What sets "Bird Box" apart from so many other post-apocalyptic cautionary tales swarming with bizarre monsters and diverse casts of quickly dispatched character actors? It's not the monsters (which the director somehow got away with making invisible - thus saving immensely on production costs). It's not the embarrassment of acting riches including Sarah Paulson and Trevante Rhodes and Tom Holland and B.D. Wong and John Malkovich (although any movie with John Malkovich is usually better for it). It's not that the movie is perfectly tailored to spew out memes and blind-fold challenges (in a couple weeks there'll surely be a new movie-of-the-moment inspiring us to attempt roller blading whilst devouring hot fudge sundaes).
Nope, it was Sandra Bullock. (Isn't it always?)
Obviously, what lifts this movie (that could've easily been as reviled as "The Happening" - or written off as clearly inferior to "A Quiet Place") is that Sandra Bullock is just so damn good in it. She brings humanity and intensity to an inherently bizarre premise. She cries at the loss of her sister. She stands up to John Malkovich when he's being a dick. She literally navigates treacherous waters whilst blindfolded (more on that later).
But my guess is that Sandra Bullock wasn't dying to do a movie about surving an apocalypse of people killing themselves after the enduring the trauma of developing nasty cataracts.
If she wanted to prove her bad-ass street cred, she could've made more money by easily convincing the studios to do a long-awaited sequel to "Speed" (this time with a runaway driverless Lyft!) and probably convinced Keanu Reeves to come back this time. Or she could've returned to the scandalously neglected new world of "Demolition Man" (seriously, how has Taco Bell not made this happen yet?).
So why did she choose to sign onto "Bird Box?"
She wanted to play to a woman coming to terms with motherhood. That's where the real core of this story is. The movie starts and pretty much ends (with several stops in between) with Sandra (as mentioned above) "literally navigating treacherous waters whilst blindfolded." And isn't that almost a perfect metaphor for the challenges of motherhood? As much as everyone wants to pretend that they know what they're getting themselves into - they really don't. Even though it's certainly a life-affirming role - it's also hard-as-hell, beat-you-down, crush-your-spirit sometimes. My Facebook feed is constantly teeming with posts about how people love their kids, but "Man, can they be little jerks sometimes!" Being a parent/mother can be an exhausting, confusing, terrifying experience. I don't want to get into tabloid stuff, but Sandra Bullock probably knows this better than most after some of the things she's been through with her ex-husband and adopted child.
When you layer all of those levels atop what could've been a standard C-level monster movie that is when you can hook a big movie star like Sandra Bullock into your movie.
(Side note: Looking over Sandra Bullock's movie career, I secretly suspect that she's really a genius at choosing movies/scripts that have an interesting premise and then personally guiding them into brilliantly unexpected areas of woman power. Look at "Miss Congeniality" or "Ocean's 8" or her Oscar-winning work in "The Blind Side.")
Flat out, the best way to get a movie sold/made is to convince a star to do it. And the best way to do that is to write a fantastic role with interesting layers, unexpected twists, and sly subtext. That's what "Bird Box" did. It's how "Pirates of the Caribbean" got Johnny Depp to originally sign on. It's how Heath Ledger crafted such a memorable version of the Joker in "The Dark Knight." Going all the way back to "Casablanca," it's why Humphrey Bogart's portrayal is so enduring (I mean, how could he let Ingrid Bergman go when he loves her so completely?! Oh wait, maybe the reason he lets her go is BECAUSE he loves her so completely!)
And it's something that all of us writers should aspire to.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to start practicing my roller blading as I decide what toppings to put on my sundae.
"Leave it all out on the field!"
Pretty much every football coach from Pee Wee to High School to the Big Leagues has used that expression.
Aquaman shows that movie makers should probably be thinking the same thing.
