring about my proper ending. And someone at Done Deal had the best advice so far, the most simple advice I should have thought of on my own - look at the theme. What's my theme? That should give me my ending.

And you know something? I've been having trouble with my theme. I can't quite figure out what I want it to be, so I've been half-assing a bunch of them.

Traffic was particularly bad today so while I was stuck in the car in the middle of STORMWATCH 2010, in which we all freak the fuck out because somebody saw some lightening (Actual question from one of my students: "Where does the thunder go?") and I thought some more about my theme and my story and stuff.

And I had an idea. I'm not going to say it's THE idea because I've done that too many times already with too many failed ideas, but I hope I have something here because I'm really tired of trying to be clever.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Thoughts on the film: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Despite the hurricane-style weather, we went out to see Book of Eli Monday. It was everything I hoped it would be.

We also watched Before the Devil Knows You're Dead last night because we finally got the XBox back from the red ring of death repair and can once again watch movies instantly on Netflix.

All due respect to Sydney Lumet and writer Kelly Masterson, but that movie has some major problems. Remember Momento? Remember how genius that screenplay is? Remember how the story keeps moving forward, despite the fact that it's going backward? Yeah, this movie is not like that movie.

The story is all out of time for no reason whatsoever. When Momento moves back, in each instance we learn something we didn't know before. We move backward because our protagonist can't remember what he just did, so this way we're as baffled by events as he is.

In Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, we move backward because..... I dunno. Because it's clever? Because there wasn't enough story to fill out the movie so we had to repeat whole scenes? I have no idea. I felt kind of bad about it. Phillip Seymour Hoffman clearly busted his ass on this film, but it just wasn't worth it because I was bored.

The story opens with a robbery, and the next half of the movie shows us the events that lead to the robbery, but since we already saw the robbery we already know where all this leads. There is no new information past the revelation that the people robbing the place are the sons of the people who own it. Then it's just one guy convincing the other guy to do what we already know he'll do because we already saw the damn robbery. The second half of the movie got a little more interesting, because we're now moving forward instead of going back, and because Phillp Seymour Hoffman shoots pretty much everybody he meets. Oh, and we shift point of view sometimes. And that's the movie. There. Now you don't need to see it.

The point I'm making here is, don't be cute. If you have a really neat scenario, like a character with no short term memory who can't recall what he did ten minutes ago, cool. Run with that. We'll learn what he forgot with each new scene. But if the story is going backward and telling us nothing we don't already know, ditch your clever gimmick. I kept thinking throughout this movie how much better it would have been had it just been told chronologically so I didn't already know what was about to happen, and in fact, when it ditched the jumping through time it DID get better.

In conclusion, I don't care how famous you are, don't be clever just to be clever. We have David Lynch for the unnecessarily weird shit. We don't need any more.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Celebrate good rewrites, come on

Do you guys just KNOW when it works? Because I feel super good right now. I just wrote the last three scenes on Burnside and I feel awesome about them, which is kind of a miracle. This script has been giving me fits since day one. I love the idea, and when I tell people the idea they all kind of go, "Oh that's so neat!" but actually writing it has been one of my greatest challenges.

Usually when I have this much trouble with a script I just give up on it and start something more fun, but I knew I had something here so I kept with it. I first had the idea for the script not quite a year ago and I've been writing it for months. I had a long period where I didn't know what the hell I was going to do next, and I agonized over the ending for ages.

Then today happened. I wrote a scene I needed to inject into the story, and that went okay. Then I went to the ending. That dreaded, complicated, elusive ending. And I stared at my screen and I thought about what I would do if I were these people. What would I say if I had a bullet in my shoulder but was also kind of pissed off at my boyfriend? Then I just typed.

I had decided not to kill my protagonist, but for a second I forgot I had decided that and the dialogue and action was all headed toward her death and I got kind of sad. The last time I wrote her death scene I felt lame, like I forced the emotion. This time, though, I really didn't want her to die. And then, in the awesome world that is screenwriting, I got to bring her back to life! Weeee!

That was the most fun I've had in ages. I am going to celebrate. Awesome rewrite. Awesome.

Now to wait for the next round of notes.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What should a new writer read?

A writer friend of mine decided to try his hand at screenplays today so of course I gave him my abbreviated primer. I love that, being able to help someone not make the same mistakes I made. So of course I told him the basics: Read Wordplay, John August, check out Done Deal forums, download Celtx. Then I sent him three spec screenplays to read as examples.

The one script I always send is Tonight, He Comes. That screenplay, to me, represents everything a screenplay should be - a terrific story, great characters, challenging ideas, badass action pieces. I also sent Zombieland because his is a zombie piece, and The Hangover because that screenplay has such great flow and good dialogue and because I didn't want to send him only action scripts. I sent him modern screenplays because even though the classics are terrific, I think it's best to learn on whatever follows the updated rules of writing.

