My very good friend Consuelo Mackintosh lives with her boyfriend who happens to be a dead ringer for Javier Bardem. One night, Javier 2.0 invited a group of people over who became loud and annoying. It actually drove Consuelo out of the house. She decided an evening movie would be a nice way to kill some time before going back to the rabble invading her home and went to see mother! – an artistic exercise masquerading as a film about rabble invading a woman’s home. Consuelo chose this movie because it stars the original Javier, but it is also Jennifer Lawrence’s latest effort to prove her Academy Award was not a fluke.

I had no intention of seeing mother! – Maybe because it received both cheers and boos after its premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Maybe because it received an F on CinemaScore which measures audience’s reactions immediately after seeing a film on the first night of wide release. Or maybe because I just don’t appreciate titles that require punctuation. Whatever the reason, I was not interested until Consuelo called it artsy crap only film students can appreciate and not worth the price of admission for anyone else. What can I say? I think fifteen dollars is a small price to pay for artsy crap.

And that is just what mother! is – artsy crap. Emerging screenwriters often make the mistake of trying to produce their own art.  We say we want our work to be polarizing because at least people are talking. It’s not what you know or who you know, but who knows you. The movie was written and directed by Lawrence’s real life paramour Darren Aronofsky, a big cheese in the film biz. Everyone knows him. His filmography includes Noah, Black Swan, The Wrestler, The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream and Pi. I mention so many to give you a sense of where this guy’s head is. So polarizing is good, but for the tested and certified successful writer/director like Aronofsky. You, me – not so much.

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Father’s Day is coming up. Yeah, I know it’s one of the non-holiday holidays that sneak up on you and if you have a dad, I hope you at least got a card off on time and if you are a dad, I hope you get a nice mug to go along with that made-in-art-class ashtray your eight-year-old sculpted so brilliantly. I am neither a father nor a son, but I am an emerging screenwriter fascinated with the dynamics of the father/son relationship. In fact, the feature spec I am working on now is an indie coming-of-age effort that hinges on a teenage boy’s disappointment in his dad.

It probably won’t surprise you to know that writers often write about themselves. (No, really?) We are constantly searching for what we’ve lost or what we’ve longed for. That includes a perhaps subconscious theme of parent-child estrangement, especially fathers and sons. I believe it’s because Hollywood is still run by men who want to find a way to reconcile the myth of their fathers as mighty sons of bitches with the desire to break the cycle and become fathers who are nurturing and committed to raising their sons as they would have liked to have been raised.

“If you build it, he will come.”

This is from Psychology Today

The pain and grief and shame from the failed father-son relationship seem universal, as evidenced in the popular movies of the past few decades which had father-and-son themes that overshadowed anything going on between men and women. Men feared being like their fathers, but they wanted desperately to bond with them even if they could never really please them enough to feel anointed.

In 1989, the film that set the tone for the Men’s Movement was Field of Dreams. Baseball, with its clear and polite rules and all its statistics and players who are normal men and boys… is a man’s metaphor for life. In this magical fantasy, Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) tells us his life story: how his mother died when he was two so his father gave up his efforts to play pro baseball in order to raise his son.

Costner hears a voice from his cornfield telling him “If you build it, he will come.” He understands the message to mean that if he mows his cornfield and builds a baseball diamond, his father’s hero, Joe Jackson, will appear. He does. Then Costner’s dad appears in his baseball uniform, and father and son solemnly play a belated game of catch. Father and son don’t talk much, they just play catch with total solemnity. And it is quite enough.

Father-son screenplays always attract an audience, especially those done well. What goes on between the father and son-and what does not go on between them–is surely the most important determinant of whether the boy will become a man capable of giving life to others or whether he will go through life ashamed and pulling back from exposure to intimacy with men, women, and children.”

After generations of fathers Missing-in-Action, Millennials have deemed fatherhood as the one occupation that gives a man his self-worth. The way a father values his son as a child determines the boy’s future. It is no longer about providing for the family, or simply paying child support, it is about nurturing and being there to love and teach love as an expression of masculinity.

I think I’ve got most of the character development for my screenplay done. As an emerging screenwriter we need to remember the son’s arc and overall journey is determined by the father, whether he’s a dynamic bastard, lovable nurturer or M.I.A. The attitude leads to the action and the action produces the relationship.

For Your Inspiration

Field of Dreams is only one example of the power of the Father-Son screenplay. If you’re looking for inspiration for your own work or just want to see your favorite guy get all misty-eyed put on one of these sure-fire Dad’s Day DVDs:

The Champ – (1931) This champ is set in the boxing world but pays homage to Charlie Chaplin’s silent classic The Kid. Both tell the story of a ne’er-do-well dad trying to do the best he can in order to take care of his young son, the cutest kid ever. The 1979 remake starring Jon Voight and Ricky Schroeder was not as well received critically, but packs the same emotional punch.

Bicycle Thieves – (1948) The Italian classic by Vittorio De Sica about a father and son searching for their stolen bicycle the father needs for work to feed his family.

East of Eden – (1955) Even if you do not get the magnetism of James Dean, it is hard to deny the powerful performances in this classic Cain and Abel story about the competition of two brothers for the affection of their conservative father in WWI.

Hud – (1963) Paul Newman as an asshole. He plays the titular Hud who clashes with his noble father on the family ranch which has to be saved when disease infects the livestock.

The Godfather – (1972), and The Godfather Part 2 (1974) Uh, duh. The circle of patriarchy shifts from Don Vito Corleone to the transformation of his youngest son Michael who evolves from military hero and family outsider to ruthless mafia don .

