Movies and Misrepresentation

Movies by their very nature are artifices, they represent the illusion of reality rather than expressing reality; but, to paraphrase Orwell, not all artifices are created equal.

We all talk about the mass of remakes that seem to taint to cinema, we lament the cynicism with which they are presented to the mainstream audience with little more, apparent, objective than to gather the largest box office receipt they can.

It is easy to see the continued emphasis on effects and spectacle over story or character that these films, and many others, rely; but it also occurs that there are other elements at work regarding modern film and its general lack of “connection” to its audience.

The “technical” aspects of film making include things like “effects” but are in no way limited to them. Technical aspects include obvious things like camera work, lighting, sound design and editing but it also includes the technical aspects of each of these individual disciplines and more besides.

The technical aspects of writing, for instance, heavily influence the making of a movie right from its principle stages, this is obvious; but perhaps the extent of its influence is not entirely appreciated by much of the film going audience.

Each individual “type” of writing involves its own techniques and rules, it also has its own relative styles and potential pitfalls, but one of the main pitfalls of any kind of storytelling is the storytellers inability to correctly categorise their tales and structure them accordingly.

This is not to say that storytellers much adhere to “formula” or even necessarily follow the rules, but it does mean that a story aimed at a specific audience should adhere somewhat to the aspects of stories that that particular audience is familiar.

This is this pitfall that many modern film makers seem to stumble in to, and many even seem unaware that they are doing it.

This is a fundamental error in the nature of storytelling that the film maker is under constant threat from. Poor consideration on this basic level can severely flaw the resulting movie, it can also damage it beyond repair.

The modern fantasy movie is a major section of mainstream cinema, it is popular and consistent, but it is also a sub-genre that is particularly susceptible to this notion of “misrepresentation”.

The “fantasy genre” is not the same as the “action genre”, it often contains action but it is not driven by it and this is the difference. Fantasy is driven by something far less clear and therefore more easily to “misrepresentation” that most genres. One of the main drives of fantasy is, by definition, the “fantastical” which is what separates this genre from “science fiction” (a sub-genre of fantasy) which has its main drive being “science”. The problem here is obviously that the “fantastical” is something that is highly subjective and it is also something that doesn’t necessarily contain “high drama” in and of itself, so many storytellers couple fantasy with action in order to bridge this apparent gap and make their tales more universal.

Here lies the problem, how much action can be put into a fantasy story before that story becomes action orientated?

A clear and simple example of a potential error in “misrepresentation”.

Another sub-genre that can be particularly susceptible is that of science-fiction/horror.

So how can a viewer tell what core sub-genre the movie they are viewing is?

Theres no clear answer to this, hence the reason why so many movies seem to fall foul of the problem, but there are guides the stories themselves throw up to “tip off” their audience.

What elements can the viewer remove from a story without it falling into complete disarray?

ALIEN for example is a horror movie, it may have science fiction elements but these do not drive the story they instead enhance it. The story could be set in an old dark house in the middle of nowhere with a monster stalking its halls and it would work without serious change. Though if the horror elements are removed, the monster itself, then the changes needed to make the story work would be extensive.

Using the same token it could be argued that the “Lord of the Rings” movies, Aliens Vs Predator or the “Resident Evil” movies have been made as action films and this might go some distance in explaining why have left many of their audience feeling dissatisfied.

This is a prime example of an aspect of writing that many seem unaware, a “technical” consideration that can serious alter the resulting story with apparently minor changes to the core subject. This is not to say the author should adhere strictly to the relevant “formula” (far from it), but it does allow the author to more accurately gauge the limits of the artificial world they are creating. What the author includes, the styles they use and the use of their various technical “tools” all colour the resulting work. So prior knowledge of the works genre and potential audience helps greatly in deciding what to include or exclude.

Another “technical” aspect of writing that seriously alters the resulting story is the writers awareness of their “technical” abilities and what degree they allow them to influence the story they are creating.

A writer who begins a project with an excessively defined collection of technical points in their work runs the risk of their tale being driven more by technique than story. This can result in something no better than those stories that are driven by “formula”, a notion that most writers would baulk at.

First and foremost a story is exactly that, a story, and though many writers feel their own talents driven by the need to improve (this writer certainly feels that way); this desire for technical prowess should never take the front seat and should always be subservient to the audience and their relationship with the finished story.

The technical knowledge regarding writing can, and often does, improve the writers ability to communicate their ideas to their audience, but it can also result in exactly the opposite without careful and controlled consideration. Allowing the technique too much control can easily result in work that become overly sterile and therefore lacks a connection with its target audience.

This is a common problem with many movies that are aiming at an “indie” market as opposed to a mainstream one, but it is an issue that can run across genre’s and target audiences. This is because, potentially, it is a problem carried by an author and it is agitated by those writers who constantly strive to improve. The irony being, of course, that it is only those authors who are conscious of their artistic efforts who are prone to this problem.

All these problems can also be just as prevalent in other written works as well, from novels to comics. Even music is potentially susceptible to it.

If we consider the creative process to be similar to cooking for a moment its easy to understand why. If “technique” is seasoning we can see how too much or too little can easily ruin a meal which is otherwise perfectly prepared. It could also be true that too little seasoning is preferable to too much, as the variant tastes of the foodstuffs is far more palatable than that of just the seasoning.

So it would seem that either extent of the writing process can fall foul of error that is simple and easy to perpetrate, but very difficult to fix once it has begun. The prime point being that the construction of the script should be careful, considered and then reviewed at every opportunity.

One thought on “Movies and Misrepresentation”

  1. I’ve never thought of sci-fi being a sub-genre before but I guess it is one of fantasy. So what would you call the primary genres and then the secondary ones? I always confuse drama, thriller etc. I think if you can be very clear as to the genre, it does help shape the film and the types of audience. Indie movies are not exempt and like you said in a Dead End Podcast, indie can sometimes be a duvet protecting the creator from critical analysis.

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