I’ve always been interested in writing, photography, and film-making. I graduated college with a degree in film and worked in the film industry for well over twenty years. Working in Dallas after college I started in the film-vault of a film lab. I moved up quickly to become an editor, then went free-lance in the local film scene — mostly as a script supervisor. After a while I finally landed a job as a producer in a production company specializing in TV commercials. At that time I was also plying my trade as a screenwriter — but to no avail.
A few years passed with no upward movement, so with demo-reel in hand I decided to make my mark in the movies. I moved to Hollywood — where I quickly learned that Dallas didn’t matter and I again started at the bottom. I first worked as a PA (production assistant), then slowly moved up from there; grip, dolly grip, electrician, best-boy electrician. I even Gaffed and Key Griped a few movies. More years passed as I continued to move up the ladder; production manager, line producer, and finally — producer.
In my spare time, I continued to write — even optioned a few screenplays, and like any good film person in Hollywood, I started my own production company. But by this point in my career I couldn’t stand “The Biz.” The politics, backstabbing, prima donnas, movies made by suits and bean-counters, the bullshit. I was done.
I left the industry to concentrate on my photography, produce a few film projects on my own, and of course, continue to write when the mood struck.
All of the previous is just backstory to give you (the reader) a little knowledge of my experience. Basically, I just want you to know that I’m not talking out of my ass when it comes to movies — especially good movies with well written and well developed screenplays.
And this brings us up to date.
I’m so tired of watching movies that rely on taking too much of a creative license and also depend heavily on suspended disbelief. And most of it is because of sloppy writing. And there’s no excuse for it. Movies today are filled with lazy writing, clichés, holes in the story, non-sequiturs, things that don’t make sense, unbelievable and unrealistic story lines, remade and re-booted stories, undeveloped characters, and poorly written dialogue — just to name a few of the problems. And the worst part is — film-makers don’t seem to care. “Let’s just throw in a few explosions, a few more stunts, some blood, and the stupid audience will never know the difference.”
But I know the difference. And that aforementioned prevailing attitude in Hollywood is the main reason that I can seldom enjoy watching a movie. There’s so much fodder that I could write 24/7 for the rest of my life and still not scratch the surface of how bad the writing and film-making in Hollywood has become. But to save time, I’m just going to talk about one movie I watched the other day. It was the epitome of bad film-making and sloppy writing.
It was a very un-original “Revenge” movie. Husband and wife, and the husband’s PTSD brother going hunting for the weekend. Already a cliché yawn, but let’s get past that part. The movie started off with the brothers just being assholes. I didn’t care about them — at all. I just kept asking myself why the writers chose to make them that way. What’s the significance? Is it going to be important in the story later on? It is a red herring? The answers are “No.” It didn’t play out, the brothers didn’t redeem themselves. There were just dicks and there was no reason why.
The trio pull up in an SUV to find a closed down and pad-locked National Park… Hunting in a National Park? Hmm, I’m not sure about that one. Anyway, the place had been abandoned. Graffiti and trash were everywhere. In shorts, t-shirts (obviously summertime), and with hunting and camping gear they hop the fence and enter the park. Husband is always on his cell — talking to the office. Brother doesn’t like technology. Brothers argue. Brother flirts with Husband’s wife. Brothers fight. Wife seems to be just along for the ride.
The threesome pass a trashed out kiddie playground where the husband breaks a glass bottle and carves their initials into a support beam of a jungle-gym, slide, or something. Right after that, they end up in a hunter’s blind. Yes, a hunter’s blind near the playground… Reality at its best.
Oh, I forgot to mention that they’re hunting deer — shorts, t-shirts, summer... Ya, makes sense. They also brought along bear-traps to set out… Foreshadow much? Of course they went off-trail because brother doesn’t follow trails, only follows the game. But husband has GPS tracker on his cell in case they get lost. But brother doesn’t need GPS because he marks trees with spray paint along the way.
Back to the blind. After climbing up into it the wife, looking through the scope of a rifle, spots a doe and is about to pull the trigger, but doe goes behind a tree and wife immediately goes into action, out the blind, down the ladder, running and chasing the doe through the forest until she catches up to it and gets it in her sights again. But alas, she can’t pull the trigger. BAM! Brother shoots the doe dead.
Later as they’re cleaning the deer, wife goes into explanation on how she’s a vegan, could never shoot an animal, but she’s a doctor, or nurse, or something, and says a lot of big words to make the audience think that the writers know what they’re talking about. Brother tells his own pointless backstory about how he served tours of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan or somewhere. He tells tales of murdering civilians, getting discharged, blah, blah, blah… Are you still with me?
