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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Fixing That Guy's Movie: Ruined Ideas and the Editing Process

   
Author Topic: Fixing That Guy's Movie: Ruined Ideas and the Editing Process
babooher
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As I was walking to work I was musing on how a film (The Purge) had taken an awesome idea and ruined it. I don't think you can actually ruin an idea, but I don't think you'd be able to sell a story with that premise even if you executed it so much better than it was executed in that film. Sure in a few years you might get away with it, but it takes time to heal these wounds.

Then I realized that revision is going back and fixing that guy's crappy execution of the awesome premise. Instantly, revision stopped being a chore. I stopped looking at it as my work that I was fixing, and starting seeing it as That Guy's work. That Guy is a bumbling idiot who can barely write (and his hygiene isn't all that great either). Sure, he has his moments, but he really messed up this premise.

And the best part, if need be I can fix This Guy's work, too! I might even get to work on That Other Guy's stuff.

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Robert Nowall
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I remember going to the movies to see "Pearl Harbor." Besides thinking, "Boy, there's three hours of my life I'll never get back," I also thought, "Boy, I could edit this movie down to ninety minutes and make it work."

Now, I could take my own work and cut it down scene by scene, too, and eventually word by word. Having (of late) written twenty-thousand worders with just two characters most of the time, I can see (after some time has passed) where some judicious cutting is necessary. Sometimes I think the result is worth it. And I bathe every day, too.

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MattLeo
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This reminds me of a joke I heard an actress tell. How do you tell the dumbest actress on a movie set? She's the one sleeping with the writer.

I also remember a bit of writing gallows humor in the old TV series COLUMBO. The detective is being given a tour of a TV studio, in which his female guide breathlessly points out all the different experts that make the show possible: the wardrobe people, the makeup artists, the prop master etc. Columbo points to a young, un-glamorously dressed man. "Who's that?" he asks. "Oh, him," the woman says dismissively. "He's just the writer."

I don't know if the status of screenwriters is quite *that* low, but it is low in comparison to the god-like status of playwrights in theater. In movies and TV, the writer is just one tiny cog in a giant creative machine. Unlike in novel writing, the screenwriter has no control over pacing, or the sensory impressions conveyed to the audience. Screenplays are remarkably short, about a hundred pages, mostly of dialog. They're more a rough guideline for the director, who's the primary storyteller. He determines whether the movie will be seventy minutes long or two hundred and fifty. He has the final say on the setting, costumes and props. He decides what the character motivations are.

Still, I always notice sharp screenwriting, even if the movie doesn't end up so hot. I thought the Marvel AVENGERS movie was, as storytelling, bloated. But I appreciated the work the screenwriters did under absurdly restrictive creative constraints: stuff character development and personal interaction for six superheros into two acts, because the third act has to be a massive CGI set piece.

My favorite movie writing is from the 30s and 40s, an era of low budgets and sharp dialog. Where would CASABLANCA be without lines like "Major Strasser's been shot.... Round up the usual suspects!" Or: "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!" It's like Shakespeare. Hundreds of years from now people will be quoting the Epstein brothers' (Julius and Philip) script without realizing it. I'm also an admirer of Ben Hecht, whose career spanned forty years of movies and television.

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extrinsic
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Congratulations on your writing growth. On to the next leg of your Poet's Journey.

I don't see any ruined premise in The Purge. I see less than ideally originally executed ages-old premises repackaged. A society where government-sanctioned, episodic social breakdowns take place is hardly an original premise. Other premises of the film are little more than strong arm home invasion crimes with strong poetic justice undertones.

Take away the purge premise and the film is a crime thriller. Let the purge stand and the film is a crime thriller with government sanction and complicity. As such, the purge is a MacGuffin, a feature extrinsic to the plot. The film's plot and storyline would hold up without the purge. Or hold up with another premise. Hollywood remakes or reinnovates or reimagines storylines for mass culture audiences by switching MacGuffins, events, characters, and settings. I've seen many films and read novels or short stories over several decades that mirror The Purge's central premises.

[ November 21, 2013, 01:42 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Merlion-Emrys
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Now a days especially, I do a good portion of my editing, oftentimes, before I actually start writing. Plus, I like what I write, even if the first version is never quite exactly how I want it to be, so I can't really relate.

