How Film Writing Works in the 21st Century
Step 1: Come up with an angle from which to promote the film and ensure that said angle features prominently in all pre-release promotional materials including fan-oriented press releases and interviews with talent.
For example, suggest that Guardians of the Galaxy is very similar to the original Star Wars as a way to (i) cross-promote two franchises that are owned by the same multinational corporation, (ii) get-over any (Green Lantern-inspired) resistance the target audience might have to a space-based action movie by comparing Guardians of the Galaxy to a film they already know, and (iii) give the adult audience an excuse to infantilise themselves and set aside their cynicism by inviting them to approach Guardians of the Galaxy in the same way as they approached Star Wars as children.
According to director James Gunn:
This was intentionally my version of Star Wars. When I was first considering doing the movie, the chance to make something like that was one of the things that get me on board. Not just Star Wars, but Raiders Of The Lost Ark, and other movies like that. The stuff I loved as a kid. I wanted to make a movie that made people feel the way they made me feel.
And it’s not that I wanted to make it actively resemble something that already exists, but all of them were all in the mix. It’s forward-looking. That’s what it shares with those movies more than anything else. Raiders and Star Wars and the like were updates of the 1930s serials, and my hope with Guardians is that we’ve done something similar, looking back at those movies while making something new.
According to male lead Chris Pratt:
“You think of it like those Star Wars movies that came out, the prequels that came out,” he said. “There was a lot of expectations there, and to shoulder a project with preconceived notions, expectations and all these things, it really makes it difficult. It makes it difficult if you spend the whole movie trying to satisfy what people think they know about a character. The first Star Wars didn’t have that problem because it’s all brand new. You just take it for what it is.”
“So what I’m saying is that we will be better than Star Wars,” Pratt said laughing
According to the official Star Wars website:
By now everyone and their cousin has surely seen Marvel’s new film, Guardians of the Galaxy. The reviews for the film have been unanimous in their praise and it’s certainly well-deserved. For me personally, I haven’t had this much fun watching an adventurous space film since Star Wars was last on the big screen — The Phantom Menace 3D for anyone counting.
Step 2: Repeat the party line often enough and lazy salaried critics as well as stressed-out freelance film writers who have to publish fifty pieces this month in order to make rent will use your focus-grouped party line as the basis for a supposedly impartial review.
According to Dan Jolin in Empire Magazine:
Battle Beyond The Stars, Flight Of The Navigator, Mike Hodges’ Flash Gordon, Back To The Future (2), Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Total Recall and a certain other space-based saga all donate their DNA, and Guardians isn’t about to apologise for replicating it. It’s proud of its heritage, dammit,
According to A.A. Dowd at the A.V. Club:
Turns out the galaxy far, far away is a pretty boring place to visit without someone around to roll his eyes, put the moves on royalty, and demand to get paid. George Lucas learned that lesson the hard way when he failed to supply his Star Wars prequels with a Han Solo equivalent—an irreverent personality to offset all the poker-faced Jedi business. It remains to be seen if J.J. Abrams will correct his oversight in the forthcoming Star Wars Episode VII, which at least promises to put Harrison Ford back in a cockpit. In the meantime, however, audiences can get their dose of rebel swagger from Guardians Of The Galaxy, the latest installment in the ongoing crossover event that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Step 3: Depending upon how prestigious and/or well-written these reformulations of your press-releases happen to be, they will more-or-less quickly trickle down to less prestigious publications who are just grateful for the opportunity to milk some page-views from your carefully engineered zeitgeist.
By Nick Shager at Vulture.com:
7 Ways Guardians of the Galaxy Reminds Us of the Star Wars Movies
By David Opie at WeGotThisCovered.com:
5 Things Guardians Of The Galaxy Does Better Than Star Wars
By Bret DiNunzio at WhatCulture.com:
10 Biggest Similarities Between Guardians Of The Galaxy And Star Wars
Step 4: Punters who happen to read the soulless effluent that frequently passes for film writing will repeat the party line to their friends in an effort to appear insightful. Thus allowing people to begin describing your film as a surprise or word-of-mouth hit despite the fact that the words were placed in people’s mouths by a million-dollar PR campaign backed up by a specialist press so corrupt that it is no longer capable of distinguishing between the latest marketing campaign and their own independent thoughts.
Addendum: This Week’s Film Writing in Action.
Step 1: Universal Pictures decide to reboot the Jurassic Park franchise that produced one well-loved, iconic film and two complete piles of shit. Inexperienced and embarrassingly grateful director Colin Treverrow begins giving interviews in which he expresses his desire to produce a film that would be true to the legacy of the original Jurassic Park:
So, we spent three months over the summer honing what we had and dialing it in and really just making it something that could be called Jurassic Park without being embarrassed for itself, be ashamed to look in the mirror. And I’m–I mean, I’m happy we did.
