where the big stories are

I recently ran across an interesting – albeit brief – read about the current state of Hollywood. In it, the writers says

Part of Hollywood’s current decay was unavoidable. As a monoculture splintered permanently into niche groups, the idea of a film everybody sees and everybody can’t stop talking about fades further into the cultural past. The rise of cable networks willing to spend serious money on shows like “Game of Thrones” further dents Hollywood’s ability to be the main supplier of big stories.

The article then goes on to discuss how the business model they’ve created has painted them in a corner where heartfelt sincerity is out, out, out and big, big, big profits are in, in, in. Where audiences have, when it comes to summer movie-watching fare, either this superhero movie (where things explode, buildings crumble and people are saved -or not) or that superhero movie (where things explode, buildings crumble and people are saved – or not).

And if the superhero movies are all basically interchangeable and easily forgotten, where’s the magic in going to the movies? Short answer: there is none. Which is why people are staying home and watching Stranger Things or Game of Thrones or whatever.

Now, I understand the financial logistics of this. I know foreign markets (China, Russia, Israel, Germany) drive profit. That Hollywood, being a global business – as in the whole world and not just America, a fact we somehow forget here in the States – isn’t necessarily making movies just for the domestic audience which, in truth, feed less and less into their bottom lines.

Really, though, Hollywood knows films that are heavy on action, explosions, dudes in capes and light on dialogue are easily translatable for Chinese, Russian, German audiences. And if your business is making money – and Hollywood’s is – a film that translates easily regardless of borders is, or could be, the way to go.

But they’re forgetting one important fact. They’re ignoring the one thing that makes it harder and harder to get those butts in the seats:

Where are the big stories?

Really. Where’s the frickin’ magic? Why go to the movies anymore? Where’s that one film that slyly incorporates those special effects audiences love while giving us characters audiences care about, feel for and never forget? Because that’s the film this industry needs. Desperately.

Being the relentless optimist I am, I strongly believe you can have action and magic in a film without relinquishing heart and soul.

If you revisit franchises like Harry Potter or even The Hunger Games, those movies ticked a lot of boxes. Centered around strong narratives – remember those? – they both successfully blended the fantastic with emotion. They married action with heart. And they gave audiences necessary, important battles without abandoning reason or hope. Cities didn’t need to crumble, the universe didn’t need to quake and thousands of cars didn’t have to get trampled underfoot for those films to make their point and make an impact on audiences.

You see? If you have a true big story – not just a loud story – you can go simple. If you’re supported by a strong narrative peopled with unique, relatable characters, you can be quiet. And if those people are imbued with hope, heartache, anger, fear, helplessness, frustration, loneliness, doubt, strength, the story they tell, even without the predictable Armageddon, will be unforgettable.

Why? Because no matter how different that person on the screen is from those in the audience, they’ll be speaking the same language. A language which doesn’t rely on translation or destruction or annihilation. A language that can be felt in a place deeper than words.

Emotion.

If you really want to find the big stories in today’s Hollywood, the stories audiences are truly craving – reminder: everyone’s staying home watching cable — that’s where you begin. With what people feel. And if you can bring to life a solid story with a character who is blessed – or cursed – with the impossible and yet is still driven by their hopes and dreams, fears and frustrations, disappointments and dread, a person driven by their emotions, that’s where audiences will go. In fact, that’s where audiences will go again and again and again.

I believe if you can reach into someone’s heart, speak to that part of them that wants to feel – it’s why we go to the movies, right? – and reawaken that innate hope we all have being part of something bigger while still entertaining, still dazzling, still scaring and surprising them, they’ll come. They’ll leave their homes, come to the theater, make a night of it and see that film. They will. We’ve seen it happen before. And, god willing, we’ll see it happen again.

But that journey has to begin with the heart.

Because that’s where the big stories are.

 

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how to change a life

Interesting lesson I learned today: listening is important.

Let me explain.

Every day, come rain or shine, I take a walk through the nearby park. Shake the dust off. Get away from the computer screen and all those words, words, words I’ve been banging out since the sun came up. You know, just get out and clear my head.

And, on these walks, I’m known to take a moment — a small minute, really — to share a Hello or How are you with those somewhat familiar faces I see, come rain or shine, lingering around, lying on the grass, sleeping on the benches.

Now, granted, many (most? all?) of those faces are homeless and battling addiction and/or psychosis. And many, if not all, of them have been forgotten by those they loved because — and I’m guessing here — of the choices they made. Choices usually driven by addiction, psychosis, hopelessness.

So my kind words, my taking that moment to say Hello and ask How are you? and truly, sincerely listen to what they say may be the only kind word or moment of attention they get that day.

But that’s not the lesson I learned.

On my walk today I ran into a familiar face I hadn’t seen in awhile — not unusual for those faces to disappear, by the way – but this once was clean shaven and sober and HAPPY!

So, after exchanging quick pleasantries, he then said “You changed it for me, man. You took the time, said Hello, wanted nothing, nothing, from me and you were cool. And I thought, Well, fuck, if that cool guy is cool with me, maybe there’s hope. And once I realized there could be hope, I don’t know, man, I got my shit together and just changed it, man. I just changed it. So, thank you.”

Of course I deflected his praise. Reminded him that if anyone changed his direction, it was him. And to keep going. Keep making wise choices. Keep building on his success, however small it might feel. But he’d made a good point. A great point, really.

Which is this…

You never know what will change someone’s life. You never know what will be the one thing, the one small seemingly inconsequential thing, that pushes the Pause button long enough for them to stop and think and reconsider their next choice. And then, because of that small break in the cycle, that pause, that breath, move in a different direction.

It can be as easy as listening to their story. Acknowledging their pain. Agreeing that, yeah, it sucks and, shit, wouldn’t it be nice to get a break? It could be something as simple as treating them with respect and kindness and patience no matter how deep their illness or how drunk or high they are or how clearly their psychological wounds are still weeping. Taking that moment to just be there, for just a moment, might be enough to kickstart them to a better place.

Seriously.

Do not underestimate the power of sincerely listening when you ask “How are you?” It could change a life.