It Better Be About Something BIG!

Just saw THE GHOST WRITER, Polanski’s latest. Besides watching the movie and trying to figure out what was second unit and shot in the U.S., and which scenes were shot on a stage someplace else… there wasn’t enough, really, to watch.

I felt sad. I love Polanski. The guy’s a great filmmaker, but he missed the boat on this one and the problem lies in the screenplay. It never should have been green lit.

The movie’s barely in theaters now, so I don’t feel bad by spoiling anything. Not that there’s that much to spoil. The best thing in it is Olivia Williams, pitch perfect as always. And Kim Cattrall does a hell of a job being English. Anyway.

The title of this discourse is about the problem. If it’s a movie, it has to be big. Big enough to be fifty or a hundred feet wide. This story is not about anything we care about. It’s all too bloody intellectual. There’s nothing in the hero’s problem, or the bad thing the bad guy did (a LONG, long, long time in the past) that makes the hair stand up on your neck. Nobody gives a tinker’s damn.

The giant reveal at the end is that… someone you didn’t suspect was, in the 1970s, recruited to be a CIA agent! Wow. They worked for the CIA and we never knew it… Gee… How earth shattering.

Ho hum.

The engine-driving-the-movie-thing you worry about Pierce Brosnan’s character is “did he, way back when he was Prime Minister, authorize prisoners to be tortured to stop terrorism?” We never see it. No friends of ours are tortured. It all happened before the movie even started. Years before. Why do we care? Why hang an entire screenplay on something as thin as an intellectual debate on rendition? I know torture is bad and we shouldn’t do it and in the end it serves no good (witness France and their boneheaded handling of torture during the Algerian revolution) but all this stuff was long ago, off screen and only involved a nod or a signature on a piece of paper by the Brosnan character.

How is that worth making a movie about?

If you’re going to take all that time to tell a story, tell one that’s going to really grab us by the throat and not let us go. Make it be about something bigger than a nod or a signature. Make it happen on screen.

But make it BIG or it’s not a movie.



Filed under Screenwriting, Writing Process

16 responses to “It Better Be About Something BIG!

  1. now

    Haven’t seen the movie but I read the script and had similar thoughts. Like, –there just isn’t really anything… happening, is there?

    Totally separate, but it’s my birthday so I’m wondering if you’ll answer a question for me:

    What does that mean, exactly, when people talk about the “engine” that’s driving a movie? I’ve had a few development people say this to me and I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t have a good grasp on what they’re talking about.

    Love the blog. Thanks for your help!

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      The engine, I guess, would be the main thing shoving us forward through the story. In CHINATOWN, it’d be Jake trying to figure out who set him up. In THE GODFATHER, it’s Michael taking revenge on the people who shot his father. Both of those are deep seated emotions that churn out guts and make us care about the people and make us want them to win. Does that help?

  2. Dan D.

    A movie that makes you think. Who wants that shit, right? If at least three different street vendors aren’t hit by three different cars, why even bother? People having conversations? Subtle tension? Using your brain to fill in gaps, thus making the character’s actions worse than anything we could be shown on screen? Ugh. Save it for Lifetime, Polanski.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      I’m quite content to be forced to think, but if I’m burning gray cells, I want it to be in the name of something that works dramatically. This did not work dramatically because I didn’t have any emotional connection to the events they were asking me to care about. It was a tiny event that happened too long ago to people I never saw. I’m sure there was a way to make the subject matter work, but this wasn’t it.

  3. JBC

    And Polanski, a convicted child rapist who has dodged justice for 30+ years, gets to make it (ie spend millions on it) while so many good ideas from struggling writers get passed over or are not even looked at.

    Polanski needs to be in jail. Even if he ever had talent it shouldn’t be a shield that protects him from paying for his crime. Now, theres a good story. A celebrity on the run from justice who thwarts police with his star status for years is finally caught.

  4. Make Money and save our planet while your at it

  5. Maybe the fact that Robert Harris himself wrote the adaptation of his own novel was not a good idea. He may have been too close to the story. I’m sure it took him long enough to get the book done, he wasn’t going to re-write the whole thing. Plus the book sold well as it was …

  6. Anna

    Kim Cattrall is English.

  7. Anna

    Seems to me that when people have internalized the many “rules” of screenwriting they stop enjoying films. Or rather, their taste somehow “shrinks”.

  8. ghpacific

    I think Ewan McGregor should have been a vampire. There was enough set-up for it. Ha!

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      I actually own a VHS of THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS. Ewan as Dracula. It would have been a surprise… and one I’d have believed!

      • Guy

        Or Ewan as Pearce’s illegitimate ‘son’. “He’s my brother, he’s my son, he’s my brother…” Ghostwriter really was a snore and only our local arthouse theater would play it.

  9. SED

    where can i find this script online? any one?

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