John Cusack, what have you become?

Did anyone hear about John Cusack’s latest film? The thriller supposedly inspired by the real events surrounding a notorious Alaskan serial killer, even though there are really no similarities between the stories, co-starring Jennifer Carpenter of Dexter? No? First you’ve heard of it?

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I’m not surprised, because not only did this mediocre film go straight to DVD, it’s also completely formulaic – a thriller to the T. Although it’s got all the right pieces of the puzzle – big-name actors, a provocative premise, and all the twists you would expect from a thriller – when you put the puzzle together it produces a completely bland film that offers the viewer nothing new.

This is a great example of an easy trap to fall into for screenwriters. While you need to of course pay attention to the genre in which you are writing, it is possible to adhere too closely to accepted norms. In order for a film to have a real impact, it needs to go outside of the box in some way. Unfortunately, The Factory simply doesn’t do that.

Even worse, John Cusack’s performance is painfully underwhelming and shallow. Now, I love the classic Say Anything John Cusack as much as the next girl, but he’s really gone downhill now that he’s no longer that earnest and playfully endearing teenage underachiever. Somehow he doesn’t seem able to play the more mature roles now demanded of him, especially the protective father figure of The Factory. Many would argue that 2012, quickly followed by Hot Tub Time Machine, marked the beginning of the end for Cusack, but personally I rather enjoyed HTTM and didn’t find 2012 as atrocious as some. So I still had hope, until now.

What do you think about John Cusack’s career trajectory? Have you seen or heard of The Factory before now? Let me know what you thought of it!

‘The Factory’ Is Just Another Thriller Off the Assembly Line
Liz Medendorp @ PopMatters

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With well-known actors and a provocative premise, it’s surprising to see a film like The Factory go straight to DVD (sans bonus features or scene selection options). It hits all the high notes: abduction, abuse, murder, and even fatherly heroics. But this film’s failure to make an impact is perhaps due to too strict an adherence to the thriller formula. In the end, The Factoryleaves you with nothing new, only a sense that you’ve somehow seen it before.

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Bad Guys are People Too

Constructing an antagonist is almost more complicated than creating your protagonist. Why? Because the audience has to believe that the bad guy has real motivations for their actions. No matter what atrocities they commit, the antagonist always has to believe that what they are doing is right.

The Avengers offers a great example of this in the character of Loki. As actor Tom Hiddleston said in an interview,

Well, I think he genuinely believes in his kind of motivation, which is that the human race is busy fighting each other. The planet Earth is rife with war and if the human race was united by the reverence of one king, he would create peace. It’s hopelessly deluded and misguided, but he’s also a character that’s also brought up with the expectation of his entitlement.”

So although Loki is incredibly misguided and is actually bringing about the destruction of the Earth, he truly in his heart believes that he is the hero of this story. And that’s the key – no one sees themselves as a villain, not even the actual villain of the story.

Not only does ensuring that your protagonist has a meaningful, even relatable or understandable motivation make him or her more realistic and believable, but it also makes them more complex, prompting the audience to be more  interested in the conflict with the protagonist.

Dexter is another great example of a “bad guy” with believable motivations – in fact, he isn’t even the antagonist. Somehow the writers on Dexter have managed to create a protagonist who, as a serial killer, is essentially a “villain”, yet the audience still roots for him every week. Check out this article discussing why and let me know what you think. What are some other examples of “bad guys” who have this sort of believable depth and motivation, arguably making them into possible “good guys”?

Specs & The City: Bad Guy Protagonist and ‘Dexter’
Brad Johnson @ Scriptmag

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So you think that bad guys can only be Antagonists? Think again. They’re just as multi-faceted as the good guys these days. One day, when you least expect it, you’ll realize the script idea rolling around in that brain of yours is crying out to have a bad guy protagonist at the heart of the story. But how do you put someone like that at the center of your script and expect the audience to go along for the ride? Audiences like to cheer for the good guys, right? Actually, what they really like to cheer for is a character with whom they identify. On some level – any level – if the audience can catch a glimpse of themselves inside the character, then you’re golden.”

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