We all know the best way to learn to write a script it to read a bunch. So now I pose the question to you: What would be your choice for spec screenplays a new writer should read? Why?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


We don't need a new Spiderman reboot. We just HAD that movie, it was a perfectly good movie, and we do not need to do this again. The fourth movie is dead. Let's just recast and start with a new story, or better yet, pull a James Bond and let that shit rest a while before starting up where the third movie left off. Actually, let's pull a Highlander and pretend that third movie never existed. But a reboot? We don't need a damned reboot on a movie we didn't grow up with. Stop rebooting things! There was nothing wrong with Robocop! Leave stuff that is perfectly good alone and go make something new!


In my next life I'm coming back as a guy who gets paid a shitload of money to push a bunch of other people out of work, does a shitty job, then gets to push more people out of work and never really has to deal with the consequences.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Thoughts on the film: Taking Woodstock

I offered a reward for my phone, and it does warm my heart a little to see how many kids were angry that someone had it and that if they had it they wouldn't take the reward. Nobody brought it back, though, even though they'd get more from me than from Paco the stolen goods dealer.

I ordered a new one through a legitimate Ebay dealer so it's a little less expensive than what I'd be paying to buy it at the store but I will be phoneless for the rest of the week. Alas. If I used to have your phone number, I no longer have your phone number. Shoot me an email.

Dammit, I had three ring tones on there.

Anyhow, I saw Taking Woodstock last night. I love Ang Lee, especially how varied his career is, but I get why this film didn't take off at a sprint. It feels like an independent film. I think in the era of Judd Apatow we've been conditioned to think comedies have to be raunchy and revolve around laughing at other people's pain. This film isn't like that. The laughter comes from victory more often than failure, although there is more nudity in Taking Woodstock than all Judd Apatow movies combined. Full frontal. Both sexes.

Anyway, I was watching The Man Who Came to Dinner the other day and I started thinking about how rare that kind of witty banter type comedy is anymore. Nothing is subtle, and I kind of miss it.

Taking Woodstock has one hell of a meandering plot, but I think one thing I love about it was the gay storyline for our protagonist. Dimitri Martin's character, Elliot, is gay, but it's not a big deal, which is absolutely perfect for the story. The whole attitude of all the Hippies in this movie is that everything's cool and nothing's worth worrying about, and the gay story ends up the same way. He's gay. So what? Moving on. Just like Liev Schiber is a cross dressing badass who I really wish had badded more ass. So what? He wears a dress? What's the big deal? Let's move on.

Anyway, I don't know if I've ever seen that before. Have you? A protagonist who's gay, but that fact that he's gay is barely even a B story? Kudos, Ang Lee and writer James Schamus. Very groovy.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Chuck worry

I'm a little concerned about Chuck. The season premiere airs Sunday night, then moves to a permanent Monday time slot after escaping cancellation last year.

I'm glad it's back, don't get me wrong. And at first when I saw no Adam Baldwin on the previews I had a minor panic attack, but then right there at the end of one, there he was so it's all okay.

Except I'm not sure I like where they're going. At the end of last season, Chuck downloaded not just the intersect information in his brain, but also Kung Fu moves and evidently languages. So he's got all the knowledge to be a perfect spy without having to work for it.

So now what's his problem? His personality? The fact that he's less hot than that guy on White Collar?

I thought at some point Chuck would start learning martial arts because he was tired of being stuck in the car, and we could watch him grow and learn and get excited when he used his new skills. Instead, he learned all that stuff through no work whatsoever, so now he's all powerful just by watching some videos.

Although, I suppose that's how Neo got powerful too so maybe I'm just jumping the gun.

But okay, speaking of Neo, I hated that scene in the second movie where Neo just easily beats the shit out of everybody and then flies away. How boring is a story when your hero can already do everything? And that's why I'm concerned about Chuck. Maybe I should just shut up and watch the damn premiere and then see what there is to worry about, but dammit I love that show and I don't want anything to destroy it. Besides, if Chuck gets too badass, he won't need Adam Baldwin anymore. And dammit to hell, we all need Adam Baldwin.

Thursday, January 07, 2010


Today I just want to pass along an article someone passed along to me about why film schools teach students to write superficial women.

Sometimes I think I come across to other screenwriters as this massive feminist and I feel like I have to tone it down to avoid the rolled eyes, but the truth is that women and Hollywood still have a rocky relationship. I like to write action movies with female protagonists. It's what I'm good at and what I love to do, yet I've been told by many people that nobody will buy an action film with a female protagonist so I should just start learning to write about men. But I don't want to. I like movies about badass chicks so I write movies about badass chicks.

