See You at the Movies?

Happy belated Father’s Day to all of you dads out there. My family and I went to see Finding Dory the other day as a combination Happy Birthday/Father’s Day celebration for my younger brother. A good time was had by all.

Finding-Dory-Poster

While we waited for the movie to start, my sister-in-law mentioned that it was the first movie she’d seen at the theater in over a year. Interestingly, Andrew Stanton, the director of Finding Dory (and Finding Nemo), had a short clip before the movie began in which he thanked the audience for coming out to watch the movie; thus acknowledging that the movie-going experience is increasingly rare for many.

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When I was a teen and a younger adult, I hit the movies just about every weekend. I didn’t miss a major movie. But for five of the last six years, I can use one hand to count the number of movies I’ve seen at the theater. Last year, I saw more movies at the theater than I’d seen in years. I saw

 NEMye3g3VuXNQM_1_1   star-wars-the-force-awakens-poster

Jurassic-World-2015-movie-poster   MPW-102782

avengers_age_of_ultron_NEW_POSTER    Ant-Man-Movie-Poster

See? Not a ton of movies. For others, popping a DVD or blu-ray disk into a player was the extent of my movie-going experience. (Wish I’d seen The Martian at the movie theater. Glad I saw it on blu-ray at least.)

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This year, I’ve seen Captain America: Civil War twice (took my niece the second time), Zootopia, and now Finding Dory. I hope to see several others on my list—like Doctor Strange; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; Suicide Squad; and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

zootopia-poster-01   captain-america-civil-war-movie-poster

A number of factors work against my desire to go to a movie theater: higher prices; films that are all style and no substance; and rude moviegoers. In one movie theater I attended, a group of teens talked loudly and ran around the theater until the manager threw them out—halfway through the movie. So I usually head to the cheap theaters, reserving the first-run experience for the movies I want to see the most. And I tend to see movies I really want to see, rather than take a chance on an unknown the way I used to do. (Same with books, sadly.)

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(By the way, many critics declared that Jurassic World lacked substance. Though the characters were underdeveloped (and some were downright annoying), the movie’s entertainment value made up for the lack of substance—at least for me.)

I miss the days when my good friend who lived next door, my brother, and I would look at each other and say, “Let’s go to the movies.” And then off we’d go without a second thought. Back in the day, Spielberg movies were always a draw for us, along with those of John Carpenter, James Cameron, Ridley Scott, and others.

I also miss some of the element of surprise. Nowadays, with incessant internet trailers that give too much away, and people blabbing spoilers on social media, you practically know everything about a movie before you walk in the theater. To maintain at least some of the surprise, I tend to avoid watching more than one trailer for the movies I’m determined to see at the theater.

Still another thing I miss is having a slate of movies to choose from with well-developed plots, dialogue, and pacing. Instead, we might get one good movie and several well-this-is-sort-of-okay-though-it-is-a-dumbed-down-adaptation-of a-well-known-book/inferior-remake/sequel-of-a-better-film. That’s why I love the adage at Pixar: “Story is king.” (They also have the twenty-two rules below.) I wish many studios believed that.

Pixar's 22 Rules of Phenomenal Storytelling

How many movies did you see at the theater last year? What do you like or dislike about the movie-going experience? What movie are you excited to see this year?

Brooklyn movie poster from movieposter.com. Jurassic World movie poster from dvdreleasedates.com. Inside Out movie poster from movieweb.com. Finding Dory movie poster from screenrant.com. Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie poster from inquisitr.com. The Martian movie poster from flickeringmyth.com. Zootopia movie poster from film-book.com. Captain America: Civil War movie poster from shockya.com. Movie theater clip art from clker.com. Pixar rules from gsartfactory.blogspot.com.

The Stanton Effect: Inspiration from a TED Talk

Just to give you a head’s up: I’m postponing my third giveaway until next week. (Sorry. I won’t tell you ahead of time what this giveaway involves. Mwwwhahaha!) Since this post is already long, I’ll post again this weekend to let you know who won the gift card and a preorder of Kate Sparkes’s book, Torn. Now, on with our regularly scheduled broadcast. . . .

