I don't care what anyone says. Us under-30's, we're part of the MTV generation. We're super-media literate. We want flashing images (though preferably the type that *don't* cause epileptic attacks). We want super-fast cuts, interesting shots, questions raised, fancy colours, interesting facial expressions...Oh yeah: and a super-skinny latte to go. And a kitkat. Bee-atch.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it anyway. So: I get bored. VERY EASILY. Movies have very little time to impress me - or my brain goes on vacation. We're talking, what-are-we-having-for-dinner, I-can't-believe-David's-wearing-that-jumper-AGAIN, must-remember-to-buy-disinfectant-for-the-floor-type vacation. I may be looking at the screen, but I am comprehending none of it. Why? Because it has failed my FIFTEEN MINUTE TEST.
So renowned is the FIFTEEN MINUTE TEST in my house my own husband will no longer take me to the cinema unless I have promised him that a) I read the script first b) I know something about the production of it (like it's a director or producer I respect, etc) and c) I buy him nachos WITH jalapenos. Tough break or what. This may have something to do with the fact you have to drive NINETEEN MILES to a decent cinema in this godforsaken place and that neither of us get NUS discount anymore. Which smarts, incidentally, since we were students for about three quarters of our twenties. Damn you Capitalist Cinema Owners!!!
So, anyway. My Fifteen Minute Test goes something like this:
1) Opening shot. What is it? Is it interesting? Does it have a Voice Over? If so, is it a good voiceover (AMERICAN BEAUTY or PITCH BLACK-style) or a shit voiceover by a throwaway character that has no business having a frigging v.o and/or highly expositional(CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK and UNDERWORLD style, shame on your asses!)
2) Who do we start with? Is it the protagonist or the antagonist? Are their goals and/or needs apparent OR the starting point from which they will have to change? Or are we given loads of incidental info that we won't remember or care about twenty minutes from now, regardless of whether it pays off or not? In the 80s, often protagonists would not come to light until approximately ten to fifteen minutes in. NOTE TO SELF, SCREENWRITERS: this is not the 80s. Deal with it, mofos.
3) Is it genre-specific? I don't mean it has to be OBVIOUS but the TONE of it should be. If it's a drama, is it going to be a drama still ten minutes from now: YOU CAN COUNT ON ME does a great job of this, as does LANTANA and SWEET SIXTEEN. Equally, if it's Supernatural, please give us a clue from the start that it's going to be, even if the idea is no one knows it's going to be Supernatural on the first minute. START AS YOU MEAN TO GO ON. No one gets chopped up in SEVERANCE in the first act, but we all KNOW they're gonna get chopped up: why? Because they're a bunch of yuppies in the middle of nowhere on a COACH for christ's sake and EVERYONE knows people who live in the city get killed in the country! Only one means of escape? Uh-oh, coach driver and coach smashed up. Same with DOG SOLDIERS and the landrover. Nice one. Give us a sense of inevitability, but keep us guessing. As hard as it sounds.
4) Characterisation. Do I know/care who is who? If not, uh-oh: doesn't matter how great the concept is. HARD CANDY? Love the idea of a guy meeting some *innocent* girl of the 'net, then getting fucked over by her 'cos she's not what she seems. Watched it last weekend - BORED. Why? Because the two main characters - whom we were asked to listen to for AGES in the first ten minutes just sitting down in a cafe btw, that's my next point - were, for me, completely 2D. I got no sense of foreboding. I got no sense of "oooooh, he's a predator out to get virginal schoolgirl" or even any subtext that she was actually not what she seemed either. Maybe it was just me. Maybe it was poor acting and/or scripting. Whatever. Quack, quack - oops.
5) Static scenes. Oh my god. First thing screenwriting students are told: keep your characters on the move. Why do so few films do this? I love Michael Mann as anyone knows who reads this blog regularly knows: COLLATERAL, MAN EATER, HEAT...They all do a wicked job of this. But bloody MIAMI VICE? I know: let's have two guys on the roof of a night club having a highly expositional conversation cutting between two PHONES - ARGH!!!! Even the shooting of the Feds which we SAW was explained away in dialogue...
6) Which leads me on to my final point: dialogue-led scenes. Often part of a static scene, but not always. Sometimes one can get away with big chunks of exposition if the situation is funny enough - WHEN HARRY MET SALLY is a good example of this. What would have been clunky is funny because Harry's breaking his heart to his friend at the same time as doing a Mexican Wave in a football stadium. Genius. So often however, big chunks are served up to us on a plate WITH FRIES just for the sake of it. LAST OF THE MOHICANS, another Michael Mann debacle in my opinion, likes to repeat itself alot (even though we might have seen what they're talking about) whilst leaving out some really obvious questions like WHY DIDN'T THEY ALL JUMP OUT OF THE BLOODY WATERFALL??? WHY DIDN'T NATIVE AMERICAN BLOKE WHO WANTED TO KILL THE TWO WOMEN KILL THEM THEN AND THERE INSTEAD OF TAKING THEM AND OTHER BOYF OFF TO ROAST HIM?? ARGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
So, if a movie fails two or more of these aspects in the first fifteen minutes, it's gone. Either the DVD is turned off or I sit, vacant in the cinema, whilst David watches the rest of it. He'll come out and say, "Wow, that was great!" (he's easily pleased) and I'll go "Hmmm." He'll say, "Which bit did you like?" and I'll say, "Do you want curry or stir fry for dinner?"
My family say that if I like a film, it's one of three things: either bloody brilliant, bloody weird or so bad it's great. So there you go.
However, knowing what you LIKE about movies and HOW you respond to them helps your writing. I know I have a low attention span - as such, I try and ensure my set-up is as smooth and interesting as possible, with transitions leading into the second and third acts doing the same. I think structure is everything in keeping people like me watching - so I invest heavily in this area. It doesn't always work out, sure, but knowing this means I have a head start on those annoying buggers who sit there and say "Thrill me", because I am one of those annoying buggers.
How do you respond to movies? What is the most important part for you?