Professional Liars

Deep movie preview voice intones: “In a world without lying, there are no stories… no novels… no movies as we know them… no imagination. Only facts and non-fiction…”

That’s how I would pitch THE INVENTION OF LYING to other writers and people in the entertainment biz. Coincidentally, a popular book business blogger — Nathan Bransford — just wrote a post on the connection between lying and story-telling. He didn’t mention the Ricky Gervais movie, but I did in the comments section. (Link at bottom.)

Some of the blog readers disagreed with his premise on the grounds that lying is purposely deceptive, while story-telling is about a willing suspension of disbelief. I kind of agree… but it still goes back to an innate ability humans have to fabricate untruths or make things up. Can any other animal do that?

Ironically, for me the movie didn’t quite work because I wasn’t able to totally suspend my disbelief. It’s one of those premises that are funnier to think about than actually watch (like IDIOCRACY). The movie has many amusing moments, but it’s just too hard to swallow. However, I did love how his “lying” about what happens when you die leads to the birth of religion. I’m surprised that didn’t create controversy among True Believers of all creeds.

There’s also a funny subplot about his occupation: he writes movies… except they are all fact-based historical stories that a single “actor” reads while sitting in a chair. That’s all the producers make — until he discovers lying, and he spontaneously invents a wild tale of aliens and dinosaurs, which he passes off as being true. His movies become hugely successful, even though they’re still being read by a guy in a chair.

When you think about it, a great screenplay does the same thing: it makes the reader see the movie in his head, whether it’s an epic spectacle or intimate character study set in a mundane world. But we’ve become so inured to fantastic tales because we’re bombarded with creative “lies” in ads, TV shows, movies, and yes, politics, that we need even more visual stimuli and 3-D glasses to transport us into other worlds these days. Sitting in a chair and reading a book just isn’t enough for the masses anymore.

It got me to thinking about other movies that involve creative “lying” as an occupation, such as advertising and marketing. Remember CRAZY PEOPLE, the Dudley Moore comedy? He played an ad exec, who has a breakdown and winds up in a mental institution. His breakthrough idea is to create ads that tell the truth… like “Volvo — boxy but safe” or something like that.

Since I’ve done some advertising and PR copywriting, I have an appreciation for the art of stretching the truth and spin. I’ve also had sales and marketing jobs in which I had to find creative ways to make things sound better than they really were. In short, I have been a professional liar most of my life.

Yet my most rewarding experiences as a writer have come from sharing real stories from my life as a recovering alcoholic/addict in my newspaper columns for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (“Addicted to Life”) and Honolulu Advertiser featured blog (“Addicted to…”). Maybe honesty isn’t the best policy for a writer, but it’s the one reason I’ve managed to stay clean and sober all these years. And that’s the truth.

Relevant links:

Nathan Bransford’s blog for book writers.

Movie trailer for THE INVENTION OF LYING.

Explore posts in the same categories: screenwriting

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2 Comments on “Professional Liars”

  1. gerry boyd Says:

    Hey Rich. I have subscribed to this blog so you better keep up the excellent writing. Or Else.

    • richfigel Says:

      A subscriber! My god, all I thought was out there were spam-bots… but thanks, I appreciate all five of my readers!

      So seen any good flicks lately? The angle of this blog is trying to relate movies to career choices and real jobs. Not that anyone really cares, but it gives me a chance to riff on films and screenwriting.

      Am about to watch BRIGHT STAR, which is about John Keats. Have you seen it yet?

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