I also agree with extrinsic, though I haven't seen "The Purge." Interesting idea, but not exactly anything new any way you slice it.

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Robert Nowall
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A stray thought about reediting movies.

If Part One of The Hobbit is any guide---and press reports indicate the same but more so in Part Two---there's a lot of stuff in there that's not authentic Tolkien. New characters and plot twists and such.

I'm thinking, when all is said and done, somebody will take the DVDs and edit everything out until there's nothing left but something much closer to what Tolkien had in mind. And put it on YouTube, too...

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RyanB
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Nowall:
A stray thought about reediting movies.

If Part One of The Hobbit is any guide---and press reports indicate the same but more so in Part Two---there's a lot of stuff in there that's not authentic Tolkien. New characters and plot twists and such.

I'm thinking, when all is said and done, somebody will take the DVDs and edit everything out until there's nothing left but something much closer to what Tolkien had in mind. And put it on YouTube, too...

To be fair, you couldn't make make 3 movies out of The Hobbit without substantial changes. It was one story, not three.

Thus we have the dwarf leader, anthropomorphized somewhat, fight the Big Bad of the first part at the end of the first movie.

You can't end a movie with your heroes wounded and retreating via some outside benevolent force. (And in the book Bilbo thought he was out of the frying pan into the kettle at that point.)

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MattLeo
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As a fan of Tolkien, I wouldn't part with a word of LotR. But if I were Tolkien's editor, I'd have insisted on paring down the 481K word length to about 400K -- and that would be a token of uncommon respect.

As folks here know I'm not a fan of epic length novels. I feel they tend to lose focus, and writing faults creep in or become hard to live with when you approach the 200K mark. So it's no surprise that at 95K THE HOBBIT is my favorite of Tolkien's works. It's the Goldilocks length for me, not so short it precludes thematic richness or plot complication, but not so long that you find yourself thinking about the parts that should have been cut.

One of THE HOBBIT's great strengths is that there isn't enough material to make three epic length films. It helps keep his themes of commonplace virtue from getting lost in a confusion of side plots and secondary characters. That's something the filmmakers have forgone in favor of epic sweep.

On the other hand, converting THE HOBBIT into a three film epic is not entirely an exercise in venality. There's something deeply fannish about the entire six film project, which combines THE HOBBIT, parts of the SIMARILLION and LORD OF THE RINGS into a complete recounting of the end of the Third Age of Middle Earth.

Still, the result will necessarily lack something of the thematic focus of THE HOBBIT. I for one would cheer for anyone who managed to recover the story of THE HOBBIT from the epic film cycle.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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The extra stuff they are putting into THE HOBBIT, as I understand it, comes from the Appendixes which are most definitely Tolkien.

There was plenty going on "off stage" in the book version of THE HOBBIT, which is why Gandalf wasn't there for most of it. I thought the movies are intended to tell us what Gandalf was doing in the meantime.

Sorry, but I don't have a problem with it. Though I do wonder what more they could come up with for the "extended" versions.

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Merlion-Emrys
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That's 100% true of the whole White Council Dol Guldor thing definitely, and I'm fine with that.

Some of the stuff...like Legolas being there and most especially having a love interest as indicated in a trailer for the second one...I'm a little iffy on.

Also, someone correct me but in the literature, wasn't Azog or whatever the Orc who killed Thorin's grandfather's name is, actually killed during the battles at Moria?

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MattLeo
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Well, my concern isn't whether the changes to THE HOBBIT are consistent with the Tolkien canon, which itself was a moving target. My concern is whether they do justice to the story of THE HOBBIT.

I'm not doctrinaire about canon. I was fine with most of the changes in the LotR movie. Substituting Arwen for Glorfindel (who is a serious consistency problem for the canon anyway) was fine by me, and I didn't even mind developing a new subplot about Aragorn being conflicted about his destiny. I thought it was clever that they gave some of Gandalf's lines to Wormtongue, and delighted that they put Eomer's poetry into Theoden's mouth.

All these things served to make the story work in movie form.