Flat out: Aquaman leaves it all on the field. Kudos to director James Wan and star Jason Man-Whoa-Uh for going all out with this movie. They seemed to recognize that after Batman v Superman and Justice League (I'm a hardcore Batman fan and those both make me cringe) it was far from a sure thing that they were going to get another shot at this. In fact, people have been trying to make an Aquaman movie for years (the jokes in Entourage from ten years ago prove it) and were never able to figure it out. So what did James and Jason do? They said, "Screw it. We're putting freaking everything in this movie."
Kid Aquaman talking to sharks in an aquarium? Check.
Heroes jumping out of planes with no parachutes? Check.
A bad guy shooting laser beams from his eyes? Check.
A massive war beneath the ocean amongst a half dozen tribes of crazy creatures? Got it.
Aquaman arriving at the last minute of the war riding on the back of some crazy huge monster thing that would give a blue whale inadequacy issues? You better believe that's in there.
The one thing they didn't do? They didn't hold anything back for the sequel.
Sure, there's a few loose threads that can springboard another adventure. But Aquaman got his trident. He got his bright orange shirt. He helped win an underwater war. He took the throne and even got all the races of underwater whatevers to call him "King Arthur." He fought his own personal demons and then went and fought a whole bunch of literal demons (or monsters or something - I'm not sure what those were in the Trench). If there's never another Aquaman movie, the filmmakers can hold their heads high, and know that they didn't hold anything back.
There's been a lot of talk over the past few years (since Iron Man and Marvel became the kings of the hill) that too many movies were putting potential sequels and spin-offs and shared universes ahead of the movie they were actually making.
Aquaman proved that theory 100% correct.
The Hobbit movies were bad because they were milking things to make an overbloated trilogy.
The Amazing Spiderman 2 wasn't beaten by Electro or the Green Goblin. He went down because the filmmakers were trying to set up the Sinister Six and ten other sequels.
Batman v Superman fell apart because it really should've been called Batman v Superman v Lex Luthor v Wonder Woman v Doomsday (feat. Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg) - which is ridiculous to try and fit in all at once.
So, by all means, tease a sequel, if you want. But if you've got good ideas up your sleeve - use 'em now. Right now. In this movie. Put it all out there. Leave it all out on the screen. Aquaman didn't leave anything for a sequel - and because of that it's guaranteed to get one.
And, seriously, not really being sure what the hell you're gonna do to top something is a great problem to have!
What makes a great hero? Is it their super powers? Or ability to accomplish mighty tasks even without powers (I'm talking about Batman, natch)? Is it always doing the right thing? Is it brains? Is it heart? Is it the perfect, skin-tight, color-coordinated jumpsuit?
Nope. It's the villain.
Flat out, the biggest thing that makes our heroes heroic are their villainous villains. There's a reason why Hollywood can't seem to make enough Batman and Spiderman movies - it's because they have amazing rogues galleries! Batman might be the biggest, toughest, smartest guy around, but it doesn't mean anything if he doesn't have someone like the Joker to push him to his limits. Spiderman's menagerie of baddies seems endless - Green Goblin, Doc Oct, Vulture, Lizard, Electro, Mysterio and on and on and on - and it makes our friendly neighborhood Spiderman all the more impressive that he keeps up with them.
(Side note: I believe that's why most superhero series putter out after #2 or #3, because they don't have any more good foils to pit the heroes against.)
Go out and find someone who's never seen "Star Wars" (there's actually a few of them out there) and ask them for some quick details that they've picked up. They might be able to tell you about the laser swords. They could probably wish you a quick "May the Force Be With You." Maybe they can call out the little funny green guy.
But it's a good bet they can come up with the name Darth Vader.
Why? Because he's a great villain. And great villains make great movies.
Die Hard. Brawny John McClane matches wits with brainy Hans Gruber.
Shawshank Redemption. Would only be half as good if that warden was only half as bad.
And the O.G. Jurassic Park had those velociraptors.
I mean, let's be honest, before the first movie came out, only the greatest of dino-enthusiasts even knew what velociraptors were. (Thankfully, those same dino-enthusiasts have refrained from letting us all know that velociraptors were probably closer to size of chickens and similarly covered in feathers). Now, everyone knows about those brainy beasties, and we all make sure to secure our doors with a slide chain just in case there's a velicraptor on the other side who's figured out how to pick the lock with a credit card. Even the T-Rex paled in terrifying comparison, and was given redemption as a noble beast as she helped save our heroes by fending off the pack of relentless raptors.
