A book recommendation... and a response to Dixon

Publish date:

Hey, guys--

Wanted to take a second today to give you a great book recommendation. Now, granted, I'm biased for a several reasons, but I'd urge you to check out Writer's Digest's new book, The 2009 Screenwriter's and Playwright's Market. Like TCG's Dramatists Sourcebook, it lists opportunities to which writers can submit scripts: agents, contests, theaters, production companies, conferences, etc. But the most fun part is the collection of articles and essays that come beforehand... which-- in the spirit of full disclosure-- includes my own contribution, an article called "Writing the TV Pilot," which was edited from this blog. But the other pieces are great, too... TV vet Ellen Sandler has a good piece on writing TV specs, and there's a terrific interview with my friend Rich Hatem, who wrote ABC's Miracles and The Mothman Prophecy (you can practically feel Rich's passion for writing oozing off the page-- it's great reading!).

I wouldn't say the Screenwriter's & Playwright's Market is the most comprehensive book of it's kind (and after all, it's covering both screenwriting AND playwriting, two very different mediums and businesses), but it's one of the only books that combines outlets and advice for both, making it a unique resource. Also, by having articles about theater, film, and TV all right next to each other, you start to see how they work differently and similarly, both as artforms and industries, which is interesting and valuable.

I'll put a link at the bottom of this post if you wanna order a copy from Amazon.

Also-- a quick note to loyal reader Dixon Steele, who had responded to my review of "The International." (And please feel free to disagree with me, respond back, etc.-- one of my goals this year is to get more interactive with all you guys and generate some good discussion on here!)

Anyway... I had commented that Salinger, "The International's" main character (played by Clive Owen), never seemed to have much of a personal stake in solving the movie's mystery. To which Dixon replied: "In his previous attempt at exposing the bank, it's revealed that
Salinger's source was murdered along with his wife and child. This
caused Salinger's 'breakdown,' which is brought up by another character
(referring to his 'history'), and discussed in more detail by Owen and
Naomi Watts' character. Owen's anguish was obvious and it was clear, at
least to me, this was what was a motiovating force in driving him to
bring the bank down."

So I wanted to say two things...

1) Dixon-- you're totally right! I had forgotten that point, but you're correct... it does mention that Salinger's wife and kid were murdered, although I don't think we ever get much detail. And yes-- this SHOULD serve as the character's motivating force throughout the movie. But that's also the problem...

2) Even though the information is planted in the movie, it's done so in such a quick, non-dramatic way that A) I didn't even remember it, and B) it never feels like it truly IS Salinger's driving force. We never see him looking longingly at pictures of his lost family. He never visits their graves. He's never haunted by their memories. We are told-- briefly, verbally, and "academically"-- that his family was killed over this case... but-- at least for me-- we, the audience, never feel the whole emotional weight of this loss.

In other words, I think you are doing a better job explaining Salinger's emotional motivation than the movie ever does. And maybe this is because you happened to pick up on a fleeting piece of information which I missed, but that's also a fault of the movie.

Emotionally, this movie "should" have been about a widower attempting to come to terms with his family's murders... and the only way for him to do that is to avenge their deaths by destroying their killer, the big bad bank. But I don't think the script delivers those emotional goods. It may touch on them briefly, but certainly not enough to make Salinger's agonizing sense of loss resonate through the story.

If his dead family is Salinger's driving force, it should permeate EVERYTHING he does. When a bad guy slips away, it should fee like he's lost his wife again. When he screws up a lead, we should feel the pain of him letting down his family. I mean, if the loss of Salinger's family is his emotional engine, there should AT LEAST be a moment, at the end of the story, when we see some emotional resolution-- maybe we see him at peace at his wife's grave... or ask a new woman on a date... or put away a memento he's been clinging to... SOMETHING to let us know this movie's EMOTIONAL STORY has had some conclusion. But nothing like that happens. We're told ACADEMICALLY, but we're not told DRAMATICALLY.

(And I'm also not suggesting that every movie beat should be blatant and spoon-fed to the audience, but come on-- this is an action thriller with big set pieces and a massive shoot-out... it's not claiming to be an introspective character drama.)

Anyway, just wanted to respond to you, Dixon... because I thought you made some great points that were dead-on... and also, for me, re-illuminated some of the film's weakness.

My advice?... Pick up a copy of the The 2009 Screenwriter's and Playwright's Market
and write a script that kicks "The International's" ass!...

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