February 8, 2010

THE WRITE STUFF: HOW TO OPEN A MOVIE

In the previous post, I have briefly alluded to the fact that certain things in the opening of Devil's Pride could not be altered. Again, if it's not your name on that product, and the person whose name is on the product wishes it to be so, you don't fight it. You get paid, let them drive the toy off the cliff...

...problem is that their opening started with what certainly looked to have been Ghost Rider: The Sequel, as there is, quite literally, a ghost rider (the hero's father) who then appears again on page 80+ of the script.

Remember what I told you about mood, class?

Fuck the studio readers. Fuck the investors. Fuck the executive suits. Oh, I'm sorry? Was I too harsh? Did I hurt any feelings? Awww. Stop whining, all of you, and start to behave like professionals, you know, actual professionals instead of pointing out your titles, titles mean nothing, what means something is you have five to six minutes to establish your movie to the ultimate testers: the paying audience.

Now, even my changed version that you can see one post below isn't doing it well enough, because there are still two fragments of the original there that just... lumber around, like visual zombies, looking for a brain.

A ticking clock. Whooopee! Bikers speeding off! Whoopee! A Sheriff gets blown to bits, well, almost. But these scenes don't gel. They are visuals. None of them tell a story. And why are we here, class?

That's right. To tell a story.

Since one of the plot points of th original script was drug trafficking (it switched in focus from meth that was mentioned, but the big point was apparently MJ, then later, a bit of cocaine, it was all rather messy, and to this day I have never figured out some of the plot logic behind that. Doesn't matter, whispered the whore in the back of my mind. A new Mac! Just polish the dialogue, and did I mention the new Mac?)

But I at least thought I should give the opening some cohesion, and give a proper introduction to one of the main characters, Sheriff Ed, as well as show a bit of the underlying drug problem and the bikers' potential connection to it, so this was my first draft, it did not go over very well with folks...

Again, I say: is this great writing? Is it worthy of an Academy Award?

No.

It does, however, achieve numerous things that are vital for an audience to get behind, even if it is merely a B-movie without a pretension.

(1) It tells you it's a small town with a drug problem

(2) It tells you bikers are somehow involved, and maybe even picking off the freelance competition.

(3) It tells you the town's Sheriff is a good man, maybe even a bit too good, and it tells you he's a Christian man, maybe even a bit too Christian. Incidentally, the reason why you won't find a description here is the simple fact that I was told this was one of the two potential roles Peter Fonda considered playing, so I (a) didn't write a full-blown description (why waste the space?) and (b) I wrote the character to be almost the antithesis of what peter Fonda once stood for, due to his Easy Ridering. In fact, if you remember that movie, you will remember that Fonda gets it, is done in by the good people... and what did I tell you about playing with your audience's expectations, class? Use them, if you can. Cast accordingly! Write accordingly. Especially if it's an older actor or star. See if you can find something in his or her public persona, in their myth, in their legend... that has an impact on the audience.

(4) By doing a match cut from the end of the title montage to the hero, Jack Delroy, the audience not only knows that it's a biker movie, it also knows that there appears to be some tradition involved, and that maybe only he is worthy of that tradition.

(5) Apparently, the cops aren't doing too much against either bikers or the drug problem, and as our two Tarantino cops here are saying, the old man has put them on watch patrol where nothing is happening, instead of going after the ones who blew up Martha's Meth trailer (and didn't he see those bikers? Yes, he did... perhaps he isn't such a good man after all?)

Roughly 6 minutes into the movie, and we have a set-up that our hero will walk into. Almost every underlying theme is already here, some of them spoken out, some of them only alluded to.

I have my audience interested. Now, I only have to keep them that way.

(an entirely different matter altogether)