Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Making it Real


I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity after seeing two movies recently. How does a writer/director imbue his/her work with authenticity?

In the movie Definitely, Maybe, I never for a minute believed the protagonist or his colleagues were campaign workers for Bill Clinton. They looked like models on a lunch break on West 57th St. So right from the first frames, I failed to buy into the concept.

In the movie Cockfighter though, the milieu of the cockfighting circuit was wholly believable. Warren Oates and Harry Dean Stanton, in the lead roles, perfectly captured Willeford’s character and world, thanks to the talents also of director, Monte Hellman.

Does casting actors who look like real people give more credence to a movie or TV show? I think so. This is one of the reasons, I think, The Office works wonderfully. No one doubts these are the sort of people found selling paper products in Scranton. Very few characters of The Wire come from Hollywood casting offices. British television recognizes this, but American television largely believes that viewers want Jennifer Aniston and Matt Perry on every show. Do we demand beautiful people on the small and large screen? Would you go to a romantic comedy where the main characters looked like the couple you spent last Saturday night with?

18 comments:

socalledauthor said...

I think the actors make a big difference-- usually I find the flash-in-the-pan cutie of the day spends more time in close ups than in actually acting out the character they play. I'd rather a no-name in a good story (or a few select actors that are awesome.)

Keep the pretty-boys and pretty-girls in the tripe, away from anything I might see. ;-)

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think maybe the several generations before mine was taught that "Movie Stars" had to be glamorous. My mother often talks about how the "stars" look more than how they act. Too many good-looking people takes me right out of a narrative. Luckily it's not a problem in the written word.

Sophie said...

The office reference sums it up perfectly.

I'm doing a little experiment in my current ms. I have a romantic subplot and my h/h are decidedly ordinary. I resisted all temptation to pretty them up. My gal is 50 and hasn't made it to the salon lately and spends most of the books bruised and stitched. Yet her man likes her fine that way...

It's accepted wisdom in romance that the readers prefer, to use your example, jennifer aniston...and even she is about to sail out of the age bracket editors want to see. One of my critique partners is convinced it's because readers know that once you reach a certain age you're jaded and cynical about relationships and refuse to accept that a mature woman wouldn't know better :)

Sorry, I veered off into other territory there. Yeah, for me, give me ordinary folks and let it fly.

Graham Powell said...

That's one reason I admire the neo-realist crime movies of the late 60s and early 70s - everything looked grubby, and people weren't always beautiful (i.e. Kojak).

pattinase (abbott) said...

The first and only agent so far to read my novel suggested that forty was too old and I should lower her age by ten years. I made her 35 but it would be unrealistic, given what she's been through, to make her younger. Doesn't he know forty is the new 25.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Graham. Or maybe they just looked that way in the B & W. But me, too.

socalledauthor said...

I wouldn't take that ONE agent's suggestion to seriously unless she says she's going to shop your novel. There are plenty of stories with older protagonists-- and, lest we forget, them baby boomers aren't getting any younger!

I'm inclined to think that the age is far less important than the story (unless the whole story is about the age of the character...)

Keep her forty, Patti! And query many more agents.

todd mason said...

QUARTERLIFE, which starts its NBC run tonight, does the usual Herskovitz/Zwick thing and features cute people who can act for the principals...all the principals. This does tend to distract some...particuarly when two of the young women are borderline anorectic. (Is it significant that the two that aren't are blondes?)

pattinase (abbott) said...

Is it worth watching? Or is it more of How I Married Your Mother type of thing?

sandra seamans said...

Robert Redford did a great job of making the movie "An Unfinished Life" look real. The only pretty face was Jennifer Lopez and I wondered if the studios forced her on Redford to bring in the young crowd. Great movie by the way.

I love to watch the old movies from the 40's because the actors reflect real life. They're real people not stick people with designer clothes.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Oh, I've never seen that movie. Have to get it. Yes, the forties people definitely looked more real despite layers of makeup. Pre plastic surgery, I think. Everyone has the same nose and chin now. Oh, and lips.

John McFetridge said...

For what it's worth, Patti, I'm with socalledauthor - don't go making those kinds of changes based on ONE agent's opinion unless it relly doesn't matter to you.

I have a book coming out this summer and pretty much all the women in it (certainly the main characters) are over 40.

Of course, I think the biggest problem the book business has is too many people in it trying to make it into the movie business.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, John. I guess even the most potential agents are trying to forestall problems in selling a work. We all want to be 29 instead of 39.

John McFetridge said...

29, ha. I turn 49 this year, so it's looking further away all the time.

It's true, agents are all about sales. I have to say, though, almost all the 'bad' advice I got was from agents - change the setting to American, reduce the number of characters, have clues and more 'mystery elements,' fewer minority characters, etc., etc.. No publisher had those complaints.

Have you considered submitted to smaller publishers yourself?

pattinase (abbott) said...

Not yet. I have only submitted to five agents so far. Oh, wait. Bleak House rejected it based on the query so yes, I have. Age forty-nine looks pretty good from fifty-nine. Oh wait, sixty last month. After I hear from these two outliers, I will do the wide sweep so I can get rejected in greater numbers. Thanks for the support, John.

Todd Mason said...

The short, web form of QUARTERLIFE is Almost genuinely worth watching...I'm hoping the fuller edits will push it over that line. It's not up to RELATIVITY nor ONCE AND AGAIN yet, but its consanguinity is obvious. Very little is up to RELATIVITY or particularly ONCE AND AGAIN.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Once and Again was sublime--what a cast. Didn't see the other for some reason.

TM said...

RELATIVITY, like MY SO-CALLED LIFE, was given less than full season by ABC. But it was almost as good as ONCE AND AGAIN. Neither R nor season three of O&A have been coughed up yet by Disney on home video. Past time.