Reader question: Why is all your advice so commercially oriented?

A while back, I wrote a blog on character arcs (precis: arcs = change = good).

My friend Nate asks: What’s your thoughts on movies like KIDS and Young Adult, where the protag doesn’t change or have an arc. Both movies I felt were very good. The arc I feel is the audience, where a fresh perspective or a character they could relate to changed how they see themselves.

I liked KIDS a lot when I was growing up, and I was thrilled later in life when I got to meet Larry Clark, Bijou Phillips and Rosario Dawson (Rosario is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met). The alienated world of those rich sociopaths really took me to a world outside my bland suburban upbringing. Young Adult is hillarious (the reveal on Patrick Wilson playing drums is one of my favorite gags), and it’s easily my favorite Diablo Cody script.

Neither of these have conventional arcs. Kids is a nihilistic romp through a bleak and godless universe, where no one learns and everything turns to purulent shit. As for Young Adult, it has a sorta-semi there arc, which I might argue for, but really, I agree with Roger Ebert’s awesome review, where he says, .”even in the movie’s last scene, [the main character of Young Adult] reminds me of what Boss Gettys says of Citizen Kane: “He’s going to need more than one lesson. And he’s going to get more than one lesson.”

The 64k question – if I acknowledge the soundness and entertainment value of these awesome movies, why do I write such dogmatic screeds in favor of the more conventional narrative? Three reasons.

1. Consider the context these movies were made in. KIDS is a such a 90’s project it blows my mind. Made for 1.5 million, it was a smash hit in the arthouse world, making the Weinsteins very rich. But KIDS, like Clerks, was the beneficiary of an ecology that rewarded small indies. The distribution network for content like this has almost vanished, and the “indie producers” are now making actual movies with actual budgets with actual stars. The 90’s gave us Linklater, Kevin Smith and the like, but we’ve yet to see the 2000’s version of them (unless you count Paranormal Activity, which I don’t). Young Adult was a passion project of Diablo Cody who had already broken in, and had already become bff’s with Reitman, and Theron. Neither is terribly instructive to a plucky kid starting out in the year of our lord 2013.

2. Box office. As noted above, KIDS was a box office hit, with the caveat that it wouldn’t have found the same success in today’s distribution streams, where even a movie like CHOCOLAT looks fucking radical. Young Adult performed modestly (budget 12/dom. gross 16), but it’s not the kind of performance any development executive would be in a rush to repeat.

3. Focus of my site: I’m here to help people write 3 act movies that get them writing assignment for studio and genre pictures. It’s my core competency. While I like arthouse movies, the I think they’re easier to pull off if you’re a film school grad with a buzzworthy short or a writer with celebrity friends and existing cachet. II believe a beginning screenwriter is less likely to break in off them. If you’re interested in alternative screenwriting, I highly recommend ALTERNATIVE SCREENWRITING: SUCCESSFULLY BREAKING THE RULES by Ken Dancyger& Jeff Rush.

Published by Matt Lazarus

WGA screenwriter offering in-depth writing instruction, notes, critique, and assistance.

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