Dumb it down, please.

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  • #16
    Re: Dumb it down, please.

    Originally posted by Ronaldinho View Post
    Feedback has a history of being a dirty word on screenwriting forums, so I'd be a little more specific:

    You have to see how an audience reacts. Do they laugh when they're supposed to laugh? Do they jump when they're supposed to jump?

    I don't think there's any way to calibrate that except through trial and error.
    “Calibration” is the perfect word. I’d also say it’s a bit like tuning. A few readers say this part goes too far, so you change it. Then it doesn’t go far enough. You fiddle with it until it’s just right.

    My personal experience has been that some writers get it in their heads that writing is an entirely internal process. They want to hone a project to perfection and then release to the world, as if any outside interference before that point will taint the material. Even the best writers in history often had colleagues they used to evaluate their material.

    Of course, DDP has great examples of exceptions to this, namely everyone that posts on the feedback threads.
    TitanCreed
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    Last edited by TitanCreed; 10-11-2014, 05:49 PM.
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    • #17
      Re: Dumb it down, please.

      Originally posted by TitanCreed View Post
      Even the best writers in history had colleagues they used to evaluate their material.

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      • #18
        Re: Dumb it down, please.

        I think he's referring to Tom Wolfe and John Irving. They evaluated each others work.

        Or maybe Joseph Conrad and D.H. Lawrence.

        Or maybe Alan Moore and Grant Morrison.

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        • #19
          Re: Dumb it down, please.

          Originally posted by DayJobWriter View Post
          Out of curiosity, who exactly in history were you referring to?
          (I slightly edited that line just now. I didn't think people would assume I meant every great writer ever. I have a hyperbole addiction. I use it in every sentence.)

          Shakespeare was the main one I was thinking of. Joseph Conrad was another (+1 to Richmond). My favorite writer, James Joyce, might be an exception, though he often confided in his wife.

          For screenwriters hoping to create projects for a general audience, though, you need that outside feedback. My brother is a standup comedian and I often think of how they ultimately have to rely on the crowd to know if something is funny or not.

          (Insert general There are Always Exceptions Disclaimer here.)
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          • #20
            Re: Dumb it down, please.

            Originally posted by nmstevens View Post
            . . .

            Claims to to the contrary notwithstanding, it's easy to be complicated and obscure. It's hard to be simple and perfect.

            The craftsmanship that goes into creating simplicity can be enormously greater than that which goes into creating something really complex, because the craftsmanship must be invisible.

            The simple appears to be seamless, inevitable, flawless -- as if it couldn't possibly be any other way -- so what's the big deal? Surely the artist couldn't have labored all that much, since the end result seems so inevitable to the eye of the viewer.
            . . .
            NMS
            So true, and this seems to apply to many areas including literature, art, science, law, puzzles, etc,

            The solutions to complex problems seem so simple, once they are solved.

            Originally posted by TitanCreed View Post

            Shakespeare was the main one I was thinking of. Joseph Conrad was another (+1 to Richmond). My favorite writer, James Joyce, might be an exception, though he often confided in his wife.

            For screenwriters hoping to create projects for a general audience, though, you need that outside feedback. My brother is a standup comedian and I often think of how they ultimately have to rely on the crowd to know if something is funny or not.

            (Insert general There are Always Exceptions Disclaimer here.)
            Agree, many great commedians, writers, and artists require feedback to know if their humor, or writing, or art is working. But I think some do not. I wonder what quality within them makes the difference? Do they possess a highly developed internal feedback mechanism?

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            • #21
              Re: Dumb it down, please.

              Originally posted by TitanCreed View Post
              Shakespeare was the main one I was thinking of.
              Shakespeare? From whom? He wrote quickly and needed no validation, assurance or input. Ben Jonson famously said, "He n'er did blot a line." You know, he was one-draft-Will. If you mean the guys in his company came up with great little gags and bits in rehearsal, sure, he was writing plays after all and that's the joy of that medium -- fun with actors. Something not all screenwriters are able to do. But that didn't change what he wrote. Shakespeare, like Mozart, is in a class by himself.

              But don't forgot collaborative groups. The Bloomsbury crew seldom changed their underwear without sharing their themes/angst/craft with their fellows.

              Originally posted by TitanCreed View Post
              For screenwriters hoping to create projects for a general audience, though, you need that outside feedback. My brother is a standup comedian and I often think of how they ultimately have to rely on the crowd to know if something is funny or not.

              (Insert general There are Always Exceptions Disclaimer here.)

              Comment


              • #22
                Re: Dumb it down, please.