Since then, with each new entry into the Jurassic series, the raptors have taken on new and greater roles.
The latest Jurassic World with its falling kingdoms continues taking the velociraptor to the next level, and it serves as both a great example and a cautionary tale of the need for a great villain.
With its new and improved Indo-Raptor, the movie clearly loves its villain and gives us a new twist on the killer in the house as the monstrous dino tracks our heroes all over a dark and stormy mansion. The director gave us all chills as the Indo-Raptor climbed onto the roof and howled at the night sky while lightning struck in the distance. There were creepy shadows. And long curving talons. And big sharp teeth.
That is a good villain.
Too bad we can't say the same about the human.
The Jurassic Universe has done some great things, but human villains is not one of them.
In the first movie, of course, is the exception. Greedy glutinous Nedry turns out to be a great villain as he robs the park, then causes all sorts of mayhem as he tries to get away with it. We even feel kinda bad for him as he gets splattered by dinosaur face cream and then becomes the Dilophosaurus's dinner.
Past that, the human element is lacking in the Jurassic Park oeuvre and the movies suffer for it.
Unfortunately, Jurassic World 2 doesn't solve the problem.
In this movie, we're introduced to Eli Mills, the "brilliant" businessman, who inexplicably decides that, instead of continuing to enjoy a charmed life suckling at a billionaire's teet, he'd rather spend millions engineering new dinosaurs that he can then sell for far less money than he probably spent rescuing the dinosaurs in the first place. He believes so much in losing money that he even kills the billionaire just to show that he's a principled idiot.
Needless to say, we don't feel kinda bad for him when he... um... when he... to be honest, I don't remember what happened to him, and doesn't that say something?
In the end, the movie was good, but not nearly as good as it could've been if they'd just spent a little more time on their villain.
Simply put: a good villain is the reverse of the hero.
In Jurassic Park, Alan Grant can't touch a computer without breaking it and doesn't like kids because he thinks they're smelly, but he knows everything about dinosaurs. Nedry is a fat, slobby, presumably stinky, tech genius who destroys a dinosaur park despite not knowing anything about dinosaurs.
Die Hard - rough and tumble, shoeless New York beat cop takes on the sleek, well-dressed Euro-terrorist.
Shawshank - an innocent man goes to prison and outwits the actual criminal who runs the place.
Batman (dark on the outside, good on the inside) vs. the Joker (bright and jovial on the outside, evil on the inside).
And I can guarantee you that every single writer who created every single one of those villains had an absolute ball cooking up said baddie. I suspect, too, that the writer(s) of Jurassic World had a grand ole time playing with all sorts of scenarios for the Indo-Raptor. I doubt they had quite as much love for poor, confused Eli Mills and they might've been the only ones who really got pleasure out of watching him... have whatever eventual happened to him happen to him.
Gotta love your villains.
In my cherished writer's group, I've always been known as the Structure Stickler. As if that's a bad thing!
(I mean, it kind of sounds like a Batman villain's name, right? That's good thing, isn't it?)
Seriously, in my humble opinion structure is where writing thrives. My favorite writer, William Goldman (two time Oscar winner for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "All the President's Men") says that structure is what writing is all about. Every classic screenwriting book from Syd Field to Michael Hague to the current screenwriting bible - Blake Synder's "Save the Cat!" - have their own take on proper structure, and really they're all the same with just slightly different tweaks and labels.
Inevitably, though, anytime I talk with other writers (even a lot of seasoned ones) they complain about how structure is so restrictive and cramps their style and it makes writing too predictable.
The two Deadpool movies - and especially the recently released Deadpool 2 - sure have their share of shocks and surprises and yet... they're both actually tightly structured movies. Take that haters!
Since it just came out, I'll look a little more closely at Deadpool 2 (also I haven't seen Deadpool: The Original in a few years and I don't want to rewatch a two hour movie before I write a blog about this).
