So I went to see Drive a month or so ago, the Ryan Gosling flick. It’s no secret that I’m a massive fan of his and I thought the film was fantastic, one of my favs from the year so far (Top 3 – along with Moneyball & Harry Potter 7 part II). But there’s a bit of a controversy surrounding it because a lot of people went into the film expecting to see Transporter 4 (are there really THREE of these???), and instead got a love story.
Personally, I thought it was very much an action film, but apparently the guy sitting behind me in the theater disagreed as he turned to his date and said “This movie should be called ‘Talk’”.
And last week I saw this:
What you see in this chart is the number of explosions per Michael Bay movie alongside the amount of money each movie made. More explosions = more money!
And it made me wonder. Do people really just want to go to movies to see explosions? Was the success of Transformers: Dark of the Moon due simply to special effects? Would Drive have been more of a success if it had a couple more car chases in it?
But I don’t think it’s so much explosions exactly as much as it is delivering on the promise of the premise, whether that be thrills in an action movie or laughs in a comedy. People go to the movies with a certain expectation. Apparently a LOT of people want to see people drive fast, blow stuff up, and hear guitar solos. And, as a writer, if you can deliver on that expectation, you will probably make a lot of money.
Now, I didn’t get into writing to (only) make money. It’s my desire to tell stories that challenge people to live better lives. And Drive did this for me, challenged me, reminded me that unconditional love is real and that life is short. It reached me with a level of honesty that is unfortunately rare in film.
I think it’s safe to say that not one person was challenged to live a better life by watching Transformers: Dark of the Moon. But a HELL of a lot of people saw it.
Whether you like it or not, when you work on the canvas of massive, explosion-laded movies, you have a larger audience to reach. Is it possible to deliver on what the mass-audience wants and still challenge them? Of course it is. Does it happen very often? Unfortunately, no. But that’s where you, the writer comes in. The producers & directors may only care about delivering a visually stimulating movie, but it’s your job to write a film that reaches through those explosions to challenge brains and touch hearts.
So my challenge is to all creatives (not just writers): how can you make art that reaches the widest audience possible that still challenges them in a unique and life-changing ways?