Life As A House – (2001) An underrated Kevin Kline film about a man diagnosed with terminal cancer determined to repair and rebuild his relationship with his pain in the ass teenage son.

Road to Perdition – (2002) Based on the graphic novel, the film is beautiful to watch. Sam Mendes second film and Academy Award winning cinematographer Conrad L.Hall‘s last is about a mob enforcer in 1931 Chicago who tries to protect himself and his son as they seek vengeance against a mobster who murdered the rest of their family.

Big Fish – (2003) Father and son storytellers relate tall tales while trying to reconcile their relationship.

Beginners – (2010) A man’s beliefs about his father and himself are shattered when he learns that his senior citizen father is gay, has a young male lover and is dying of cancer.

A Better Life – (2011) A Mexican-American Bicycle Thieves. An illegal immigrant (Demián Bichir) can’t go to the cops when his truck he needs to work as a day laborer is stolen. He and his teenage son set out to locate it on their own.

Footnote – (2011) This Israeli gem is about father and son professors of Talmudic Studies whose complicated relationship is mostly rivalry that becomes the main way they communicate personally and professionally.

Tree of Life – (2011) Terrence Malick‘s enigmatic film about a man contemplating the meaning of life by flashing back to his childhood in Waco, Texas and how the origins of his strained relationship with his father influenced his disconnected world view.

The Judge – (2014) Robert Downey Jr. plays an attorney who defends his estranged father (Robert Duvall) on trial for murder.

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I’m not sure why, but I can’t wait to see Suicide Squad.  Is it the costumes, or the actors, or the story?  I think it’s because for the past year and a half, Hollywood has been telling me that I can’t wait to see this movie.  You see, it is a tentpole movie.  A “tentpole” is one of those fancy industry exec terms having to do with financial investment.   According to script analyst and industry blogger J. Gideon Sarantinos,” successful tentpole films must generate around $1 billion in global box office receipts off production and P&A budgets of $200 to $300 million, they must be exhibited in theaters all year long (wide theatrical window), they must appeal to a four quadrant audience (men, women, boys and girls) and contain universal and culturally relevant themes.”  Whew!  Got that?  Because that is a lot to get.

Let me boil it down to one thing: Superhero saturation.  And I don’t mean only the traditional heroes in the comic book universe, I mean dinosaurs, aliens, vampires and animated fish (I’m looking at you Finding Dory).  Not to mention anything that comes from a galaxy far, far away. Aren’t you tired of it?  I know I am.  I’m not the only one.  Of course these films won’t fail.  They will make money, but maybe not as much as they could have say, ten– even five years ago.  Independence Day: Resurgence had a budget of $165 million USD and made $266.5 million domestically.  It topped the charts in its opening weekend overseas but still, for a film engineering to skyrocket on the Fourth of July, it certainly fizzled by box office standards.independence-day-2-poster-1-140886-320x480

What does that mean for the emerging screenwriter?  Quite simply, forget about writing a tentpole.  The screenwriters of these big budget, blockbusting, sequels and IMAX megaflicks are known to producers and executives.  They are not investing over one hundred million on action sequences and special effects alone.  They are trusting proven talent.  If you have a brilliant alien invasion concept set in the fairy tale sphere that you know Disney will chomp at the bit for, by all means write it– hey, always go for it, but I would put that spec in second or even third position in your sample case.  Your focus as a writer is on getting work, not getting a script made.  To get work, you need to be read and to have a script that a producer will buy.  Most producers do not buy screenplays from unknown, uncredited writers.  Once you are in the door, then promote the shit out of your tentpole spec and maybe you’ll get an assignment.  If your tentpole is set in a dystopian outback with a lot of car chases, George Miller might read it for the next Mad Max movie.  Maybe.

Tentpoles are the summer circuses studios hang their year on.  Sequels are the easiest to sell financially and blockbusters always bring the biggest box office.  In my thinking aloud, I’ve answered my question – yes, tentpoles are still a thing.  However, with the decline in returns and the sequel weary audience who is tired of been there, done that blow-em-ups from outer space, there is an opening in lower budget films and television projects.  These are where the emerging screenwriter will shine.  There is plenty of time to brand yourself as a sequel tentpole writer after you’ve gotten in the door, but get in the door.  With a whisper and great writing rather than a battering ram and box of popcorn.

In the meantime, I’ll see you in the theater.  Suicide Squad opens August 5, 2016.

 

 

 

 

I haven’t been writing.  And I’m okay with that.  I have been tweaking and polishing, but mostly I have been planning my next move.   But no writing.  I have not created anything new in two months, but I refuse to beat myself up about it.  Neither should you.

Many people.  Many, many people will tell you to write every day.  Even if it’s a poem or a grocery list.  I agree you should think about writing.  Visualize.  Meditate.  Plan your story.  But with everything you have to do in your life, it is next to impossible to carve the time needed to make the 24/7 – 365 writing schedule work.  That’s life.  You are a human being, not a machine and your brain needs rest.  Do not, I repeat, do not beat yourself up about it.  Go outside.  Take a walk.  Be with your children and family and friends and Live Your Life.

Please.

Your script will be waiting.  I promise.

To all emerging writers, and the family and friends who support them– Have a great summer!

This month’s “Food for Thought” is more acting than thinking. Let’s call it inspiration.  It shows that all you need to make a film is a few friends and an imagination.  Stay for the entire three minutes and you’ll see what I mean.  Brilliant.  Hats off, Mr. Walsh!