I hope against hope that Kathryn Bigelow is nominated for an Academy Award for The Hurt Locker and I hope she wins, not just because she's a woman, but because that was almost a perfect film. But I admit I'd also love it because she's a woman. No woman has ever won for Best Director.

I hope Salt makes a shitton of money. I hope martial artist Gina Carano turns out to be a good actress and Steven Soderbergh's new film with her turns out to be a big hit. I hope that Hanna, a film about a teenage assassin, turns out good and does well. Maybe then people will layoff that stupid idea that women can't be badasses on the big screen.

Roar, dammit.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The End

My ending is driving me nuts. I've written and rewritten Burnside about three times now, but I still don't have the last 5-8 pages.

I thought I knew. With every single project I've ever started, two scenes are completely clear in my head: the opening scene and the closing scene. I rarely change a word of either once I've written them.

This time I knew exactly what my opening scene was to be. It's sort of an homage to the rooftop chase scene in Crouching Tiger, where my character bounces off walls and causes damage in the middle of the night, and that has remained as is from day one.

But that damned ending.

This is the first time I started a project without 100% certainty about the ending. I knew someone had to die because someone always has to die in those films, but I didn't know who. Then I realized my male lead was just like a real person who lived in the era and place where I have set my story, so I made him into my lead. That means my female lead has to die.

But then I couldn't do it. I mean, I did it, but it was terrible. I knew something wasn't right and I knew I needed help. My first set of notes said the death didn't work and it needed a happy ending. I rejected that notion. No happy endings here. Crouching Tiger didn't have a happy ending. Hero didn't. House of Flying Daggers didn't. I can't give my lovers a happy ending; that would be ridiculous. A new ending, sure, but not happy.

But then I went to rewrite the ending and after I deleted it I just sat there. I started thinking too much. Maybe I should have a happy ending. What if they both live? Wait, am I only thinking that because it's the note I got, or is that truly a better idea? Will I be selling out my story if I don't kill my protagonist? Am I losing my edge? Is this the end? Should I move back to Fuquay-Varina?

I got a second set of notes, but this time, instead of writing an ending I wrote three alternate scenarios and asked the note-giver to help me choose. He agreed with the first guy that I shouldn't kill my protagonist. Okay, so maybe letting them both live is okay. This is an American version of those martial arts films, after all; maybe the American way is to live. But does that mean they should live? Do we really need these shiny, happy stories? Can't we have a good tragedy anymore? But should this be a tragedy? It can be bitter sweet, after all. They can live but not be together. Maybe she lives but she's blind now or something. Chinese people dig the blind. Dammit, I don't know.

I don't believe in writer's block, dammit. This is a setback, a minor setback. I will figure this out and then it will be glorious and I will not go back to Fuquay-Varina I will conquer Hollywood.

As soon as I figure out what happens next.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A conversation about story

In class today, we created a character as a group, one of my favorite lessons ever. He's a young man, Mexican, and a drug dealer named Juan. This is where we began the conversation that I find relevant:

Me: What does he like to do?
Them: Dog fights! Drugs! He likes to drink!
Me: BORING. So far you guys have a Mexican drug dealer named Juan who drinks and goes to dog fights. Any other stereotypes of yourselves you'd like to include?
Them: He lives in Mexico!
Me: Oh come on. Think of something unexpected.
One Kid: He lives in Beverly Hills!
Another Kid: Nah, stupid, you don't see Mexicans living in Beverly Hills.
Me: That's why it's interesting. See? A story about a Mexican drug dealer living in Mexico and drinking doesn't make that much of a story, does it? You don't want a character who's exactly what you expect him to be. So I'm putting Beverly Hills. Now what does he want?
Them: To get rich! To be the biggest dealer! To get a Lexus!
Me: BORING. He can buy a Lexus. He's already rich. I want something specific he can get. What's something a rich drug dealer can't buy?
Them: LOVE!
One Kid: What if he has to hide that he's a drug dealer?
Me: Okay so he wants a girl he can't have if he's a drug dealer. A girl he can't buy.
One Kid: She's a cop!
Another Kid: She's the daughter of a rival drug dealer!
Third Kid: She can't be a cop AND the daughter of a rival drug dealer!
Me: Well that's an either/or situation, but ooooh. Imagine if she was a cop and the daughter of a rival drug dealer.
Them: She'd have to arrest her dad.
Me: Exactly.
Them: Let's make her a cop.
Me: So what are the actions he takes to get her?
Them: He buys her stuff! He takes her on dates! He gives up dealing!
One Kid: He kidnaps her!
Them: Ooooooooooh that's cool.
Me: Okay he kidnaps her. Now if he takes her on dates, what kind of story is this?
Them: a romance!
Me: What kind of romance?
Them: comedy!
Me: And if he gives up drug dealing, what kind of story is it?
Them: A boring story!
Me: And if he kidnaps her, what kind of story is it?
Them: Action!
Me: So which kind of story do you want it to be?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Thinking about Avatar

Saw Avatar. I am kind of amazed that this movie made so much money because I definitely doubted Cameron on this one. How does he do it? Did he sell his soul to the devil? It's not a bad movie by any means, but it's not really a great movie either. Yet here he is, raking in the dough just like he said he would. Astounding.

