Monday, April 03, 2017

by Janet J. Lawler

The Black List recently sponsored the above titled talk by Lindsay Doran at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills.  Great audience turn out and an impressive talk.   
Writer/Producer Lindsay Doran
Lindsay Doran, a former film executive and Oscar-nominated writer for "Sense and Sensibility" knows a thing or two about storytelling.  She's been around movie making most of her life, in some form or another, and makes a living these days as a story consultant, as the Script Whisperer, for major studio projects.

Lindsay's talk focused on many things, but mainly on how most dramatic movies win Oscars and Golden Globes, while happy, uplifting movies (like, say, for instance, 2008's Mamma Mia which grossed over $600 million dollars at the global box office) get snubbed or mocked by Hollywood.
Why is that?  Why do depressing dramas win more Oscars than comedies year after year?  Are we conditioned to think sad is better?  More award-worthy?  It's no wonder Moonlight beat La La Land this year.  Maybe it wasn't such a shocker after all.

So, what's a screenwriter to do?  Stay away from the happy ending?  The feel-good movie? Is a good cry valued more on the big screen than a good belly laugh?   It looks that way, according to Lindsay's research.  She probed Hollywood executives, agents and producers about the above questions and found that most favored sad over uplifting stories, pessimism over optimism, and goal-driven flicks over relationship movies.

But how do audiences feel?  What are we craving when we pluck down money at the box office?  With the success of many children's animation movies maybe we are chasing the happy endings.
Lindsay suggests screenwriters consider the psychological benefits of writing more positive stories, heartwarming tales and happy endings for our characters.  To ask the question, what is the human moment in your script?  What are the relationships worth writing about here?  Will a movie about characters still make money?

Yes, Lindsay Doran says.  Most moviegoers remember "the relationship" part of a movie rather than the goal accomplished.  She noted iconic movies like Dirty Dancing (it's not Jennifer Grey flying into Patrick's Swayze's arms at the end of that movie that really mattered, but instead, her father recognizing his daughter's talent and her becoming a young adult); along with Rocky (how we tend to forget that Rocky Balboa actually LOST the fight to Apollo Creed in the original Rocky movie... but it's still uplifting to audiences forty years later because Rocky, instead of beating Creed, found self-worth and true love at the end.)  Adrian!  That's what we remember (and the great training montage).  

So then, when you sit down to write your next script, it doesn't have to be a downer to move people.  It can be a musical, a comedy, a happy fairy tale... just don't expect it to win the Oscar.  But you never know, La La Land came awfully close this year (and even won it for Best Picture for a few brief shining moments!).

Until next time.