I guess I'll just say a big SPOILER ALERT right now since I sort of have to discuss plot points to make my argument.
Right off the bat, I don't think it's spoiling anything to say that this movie is crass and irreverant and surprising. However, it carefully plots its twists and turns down a well defined path and that gives it focus and keeps the movie humming along.
Eesh! Deadpool just blew himself into tiny pieces. (At pretty much the exact 10% mark that "Save the Cat!" recommends a Catalyst moment).
Yowza! Deadpool just shot a pedophile orderly in the head to protect an abused kid even though it's in defiance of Colossus and the other second-string X-Men. (I think Syd Field would agree that's a break into Act 2).
Zlam! Splotch! Clammy! Deadpool just gathered together a team of misfits to create X-Force in an effort to overcome Cable and save Fire Fist. (Right where Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey would place its "Test, Allies, and Enemies" section).
Bwoom! Deadpool is teaming up with Cable - who we thought was the bad guy - to try to stop Fire Fist - before he goes full bad guy - and get around Juggernaut - who's the only true bad guy. (And that, my friends, is the Act 3 break).
(Side Note: Boy, comic book writers really get to make up silly, simplistic, but fun character names!)
Even knowing all of this, I could sit and watch Deadpool while being thoroughly entertained and even surprised. The clear structure didn't weaken the movie or make it overly predictable. In fact, it did the opposite. It kept the movie on track and moving, and the writers clearly used the structure as a challenge for themselves to come up with the unexpected. They knew they needed an "All is Lost" moment, so they figured out how best to turn it on its head while still being satisfying, and they chose to have Deadpool literally be torn in half and lose half his body.
So, once again and always, I say "Yay for structure!"
But, wait, you say, "Green Lantern also had solid structure, and it bombed hard!"
(To which Deadpool says, "Low blow, right to the shirt balls.")
It's true, though. Green Lantern used solid structure - but chose beats that were pretty much always totally expected. However, knowing where to place twists and turns doesn't have to lead to boring predictability as long as you have the guts to keep taking the unexpected turn. When people expect you to turn left or right, try digging a hole in the ground and going down instead.
That's what Deadpool does and his movies are awesome!
And if you want a great counterpoint, check out Batman v. Superman - that things structure is all over the place.
Over the past few weeks, as is our habit, my wife and I have been unwinding at the end of long work/school weeks by checking out the latest movie offerings.
[Quick side note: If you're a movie-lover (or even just a movie-liker), go get yourself a Moviepass right now. Here's the link (https://www.moviepass.com/). Seriously, stop reading now and get one. We get to see so much stuff that we couldn't afford otherwise. And who knows how long it might be around - if you read the news it could implode any second. End of (not so) quick side note.]
Our current movie theatre of choice is a small-ish Regal Cinema (just a few minutes from our house). Being on the smaller side, it mostly gets comedies and kids movies, while the bigger movie (just a few minutes further from our house), gets the bigger blockbusters and wannabe blockbusters.
Anyway, it gives us a great chance to see comedies that we might not see otherwise because we can't always justify the cost. [Seriously, Moviepass is amazing]. Over the past few weeks, we saw two average-to-above-average comedies, that I've been thinking alot about because they seemed to go about their screenwriting in very different ways.
So - ding, ding, ding - let the battle begin.
It's OVERBOARD vs. LIFE OF THE PARTY!
Right off the bat, I will say that I laughed a lot during both of these movies. I didn't think they were great, and neither of them will probably work their way into my all-time favs or even a movie that I'll watch more than once.
But I liked them both. And I didn't feel like I wasted 90 minutes on either. And that's not nothing.
"Life of the Party" was a perfect vehicle for comedy genius, Melissa McCarthy (who doesn't love her?). She journeys down the well-worn path (notably also journeyed by Rodney Dangerfield) as an adult returning to the wild and crazy life of a college student. I don't want to give much away (because I feel like built up expectations are killers of good comedy), but there were points where I was crying laughing. Some of the funniest stuff I can think of ever seeing were in this movie. My stomach hurt from laughing at times.
