Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Forget Story

Andy Hendrickson has a point:

"People say that it's all about the story. When it comes to tentpole films, bullshit." ... [Alice In Wonderland's] story isn't very good, but the visual spectacle brought people in droves. And Johnny Depp didn't hurt." ...

But is a sucky story irrelevant to success? I don't think so ...

When a movie succeeds despite underwhelming characters and plotline, it's usually because it's a sequel to a blockbuster or the trailer and advertising campaign grab people by their shirt fronts. Or one of the three surviving Hollywood mega-stars manage to open the thing.

The rest of the time, stories have to engage somebody or the feature dies a quick death. When you think of recent flicks that failed to connect, be it cowboys against spacemen or super heroes in day-glo spandex or the latest horror and gore fest, it's mostly because the substance and core of the flick is cliched and incoherent, with protagonists harder to swallow than a Vaseline sandwich.

James Cameron has gotten trashed a lot for writing underwhelming scripts, but say what you like, Cameron's films work a spell on people that cause them to lust for more.

No, bad story-telling usually goes hand-in-glove with weak box office. I would judge Mr. Hendrickson to be 75% wrong.


Anonymous said...

Merely one of many things Andy Hendrickson is 75% wrong about.

yahweh said...

Good story is important, BUT good story won't fill seats the first weekend. No one knows if it's a good story that first week (despite the critics trying to warn everyone).

The sad truth is good concept and good marketing fill seats the first weekend. And maybe big stars, but that seems to be proven wrong so many times they hardly seem to be worth the money most of them get paid.

If you want to fill seats the second week good story definitely helps. But even more important than story is does the film deliver what it promised. Sometimes that is good story, but not always. Ask Cameron. He doesn't write good stories so much as he makes films that deliver.

Anonymous said...

Here's a great rebuttal that sums up my feelings exactly:

Anonymous said...

What's sad is that this is catching fire in the press as "Disney admits it doesn't give a crap about story".

Anonymous said...

Michael Bay, Tim Burton, Roland Emmerich's filmographies prove ol' Andy got it mostly right.

I defy you to find a solid story line in ANY of their films - threads of a story line maybe, but a well constructed plot - not yet. You'll find THINGS BLOWING UP!!!, curly stripes and zig-zags and laws of physics being ignored but no story lines worth a spit.

Those emperors is nekkid!

Anonymous said...

It's one thing to say, which Andy did, that a good story is not necessary to bring in a large audience to see a tentpole film. It is completely different to say that the studio does not care about story. His assertion is that audiences want to see spectacle, and they will come to see it whether or not there is a good story underneath. Look at the box office numbers for the 3 Transformers movies for proof. However that doesn't mean that the studio and/or filmmaker doesn't care about story and doesn't try to make a good film. Andy would be one of the first to tell you that a movie with a great story is much better than a movie with a bad story. It's just not necessary for box office success. But CG almost certainly is.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I get that. But it sure sounds like a case of the drummer deciding he was the key to the bands success :) Lasseters silly emphasis on story certainly is/was not. I guess we best listen to the tech "exec" for artistic advice.

Anonymous said...

What's amazing to me is that Andy kind of proved his point with the way this story is being covered.

The media ran with the flashy headline of a soundbite over the story of what his talk was actually about (hint: it wasn't about story).

Notice the headlines this incident has garnered "Forget Story" (he never said that)
"Disney executive says that story doesn't matter" (he didn't say that either)

"Disney Animation Exec: Story is Irrelevant to Our Company" (nope, not that either)

He said it wasn't *ALL* about the story. Imagery and stars are crucial to tentpole films.

But the media sensed a carcrash and a robot explosion out of the speech, and lead with that, rather than the STORY he was telling, which was about how new trends in computer animation changes the landscape of how studios and animators work today.

He pointed to the elephant in the room, that NOBODY's ever supposed to notice. And the media decided to misquote him as saying that the entire film industry was nothing but elephants, and it SHOULD BE nothing but elephants.

Anonymous said...

People love to hate Disney.

And yet, people still love Disney parks, merchandise, and movies. Its almost like Disney Corporate needs a PR makeover, not the brand itself.

It's almost like those people who are like "OMG I HATE WALMART. Hey on your way home can you stop by WalMart and get me this list of stuff?"

Anonymous said...

The anonymous of Thursday 10:35 AM is right on. It's amazing how many in the media, including Amid at Cartoon Brew, completely ignored what Hendrickson actually said, and wrote articles about something altogether different. It's even more amazing how much ignorance there is amongst the angry fanboy responses to what Hendrickson didn't say. It's like an echo chamber where the ignorant shout to the misinformed, and the misinformed shout back.

Anonymous said...

This is the TAG blog, ppl not only hate Disney they hate:

Floyd Norma
Warner Bros.
Sony Animation/Imageworks
Blue Sky
and the hand that feeds them...

Anonymous said...

uhh... you forgot:



Floyd Norman said...

I don't mind being hated as long as they spell my name correctly.

Anonymous said...

All apologies, Mr. Norman - here is your missing "n".


Roberto Ortiz said...

I was at the presentation I can honestly say that the tone of the tone was not harsh in any way.
It was quite entertaining and VERY frank.
And to be fair to the man, he came prepared to the talk.
He showed in detail how the attendance numbers have remained stable during the past decade, with a higher studio output of films, and how the DVD home market is now seen almost like an anomaly.
He did not say at all that the is no market for story based film, he was mostly speaking from the context of BIG studios like Disney.

BTW before all of you go and get your pitchforks, this is the same Disney executive who has pushed Disney to release a ton of tools for the open source community and to present aggressively at SIGGRAPH. (This was a BIG part of the same talk AND IT IS NOT BEING REPORTED). On a side note I do love how CONTEXT goes out the window with modern reporting.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info Roberto. I see you're making the rounds outside of CGTalk!

kim said...

At least he was honest, I mean, the only word to describe Disney's recent live action tentpoles is "bullshit".

"Prince of Persia"
"Sorcerer's Apprentice"
"Alice in Wonderland"
"POTC: On Stranger Tides"

But the visual spectacle of "Prince" and of "Sorcerer's" didn't bring people in droves.


alex said...

"People say that it's all about the story."

When he says "people say" is he talking about John Lasseter? Because there isn't a single interview where John doesn't talk about the importance of story.

Whenever I saw a tentpole film with a weak story, I assumed that the people behind it tried to do their best but something got in their way.

It's sad to find out that some executives think that about movies.

Anonymous said...

When he says "people say" is he talking about John Lasseter? Because there isn't a single interview where John doesn't talk about the importance of story.

And then you watch Cars or Cars 2, and realize that when Lasseter talks about the importance of story, he means something else.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
alex said...

"And then you watch Cars or Cars 2"

First, Cars and Cars 2 are not bad movies. Perhaps they are not as good as Toy Story or other films where John has been involved, but bad, definitely not.

And much less if you compare them to Prince of Persia, G-Force, POTC: On Stranger Tides, Sorcerer's Apprentice and Alice in Wonderland.

"when Lasseter talks about the importance of story, he means something else."

Mmmm. 7 out of the 12 Pixar films have been nominated for a screenwriting Oscar!

Toy Story
Toy Story 3
Finding Nemo
The Incredibles

He means something else? What else does he mean?

Site Meter