Don’t be a jerk! Do not jerk the rug from under your audience!

The Nashville Film Festival has slid into the past. GREAT festival. Wonderful people. Wonderful food. Wonderful movies. It’s one of the oldest festivals in the country and one of the best. It’s VERY tough to get into, by the way. About three times more entries than the Tokyo festival. Cool, hunh?

I recently saw a film that committed a cardinal sin, a sin so deep in my DNA and so rare that I’ve never written about it.

Chances are, none of you will ever do this. Chances are.

But, if you are ever contemplating it, let me warn you now. Do not. Do this.

A movie, that shall remain nameless because I’m sure they are nice people and are trying to sell it, started in one direction and then changed tone. In this case, brutally.

I HATE massive tone shifts. Some may love ’em. Pas moi.

I loathe paying for one movie and getting another one. I become grumpy after watching a trailer for a light, romantic comedy and then going to the theater and getting a 2×4 in the face. I love surprises but I do not love great big huge awful nasty over-the-top surprises.

BURNT BY THE SUN is an example of a massive tone shift. A lovely Russian family enjoying witty family drama and eating outdoors in the sunshine and cute grandchildren running here and there in the sunlight in their cute dresses and adoring Grandfather presiding over his bickering, loving, fascinating family… and ALL OF A SUDDEN the secret police come and KAPOW he is in the damn gulag. WHAT THE HELL? I didn’t want that movie. Sure, it’s like real life and in real life ghastly things happen to nice professorial types with quirky families. But, If I’d wanted that movie, I’d have gone to that movie. Gulag movies have their rightful place in the cinema pantheon, but not when I sign up for SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. Damn.

This movie was worse.

It was an oddball story about a woman and her problems. She had oddball problems and did her best to solve them, only getting herself deeper in trouble. That was fine. I liked the writing, the story, the character, her friends and opponents. All was well done. The tone was set. We are comfortably in it for the entire story. The filmmakers stayed on task, maintaining a slightly-strange woman-in-trouble-but-dealing tone. It was funny. Not stupid-silly. Dramatic, but not scary. A light at the end of the story that, if she could get to it, she’d be okay.

And, by dint of her own efforts, she gets to it. Hooray!

And then the real ending came. After all your yearning for her victory, it was like walking into a dark room and, as you reach for the light switch, someone in the dark jerks a bag over your head and shoves you down four flights of stairs.

Suddenly, out of the clear blue sky, the sweet dealing-with-her-problems heroine is kidnapped and murdered. End of movie.

SUPER GIGANTIC TONE SHIFT. I felt like I’d been beaten up.

I was upset for hours after seeing this fucking movie. I’m sure the producers would say, “Hey, great, we showed that life can have bad surprises.” Well, this was a MOVIE, not life. I got the hell out of the theater as fast as I could and felt so bad, I wanted to take a shower. Yeah, sure, they got a reaction, but not one that will sell tickets.

First and foremost, this is a business. If you enrage your viewer, he will tell his buddies to avoid the same pain he went through.

So, do not have a gigantic course change once you’ve got the audience on track and in the groove you established.

Do not.



Filed under Bad Writing, Screenwriting, The Business, Writing Process

3 responses to “Don’t be a jerk! Do not jerk the rug from under your audience!

  1. John

    What well known movies would fall into this category? From Dust Till Dawn? I kinda viewed Mystic River to be similar to this except I guess it was expected. I mean the ending was so depressing that it’s almost impossible to want to watch again.

  2. William

    Watch Thanks for Sharing… 2013.

    That one is brutal for Tone shifts lol

  3. Lisa

    Watch RUBY SPARKS and see if you still feel the same way. It starts out like a Rom Com, then suddenly you realize you’re in a misogynistic horror movie. It’s a fantastic twist.

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