Wait a second... Didn't I lead you to believe this movie was just okay?
Yes, I did. And, yes, I still stick by that.
The big problem with "Life of the Party" is that it just feels like a loose collection of funny bits. It created a general premise (again perfectly tailored to the talents of Ms. McCarthy), but then didn't hold them together all that well. Character development was almost nil. Side characters were basically just different versions of "odd and unusual" with no real pay-offs. Challenges arose more or less out-of-the-blue, only to inspire another hysterical bit, but were then quickly overcome without leaving much of a mark.
Now, people are wondering, "Did he actually think this was a good movie?"
Yes, I did. And, yes, I still stick by that.
However, with as funny as it was at times, I think this could've been a great movie if it had put a little more effort into developing a stronger thru-line with real character growth and story. It seems to me that Ms. McCarthy and her co-writer/director husband, Ben Falcone, fell back on their background as sketch comedy artists (they met and fell in love in The Groundlings - L.A.'s premier playground for improv and sketch). This movie feels like a series of (again SUPER funny) sketches with only a thin plot guiding us from one sketch to the next. I laughed and laughed and laughed at parts, but since I didn't really know or care about the characters, the movie dragged during the weak connective tissues.
"Overboard," on the other hand, gave a lot of thought to its plot and character growth.
I like Anna Faris, and although I had never heard of him before, I was willing to give Eugenio Derbez a chance. But (SPOILER ALERT) they're not as funny as Melissa McCarthy (almost no one is). Both Anna and Eugenio made me laugh a bunch, but I was never making my popcorn saltier with my tears of glee.
Still, at the end of the day, I think that "Overboard" was a better movie.
In this movie, the screenwriters had the difficult task of making unlikeable characters likeable, and I think that gave them focus. Let's be honest, this is a movie about a stuck-up billionaire manchild, who gets kidnapped and manipulated by an angry mom looking for revenge. That's not necessarily the recipe for a laugh riot - it sounds more like a dark thriller.
The writers knew that and worked hard to overcome it.
[Full disclosure: I'm not a huge fan of the original "Overboard," for a lot of the reasons that I just outlined. That movie seemed to work solely based on the chemisty and charisma of Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell who are just so damn charming that we didn't care that they are both absolutely horrible people in that movie.]
Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez don't have the personal relationship (re: chemistry) or the fame of their original movie counterparts (who were two of the biggest stars in the world when the original "Overboard" came out), so instead they needed a better story. Anna Faris is a mom who is literally about to fall over from trying to give her kids a good life. She works two jobs. She goes to school. Her mom isn't helping at all. Her house is falling apart. How could we not want her to succeed (even if she has to do dubious things to achieve it)?
Eugenio, on the other hand, is taken in the opposite direction. He is so terrible, and treats everyone so badly, and is so obnoxious, that we don't mind at all seeing him get forced to perform menial labor and sleep in a shed where he has to pee in a bucket. Then we can come along with him little by little as he evolves.
This movie also wisely uses its side characters to carry some of the load. It's not Anna Faris's plan to kidnap the jerky billionare (like Kurt Russell does); instead it's Eva Longoria who comes up with the plan and all but forces Anna Faris to go through with it. In the same way, Anna Faris doesn't just steal Eugenio from the hospital, his much worse sister abandons him there, which paves the way for Anna Faris to almost perform a good deed by saving him and giving him a home.
Are people thinking, "He must've really loved this movie!"?
I didn't. Because, while it had some good laughs, it wasn't SUPER funny. Just enjoyable.
But I was invested in the characters. I wanted to see Anna Faris succeed and get to go to school. I wanted to see Eugenio Derbez evolve into a good person. I eventually even wanted them to end up together. I wanted to go along for the ride.
In the end, I would recommend (and have recommended) people go see both of these movies. Like I've said many times, they're both legitimately funny and a good time at the movies. [Plus if you have a Moviepass, they're basically free. Seriously, if you haven't already, get a Moviepass. I'm not paid by them, I just love mine]. And in the end, I love comedies and I love to laugh. Both of these movies succeed at that in varying degrees.
