“No, it’s NOT cool that the scene in your new movie is exactly like that one scene from your favorite film when you were a kid... “
I made a startling realization about myself this weekend as I was working on the new script. When I sit down to write horror (or any genre for that matter, but especially horror), I am very careful to forget every good, bad and in-between horror film I’ve ever seen. It’s not easy to do, since I’m a huge fan and a bit of an academic (read “geek”) on the subject of horror and monster movies.
The other thing I do when I write is to try to pull from my own fears and dreads and anxieties, not some other filmmaker’s. I do this because I know that if I imitate or emulate, even accidentally, I’ll disappoint myself, and ultimately my audience. So if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I’m not out to flatter the filmmakers before me. I’m out to sign my name on something I’m proud of. Something original. Something mine. Not something nostalgic.
Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes the outside world, and our heroes, find their ways into our work. I mean, that’s the way art movements work, right? Artists take from their masters, they imitate, and ultimately (if they’re talented) they innovate: they create their own works, hopefully forward, and not backward, on the evolutionary tree of art.
But I think in film, because it’s a collaborative art, is hands down the hardest art to be original in, as a director. Because not only are you fighting your own impulses to imitate the films you love, but as director, you also must fight everyone else on the team’s desire or compulsion to imitate. Add on to this, the fact that when you sit down to visualize with your department heads, more often than not, you’re forced to speak to them with images culled from other pop art and film, “ I want it to look like this, but with more contrast, less smoke,” etc...
And when you look at the filmmakers who imitate rather than innovate, you’ll find quite a few hacks and copycats. Sure cinema is fashion and there are trends that we all go by, but to ape another artist’s work does a disservice not only to the artist who is being copied, and to the one doing the copying, but to all the other artists out there who ARE NOT copying someone else’s style. If you ask me, round up the copycats and sheep and get them out of the way of the innovators and risk takers.
Another breed of filmmaker that makes me crazy is the “homage” filmmaker. To me they’re less filmmaker and more collage artist, clipping this shot from this film and that costume from that film. These cannibals of their own nostalgia, these peddlers of past innovations cobble together homage pieces from older, often better films. And in the world of art and culture, that amounts to total stagnation.
So when I’m at a cafe here in Los Angeles and I hear screenwriters saying shit like, “Dude, it’s gonna be just like this scene from Halloween 4 but with that scare sequence from Slumber Party Massacre” I just roll my eyes.
Nothing wrong with fanboys, and nothing wrong with being a fanboy who’s also a filmmaker, but there comes a point when you have to be responsible and hang your nostalgia pants on the hook and man up and write your own thing, direct YOUR vision, not someone else’s. Have your own voice, for crying out loud. That’s a scary thing for a lot of filmmakers to hear because, God forbid, what if they don’t have a voice? What if you strip away the fan worship and there IS no vision?
What happens when they block out the fanboy and put away the nostalgia, and there’s nothing left but that blinking cursor on a white screen under the letters FADE UP...?
Now THAT’S scary thought. Maybe they should write THAT. It’d certainly be better than another frankenmovie filled with the fruit of our fathers, because by now, oh what rotten fruit it is.
Gaudium Per Atrox.