I am Batman!

Ben Affleck testifying to Congress on the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Man, the Affleck reaction is tiring. I mean, there is some serious-ass, exhausting, Twitter-clogging rage out there over the idea that the guy from Argo is going to ruin the Sucker Punch guy’s movie

So much so that there are over 30 petitions on Change.org asking President Obama to make it illegal for Ben Affleck to play Batman. At least one of those petitions asks for a law banning Affleck from playing any superhero for the next 200 years.

Which is to be expected when you open up a forum for people to post whatever they want. But these petitions are too focused on a single person’s career. If you want to draft meaningful legislation that has a chance of getting past the review stages, you have to make it fit the public at large.

For the next petition, stop focusing on getting Zack Snyder to fire Ben Affleck. Instead, focus on getting him to hire everybody else.

I’m thinking jobs program.

Superhero films are clearly a growth sector, and this is the time to step in and regulate it for the greater good. The DC universe has somewhere around 10,000 characters (including sidekicks, villains, love interests, etc). Marvel has somewhere around 7,000. We’ll focus our efforts on these, since they happen to be owned by two of the largest media companies in the world — Warner Brothers and Disney. Later we can discuss Image, Dark Horse, and all of the other players in the field, possibly by subsidizing studios to make licensing deals (MGM receives matching funds to license the entirety of Comico’s library! Says MGM CEO, “What the Hell’s a Comico?”).

What we need is a requirement that, if these companies wish to keep raking in the cash on superhero movies, they need to give every single one of us a turn. Every American gets to play a character — an actual, already-part-of-the-canon character from DC or Marvel — at least once. And it has to be in a movie.

Young Superheroes + Snow White

The United States has a population of 313.9 million (give or take). If we figure a pool of 17,000 characters, we wind up with roughly 18,464 actors for each character. Luckily, not each of these characters has to get their own movie — so we can easily knock out Batman, the Joker, Vicki Vale, Robin, Batgirl, and Alfred in the same span of 18,464 movies. Hell, we can handle even more characters if the studios go Joel Schumacher on our collective ass. And if they decide to do the whole I’m Not There thing and cast multiple actors throughout the same movie, they could easily divide that number by six to ten (only 1,846.4 movies about Aquaman, guys!)

Not everybody will get to be Batman, naturally, but this can only help the comics fan community as everybody’s favorite deep cuts from the Marvel and DC universes finally get representation on the screen — from Slapstick to Matter-Eater Lad, all the way to Peter Porker the Spectacular Spider-Ham (I call dibs right now on Ambush Bug). So many great characters will have movies out that next year’s San Diego ComicCon will have to be held in all of San Diego!

Think big, guys!

When is a Movie Formula not a Formula?

image If there’s one book that has been recommended to me time and again as an author, it’s Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. Despite these many recommendations, I have to admit that I have yet to read it (although the second most recommended book has been William Rabkin’s Writing the Pilot, and I have read that).

If you head over to Slate.com, however, you’ll find a fascinating article tearing apart Save the Cat as the formula that is potentially destroying Hollywood. At the heart of the argument is the idea that, where other screenwriting texts have offered a basic outline structure, Save the Cat offers an actual step-by-step formula of essential moments.

Here’s the kicker: It seems to work.

Field and McKee were obsessed with the theoretical underpinnings of storytelling. But Snyder’s book is far more straightforward. And that’s why it’s conquered the big screen so thoroughly. Indeed, if you’re on the lookout, you can find Snyder’s beats, in the order he prescribes, executed more or less as Snyder instructs, in virtually every major release in theaters today. Even the master storytellers at Pixar stick quite close to Snyder’s playbook….

My first thought in reading through Peter Suderman’s analysis is that I wondered how many people told him directly that they were following Snyder’s book — and how many he just lists because he recognizes the steps. That’s the problem with a successful formula: Often, it’s based on principles of good storytelling. Even people who have never consciously followed a formula in their lives will appear formulaic when compared to a cheat sheet.