On the other hand they made changes to the character of Faramir for the same dramaturgical reasons, but it *doesn't work* because it gets the ethos of Middle Earth wrong. In Middle Earth you're either true to Illuvatar's plan for you, or you fall; and if you fall you are redeemed only by grace (the orc attack that splits the Fellowship at Amon Hen is thus a deus ex machina that redeems Boromir). Aragorn's speech at the black gate in contrast falls flat for a different reason. It gets the ethos of Middle Earth just right, but the movie authors don't have the poetic chops to carry it off.

We can see the damage the needs of making a trilogy has done to THE HOBBIT in the first movie, which ends with a boss fight so the audience doesn't go home feeling like they've only seen 1/3 of a movie. But it messes up the most important relationship arc in the story, the one between Bilbo and Thorin. Bilbo doesn't fully earn Thorin's acceptance until the very end.

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Merlion-Emrys
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There are some slight alterations Peter Jackson has made at different times that I thought were excellent and fit perfectly despite not being in the literature (Gandalf's beatdown of Denethor in Return of the King is a good example.)

But there are some things that I do have a bit of issue with...such as altering Aragorn as they did, over-playing the romance with him and Arwen and also riddling Gandalf with doubt in the later movies to further make Aragorn "the hero" seeing as how Gandalf's big mission in the story was to give people hope and motivate them to fight.


While I don't really have a huge issue with the end of The Hobbit movie, I can't agree that it was needed...especially since the end of Fellowship of the Ring did indeed leave some people thinking they'd seen only 1/3 of a movie (I know, I could hear them) and yet was still quite successful.

While I accept that there are going to be changes from a book to a movie, none of it is about "need" or "working." We create and consume stories and decide what is or isn't needed or what does or doesn't work. Tolkien's stories don't fit into a lot of current ideas about how stories should be, even in literature and especially in movies...but people still actually love them. Therefore, I think pandering to what some have come to insist is "necessary" for a movie should be kept to a relative minimum.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Legolas was the son of Thranduil, who was in THE HOBBIT, so why wouldn't Legolas be in Thranduil's court? As for the love interest, yeah, but what the heck.

And I think you're right about Azog. I don't think they need extra bad guys, but, again, what the heck.

I agree, MattLeo, about the changes to Faramir. I figured they did it mainly so that Faramir wouldn't show as being more noble and unquestioning than Aragorn.

I think if they'd shown the ways that Aragorn was actually self-doubting in the book, instead of adding other ways, it would have all worked better. But no one asked me.

And, back to love interests, I was very frustrated by them cutting the development of the relationship between Eowyn and Faramir so short.

Hmmphf!

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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
Legolas was the son of Thranduil, who was in THE HOBBIT, so why wouldn't Legolas be in Thranduil's court? As for the love interest, yeah, but what the heck.
I can accept Legolas making an appearance since yes, retroactively he would have been there. But it appears he is going to be a relatively major character and the love interest....yeah. Its not that its horrible in itself, but it just feels like pandering to what Hollywood thinks a movie has to have.


quote:
And, back to love interests, I was very frustrated by them cutting the development of the relationship between Eowyn and Faramir so short.
Yes, they added a butt-ton of it for Aragorn and Arwen that wasn't in the book but essentially ignore the one clear cut romance that definitely was in the books.


I just wish Peter Jackson would stick to just adding the occasional intuitive embellishment and not, especially now they KNOW the movies are going to make money, worry as much about catering to Hollywood sensibilities (that don't actually fit moviegoers sensibilities all that well anyway in my opinion.)

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History
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On a side note, after the hundreds of millions are collected, will the studio start sniffing at The Silmarillion in, the likely vain, attempt to keep the cash coming? As much as I would like to see portions of the War of the Silmarils, particularly the story of Beren and Luthien, I doubt this would be successful.
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extrinsic
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French screen and stage play culture places greatest emphasis on a director's ability to adapt or create an audiovisual narrative. Auteur (author) theory assigns authorship of a flim or play by intellectual property law to a director.

Is any Tolkien inspiration adapted for film, or any film adaptation, not a new creation, perhaps inspired by Tolkien but reinvented for the silver screen? And film's costly production budgets influencing derivative reinventions? Auteur theory also claims that a director's voice and creative vision (in making choices) sings through from those of an original inspiration's writer, of supervising studio influences, above the collective efforts of actors and supporting personnel, and to a degree as well the clamors of audiences.