Oh, dang, another important part. The brother has a large emotional support dog with him. The dog protects him and doesn’t let him out of his sight.
After another fight between the brothers, the husband and wife crawl into their tent to go to sleep while the brother decides to sleep against a tree.
Next morning the husband and wife wake up — everything is gone, the entire camp, shoes, guns, water bottles, food, even the tent they were sleeping in is gone. The brother and his dog are also gone. Husband and wife both have an “X” drawn on their foreheads. Husband blames it all on being another one of his brother’s pranks. But alas, brother comes back and he too had an “X” on his forehead… Oh, please. He states that somebody came into the camp and stole everything. He slept through it, but he’s a tracker and can see three sets of foot prints.
And now I’m asking myself — how the hell did somebody take the tent that they were sleeping in and also put “X’s” on their foreheads? And nobody woke up? And where the hell is the guard dog?
The brothers fight again until wife declares that she’s pregnant… OMG, can it get any worse? Yes, yes it can. Brother tells them how to get back to the SUV — just follow the spray-painted trees. Meanwhile, he’s going to go after the people who took his dog.
Okay, let’s wrap it up with the brother. He finds his dog hanging, dead. He falls to his knees, wailing. Then almost gets shot. He sees someone in the hunter’s blind shooting at him. Then while still being shot at he manages to sneak up into the blind and incapacitate the shooter. Of course the brother turns his back on the shooter to take a deep breath, he hears a click, turns back around and gets shot dead… Oh, no.
Just to cut to the chase. So to speak. There are three bad guys. They’re teens who are gamers, they wear masks, ride bicycles, and only talk to each other through texts on their phones.
Back to husband and wife. They’re lost. They find the spray painted trees, but the teens have put more spray paint on other trees to confuse the couple. Husband finds their water bottles hanging from a limb, he jumps up to get them and of course lands in his own bear trap that the teens put there to toy with them.
Husband and wife break into a ranger station, she, being a doctor, bandages his foot. She then sees a map, and instead of taking the map, for some reason, she writes the directions back to SUV on her arm… Really?
Husband’s foot is too bad for him to make it, so he decides to be a decoy so his wife can climb up a cliff (uh-huh) and get back to the SUV and drive into town for help. He goes out the front while she climbs out a window in the back. Husband leads shooter away. Ends up in a porta-potty where he fights to the death with the shooter. He too incapacitates the killer and like his brother he turns his back, only to the turn back around a moment later and get shot.
Wife is struggling to scale the cliff… Again, why? I guess, because it’s there, and the writer must have thought it added drama. Anyway, she makes it to the top and calls husband over the walkie-talkies that they took from the abandoned ranger station. Husband is gut-shot and laying in a dumpster next to his dead brother. Husband tells wife there’re three killers and to run, they’re going to kill her (well, duh). She says to put pressure on the wound… Wait, what? He never told her that he was shot. Ugh. Nevertheless, he dies and now wife gains the strength to seek revenge and kill the teens.
So now the super woman decides to head back to their vehicle to escape — or get supplies or… I really don’t know or care at this point. On the way there the teens are watching her, following her. She’s running and of course there’s a strategically placed rock on the trail that she trips over. She falls head over heels down an embankment — where there’s another strategically placed rock that she hits her head on — knocking her out cold… OMG. Please save me from this drivel.
The teens stop at the top of the hill and of course they can’t see her and they don’t bother to walk down the hill to investigate… Arg!
She finally wakes up with a huge gash in the side of her head, hides in a muddy storm drain, blah, blah, blah, and finally makes it to the SUV to escape her tormentors. Of course the teens have removed the battery and now she’s trapped. She uses her earring as a needle and some dental floss to sew up the wound in her head, then grabs a tire-iron, the jumper cables, and a few emergency flares — which earlier in the movie they foreshadowed by showing them as part of the messy contents of the SUV.
Our heroine takes off to now hunt down the teens and get revenge.
Cut to the teens, still in masks, sitting by a pond and texting each other. Then for no reason the leader tries to drown one of the other teens and is only interrupted by the sound and smoke of flares… Remember our heroine only had a few flares but now there are dozens of flares positioned in and around the forest to make a complete smoke screen. Dozens of flares! Where the hell did the other flares come from?
The three teens walk toward the smoke. One enters… For some reason the other two seem to get lost and completely disappear from the scene. Anyway, our lead woman lures the one teen into the smoke and clubs him with the tire-iron. He falls hurt. Then her motherly instinct takes over and she tries to help him… Seriously! But he pulls a gun and she clubs him again — killing him… Yay.