                Originally posted by DayJobWriter View Post
                Shakespeare? From whom? He wrote quickly and needed no validation, assurance or input. Ben Jonson famously said, "He n'er did blot a line." You know, he was one-draft-Will. If you mean the guys in his company came up with great little gags and bits in rehearsal, sure, he was writing plays after all and that's the joy of that medium -- fun with actors. Something not all screenwriters are able to do. But that didn't change what he wrote. Shakespeare, like Mozart, is in a class by himself.

                But don't forgot collaborative groups. The Bloomsbury crew seldom changed their underwear without sharing their themes/angst/craft with their fellows.
                (Apologies to the OP for derailing this thread.)

                Shakespeare was a noted collaborator. Bringing up the subject of exactly how much he worked with other writers is great way to start a knife fight among literary professors. We also have evidence that he revised his plays himself or had others do it for him.

                Here's a Wikipedia article on the basics:
                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare's_collaborations

                "Like most playwrights of his period, William Shakespeare did not always write alone and a number of his plays are collaborative, or were revised after their original composition, although the exact number is open to debate."

                And here's a nice article that goes into a bit more detail:
                http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/a017cbe4-3...#axzz3FtoP87Bx

                By the way, I feel there should be a Shakespeare High Five we can do as mutual fans of the playwright.
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                • #23
                  Re: Dumb it down, please.

                  Going off of TitanCreed's earlier post it helps to have something that works on multiple levels. The average audience member needs to get the gist and be entertained but the keen eyed will spot the subtle moments of character.

                  The Sopranos is a great example but I'd like to bring up Dumb and Dumber. Over the course of my lifetime I've seen it probably close to a hundred times. Now it works as an easy popcorn comedy but over time most of the laughs for me were between the lines. The Farrelly brothers used to be great at that, rewarding multiple viewings.

                  That was kind off topic. Point is keep the main plot easy enough to follow. Far too often I've been frustrated by reader reviews when they don't pick up on something that seemed obvious to me. But I realise it's my fault because I'm writing with multiple viewings in mind rather than the first.

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                  • #24
                    Re: Dumb it down, please.

                    I also apologize to the OP for derailing this thread.

                    You are pointing me to Wikipedia, really? REALLY? I guess the fall of Western Civilization has begun. Gee, had I known sooner, I wouldn't have had to slave away on all those graduate degrees in English literature.

                    Where's (brilliant) ComicBent? We need his scholarly reasonableness.

                    Sure, Shakespeare collaborated with others. That's the nature of the stage. Especially at the very beginning and then at the end of his writing career. But if you think for one moment that his greatest works were collaborations, or needed input from others, you've lost your mind. There was simply no one living, then or now, with his ability with language. Period.

                    Anyway, out of respect for the OP, I will refrain from any more extraneous remarks. If you wish to continue, please start a thread in, say, research or something.

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                    • #25
                      Re: Dumb it down, please.

                      Originally posted by TheConnorNoden View Post
                      Going off of TitanCreed's earlier post it helps to have something that works on multiple levels. The average audience member needs to get the gist and be entertained but the keen eyed will spot the subtle moments of character.

                      The Sopranos is a great example but I'd like to bring up Dumb and Dumber. Over the course of my lifetime I've seen it probably close to a hundred times. Now it works as an easy popcorn comedy but over time most of the laughs for me were between the lines. The Farrelly brothers used to be great at that, rewarding multiple viewings.

                      That was kind off topic. Point is keep the main plot easy enough to follow. Far too often I've been frustrated by reader reviews when they don't pick up on something that seemed obvious to me. But I realise it's my fault because I'm writing with multiple viewings in mind rather than the first.
                      I think The Prestige works on this level, as do most Nolan films (TDKR strongly excepted). First viewing, even as an intelligent viewer my reaction was "Damn, that was good, but I feel like there's more." So my sister and I immediately press play again and watched the whole thing through a second time. And even years later, I know watching it again I'll pick up on something I never noticed before.

                      So I like the idea of playing to two audiences. I guess you could use the foreign vs. domestic audience argument (that studio films have their dialogue simplified to play better to foreign markets). So if I look at a high-budget script as playing to those two hypothetical audiences, I can include the entertainment for one and art for the other. Obviously, that's a simplified version of the concept in itself, but I think looking at it that way will help me decide when to be obvious and when to be subtle.

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                      • #26
                        Re: Dumb it down, please.

                        Originally posted by TitanCreed View Post
                        “Calibration” is the perfect word. I’d also say it’s a bit like tuning. A few readers say this part goes too far, so you change it. Then it doesn’t go far enough. You fiddle with it until it’s just right.
                        This is, perhaps, over-pedantic, but I want to be clear that it's not so much about what people tell you, but about how people react.

                        I had an interesting experience with this in a table read recently. 40+ people laughed their asses off for two hours. I certainly felt, listening to the room, that there were some areas that weren't working as well as I would like, but it was easy to tell that people were attentive, on the ball, and stuff was working.