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The other day, my friend Sharon told me about a TED Talk by writer/director Andrew Stanton. Since I was familiar with his Pixar movies (Toy Story 1, 2, 3; A Bug’s Life; Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, WALL-E, and others), I was eager to hear what tips he had for telling great stories. (I didn’t see John Carter, the sci-fi film he co-wrote and directed [2012], though I read A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.)

The TED Talk in question is below. There is, however, a small amount of graphic language early on. Just want to warn anyone who might be offended.

Because of its rich tapestry of information, this is one of my favorite talks. Here are some of the storytelling tips Stanton mentioned that really resonated with me:

• Make me care.
• Give a promise that your story will take the reader somewhere worthwhile.
• Invoke wonder.
• Capture a truth from your experience.

There were many other points. Because of that inspiring talk, I have decided to host a series of guest posts on the points Stanton discussed. I’m calling this series the Stanton Effect: Inspiration from a TED Talk. I’m excited to have such a stellar line up of bloggers and authors coming to the blog in the next few weeks to share their thoughts. From time to time, however, I will break away from the series with a post or two about a giveaway. But don’t worry. I’ll get right back to the series.

Today, I’m leading off with Stanton’s first point—make me care. It captured my attention, because it is the number one reason why I usually stop reading a book or watching a film—I simply didn’t care enough.

Make me care. In grad school, my advisors told me the same thing over and over and over again: “You have to make me care about this story.” Yet forging a heart connection with a reader is tricky to do. Tricky, but not impossible. Think of the last story you really connected with. We connect when we can relate to a character’s struggles or hopes.

If you watched Stanton’s TED Talk, you saw a scene from Finding Nemo that absolutely tugs at the heartstrings. The scene below is the beginning of that scene.

We connect as we think about the losses in our own lives. Though Stanton made a different point when showing the scene, I can’t help thinking of how the filmmakers caused me to care without making me feel manipulated.

DarkestPartoftheForest_coverI also think of a book I’ve read twice now: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. In the opener, Black describes a glass coffin that is pivotal to the main character’s story. (You learn that fact on the book jacket.)

It rested right on the ground, and in it slept a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives.

As far as Hazel Evans knew, from what her parents said to her and from what their parents said to them, he’d always been there. And no matter what anyone did, he never, ever woke up. (1)

Black made me care, because the unusual image of a boy in a glass coffin stirred my curiosity and reminded me of fairy tales I love. But most of all, I cared because Black showed me what Hazel was interested in right off the bat. I cared, because Hazel cared.

Another way Black made me care is through her obvious concern for her characters—good, bad, or in between. She cared enough to show them at their strongest or most vulnerable without making a judgment call either way. I can’t help contrasting her efforts to the number of times I’ve heard an author admit to disliking a certain character in his/her own book—usually the antagonist. An author’s dislike of his/her character is always a red flag for me. I need to care even about the most morally repugnant individual in a story. If I don’t, I’ll head for the exit quickly.

If you saw the series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, on Nickelodeon, you’re familiar with this dude:

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Prince Zuko

Avatar-Episodes-Book-1-Water-300x300Slight spoilers in this paragraph to follow. (Be warned.) Throughout the first book of the series—Water—Zuko is clearly working against the heroes. Though he has his own agenda, I couldn’t help caring about him, because the writers (including series creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko) made him a well-rounded character. They showed the physical and emotional wounds motivating his actions. They also gave him an antagonist. I cared, because they cared.

If we want to make readers care about our work, we need to love our characters. We don’t have to approve of their actions, particularly the bone-headed ones. But we definitely need to understand why they do what they do. Caring about them is what makes a story great.

Black, Holly. The Darkest Part of the Forest. New York: Little Brown and Company, 2015. Print.

Andrew Stanton from zimbio. Zuko from earnthis.net. Avatar book 1 DVD cover from avatarthelastairbenderonline.com.