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.


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.


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.)


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.)


(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 Jurassic World movie poster from Inside Out movie poster from Finding Dory movie poster from Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie poster from The Martian movie poster from Zootopia movie poster from Captain America: Civil War movie poster from Movie theater clip art from Pixar rules from

By the Numbers

By now you’ve heard about the big budget summer movies that supposedly tanked at the box office. Maybe you’ve seen some of them and wished you hadn’t. Or, maybe you loved them and can’t understand why they didn’t do as well as predicted. (Or, perhaps you have no opinion at all on the subject.) I haven’t seen any of the ones critics placed on the “tanking” list, because I haven’t seen very many movies at the theater this year. But the issue is, other people haven’t either.

If you follow Nathan Bransford’s blog, you read his post on the subject and the part formulas played in the perceived failure of some of the summer blockbusters. Apparently famed director Steven Spielberg predicted something of the sort. But Nathan discusses an opportunity formulas provide for exercising your storytelling muscle. If you haven’t read that post, you might click on Nathan’s name above and do so. You might also check out the Slate article on Steven Spielberg’s predictions or the Suderman Slate article, which discuss the formula issue. Both are mentioned in Nathan’s post.

Formulas. Aren’t they a guarantee that something works in a certain way? That’s the way formulas in math and science behave. I find the subject of formulas quite fascinating, because I’ve never been very adept at following them. Oh, I could swing a mean Pythagorean theorem if I had to, or whip out the formula for sulphuric acid (H2SO4). But formula writing usually did me in.

I’ve mentioned in a previous post (and I can’t find it right now, just take my word for it) that when I was a teen, my goal was to write Harlequin romances. A friend and I read a good hundred or so one summer to get the formula down before trying our hand at writing some. Crashed and burned we did. All we wound up doing was parodying the romances. I later tried writing a teen paranormal romance. Here’s the formula I worked with:

One hot guy who is special (not exactly sure how; something paranormal) + one girl who thinks she’s plain, but is secretly beautiful + one not-so-hot guy the secretly beautiful girl loves + one girl who thinks she’s hot and the guys do too + some big plot point = ???

Couldn’t make it work. Failed miserably.

I even bought Save the Cat, the book at least two of the above articles mention, hoping to discover some good advice for producing commercially successful fiction. Now I can admit I’d hoped to find a shortcut—an easy way to success.

I love what Nathan said in his post:

First, it just goes to show that while you might follow the market and cash in on the short term, following your own vision will win out in the long run.

Following your own vision. Guess that means doing the hard work of birthing that vision. Hmm. Perhaps I’ll finish reading Robert Olen Butler’s book, From Where You Dream. . . .


Better still, I think I’ll work on my book and stop searching in other people’s books for a way to do just that.

What about you? Like formulas? Dislike them? What do you think of the summer movie situation?

Formula from