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FFC #79 - Audience, Critics, and Blade Runner

Posted October 17th, 2021 at 01:49 PM by The Grim Reaper's Friend
TGRF's Fan Fiction Chronicles - Entry #79

This FFC will be a bit different from my others, because it concerns a scene I've seen repeated in my home on occasion. And, being the writer I am, I feel compelled to critique it.

Last night, a friend of mine - who considers himself to be a movie connoisseur - elected to watch Blade Runner (1982). We had all watched it together the first time he wanted to see it, and, remembering enough of it from that first viewing, I elected to retreat to the depths of my room, where the only sign of the viewing next door was the constant reverberations of gunfire, things crashing, and screams (seriously, I don't remember it being that violent...).

Fast forward to the next morning. My mother, who watched the film because she couldn't remember it, said that she regretted her decision to consume said visual media. She didn't know what the point of it was, described it as 'sick', and said it was one of the worst movies she's seen.

Queue my friend's late entrance at the breakfast table. A basic rule of thumb I've observed is that if we don't like a movie, my friend will. If we think it's 'sick' or 'disturbing' or 'dark' or 'pointless', it will almost certainly be one of the best movies he's seen. Today was no different.

Note: Contrary to what this might suggest, my friend is not, to the best of my knowledge, a serial killer or otherwise deranged individual.

Throughout the conversation which ensued, I noticed a pattern begin to emerge. My mother would take one aspect of the movie - say the 'sick' atmosphere - and ask what was the point. My friend would explain the point. My mother would then come back with the recurring phrase: "but I don't like it." At which point my friend would inevitably respond with: "well that's your problem."

Throughout my friend's apparent inability to understand how anyone could not like the atmosphere of Blade Runner, I began to form my own opinions. You see, my friend wants to make movies, but for all his consumption of them, he's failed to learn one of the most basic lessons of writing.

It is my opinion that Rian Johnson has also failed to learn this lesson. A past interview pulled this interesting comment from him: "My ideal movie would be one where half the audience thought it was the best movie they'd ever seen, and the other half hated it." Paraphrased, because I can't find the actual comment.

Glossing over for now the financial applications of this questionable plan, it provides an insight into the critically flawed assumption both Rian and my friend seem to hold: If people don't like what you do like, that's their problem, and not something you need to worry about.

What they both fail to realize is that when you create something to be consumed by other people - stories, movies, blogs, whatever - you need to make it as palatable as possible. You can have the most important message in the world, and it doesn't matter if, like my mother, you're so turned off by the atmosphere that you don't see anything else.

Now there is a happy medium here, because you definitely don't want to make your movie palatable to everyone. By that point, you've sacrificed too much, and you're movie is ruined.

Thus you come to the concept of a target audience. Every story has a target audience. Ideally, you want a compromise between the largest target audience you can get, and the best movie you can make. It is for this very reason that movies like Blade Runner exist at all - because more people will enjoy a movie over a dry documentary of the director pounding the pulpit.

This is why when someone doesn't like your story or movie, it's not 'their problem'. It's YOUR problem. Not because you necessarily need to change anything, but because you need to do your best to understand WHY they didn't like it, and then ascertain if that's a problem you need to fix.

This is how critiquing works. There would be times, when BiggaBullfrog was proofing my fan fiction, that he'd make a comment about something not working, and I'd say it was fine the way it was. I didn't dismiss the critique; I evaluated it, disagreed with it, and moved on. This didn't happen often, but it illustrates my point: if your audience doesn't like what you put out, it's down to you to figure out why. If you can't do that, you will never improve as a writer or director. And if you can't realize that most basic of lessons, then you'll never really get off the ground in the first place.

And thus ends my rant for the day.

Keep writing, and listen to your audience.

Posted in FFC
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TheAverageFan's Avatar
As someone who loves Blade Runner, I'd be interested in hearing what about it was so terrible. I find it relatively quaint compared to other R-rated films. Most people I know who dislike it do so because of the confusing and difficult to grasp themes which aren't often apparent on a first viewing. I mean it is an R-rated grimy noire film so there is a lot of filth inherent in the world it presents. I wonder if it would work as a PG film since its uglier content isn't necessarily mandatory to its source materiel the way Alien or A Clockwork Orange is for their own themes.

I guess some things are just meant for the MPAA rating they earn. I still think Star Wars films should be PG and not PG-13, with Episode 3 being the only one where the difference feels earned. But then I also feel that some works that are forced into the more mass-appeal of a PG-13 would work better as an R rated film.

And then there are of course biases that can't be helped. I don't really like thrillers even if they are good (only S-tier ones like Seven and Zodiac are really good to me). You don't like the look of anime even if they might be really good. And if you aim for average you'll have lots of people like me saying this needs to go further in X direction.

You'll always have people like Rian wanting divisiveness or deliberate alienating of viewers because of the spotlight it brings to a work. But as for me as an artist I can only make what I'd wanna read, and everyone excluded from that is an unfortunate casualty but a necessary one for the quality of the work. I was sad that you didn't want to read Moon Has Wings due to the content you knew would be in it, but if I didn't write it the way I did it wouldn't have worked.

Blade Runner is excellent, but it's also not for everyone, as apparent when it bombed horribly at the box office. The Thing is also excellent, and it wouldn't be if it weren't so sick, disgusting, repulsive, and horrifying. I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Posted October 18th, 2021 at 03:09 AM by TheAverageFan TheAverageFan is offline
The Grim Reaper's Friend's Avatar
I can't remember a whole lot about Blade Runner, but I know I want a story where I like the protagonist and want him to win, and if the movie doesn't deliver on that, it's probably lost me (aka, Ocean's 11). I also don't like dark and depressing atmospheres (aka Blade Runner) unless that dark depression is the thing being fought against (aka Book of Eli) - and even then it's a long shot. Some people seem to like dark grittiness; I don't.

In the end being a writer or director is all about finding that balance between making what you personally like, and making something that other people will consume so that they'll see what you have to say.

Something else I've noticed is that people watch movies for different reasons. My friend watches them to analyze them. He doesn't seem to care what he watches, only how it was made/done. My mother, on the other hand, watches to relax after the day. If the movie doesn't transport her to a world where she can do that, she generally doesn't like the movie. I myself am a mix of the two. I generally like movies which make me feel better or stimulate my imagination, but if I analyze a movie and gain a new respect for it, I'll rewatch it over and over, even if it's not something I'd normally like (aka, Fight Club, Terminator 2).

Trying to balance all of these factors is not something I think most people can do. All you can do is write the story you want, and tweak it just enough so that it doesn't actively turn off the majority of your target audience. And for heaven's sake give us a reason to like the protagonist.

Posted October 18th, 2021 at 02:42 PM by The Grim Reaper's Friend The Grim Reaper's Friend is online now
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