Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Story strength and length

I finally got around to watching The Aviator. I have no logical reason why it took this long, although I suspect I was subconsciously afraid it would suffer the exact problem that I found it to have.

Biopic syndrome.

Biopics are often well-acted, filled with interesting moments, etc., but they almost always fail to be about anything. Usually this is most obvious in their lack of story, or directionless story at best. And here I specifically refer to biopics as the movies that are about a substantial period, decades, of the life of their subject. I think true stories, even ones with a clear specific lead characters, that take place on a limited scale, are an entirely different game.

The only exception to this problem that I've thought of so far is Malcolm X, and I think the lion's share of the credit for that should go to Alex Haley. After decades of examples, however, I will accept that there are a couple of others hiding here and there, either unseen by me or currently eluding my memory, without conceding the premise of the rule.

On the opposite side of the storytelling spectrum, I've recently read Harvey Comics Classics Volume Two: Richie Rich as well as some classic Carl Barks stuff, found in the likes of Carl Barks' Greatest DuckTales Stories Volume 1, and I must say there are incredibly valuable storytelling lessons in many of these old children's humor comics, I promise. Beautifully simple, well-told stories. Not all of them necessarily, but more than enough to make me glad I made the effort.

I'm currently back to work writing... although perhaps only a practice run.

I'm working on adapting a short story that I'm 90% sure is in the public domain. Sure, I could take the time to do better research to alleviate that 10% doubt, but that could only derail me while I'm on a roll. Besides, I'm learning valuable lessons, I think, in what works in adaptation - and updating, to some degree. Not to mention structure. It's largely easier to spot and play with structure in an existing story and place your tent-stakes, so I'll have a clearer vision of it, and how to use - or even purposefully avoid - it in original works.

It's also important to keep the lessons of the classic children's humor comics in mind when "adapting" a story in which you will ultimately need to invent more new material than there is original material to include... a person could - and many, many have - jump off the deep end working with that.


Jonathan Lapper said...

I hate to admit it, but I thought Richie Rich had some good stories too when I was a kid. I still remember some of them. I remember one where Richie awakens to find himself in the 19th century and no one will believe him when he says he's in the wrong time, etc. It's an elaborate scam to get his bank account number but the set-up as well as how he puts it together was cleverly done. At least I remember thinking so as a kid.

We should start making short films based on Harvey Comics stories. It's the wave of the future... the wave of the future... the wave of the future...the wave of the future ... the wave of the future... the wave of the future ... the wave of ....

Neil Sarver said...

I honestly couldn't say how I'd feel if I had big stack of random Richie Rich comics in hand, but with that big collection of "the best of", and I'm certainly hope they come along with a "second best" collection soon... if only because I'm so utterly delighted by the fact that Dark Horse comics has added Casper, Richie Rich and Baby Huey to stand next to the "Sin City" and "Conan" comics that they publish.

I interestingly wouldn't have been turned on to the new Harvey collections without having read One Hell of a Book by Tim Lucas, which turned me onto the more recent Hot Stuff collection, which is indeed a delight.

The Richie Rich stories, which range between the usual slight, but amusing, stories that largely amount to a joke to the longer stories, which artist Ernie Colon, recently notable for the graphic adaptation of the 9/11 commission report, notes are inspired by The Adventures of Tintin. In both types, at least, as I said, in this "best of", I've been terribly impressed with the pure economy of the storytelling.

I suppose it seems a far stretch to suggest that John Logan, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio should have been learning the lessons of children's humor comics in telling such an enormous story, and that wasn't even specifically what I meant, of course. The key thing they needed to learn was focus.

And for me, as someone who has at least two ideas currently brewing for kind "everything but the kitchen sink" kind of screenplays, it's important for me to keep my eyes on economy. As some of the longer Tintin styled stories in the Richie Rich collection - and here the Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge adventures are likely even more applicable even than that - there are indeed ways to create the feel of having thrown in "everything but the kitchen sink" without actually bogging down your story in ways that lost focus, and, more importantly, the audiences interest.

As to Harvey Comics shorts, I actually do think it's a great idea. As is noted in that collection, the magnificent Hot Stuff has never been animated, and there's tons of potential in a series of live action Richie Rich shorts... of course, I imagine some amount of expense involved in producing them, too...

Damn future!

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