The Bag Means Your Mind

A delightful mix of insightful comments and ignorant assumptions about screenwriting... and such.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Fuck the Rules!

If you haven't guessed already, there is a fair amount of salty language ahead, so if your blood pressure is in question, you might want to bail.

Fuck the rules. Fuck 'em. Fuck the first act. Fuck the second act. Hell, fuck all of the acts. Fuck the rising action. Fuck the falling action. Fuck the main character and horse he rode in on. Fuck his character arc. Why not just fuck all characters while we're at it? Fuck the reversals. Fuck the McGuffins, the scene beats, the page count. Fuck it all.

So my generous friends get me a PS3 for my birthday (don't you wish you had such friends). I'm thrust headlong into the world of Blu-ray and all of its HD glory. First on my list was Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Uber Edition (or something). On checkout, Amazon pops up one of those "If you like this, you'll probably like that." advertising ploys. I see 2001: A Space Odyssey on Blu-Ray. Sold. Damn you Amazon advertising ploy.

So I get them in the mail and pop in 2001. I hadn't seen it in awhile, not since I've started my journey along the screenwriting path. One of my favorite films (don't dare call it a movie). #15 on AFIs Top 100 Films of ALL FUCKING TIME. Yeah! I start watching the movie, er, film.

What. The. Fuck.

The movie starts with 3 minutes of blackness. The following 22 minutes have no dialogue whatsoever. At minute 25 we meet Heywood Floyd, our main character. But wait. Fuck you. At at around 55 minutes into the epic he's gone. Poof. Never mentioned again and the story isn't even half over. In his stead we have Dave Bowman who takes us to the wild finale. And his arc, his motivation, his reason for being in this cold universe? Again. Fuck you.

And the film is brilliant. It woke me up intellectually. "Forced" me to write my senior thesis in High School on it (The Monolith: A Tab Stop in the Evolutionary Typewriter was the title if you must pry). It made my mind ache. For awhile it was all I could think about.

Friends, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the three act structure was not discovered on some archaeological dig in the 70s. Stanley Kubrick had made a couple three movies. Arthur Fucking C. Clarke? Well let's just say he's written a lot more verbs than most of us. These motherfuckers gave the one-finger salute to Joseph Campbell, Lajos Egri, Aristotle, et al. And it worked. Spectacularly. They knew story convention, they knew the "rules" but decided that this particular story needed to be told in a very specific way to be effective.

The point? Oh yeah, the point. In the structured world of screenwriting it is so easy to lose sight of the goal: to tell a riveting story. Doesn't matter if it fits neatly into some format or not. A lot of people can write good. A subset of those people can also tell a compelling story. If you believe you can captivate your audience, tell your story the way it needs to be told. Make it so interesting that no one cares that the main character wasn't introduced until the final scene*.

Fuck the rules.

Man, that was fun to write.

*I'd love to see someone pull that off.