Expect Your Audience to be Smart

I recently saw “A Good Day to Die Hard.” I’ve enjoyed all of the Die Hard movies. In particular, “Live Free or Die Hard” was my favorite and I was looking forward to the latest installment. I felt that they had done a good job of reinvigorating the series by bringing his adult kids into the storyline. “A Good Day to Die Hard” had a good premise—John learns his son is in trouble in Russia so he rides to the rescue only to find out that his son purposely got himself arrested so that he could free a Russian prisoner. His son is not the screw-up he thought, but rather a CIA operative. That worked, especially when John shows up in time to mess-up the escape. The corresponding plot double cross worked, too, though it was a bit predictable. The dialogue was okay and the action was good. The movie, overall, was shaping up to be an okay addition to the franchise, until the climax. The location moved to Chernobyl, site of the reactor disaster in 1986. I can only think the people behind the movie figured a nuclear disaster that took place almost 30 years ago would be far enough away in people’s memories that they wouldn’t remember exactly what happened there. News flash, it doesn’t matter if people remember or not. They will remember nuclear disaster and the accompanying radioactivity that necessitated the complete evacuation of the area. Did they really think they could have John and his son go into the area without any protective clothing/equipment and then dismiss it with a joke? “Hey, am I’m...

Success?

I saw White House Down yesterday and throughly enjoyed it. I thought it had great dialogue, good action, some plot surprises, and a strong cast of actors. The review in the paper gave it 4 stars and I thought it was well-deserved. Imagine my surprise when I read in today’s Huffington Post that the movie was a flop. It only made $25.7 million on it’s opening weekend. It came in behind Monsters U ($46.2 million) and The Heat ($40 million) and World War Z ($29.8 million). The  real kick in the pants is that it’s the second weekend for World War Z It wasn’t that long ago that a movie making $25 million it’s opening weekend was a big deal. Now movies have to make $40 or $60 million the first weekend to be successful. It seems a shame that a movie has to be a hit from the beginning or it’s considered a flop, no matter how good it is. Movies aren’t allowed time to gain a following. It’s the same for books. For big publishers, if a book doesn’t make its numbers in the first quarter of its release, then it’s likely to be remaindered. The world has gotten so fast. Gratification has to be instantaneous. What’s wrong with taking a little time to appreciate a good story? To let word-of-mouth do it’s job and bring an audience to a movie or book that’s worthwhile? Is short term return really more valuable than long time investment? I think of all the stories in books and movies that would never have been written, filmed, printed, or appreciated. Goodnight...

Historical Research in the Future

I was going through some boxes of family stuff over the weekend. Most of it was legal documents and letters. Lots of letters. So many letters that I doubt I will ever read them all. But the one thing that came through very clearly in the ones I did read was a picture of the times. Casual references to popular songs, news items, things bought or made. They painted a picture for me. My great aunt talked of all the canned fruit she and her mother (my great grandmother) had just put up. This was in the 40s, during WWII. She mentioned that she wanted to put up some pears, too, but that they were too expensive. It would be interesting to look up the price of pears back then to see how much they cost, which I could probably find out with a bit of Google searching. Dad mentioned a new song he liked by Xavier Cugat. A note from my great grandmother worried about Dad being posted overseas during the war—”What could he have possibly learned in a month of training that would make him qualified to fight a war?” My great grandmother died before I was born, but I felt I got to know her a little bit through these letters. All of my letter reading made me wonder what people in the future will do to discover us since people don’t write letters anymore. How will great granddaughters learn about their ancestors? Blogs have kind of taken over from diary writing. How will these musings be preserved? Will descendents go through a box of old...

Too Complicated?

I saw the animated film “Epic” last Friday. The one review I saw said it was a bit complicated. Sometimes I wonder if I see the same movie as critics. The plot wasn’t complicated. In fact it was pretty straightforward. It had some depth and character growth and maybe that was the problem for the reviewer. It wasn’t shallow, one-dimensional. The characters were fun and the artwork was AMAZING. See it in 3-D. It’s an experience. I thank God that the computer is now a tool for the animator/artist. It allows the filmmakers to create scenes that couldn’t be done with hand animation. The drama created by the way the camera moves through a scene is all thanks to the computer. Plus the ability to create multiple crowd scene images also depends on the computer. The “complication” the computer allows the director to add to those scenes multiplies the emotion created by the images. I wonder if reviewers think a children’s movie has to be simple for the audience? They couldn’t be more wrong. Simple movies don’t become classics. Simple movies that lack dimensional characters and plots that matter to the characters, aren’t memorable. Epic is memorable because it offers emotional depth, characters you understand and empathize with, and imagery that takes your breath away. Go see...

Episodic Writing

I remember getting a comment back from an editor on one of my early stories that said my writing was episodic. I didn’t know exactly what was meant by that, but I knew it wasn’t good. It took me awhile, but I finally figured out what episodic meant. It meant there wasn’t enough character arc or story arc, and that the chapters were too neat, self-contained—like an episode. So I tried to correct that. I was more conscious of having arcs, of crafting scenes that built upon one another and of creating characters that pulled you through the story, which is good for a novel. I’ve recently read a novel, though, that is unapologetically episodic. In fact it doesn’t have chapters. It has episodes. The Human Division  was first released as three ebooks, and then several months later the hardback and audiobook were released. At the same time a new ebook came out with the complete book plus a couple of extra codas that the hardback and audiobook book had as extra features. I think the book needed to be episodic because of the way it was first released, which was similar to the way the stories were serialized in the paper. Think of the Sherlock Holmes stories. When I heard about this book I was curious to read it. I’m also a big John Scalzi fan. His book Redshirts is one of my all time favorites. I have to say I think it was very effective. It’s different from his other novels. It’s very much like a TV show, similar to Babylon 5 in structure. And while there aren’t...