In the end, though, the point I really wanted to get across is:
In the battle of jokes vs. story, I think focusing on story will make a better movie everytime.
Thanks for reading! (I promise I won't talk about Moviepass in every blog. Probably.)
When I was a little kid, my best friend in the whole world lived just up the street from me. There were maybe twenty houses between his and mine - maybe it was a quarter of a mile. In ten minutes or so, I could run up the street, bang on his door, and play for hours in his backyard.
I loved it so much that the older kids on my street would sometimes play a trick on me. They'd tell me that my best friend was looking for me and wanted to play. Like a dog going crazy for his favorite frisbee, my six-year-old self would lose it at the thought of playing with my best friend. At the word from the older kids, I'd sprint up the street and start playing.
I also got in trouble for it. A LOT.
One time, after disappearing again for a few hours without telling my parents where I was going, I got grounded for a week. That stuck with my little kid brain.
I finally began to understand that couldn't just do whatever I wanted.
I needed permission first.
My parents did it to protect me, and I'm truly happy that they did. It kept me safe as a kid. And let's be honest, they always let me go play with my friend, they just wanted to make sure that I asked first and that they knew where I was. It was good, sensible parenting.
As life goes on, though, I still finding myself asking for permission. And it's not always easy to get anymore.
I lived in Los Angeles and worked as writer for over a decade. I made some money, but rarely enough to live on without having other jobs. It's because I was always waiting for permission. I needed permission to go out for the dream gig. I needed permission to ask for big money. I needed permission to write the screenplay that I wanted.
The thing is... I'm an adult now. I'm in charge of my own life. And even though my parents are still around (and just as supportive and loving as they've ever been), in a very real way, I'm my own parent now.
I can give myself permission.
I can say "YES!" to myself.
As a writer, it's been an exhilarating gift, because throughout my career the things I've always taken the most pride in are the things that I chased after with my whole heart despite whether people thought they were a good idea or not.
I think we all should say "YES!" to ourselves.
One of the truly great things about being a writer today is that it's never been easier to take control of your career. With the advent of self-publishing, and with Amazon at our disposal, I can decide what I want to write, and I can decide when it's ready for the world. I can pursue the adventures and the stories and the characters that I want. I can do with them as I please. I don't have to wait for an agent or a publisher or an editor to give me permission.
That's not to say that traditional publishing isn't helpful - I hope to do more with it in the future. It comes with huge advantages, and it gives resources that a person working alone simply doesn't have.
But you have to get the permission from people who don't often like to give it.
So in the meantime, I won't wait for permission like I did for all of those years in Los Angeles. I was always waiting for a producer or an actor or a director or an agent to tell me "Yes" so that I could move forward.
I don't need that anymore. I can say "YES!" to myself.
It creates confidence. It builds up a belief in myself. It give me the power in my own life.
For any other writers who might be struggling with those early breakthroughs, or who might feel like their careers have hit a lull, or who are sick of following the conventional wisdom while ignoring the music in their head, I encourage you to say "YES!" to yourself. Put something out into the universe. Tell the story that you want to tell.
I'd give you my permission to do so... but you've already got all the permission you need.
We can all say "YES!" to ourselves.
One of the most interesting challenges that seemed to face the great Joss Whedon as he wrote the first two Avengers movies had to be:
Who to make the primary protagonist of those massive, unprecedentedly large ensemble pics?
Obviously, there was never any question that multiple characters had to have their own story arcs, and everyone had be given plenty to do. Both of those movies succeeded in that difficult balancing act. Nonetheless, it's always good to have one character to mold the A storyline around to help keep the plot and structure focused. And when you've got films packed full of movie stars and beloved comic book characters, it's not easy to know who to go with.
In the first Avengers, Robert Downey Jr. reportedly tried to convince Joss Whedon that Iron Man should be the primary protagonist, and it made perfect sense. In real life, RDJ was the biggest star in the movie (if not the world). In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man started it all and already had the most sequels too.