One down. Two to go… I can barely contain myself.
She leads the next killer into a kiddie museum of local flora and fauna… Remember this is an abandoned National Park. But for some reason the museum is intact and everything is working, lights, displays, even a pre-recorded tape talking about the exhibits. Can it get any more pathetic? Yes, why yes it can.
She comes face to mask with the killer — both have their guns drawn at each other… Oh yeah, she took the gun off the other teen she killed. Then for dramatic purpose we cut to outside the museum and hear a single gunshot from inside… Ooo, who shot who? I don’t care.
Our heroine walks out all distraught. She killed the teen… Oh, but did she? Apparently, because she now has his cell phone and gets a text from the remaining teen.
With determination, she goes after him, the leader. Now she’s up in a tree, hanging off a branch, and the killer conveniently walks under the branch and stops to look around… Remember the jumper cables? Well, she wraps them around the killer’s neck and tries to choke him. But of course he hits her, she falls out of the tree landing on top of him — knocking him out. She turns her back on him, crawls away to grab his gun, and OMG, she turns around and he’s gone! Then all of a sudden he appears from out of frame and knocks her out with her own tire-iron… Wow. Who’d-a-thunk-it?
Next exciting scene is that she’s tied up with the jumper cables and the leader is peddling his bike down the dirt trail — dragging her behind. She’s completely passed out. She then wakes to find herself tied to a picnic table and the killer is pouring water over her face. He pulls a hunting knife out of a sheaf, pulls up her shirt to reveal her flat (pregnant) belly and is just about to plunge the knife into her when all of a sudden his cell phone rings. It’s his mom calling to find out where he is… Ok, I have to be honest here — that part actually made me laugh.
He then turns his back on our heroine and goes over to have a typical mother/son chat with his mom. While his back is turned, our captive saws through the half inch metal jumper cables with her wedding ring… HAHAHA. Killer teen hangs up with mom, turns back around and our heroine is gone… Surprise. Not.
And I don’t even remember why or how, but she ends up confronting him back in the kiddie playground… You remember? The one that is all trashed and full of graffiti? They fight, fight, fight. She’s losing and killer is on top of her strangling the life out of her. And as she’s just lying there getting choked, she‘s remembering all the good times with hubby… Yawn. When is this going to be over?
Her brain is going through the sequence of good times, and her thoughts come back around to hubby breaking the bottle and carving their initials into the support beam of the slide or something… What? A broken bottle just lying in the dirt near her? She reaches over, grabs the neck of the conveniently placed broken bottle and rams it into the killer’s jugular. He falls over and calmly lies down next to her. She removes his mask and stares into his eyes as the lifeblood drains out of him. She won. She survived… It is over yet?
Oh God, no it’s not. Now she’s on a swing, patting her belly and singing a nursery-rhyme to her unborn baby.
Cut to heroine riding the killer’s bicycle down the mountain road into a nearby city where she encounters a child sitting in a shopping cart. He points a toy gun at her and she makes a gun with her fingers and points it back at him.
And yes I begrudgingly sat through the entire thing. Ninety minutes I will never get back.
These characters said and did things that people just don’t do. The story was cliché, weak, and in many areas — completely pointless with no follow up or reason. And to top everything off, the dialogue was absolutely pathetic. Yes, it might have sounded good in the writer’s head, but obviously he/she never read their own written words out loud, and probably never heard someone else recite them until they saw the actors onscreen.
As a writer and film-maker I’m appalled by this type of writing — there’s no excuse for it. The holes and sloppy writing in the story had such easy fixes, but the writers/film-makers chose not to care, and choose not to take the time to fix it — and that’s something I can’t figure out. Why? Why don’t they care that their story sucks, that it doesn’t work? Why don’t they take the time to make it better, make it realistic, or at least make it passable to the viewer?
I guess the answer to that will remain a mystery to me. But, because of such poor writing like that, and sadly, too many others, I seldom enjoy watching movies any more. I just have a hard time accepting the over-use of so much creative license, and even a harder time suspending my disbelief for a movie that I could’ve easily done a much better job of writing.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some great movies, well written, well made, and excellent on many levels — but as I get older and more demanding of a good story, those types of movies are very few and far between.
Lon Casler Bixby is a professional photographer and published author in various genres: Fiction, Poetry, Humor, Photography, & Comic Books.
You can see his writing here — www.amazon.com/author/loncaslerbixby/.