ESSAYS, ARTICLES, & REVIEWS
THE INTENTIONS OF STORYTELLING
Nov. 6, 2000
Let me straighten one thing out right away -- coming across a movie that hasn’t been remade recently and saying, “This should be remade,” is not the same thing as having a good idea. I’ll go you one further, it’s not only a bad idea, it’s always been a bad idea. I won’t argue with you that a few remakes have made money over the years, but they’re almost never good movies. Sadly, the fact that remakes don’t even make money anymore hasn’t slowed their production any.
Once you’ve thrown in the towel on ever having a good idea -- let alone an original idea -- then all that remains are remakes and sequels. We’re living in a time when producers regularly make sequels to films that bombed, simply to spare themselves the effort of coming up with yet another bad, un-commercial idea.
Why are they making the movie? Well, OK, to make money, that’s why all Hollywood movies are made. That’s given. But why I am being told this story? What’s the intention behind it?
Here’s an example -- someone you know launches into a story that they have already told you. Many times out of sheer politeness you just let them tell the story again, smiling along, a dull glaze coming into your eyes. Obviously, the point isn’t you hearing the story, it’s them telling it. The second a story is not taking the listener into consideration, it has become a bad story.
The stories I like frequently have a “Did you know . . . ?” aspect to them. Did you know that the very first motorcycle gang was made up of World War 2 vets? That’s my script “Cycles.” Did you know that Teddy Roosevelt’s mother and wife both died on the same day in the same house? That’s a key part of my script “Teddy Roosevelt in the Bad Lands.” I’m drawn to this type of story, I suppose, because I like history and I enjoy finding out new things.
Then there’s the “What if . . . ?” variety of story, which includes all speculative fiction, as well as all science fiction. This is where my film, “Thou Shalt Not Kill . . . Except” began -- what if the Marines took on the Manson Family? You can also combine the “Did you know . . . ?” story with the “What if . . . ?” story and end up with something like my new film, “If I Had a Hammer.” Did you know that rock & roll was pretty much a dead issue between 1958 and February, 1964, which is why the folk movement was resurrected during that period? The what if aspect is that when The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, I’m saying it killed the folk movement dead. Did it really? I think so, but it’s just my supposition.
Another perfectly viable form of a story is the fantasy. This is a variation on the “What if . . . ?” story and doesn’t necessarily have to be the “Alice in Wonderland”-style fantasy; it can just as easily be a personal fantasy that takes place in the real world. My script “The Biological Clock” is my fantasy of what if a single, nearly 40-year old, female friend of mine (who I’m secretly in love with in the script) decided to be artificially inseminated and wanted to use my sperm? Would this cause us to fall in love?
Other reasonable story beginnings are: “This is really cool . . .” which usually doesn’t live up to it’s introduction (just like, “This is the funniest story you’ve ever heard . . .”), or there is the perfectly standard and perfectly acceptable, “There was/is this guy/gal . . .” which is always a great beginning because it’s starting with the lead character and what their deal is.
If, however, you begin your story with, “I know you’ve heard this before, but now you’re going to hear it again,” you’ve killed a huge percentage of the possible interest before you’ve even begun. If you begin with, “I know you’ve heard this before -- and didn’t like it the first time -- but now you’re going to hear it again,” (like “Charlie’s Angels” or “Mod Squad” or any remake), this is about the worst beginning a story could have.
The only worse kinds of stories, in my opinion, would be straight technical jargon about the inner workings of things you’re not interested in, like a car mechanic explaining, in detail, what’s wrong with your broken engine. More boring than that would be someone trying to sell you something you don’t want.
For me to watch any remake at this point would be like listening to an insurance salesman that speaks in a monotone drone on for two hours. This is when any chore that you’ve ever avoided in your life -- cleaning the tub, weeding the garden, draining and flushing your radiator -- seems preferable to listening to this story.
This is about as far away as you can get from telling a good story, an interesting anecdote, an exciting tale or, God willing, a ripping yarn.
Both the insurance salesman and all remakes have the exact same intention in telling me their story -- they want to sell me something. In either case, I don’t want it and I certainly don’t want to hear about it.
Why am I being told this story? Is it because I might possibly enjoy it, or is it because I simply have the price of a ticket in my pocket? Many people will tell you that this doesn’t matter, but I say it completely matters.
A pox on “Charlie’s Angels,” “Bedazzled,” and all other remakes. May they all burn in hell. And ringworm to anyone who supports them.
Stories are crucial to societies, they represent our mindset, what we’re thinking, how we see things. Presently, our society’s stories are all old and dull and boring. Three cute chicks running around kicking ass means nothing. All it really says is that we’re not trying very hard, or at all.
I seriously believe that we’re long overdue for some new, exciting stories that begin with, “What if . . . ?” or “Did you know . . . ?” or “This is really cool!”