Lately as I inch my way into the world of script writing and I see what drives American media, I am stunned by some of the choices screenwriters make in an effort to “entertain.” My intent here is not to lambaste writers just trying to cut it in LA, but to make a point about what audiences may prefer to see. I give working screenwriters props. Recently I had the most unfortunate timing a person could have in an attempt to sell a script, and as a result I got to see firsthand what is “selling” right now.
I arranged for my friend, who is a bestselling author and who optioned a movie about her book, to set me up with her Hollywood producer. Carefully I edited and reformatted my script, made sure each line of dialog was shining and realistic, and with hope in my heart, I sent it to my buddy, who gave it to her producer. My script, originally called Bigfoot (I will now have to change the name), is a romp into the world of that mystical beast. A college student stumbles into his domain and befriends him, then must protect him from those looking for her while she is lost in the woods. The very same weekend that the producer was considering my script, another movie, also called Bigfoot, aired on the SyFy channel. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read that a movie with the same name as mine was going to be shown on SyFy! Apprehensive that I was about to see a version of my movie that was far superior, I watched it, but quickly found I didn’t need to worry about the “competition.” THAT Bigfoot was 20 feet tall, squashed cars by stepping on them, and bit the heads off of people and killed most of the cast, including two well-known 70’s child actors playing main parts. While my version is more like ET but with Berkeley students instead of kids, the Bigfoot movie that was produced for TV was a campy horror film that took no heed of the numerous nationwide Bigfoot sightings into account, and made no attempt at realism whatsoever. It is painfully apparent that what I would like to see in a script is NOT what is being sold in Hollywood. It was even more apparent when the producer got back to my friend in a week and said “no thanks.”
Fast forward from The Weekend of Especially Bad Timing to Last Night: I went to see a movie with “the band.” “The band” is my daughter and her cousin who are, well, starting a band, and so we saw Pitch Perfect. I was looking forward to going, because I like movies with something extra: singing, or special effects, stuff like that. And it received rave reviews. I have to admit that I was enjoying it, up until
one of the main characters hurled. Now, when I say “hurl” I am not talking about a polite little barf in a wastebasket, I am talking about spraying the front row of an audience at a national singing competition over and over with projectile vomiting. Did I really just pay to see this? And it gets better. We begin to understand that the uptight main character has a problem with this, and when she’s stressed out and not getting her way, she BLOWS. Chunks. Wow. And in one scene, when it looks like all is lost, she just sprays and sprays all of her friends, and of course one of the poor sobs falls in it. And then makes “snow angels” in the barf. This is all happening in an otherwise decent movie.
I spent from the “sick angel” moment on trying not to barf myself, and felt nauseous for the rest of the evening. I really am stunned that a film that has a talented cast, some really funny moments, a decent plot (other than that part of it), and great music would have to stoop to THAT level. Whose call was it, the writers, the producers? Whoever decided that was a good idea needs to remind themselves we are not in sixth grade anymore, folks.
Plot points like these, along with the ubiquitous food fight scene in the cafeteria found in many kid films, are just gross. They serve no purpose, with the slight exception of those hangover-type movies. It is a degradation of the film making experience to have to stoop to that level. A screenwriter should be asking: Are bodily functions funny? Will this enhance my script to add this scene in? There have been some great film moments over the years where this type of humor “works”: John Belushi popping cottage cheese out of his mouth and then saying “I’m a zit” in Animal House was genius. But if your character is lingering over the toilet…or your film crew has to create more than a cup full of fake vomit, then you, dear screenwriter, have lost your way, and maybe now that you’ve sold a script or two, you can take a moment and re-evaluate your worth and consider how you want your work to be remembered.