But Joss Whedon went a different route, and chose a different primary protagonist to build the movie around.
Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury is at the crux of that movie.
Not to worry, though, for Iron RDJ, because he was placed at the center of the even more massive and character-stuffed smorgasborg that was Avengers: Age of Ultron.
That's not to say that Nick Fury had the most screentime or the most lines in the first movie (I haven't counted but I'd guess that Iron Man and Captain America both have Fury beat on that count). And I would argue that the Hulk/Bruce Banner had the most interesting/fun character arc. But the primary plot points hinge most closely on Nick Fury, and he's the one who keeps the story clipping along.
In Age of Ultron, it's not really even close. Everyone has decent storylines and arcs, but Tony Stark drives the thing, with a compelling arc to boot, and I suspect that he has the most lines and screen time too.
Along comes Avengers: Infinity War, and it laughs at the feeble efforts of the previous two movies. Joss Whedon, perhaps wisely, decided that he'd played with enough characters for a while, and decided to sit this one out. In the meantime, the Russo Brothers inherited around a dozen characters that could feasibly be set as their primary protagonist.
So who did they pick? Iron Man (since he worked so well on the last one)? Thor (who can tie together Earth and space)? Star Lord (played by Chris Pratt who is now arguably the biggest star in the world)? Black Panther (Marvel's newest MVP still riding high from his grand slam of a movie)?
Drum roll please.
That's right. In a movie stuffed with the most impressive collection of heroes from every corner of the earth and the cosmos, the Russo Brothers decided to make their primary protagonist the biggest villain in the Marvel universe.
(Beyond this point, I think a SPOILER ALERT warning is in order - although let's be honest, everyone in the world has already seen this movie).
Thanos begins and ends the movie. In the first minutes, he tangles with Thor and the Hulk for control of the Tesseract, and then in the final moments, Thanos winds things down before the credits roll by basking in the sun of some cozy, unknown world. He's the character with the clearest proactive goal - even if it is gathering the Infinity Stones to wipe out half of all life in the universe. He's the one who has to face incredible odds - I mean, I get that he's super strong, but he's still facing off against somewhere around 20 heroes. He's the one who faces the biggest moment of crisis as he has to choose to sacrifice the only person he's ever loved so he can achieve his goal. At the end of the movie, all in all, Thanos is the character who overcomes the impossible odds and achieves his goal.
Check, check, check. Thanos fills every box that you need for a primary protagonist.
Like I said before, that's not to say that there aren't plenty of other character arcs happening. Thor has easily the second biggest plot with an assist from Rocket and Groot (and a giant dwarf, Peter Dinklage). Iron Man/Dr. Strange/Spiderman have a meaty subplot too (with Star Lord eventually joining in) that's both action-packed and emotional.
However, with all of those characters running around on earth and beyond, the Russo Brothers along with their duo of ace writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, wisely chose to use the ostensible villain to anchor the film as their protagonist. Thanos's storyline forms the spine of the film which can then be filled in and layered by the subplots and arcs of a cast so full of superstars that it would've made How the West was Won feel inadequate.
Well played, Russos and Markus and McFeely. Well played.
Now the question is: Who'll be the primary protagonist in the Avengers 4?
My money's on Captain America. But these movies (and their writing choices) are full of surprises!
"Hi, my name's Ben, and I'm a writer."
It seems like such a simple statement, right? Especially if you breeze through this website, you'll see a fairly good-sized body of work (and I haven't put anywhere near everything on here). I've got an IMDB page. I've had things produced and performed. You can buy my books on Amazon. I've made a decent amount of money off of my writing.
And yet here's the truth:
Despite the fact that I've written over a dozen screenplays (some of which have won multiple awards), and I've written five full length novels (with several more in the works), and I've written one full length play and at least a half dozen short ones, and I've written literally hundreds, if not thousands, of comedic sketches and shorts-
I still sometimes hesitate to call myself a writer.