Treverrow also expresses a desire to create a film that would allow today’s cinema-goers to have a similar experience as he had when he first went to see the original Jurassic Park:
In the end, I felt like I had a responsibility to do it mostly, you know, for Steven. In thanks for everything he’s done for all of us and how much his movies meant to me and to my childhood, but also if one is asked to do this, it’s almost insulting to everyone else to say no. We would all love this privilege to be able to recreate a film that meant so much to us.
This desire to position the actors, filmmakers and audience of Jurassic World as heirs to the legacy of the original Jurassic Park is also echoed by female lead Bryce Dallas Howard (referred to as ‘Dallas’ in the piece because of reasons) who recalls a visit to the set by the son of Michael Crichton:
“I just burst into tears,” Dallas said. “This is his father’s legacy, and this is what his father has given to all children, and here was his son [seeing] what he thought was a real dinosaur. It was incredibly moving to me and so that day … felt really, just charged and meaningful.”
When not trying to re-position himself as an action movie hard man by talking about all the defenceless animals he has lovingly slaughtered, Chris Pratt hits a similar talking point:
There’s not an ounce of cynicism in his enthusiasm. “I was a massive fan, it’s not just lipservice to promote the movie,” he says. “It was a big part of my childhood: 13 years old, my first event movie, it was a big fuckin’ deal to me as a kid.”
Step 2: The line is repeated often enough that it begins to show up in reviews.
By Robbie Collin in the Daily Telegraph:
It’s a rare instance of Jurassic World courting comparison with Spielberg’s film and coming off badly. For the most part, comparison is part of the fun, and most of the point. Two decades after dinosaurs ruled the Earth’s cinemas, are we still capable of putting our phones away for two hours and being honestly amazed by them, without a glaze of cynicism or irony to keep us stuck? Trevorrow, his cast and crew would clearly like to think so. And in light of their efforts, you’d have to grinningly agree.
By A.A. Dowd in the A.V. Club (again!):
Jurassic World, a goofy and fitfully entertaining summer movie, understands and even winks at its place in the pecking order of blockbuster sequels. Like its predecessors, it’s been engineered to up the audience-courting ante. What’s scarier than a Tyrannosaurs rex? The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Spielberg’s own (underrated) sequel, doubled down on the rex, unleashing not one, but two of the hungry behemoths. And in Jurassic Park III, the big guy was replaced by an even larger, faster, and meaner alpha predator. Jurassic World goes further, into the realm of genetic modification, and emerges with a deadly new designer species—a pale-white lab experiment gone wrong, a not-so-gentle giant with camouflage flesh and a keen intellect.
This type of shit usually rolls downhill from prestigious reviewers but it can also spread from well-conceived or written pieces such as the one in which Alex Falcone pretends to interview a 10-year-old girl in lieu of attending a screening and writing a review:
Alex: Your dad said you’re excited about the new Jurassic Park movie?
Una: Yeah! I’ve seen the previews for the other ones, and they weren’t as good quality because they were made a long time ago. I’m really excited about the scene where the sea-dinosaur totally owns that shark. That looks aaawesome.
Step 3: Having been rephrased for maximum memetic impact, the line is then recycled by less scrupulous publications who are just grateful for the opportunity to slipstream the studio’s marketing spend and use our expensively-purchased interest in the film to extract page-views and increase their advertising revenue.
Ryan Britt at Tor.com says, in an article entitled “If You’re 11 years-old Jurassic World is Now Your Favourite Movie”:
My sister and I were blissfully terrified by the original Jurassic Park in 1993; I’m sure you were too! And if that feeling is what you’re looking for in a movie, then, Jurassic World will make you feel like a kid again with one swipe of a raptor’s tail.
It’s nice of Tor.com to take a break from log-rolling their own books onto popular award ballots, endlessly promoting the work of vicious homophobes and publicly humiliating their own employees in a way that sends a message to anyone who might want to speak out against bigotry and still get their work published by an American genre imprint. Said piece is Ryan Britt’s third Jurassic World-related article to have been published by Tor.com in the last week and it contains the following sentences:
A movie like Jurassic World has a distinct advantage in the spectacle department because its fantastical subjects (dinosaurs) are organic creatures which feel “real” in ways a robot or Thor never could.
Any of the “Jurassic” films are similar, with Jurassic World benefiting from the fact that a lot of movie-goers remember what the “first” velociraptors looked like, making these ones seem extra-real because they remind us of the original ones.
Ryan Britt was paid to produce those sentences. He also has a collection of essays due to be published by Penguin later this year. If you want a picture of the future of film writing, imagine a computer-generated boot stamping on a human face forever… I imagine it’ll be easier to imagine than a computer-generated boot stamping on a robot’s face and will seem more realistic because it will remind you of boots you might have seen in older films.