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Screenwriting Help E-Mail (Previous)

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 (often with a humorous eye) 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: 

Dch, did you happen to see Venus and Happy Feet and Babel?  I know they're good films, but I thought something was missing in all of them.  Do you agree and know what that something is?

Jessica


This week's Answer: 

Something Missing This Way Doesn't Come

I did happen to see all the films you cited, Jessica, and I appreciate your inquiry.  I'll address it in terms of screenwriting (since I'm not all that masterful when it comes to other areas of film making such as makeup or special effects or studio food catering -- although I know a good jelly doughnut when I see one).  If something was missing in all of the screenplays of the films, which were all remarkable in their own right, one could say that they are missing that je nais sais quoi.   (I never quite understood that French saying because if you're going to mention something as "I don't know what," then why mention it in the first place?!  I think the French just like to appear mysterious and deep.  And French.  They did the same thing with "deja vu," which means "already seen."  There's a movie by that name coming out.  So does that mean that, after you've viewed the picture, you can say you've already seen "Already Seen"?  Or maybe it could be called "deja view," which could mean "already viewed."  Some loudmouth brags about seeing some art film and you comeback with "Big deal.  I've already deja viewed that movie."  You're welcome to use it.  You'll be the life of the party.) What could be considered absent in those aforementioned films mentioned before (or "deja mentioned") is an adequate emotional catharsis, a payoff, if you will.  Thought-provoking, these films?  Without doubt.  Emotionally satisfying?  That's an armadillo of another color.  (Are armadillos of different colors?  That provokes thought, too.)  In all three films, I never felt close enough to the protagonists to adequately identify with them (and sometimes it wasn't absolutely clear who the protagonists were -- which can interfere with identifying with them).

Babel (which, before I knew what the film was about, I thought was a documentary on cell-phone usage at malls) and Venus were made up of extraordinary scenes of intimacy and passion, but were not fully developed stories.  We watch the former reveal the connections between people distant from each other in various countries and the hardships they experience that are related to the sale of a particular weapon.  That was basically the reason for the viewer to view.  To connect the dots.  But the question is "Is that enough of a reason?"  Or another way of putting it:  "Don't you have something else for us to do, teacher, other than just connect the dots?"  (What about coloring and cutting and pasting -- and then tasting the paste?) In Venus, we observe the last days of an elderly hedonistic, well-known actor in London when he befriends a troubled, rebellious and unwanted young lady.  She does mature in the story, becoming more charitable and accepting of herself.  But is that enough for the audience?  The main character, the actor, seems to go through no definite personality changes and pretty much dies as he lived, alone and seeking the next drink or woman.  He finds a young one, his "leading young lady," but he changes very little when it comes to improvement of character.  And not all that much happens.  It's basically a "slice of London or a Londoner's life."  A very small slice.  Happy Feet is a fully-realized story, but there's no strong emotional context.  Maybe it's just not easy to bond with singing, rapping, or tap dancing penguins.  

It's not so much that something is missing in each of the films, but, rather, that maybe it's the films who have missed their mark.  Or they never had one.  Not to say that it's not an interesting last image visual to pull away from a Tokyo high-rise balcony where a pretty and naked young female is hugging her father.  Humans, that is.  Not penguins.  Nobody wants to see a naked penguin.   

This isn't to say that the sequel, "Happy Feet Goes To Japan" couldn't work   Or another title for it could be "Lost in Refrigeration.".

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