A film is a new creation, perhaps inspired by a written word narrative, though distinct from the written narrative and unique due to audiovisual narrative forms' demands.

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Pyre Dynasty
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My memory is telling me that it was Azog's son who was leading the orcs in The Hobbit. But my memory is a known liar so I'll have to look it up later when I get the chance.

History: The Simarillion hadn't been published at the time Tolkein made the deal that the rights for these movies came from so it isn't in the option. They would have to negotiate a new deal with the family, which would probably be much more expensive.

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legolasgalactica
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What bugs me most, aside from the occasional over-exaggeration or silly plot or character twist (most of which have been mentioned) is the action scenes. LOTR was more or less okay I can handle the few times legolas "surfs" through the battles, but in the hobbit, the battle scenes were rediculous (in the caves, the rabbit sled, the walking cliffs...) I couldn't have made up such a list of unlikely, impossible-to-the-point-of-silly action scenes if my life depended on it. That was also the reason for many extra minutes of the movie. Had they cut it down to reasonably fantastic events and humanly (dwarvishly) possible movements, it would have been maybe a half-hour shorter.

[ November 24, 2013, 12:08 PM: Message edited by: legolasgalactica ]

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Robert Nowall
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Well...I just wanted to raise a sidebar and it seems to have hijacked the thread. No matter.

As The Lord of the Rings [the book] is the sequel to The Hobbit [the book], it makes The Hobbit the foundation on which things were later built. Since Legolas Greenleaf is known to be the son of Thranduil the Elvenking, it's a reasonable assumption that he's somewhere 'round when the dwarves (and Bilbo) pass through the area. But it's nowhere explicitly stated that he was there. (Legolas is a drift-in from an early version of Tolkien's "The Fall of Gondolin," actually.)

But as The Hobbit [the movie] is the prequel to The Lord of the Rings [the movie], which is a slightly different arrangement of things. Take the One Ring...the weight of it, throughout The Lord of the Rings [movie and book], is not implicit in its use in The Hobbit [the book], where it's a handy plot-device that equalizes Bilbo and the dwarves. However, The Hobbit [the movie] must deal with this weight in its own way.

Oh, yeah...the Battle of the Cliffs is in The Hobbit [the book], though its brief mention there could be taken as metaphor for climbing in high and snow-covered mountains in bad weather...

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by legolasgalactica:
LOTR was more or less okay I can handle the few times legolas "surfs" through the battles . . .

Haven't seen The Hobbit movie(s) and I have no burning desire to do so.

One of the things that bothered me most in the LotR battle scenes was Legolas running around shooting orcs from close up. That is not how a bow is used for several reasons. In the books, he sensibly switched to his knife in close quarters. I could handle the things that were clearly meant to be over the top, like surfing down the stairs or the oliphant's trunk, much more easily.

I won't even go into how they ignored and upended most of the themes of the story.

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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by legolasgalactica:
I couldn't have made up such a list of unlikely, impossible-to-the-point-of-silly action scenes if my life depended on it. That was also the reason for many extra minutes of the movie. Had they cut it down to reasonably fantastic events and humanly (dwarvishly) possible movements, it would have been maybe a half-hour shorter.

There's this perception in Hollywood that if a movie has action, now it needs to have LOTS OF CGI ACTION -- if some is good, more is better, and total overkill is great!

However my Cynical Little Voice adds that since CGI tends to be the largest single cost item in current budgets, it's also the best thing to exploit for Hollywood Accounting, which is to say, the money laundering that goes on with all these big budgets. So the more of it there is, the easier it is to hide the profits.

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Robert Nowall
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Surprisingly, I do want to see the next Hobbit movie...I did enjoy the last one, despite it all...this summer, I passed on Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University, though I'd originally planned to see both...regular going-out-to-the-movies, not really my thing...
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Reziac
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And then there's the other way round, taking a ridiculous concept and making a durn enjoyable movie of it, with no wasted moments: the most engaging fun I've seen in a while was the unlikely-sounding Cowboys and Aliens.
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