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Updated every Monday, one selected e-mail will be posted and answered here each week. With many years of experience in the film and television business, I look forward to providing answers to your questions about screenwriting or the entertainment industry in general.  Please send your e-mailed questions to: Script Advisor.  You may also wish to visit our Screenwriting Help E-Mails - The Archives.

This week's question: 

Did you ever notice how there's always at least one mistake in even the great movies?  That's disheartening, to say the least.  How do you contend with that?

Frank, Virginia


This week's Answer: 

The Perfection of Imperfection 

 
   Frank, very perceptive of you.  I've perceived the very same thing:  most movies, including the "big ones," have mistakes in them.  And sometimes flamingly obvious ones.  And I'm not necessarily referring to those  in The Towering Inferno here.  Although, some critics believe it was a mistake to even make the film.  I, personally would never say that... or write it... or even think--  Well, let's not get carried away, shall we?
 
How do I contend with these flagrant faux pas in films?  Well, the first thing I've had to do is train myself to stop throwing popcorn at the screen.  Or my television.  Those buttery ones leave really oily smears, which makes it hard for me to see the next movie and spot its mistakes.  Which is extremely important to do if I'm going to feel good about myself and how skilled I am in spotting others' mistakes so I don't have to focus on my own.  That's important.  (Make no mistake about it.)
 
Have you seen the proverbial telephone pole wires in Twelve O'clock High Noon?  (I mean "High Noon."  I guess I made a mistake.)  In a period western, no less!  And I've heard that if you watch carefully one of those spectacular in-the-days-when-Rome-was-really-something (including its vomitoriums -- which several critics today could definitely find helpful if they were situated just outside screening rooms) movies, such as Ben Hur or Spartacus or some other Biblical-or-Cleoptra-or-Watch-Out-The-Weightless-Columns-Are-Tumblin'-Down-Again flick, they say you can spot a WRISTWATCH on somebody's wrist (a good place for one, but come on, really!)  Talk about anachromatic!  I think that's a word.  No, another mistake.  It's anachronism.  So, can you say, "anachronistic?"  I guess so since the "you made a bad boo-boo" red underscore didn't come up on my monitor.  Did you ever notice how unforgiving Spellcheck is.  There, see?  It won't even let its own name get by without correcting itself, indicating that it actually doesn't exist!  Whatever you do, don't make a mistake with Spellcheck watching.  There, there's that Big Brother red line again.  I can't take it.  I'm not perfect!  Why won't Spellcheck understand that and give me a little slack!?
 
Story-wise, being a story analyst, I can't help but notice moments in screenplays and movies that don't quite make (or don't make any) sense.  I've come to realize that, if you look hard enough (try not to strain your eyes.  The focus just isn't as good as it used to be.), you can usually find some "glitch," some moment in a story that is not perfectly plausible.  Or, even, at all believable.  "My mother could have seen that coming!"  And when you bring your mother into it, you know you mean business.  (Although, the preceding won't hold water if your mother happens to be a top agent of the CIA, or a detective, or a scientist, or... Come to think of it, most mothers today could probably see it coming.)

I think it's wonderful to have a discerning eye and be able to spot imperfections in films.   It shows that you care about your craft.  Unless your craft is dissolving classic films in acid and driving by the UCLA film archives, laughing and spitting at the same time.  (You have to drive by because parking is at such a premium.)   But, my advice (and I could be mistaken here) is to, rather than focus on what is not perfect, focus on perfecting your own craft (unless, again, you're involved in swallowing classic film rolls whole and considering shorts to be dessert).  Producers, directors, actors, extras (sorry, "atmosphere."  Another mistake.  Please don't report me, discerning one.), makeup specialists, grips, those who can't get a grip, caterers (did you see the whip cream on Al Pacino's puss when he played the priest in Nobody Likes A Priest With Hives?), and even writers, yes, writers, make mistakes, big and small.  And the amazing thing to me is that a flagrant mistake, a bad cut, a problem with continuity, etc., can get by all those people who presumably watch it over and over again, apparently not seeing it (or seeing it and being too tired or not having the money or patience to FIX IT!  You see what you've done, Frank?!  Now you've got me all upset about all those upsetting mistakes in films that started back in the silent pictures and continue to propagate like bad little bunnies all through the history of film up until this very day.  SOMEONE HAS TO STOP THESE PEOPLE UNTIL THEY RUIN US ALL!  SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!  I think there's a mistake in that film, too, if you look... real... close...

DcH

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