On Being Interesting

I am between screenplays, which is a nice way of saying I have writers’ block. Well, not really. I have been writing and editing a couple of ideas for short movies, but I cannot get behind a concept for a longer piece. I have three full-length screenplays, all of which I am very proud of; I call them the Peters Trilogy, which sounds too self-important so I’ll stop. Anyway, I am not sure if I want to move on from these three, I mean, it has been less than a year since I started writing number one: “My Father the Agent”. I need to spend some time thinking about, getting feedback, and really taking lessons from these first three. What do you guys think?

On a different note, when I do begin my next screenplay, I want it to be interesting. By interesting, I mean having an exciting story arc, a carefully thought-out voice, snappy dialogue, and discernible influences and ideas that undergird the screenplay’s world. I want the story to feel alive; it shouldn’t just take place in a non-descript small town, it has to be Oshkosh, Wisconsin or Savannah, Georgia, anywhere with a past. I guess it’s my being a history major, and wanting to put everything in context, but I can’t watch one of those Hollywood movies that take place nowhere and everywhere. Small town Jimmy Stewart America bothers me. It is not just places, it is people, too. I don’t need quirky, but the characters must have a past beyond the first day the author chose to begin the story. He or she has to care about that story-world and needs those telling details to make the story pivot and dance.

For example, I love the video for “Tonight, Tonight” from the Smashing Pumpkins, which I remember won best a couple best video awards (I was very happy even though I really didn’t know who (or what) the Pumpkins were at ten, but I liked the video). The video quotes from Georges Melies’ A Trip to the Moon, one of the first narrative silent films, released in France in 1902. The moon landing sequence is almost identical to the original, man on the moon wincing during the touchdown and all. But it’s not just a homage, Corgan’s lyrics bring a whole new dimension of longing, romance, and brilliance to an otherwise beautifully orchestrated pop song. Each beat, every cut in the video is timed to changes in the song’s tone and tempo—here the editing feels intensely subtle and very appropriate. To watch this video is to be transported, not only to the moon, but to the intense reality implicit in this song.

The same way that “Tonight, Tonight” works, the video for “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon does not. I chose this song’s video as a bad example because I already like the music itself. It’s a cinematic song, filled with interesting details, funny lyrics, and a sketched out self-portrait of Simon in an interesting time of his life. But the video is boring! It’s just Chevy Chase and Simon hanging out. Chase is funny, but almost immobile. He doesn’t do anything! And they don’t have great chemistry. It’s an anti-video, which in itself could be interesting in 1987, but to me, watching this in 2010, long after the video became standard-issue for every pop song reaching more than two people, it’s just boring. Tell me I’m wrong.

2 responses to “On Being Interesting

  1. ” anywhere with a past”

    I love that description. And I agree, I like when settings are fully fleshed out, vs. cardboard cut-outs that are “meant” to be vague. My writing prof always said the best way to get people to identify is actually to give them details, not leave things generalized, contrary to what one might think. As a reader/viewer, I’ve certainly found that to be true. As a writer, I try to remember that when I’m creating setting.

  2. Oh I hate smalltown anywhere settings. They completely irk me. I’ll spend the first two minutes trying to figure out where they are supposed to be and then get so annoyed and bored that I start reading blogs while watching.

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