Okay now I'll say some things I thought about in the theater:

It's about time somebody finally made Piranha 3D. I'm not sure how we survived without it.

Okay the 3D is badass. Fully integrated.

Yep. Just like everybody said. Dances with Aliens.

This is starting to remind me of Star Wars: Episode One when they went on that underwater chase with the fish and the bigger fish and it was sort of like "Do we really need this long alien animal chase scene, or is it just showing off how cool our technology is?"

Why do aliens love apostrophes so much?

Why are none of the Na'vi fat? Surely at least one of them is kind of lazy. Maybe that's what we're not seeing. They're like a Logan's Run type society where they chase down fat people and eat them. Humans don't seem so bad now, do they?

I'm sorry I'm white. I didn't mean to be. I never meant to colonize anybody.

Would it have been so wrong to just let Sam Worthington be British instead of making him do that weird accent? Why in these movies do only Americans ever conquer space? Oh yeah. Manifest Destiny I guess. Damn us.

Giovanni Ribisi is the most adorable villain ever.

This is the least butch role Michelle Rodriguez has ever played.

I like that one main alien chick's voice.

I wish I had a giant bird I could fly to work.

Look at all these people. We look so cool, wearing sunglasses in the theater.

When you have a film in 3D please edit it down to under two hours. Prolonged exposure to 3D movies gives me a headache. Avatar gave me a headache. Anybody else get a headache?

Friday, January 01, 2010

No more nines

For some reason yesterday I became fascinating with trying to dissect why Nine bombed. It's budget is listed at $80 million according to Boxoffice Mojo, but so far it has made just over $8 million, and it's been pulled from several theaters. That's about as bomby as bombs get. So why? Here's my theory.

1) Timing. The film was up against Avatar, Sherlock Holmes, Invictus, The Princess and the Frog - there's a glut of movies just opened, even if you don't count holdovers like The Blind Side, Up in the Air and It's Complicated, all of which are still hanging on to solid box office number. This isn't a blockbuster film and it isn't a low budget film and its audience is very specific. Why on earth would you open it during one of the most competitive weeks of the year? Throw it our there it in a quieter time when people have less to choose from.

2) The title. Nine? Why did they change it? Did some survey somewhere suggest that whole numbers do better at the box office that fractions? The original title of this story was 8 1/2, which was at least original. Over the past few years we've seen films titled 9 and The Nines, and a failed TV show called The Nine. I've got 9 fatigue. STOP PUTTING NINE IN THE TITLE.

3) The trailer. Know who goes to the theater to see musicals? Gay men, women, and old people. And sometimes the people they drag along with them. Yet in the previews for this film, all I saw was half naked ladies - some of them not so young anymore - parading around in some kind of worship of Daniel Day Lewis. Now, of the aforementioned gay men, women and old people, who is that supposed to appeal to? Old men, maybe? Oh yeah, there's a lucrative fan base for you. Ahh, but Chicago had hot naked ladies dancing and singing, you might say. Yes, but those women were young and popular at the time, and it was also a film about a sort of woman's empowerment. They were women you kind of wanted to be and at the same time were a little disgusted by. They were interesting women. And the Cell Block Tango, which I often show to my students as an example of a clever way to reveal exposition, appeals greatly to men because of its sexiness and women because we all relate to their rage and annoyance at the things our men do. But Nine? I just saw scantily clad women singing and Daniel Day Lewis running around flailing his arms about. The first time I saw the preview was in the theater preparing to see The Road, and I honestly had no fucking clue as to what this movie was about other than some women singing and Daniel Day Lewis running around like a lunatic on stage.

4) Movies about making movies usually only appeal to people who make movies, and all those people were off watching Avatar.

5) At least Chicago had a charming male lead in Richard Gere. When's the last time Daniel Day Lewis was charming? Sure, we all thought he was uber hot in Last of the Mohicans, but that was before we all found out how weird he is. I think Bill the Butcher took care of all my residual desire to bone Daniel Day Lewis. He's an amazing actor, and he WAS There Will Be Blood, but this didn't seem like the right film for him. I heard him on NPR admit he can't really dance or sing. He can't dance or sing, but they put him in a musical? You mean there wasn't a single known actor in all the English speaking world who could dance and sing and was available to make this film? I think when you make a musical where your lead has to dance and sing, dancing and singing ability should probably be somewhere on your list of casting requirements.

And that is why I think Nine bombed.