Formulae are not created in a vacuum. Formulae come to be because people have tried many different ways to engage an audience and, when they discovered a way that worked, they shared it. Over time, the collection of shared audience engagement tips gets set down in writing and a formula is born. Syd Field (whose Screenplay gets a pass from Suderman as the “equivalent of cooking tips from your grandmother”) is often read as a direct formula with workshops offered in the Field “Technique.” Samuel Z. Arkoff — the b movie producer who brought you The Abominable Dr. Phibes, among (many) others — had a formula, as well. He referred to it as ARKOFF.

  • Action (exciting, entertaining drama)
  • Revolution (novel or controversial themes and ideas)
  • Killing (a modicum of violence)
  • Oratory (notable dialogue and speeches)
  • Fantasy (acted-out fantasies common to the audience)
  • Fornication (sex appeal, for young adults)

You could, of course, argue that Field and Arkoff and all of the others didn’t provide “formulae,” only tips. But Snyder, himself, didn’t see his breakdown of beats as a formula. He saw them as a series of observations of what successful films had in common — the same as Arkoff and Field.

And there’s the rub. Suderman admits that Snyder never intended Save the Cat to be a formula. Nevertheless, he’s willing to place the blame for the formula squarely at Snyder’s feet because Snyder, in discussing structure, actually had the audacity to give writers page numbers as a rough guide for when certain beats occur.

Again, I have not read Save the Cat (although Suderman’s article has strongly encouraged me to drop the $10 on it), but this is what I’ve seen in every art form I’ve studied: Tips from the successful quickly get turned into formulae by those wishing to emulate them. Those formulae become widely used, many times slavishly so — although there will still be a large number of artists who follow the tips without becoming obsessed with a step-by-step recipe. 

This will continue until somebody comes along and ignores the formula completely — but still becomes successful (See: Easy Rider).

And the whole process starts all over again with the enshrinement of the “new formula.”

Miraculously, art survives.

People Who Make Twitter Awesome: @questlove

I’m really looking forward to my copy of arriving next week. And that’s why I’m giving the title of to @questlove, even though he hardly needs my help to get followers. It’s all because of this exchange:

He’s right, you know. People are so crazed over hearing that MGM wants to remaster The Wizard of Oz in 3-D that they don’t realize there’s a whole mess of older movies that were actually shot in 3-D that we could, potentially, be seeing remastered. That is, if the studios can be bothered to actually put it out there. #FreeKissMeKate

Oscars Thoughts

I watched last night’s Oscars on ABC. It was fun, but not quite as rich in material as other award shows have been lately (as anyone watching my twitter feed probably noticed). I thought it was awesome when Angelina Jolie’s thigh threatened to take over the whole theatre, and I couldn’t help but wonder when Billy Crystal was replaced by his own Lipton Brisk commercial puppet.

And there was that. Let’s not forget about that.

Aside from that, a few thoughts about last night’s telecast in no random order.

Oscars 2012: The Red Carpet

  • In any contest between a tribute to silent films and an actual silent film, the silent film wins.
  • The secret to a movie like The Muppets working is that everybody who worked on the film is somebody who either has been there from the start or who grew up wanting to be part of the show.
  • The producers can go so far as to completely eliminate performances of the nominated songs, and still go over on time. I’m starting to think you have bigger problems than the Best Original Song category, guys.
  • Just let Tina Fey host, already.
  • Christopher Plummer should give lessons on how to give acceptance speeches.
  • The entire ceremony is capable of being upstaged by the Muppets rocking out to “Under Pressure” in a commercial.
  • The acronym title for ABC’s new series, GCB, stands for “Good Christian Bitches.” And that third word is apparently one that must never be uttered in a commercial.
  • Also, the lengths to which ABC will go to make certain that you know what the word is without having to actually say the word are hilarious, just not in the way ABC expected.
  • Despite the above two facts, ABC is also launching its new sitcom, Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23, also with its own hilarious attempts to avoid saying the word in the commercials.

And, again, this: 

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