                        And then we took a little break, and 15-or-so writers (most of whom are smart and successful) stuck around to discuss it. And it was night and day. From some of the notes, you'd have thought the script didn't work at all.

                        And that illustrates a key difference: the difference between how people react to something as an audience member, and the sort of things they say when asked to give notes. The former is invaluable. The latter ... somewhat more hit and miss.

                        So, even though they're very similar notes on some level, I'm extremely interested when somebody tells me, "This all seemed very obvious and kind of on the nose here, I was way ahead of you," and not at all interested when somebody says, "You need to pull this back some," except if the latter is simply a poorly-phrased attempt to say the former.

                        I'll admit that I, myself, sometimes screw up and give notes that are closer to the latter, but try to focus on the former. (And when I give someone more detailed notes, I'm almost always asking a lot of questions before I give any sort of suggestion: "Were you going for X or Y?" "What was this supposed to accomplish?" "What was the character trying to do here?")

                        My personal experience has been that some writers get it in their heads that writing is an entirely internal process. They want to hone a project to perfection and then release to the world, as if any outside interference before that point will taint the material. Even the best writers in history often had colleagues they used to evaluate their material.
                        I think it was in Craig Maizin's appearance on "The Moment" but he was talking about Scott Frank, and quoted Scott Frank as saying he needs more help than any other writer he knows. There's something really empowering about somebody like Frank saying that.
                        Ronaldinho
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                        Last edited by Ronaldinho; 10-12-2014, 02:04 PM.

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                        • #27
                          Re: Dumb it down, please.

                          Great post, Ronaldinho. I think there's also a difference between how non-writers react. I think writers have a tendency to go looking for problems in a script, even if there are none/few.

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                          • #28
                            Re: Dumb it down, please.

                            The goal of the writer is to make it simple for your audience but at the same time to convince your audience that they are very clever for figuring it out.

                            A few tricks to establish this:

                            - Mention of math or chess on a very basic level.
                            - Bullshit detective work that everyone can follow. Usually, you start with some ridiculous assumptions based on a white line around the ring finger.
                            - Shakespeare quotes.
                            - Even if your plot is simple, make the characters seem sophisticated - this is easily achieved through English accents and period pieces.
                            - Brutally obvious analogies.

                            Alternatively, you can also throw in one or two minutes of BS jargon that no one can follow to establish credibility, followed by the 'fish out of water' character, asking the scientist to dumb it down.

                            Forget about symbolism and foreshadowing. Nobody spots that in a movie anyway. That's for film students to sift through 40 years from now, when your work is already considered brilliant. Besides, they'll find it, even if you didn't put it in.

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                            • #29
                              Re: Dumb it down, please.

                              Originally posted by Eric Boellner View Post
                              Great post, Ronaldinho. I think there's also a difference between how non-writers react. I think writers have a tendency to go looking for problems in a script, even if there are none/few.
                              I agree. When I do coverage, I often look at the script with my "Audience Hat" first, then my "Producer's Hat," and then lastly my "Writer's Hat." That last perspective is the smallest, because it's the most closely tied to my own biases.

                              There's also my "Film Student Hat," but I learned not to use that on the first day of my first internship in development...

                              To follow up on Ronaldinho's great post, it is possible to overwork a script. You can finesse it to the point that all of the passion and charm are squeezed out.
                              TitanCreed
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                              Last edited by TitanCreed; 10-12-2014, 11:33 PM.
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                              I am a critic first and a writer second.

                              I have a background in development and currently provide low-cost coverage.

                              More info here: www.FourStarNotes.com

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                              • #30
                                Re: Dumb it down, please.

                                Originally posted by Eric Boellner View Post
                                So I like the idea of playing to two audiences.
                                I like this idea as well.

                                I am in the middle of writing a suspense thriller ala Collateral or Safe House, except that instead of having the action revolve around the typical trope of the disc/flash drive of secret info that everyone's after, my story revolves around a criminal court case that is as complicated as the civil case was in Michael Clayton.

                                There is no overt exposition in my script. All of the backstory flows organically from the action. If you go to the bathroom or to get popcorn during the movie you're likely to be lost when you come back. But rather than that being a liability, I would hope that it becomes something that encourages re-watching.

                                If that limits the box office potential for me, or if some producer re-writes it down the line without my input, so be it. My job is to do the best work I can and make a name for myself.

                                The quote from Wilder in your original post is interesting to me, because I thought Wilder was famous for saying "Let the audience add up two plus two. They'll love you forever." and "Treat your audience intelligently. What movies can do, at their best, is let us in - they show us things, they don't tell us.", which would seem to contradict the other quote.

                                I guess there's no easy answers.

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