Posted tagged ‘The Invention of Lying’

JELLO: THE MOVIE

May 13, 2010

Originally, the title for this post was “Takes Talent to Recognize It.” Then I read a piece by Hollywood producer Lynda Obst that basically says the movie biz is no longer really about finding talented writers or high quality scripts. It’s now largely about building on brand awareness — super-heroes, comic books, old TV shows, popular board games, video games, and YouTube clips that go viral.

She said a colleague jokingly floated JELLO: THE MOVIE as a possible project. Sadly, it’s no worse than some of the other product-inspired movies that are currently in development. I even pitched my STUNT GUYS action spec to a creative exec at Hasbro — yes, the toy makers are now major players in Hollywood. He passed because he didn’t see the merchandising potential in my stuntmen characters. Probably because I didn’t imbue them with super-powers.

Lynda Obst’s column (link at end of post) is getting traction because she’s been associated with big Hollywood hits such as FLASHDANCE, SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, THE FISHER KING, and CONTACT. More recently, she produced THE INVENTION OF LYING, a movie I liked and riffed on in a prior post about writers being professional liars. She’s also had her share of flops. But when a producer with her track record says good writing is now secondary to product awareness, it has to make any aspiring screenwriter wonder if they’ve just been wasting time trying to become glorified advertising copywriters.

That said, I still believe in learning craft and structure. I’ve been fortunate to receive feedback from produced screenwriters, who liked my stuff enough to option my scripts. I’ve also been repped or hip-pocketed by managers whose clients have written hugely successful movies, and gotten notes from them on my work. And to tell you the truth, I’m not sure my rewrites were really better than my original drafts, which were closest to my own vision.

(BTW, my former manager — Cathryn Jaymes — said when she first sent out Quentin Tarantino’s scripts to her contacts, she would get nasty phone calls asking how she could rep such awful, foul-mouthed “garbage”… then after his movies became hits with critics and audiences, those same people were begging her to send whatever else he had written.)

The one thing I took comfort in was the notion that these were professionals who recognized talent. I don’t know who first said it takes genius to recognize it, but I always felt there was something to that. Okay, so I’m not a genius… I’m more of a plodder, who works hard at the craft. Still, I thought my movie ideas were different and original. And these Hollywood veterans I was working with seemed to think so too. At the end of the day though, my scripts didn’t get produced and I’m looking for a new rep to shop my works of genius.

I’m not alone. I know there are many other writers who have had similar experiences, and feel like they’ve been both blessed and cursed to be told they have “talent” or a unique “voice”… and yet can’t get an agent or publisher to sign them. There are days when I think it would be so much easier if early on I was told my stuff was crap and I should give up. Then I realize that, well, if one person honestly did think my writing was worth their time, I should keep at it a little longer. It only takes one person — at the right place and time — to prove everyone else wrong.

However, no amount of rewriting, revisions, getting feedback from peers or notes from professional script consultants, is going to make much difference if your concept or story doesn’t have that something special — you know it when you see it. At least, that’s the way it used to be. But these days, it seems like the so-called “talent agents” and creative execs are more adept at reading financial reports than literary works.

So write for yourself if you must. Then write JELLO: THE MOVIE if you really want to be a working screenwriter for hire.

Here’s the link to The Atlantic piece by Lynda Obst.

As I mentioned, she produced THE INVENTION OF LYING. This is my take on that film as it relates to writers.

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Professional Liars

March 5, 2010

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.