Thursday, November 27, 2008

Groups of focus

As I sit here with the kids watching one of those great stop-motion Christmas specials from my youth on DVD and the turkey in the oven racing toward 161 degrees (cooking by thermometer will set you free) I had a few more thoughts on story (and also a glass of wine in my hand so forgive any alcohol induced rambling that might ensue).

As a writer I'm fascinated with story and story telling and the impetus for telling a particular story. What, after all, is it all about? I was particularly struck by McKee's statement that the feature film, is for all intents and purposes, dead. I'm intrigued by it because I think that in a very real sense it's true. But why? Why is the feature film dead (or dying). Television, as McKee says, has taken over the realm of compelling stories and while I agree, I still find it distressing and the eternal optimist that resides within me and the soul of almost everyone who engages a career in Hollywood wants it very much to not be true.

Although there are and have been a growing number of shows on television that I love, my heart belongs to the cinema. Sitting in a worn, slightly funky, rough-fabric upholstered seat, the sticky floor, the darkness, the screen, the smell of various and sundry concessions always infused with some sort of popcorny odor, finding those little, out-of-the-way theaters that show those little out-of-the-way films with lobbies that just scream for a new coat of paint (and perhaps a mop) - the whole damn thing that just makes the movies magic. And yet as I scan the pages of the Los Angeles Times Calendar section, looking for a reason to hire a baby sitter and brave the crowds and sit through the provocative world of theatrical commercials I find myself less and less inclined to venture out and more and more inclined to agree with McKee and venture in, whether to use TV as a medium or as a surrogate appliance (to watch movies on DVD). True, as a 40-year-old father of small children I am not in the prime audience demographic for the studios, but as a complete and total film geek/maker, I'm frequently eager to overlook the selections of focus-group-guided film executives and find something if not big and exciting and mindless then at least small and weird.

But as I wrote in my previous, and rather longish and ramblingish post on story, our stories, when it comes to feature films are chosen by a smaller and ever smaller politically and socially biased crew, such that the hero's quest is now only told if the dragon to be slain is a tenured member of the military-industrial complex (I'm not even going to mention the recent trend in horror - the so called gore-porn flicks). Even comedy has become banal and monochromatic. The trouble is that the movies themselves have become banal and monochromatic. It's not just political or socially based banality and monochromaticism (to coin a word). The trouble I think is that feature film has forsaken the story and gone after the concept and while that can be good in small measure, it blows chunks when everyone does it. Can you sell it in a 30 second commercial or an internet blurb? Can you get asses in the seats on the first weekend - get a huge opening so that everyone goes out and buys the DVD? The rest of movie and by and large the audience's reaction to it be damned. It's a strange way to make a film - a strange approach toward showmanship. It's a strange way to sell a product. It's somewhat PT Barnum, somewhat proctologist. Of course with the advent of blackberries and the internet it's the audience that's starting to strap on and the Ivy crowd that's playing Bendover Boyfriend. A really piss poor movie is no longer guaranteed a giant opening just because every theater in your 47 screen multi-plex is playing it on a 5 minute-rotation. And with ticket prices what they are, dinner prices what they are and the possibility of starting off the night watching "Lost" with your girlfriend on the couch in your parent's basement with the lights off (which is kind of the whole point of a date to begin with) just seems to give audiences a little more reason to lace up that latex appendage.

My guess is that things will change back. The Feature film is a form that's really an evolution of something that's been around since at least the Greeks trod the boards and probably earlier. The trouble as I see it though is the film is an art form that benefits from a singular vision as apposed to a group vision (which is not the same as the whole auteur thing - which, as a director, I really disagree with) and movies these days are made by groups of all sorts, groups of writers, groups of executives, groups of groups (production, finance, marketing) and of course, the inevitable groups of focus. Once movies become bad enough as business for the giant conglomerates, it will change back. People will pick up the reigns and film will once again become a respected art form.