I get nervous. I feel like a fraud. I don't feel worthy.
And it's time to get over it.
The fact of it is, though, being a writer is the one thing I've been thinking about for nearly my entire life. I'm okay at sports. I'm a really good actor. Any job I've ever done, I've always risen to the top and brought great value to my team. Yet I keep coming back to writing. I'm always thinking of new ideas, I'm always planning a new book, I'm constantly drafting new scenes for my latest script.
I'm a writer. It's a fact. And I gotta own it.
That's what I want to do primarily with this blog. I want to chronicle my writer's journey from someone who shies away from admitting my passion to someone who takes myself seriously as a professional and an artist. My biggest challenges have been treating myself as a business that truly has a spectacular worth. And that's going to end now.
Over the next months and years, I'm going to explore all of the avenues out there to market my work, so that I can grow and flourish. I'm going to test out different social media and dig into tricks of the trade. I'm going to venture out of my comfort zone (even though just typing that makes me nervous...). And I'm going to share any insights with anyone who might be willing to read it.
Sometimes I'll be commenting and sharing technical stuff that I learned (cough *stole* cough) from someone else.
Sometimes it'll be more like I'm journalling and trying to pump myself up.
I suspect there's many other people out there who are like me who struggle with their self-worth (despite being pretty freaking awesome), and think that it's CRAZY to presume to dare to imagine that we could be writers.
Well, we're not crazy. And we're totally worth it.
So I'm going to take my first steps, and fight against that twist in my gut and that nagging voice at the back of my head, and I'm gonna to keep working to proclaim my truth:
My name's Ben, and I'm a damn good writer.
I've got a little spoiler alert.
J.K. Rowling didn't go to Hogwarts. She's not a witch. She's never swigged Felix Felicis.
But, wait... if she's never ridden a broomstick or sipped a butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks then how did she concoct such a vibrant and colorful world? How did she tap into the mystical arts of potion-making, wandlore, and divination? How did she stir up a rich fantasy world that sustained seven books and will probably be cherished for decades (if not centuries) to come?
It's simple. She wrote what she knows.
For J.K. Rowling, at the time when she was writing the first Harry Potter books, she was a school teacher and her closest relationship was with her child. She knew kids and what made them tick. She had also been to boarding schools and she knew that world. She knew classic literature and mythology. She loved mysteries and knew how to craft a compelling one at the core of each of her kids books. As a result, she's created beloved magic despite not possessing a real phoenix feather of her own.
One of the earliest pieces of advice that all writers get is: Write what you know.
But what if what you know isn't that interesting? Or that exciting? Or it just doesn't inspire you? What if you've never travelled to space, or a fantasy world, or even another state? What if your life has just consisted of school, a safe job, and a comfy house in the suburbs.
Perfect! Write what you know!
I choose to write epic fantasy novels about kings, wizards and magical kingdoms.
But I don't live in medieval times. I've never ridden on a dragon or had a swordfight. I'm not even British!
Instead, I've worked a handful of 9 to 5 jobs, I live in a nice apartment, and I've got a wonderful wife and two great cats.
I do know adventure, though. My favorite books usually involve some sort of swash-buckling hero overcoming some dastardly villain despite incredible odds (if you haven't read the book version of "The Princess Bride," go do so right away). I can break down the reasons why the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie works while its sequels don't work as well (it comes down to Jack Sparrow being an unconventional sidekick in the first movie and then being forced to be an unconventional protagonist in all of the rest). And I understand why the King Arthur legends are so enduring even though I've never visited Stonehenge.
Too often, I think writers squeeze themselves into a box, because they're trying to keep up with their area of expertise or "what they know." Just because you're not a lawyer doesn't mean you can't write courtroom dramas - you just have to understand themes of crime and justice. It doesn't matter if you're in your 60s - you can write YA novels if you're still a teenager at heart. Not everyone who writes space adventures has to be an astronaut.
If we dig deep into our hearts and into our imaginations and I think we'll be surprised what we know.
And that's where great stories and great writing starts.
We just have to write what we know.