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The Color of Stories

Reel DirtI was having a conversation with a friend of mine the other day. We were positing whether you could make a good movie out of anything.

I figured you could. Every story starts with a simple idea. Sometimes it’s an event, or a hypothetical; sometimes it’s something like a fellow passing gas.

The notion came from the idea that, in improv, there is no such thing as a bad offer. You ask the crowd for a suggestion for a scene, a location, an occupation, etc. They say something like a tool shed, or a proctologist. It doesn’t matter where it starts; it matters where you take it. It’s that journey that drives the scene.

Marvel already has proven you can make a good movie around pretty much any superhero. I’m not saying Ant-Man is bottom-of-the-barrel, but there are many, many other superheroes who on paper could make for more compelling movie-watching.

My significant other and I were driving down a street the other day and saw a guy jogging with his dog damn near in the middle of the street. He was clutching an envelope in his left hand and his dog’s leash in his right.

After complaining that he should have been using the sidewalk, given the busy nature of the avenue, we hypothesized that he subconsciously wanted to be hit by a car. The envelope he clutched was for his ex-wife, and he didn’t really want to give it to her, so he was behaving dangerously, imperiling himself and those around him, in an effort to go through the motions of making the delivery but hoping to not actually go through with it.

Pretty much any sentence you can think of can start off a story pitch to people making TV shows or movies. It’s where it goes from there that makes it go from interesting to good or even great.

We went on about this for several minutes. The note was actually from his dog. He thought the dog was talking to him and making him do these things for the dog’s benefit. The dog was actually rather mean and was the reason he broke things off with his wife to begin with.

It was a model example of the creative process. I guess, in these cases, the suggested idea alone doesn’t carry the story through, but it’s the fountainhead from which the story patterns spring.

So, pretty much any sentence you can think of can start off a story pitch to people making TV shows or movies. It’s where it goes from there that makes it go from interesting to good or even great.

“There are these two ladies from Belgium doing a podcast…”

“Twin brothers in Finland each have their own brand of beer, and they despise each other…”

“A youth and his goat spend a summer in Japan…”

“After tripping on acid, a teenage girl finds herself in Azerbaijan…”

“A puppy knocks over a trash can…”

“A man with a rabid clown phobia joins the circus…”

“A man discovers his innards are filled with Juicy Fruit gum…”

“A woman from Portugal sets sail to find a cure for dyslexia…”

Any of these would make a perfectly good opening to an elevator pitch. There would be a bunch of different ways they could go in the next sentence, some of them involving aliens, superheroes, plumbers, proctologists, florists, sphygmomanometers, duodenums, secrets, betrayals, and inner discoveries. You know, the usual.

The point is, movies, like people, come from many different places. I daresay that they are interdependent. Well, maybe we could have people without movies, but not vice versa.

I used to pretend to be Batman all the time, even though he looks nothing like me. And even though he and I have never been seen in the same room together, I can assure you that I am not Batman.

Movies are reflections of the hearts and minds of those who make them, but they should also be a reflection of those who view them. I wish I could say that if people didn’t see themselves in the films they watched, they wouldn’t go see them. And maybe that is so, but people have such good imaginations that they can put themselves into any scenario given them.

I used to pretend to be Batman all the time, even though he looks nothing like me. And even though he and I have never been seen in the same room together, I can assure you that I am not Batman.

I am Vengeance. I am often the Night. But I am not Batman. Well, not THE Batman. 

Which moves us to the thing that people are talking about all over the place.

I’ve said that I’m OK with reinterpretations of old tales, Dracula being a prime example. It’s something that every schoolboy and -girl can tell you about, but as far as the legend of the vampires is concerned, he’s a bit late to the game.

Bram Stoker brought him in as a modern interpretation of the bloodsuckers’ lore set in contemporary times. Sure, his contemporary times were Victorian England, but it’s the same idea as continually updating James Bond’s level of sophistication to make him applicable to the digital age. It’s just like telling the tale of Sherlock Holmes next to the modern London Underground and … that other modern London stuff that exists … like … the Gherkin! That’s a London thing!

It’s the same interpretation impulse that made Marvel freeze its most iconic character in a block of ice for decades so that he wasn’t relevant only to WWII. They wanted Captain America to be a part of the modern age, along with Iron Man, Thor, et al. So they took a character who was created in certain circumstances and settings and transported him, basically redefining him along the way.

When it comes to fictional characters, they are open to reinterpretation again and again. Hell, even historical figures can be reinterpreted. Abraham Lincoln can be a vampire hunter. George Washington can have ties to the Headless Horseman. Napoleon can be a time traveler. No problem.

So, when it comes to taking historic figures and making them another race, that’s not without precedent, either. John Wayne can be Genghis Khan. Jake Gyllenhall can be the prince of Persia. Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner can play Egyptians. Seems legit, right? Happens all the time.

Hollywood is still keeping up the tradition. Egypt’s full of white people, Persia/Iran is full of white people, Mongolia is full of white people.

As a matter of fact, those same roles played by Charlie and Yul were played by Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton in Exodus: Gods and Kings just a couple of years ago. So, 60 or so years apart, Hollywood is still keeping up the tradition. Egypt’s full of white people, Persia/Iran is full of white people, Mongolia is full of white people.

These are real people. So when someone gets upset that a fictional white character is being portrayed by someone of a different race or gender, there’s an easy counterargument. There’s even precedent within the story and medium for these changes.

There’s now a female Thor and a Spider-Man who’s half-black and half-Puerto Rican. An African-American has picked up the mantle of Captain America. Granted, these are examples of new people filling roles. Peter Parker is still white; it’s just that someone else is swinging around town being your friendly neighborhood Spidey.

The point is, fiction is fictitious. It’s not bound to the same rules of continuity as real life. Therefore, we should allow these roles and characters a bit of fluidity.

Besides, casting Idris Elba as James Bond won’t automatically erase your experience of seeing Skyfall or Goldfinger for the first time. It may enhance it, or in a worst-case scenario, give you another example of why George Lazenby is the best Bond ever.

It’s like Chris Rock said at the Oscars recently: People are just looking for an opportunity to show how they can do things. So make that effort to understand.

You never really understand someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. If you don’t understand them then, it doesn’t matter, because they’ll be barefoot a mile away.  

Cheers!RedShtick-Top-ColumnStop

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About James Brown

James Brown
James Brown is not related, affiliated, or representative to or of the estate of the Godfather of Soul. Any similarity is purely coincidental.

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