Monday, November 22, 2010

Bad Writing or Bad Acting?

To improve your craft you not only have to study what works, but also what doesn't work. The best way to see examples of what works is of course to read good novels and analyze what's good about them. It seems reasonable then that to see what doesn't work, you need to read bad novels and see why it doesn't work.

Yes, that does seem like a good plan, but what seems reasonable, and what I can force myself to do, are two different things. I have no problem reading good novels, but I can't force myself to read bad ones. Depending on how bad they are I may put them down after 5 pages, or maybe 10. The only reason I would finish one was if I had another motive, like it being an important work or something like that.

So to find out what doesn't work, and why, I will from time to time watch a bad movie.

I think this works for me because reading a book and watching a movie are two different things. When I read a book, I can't do anything but read. When I watch a movie, however, I can do something else to keep me entertained while the movie sucks.

What makes a movie suck? Bad writing, bad acting, bad directing, bad story? The list is long and sometimes it is difficult to put your finger on the exact cause. Since there was nothing on TV last night I decided to watch an old B movie called Desperate Hours.

I had no expectations going in, and I wasn't disappointed. I thought maybe because it starred Anthony Hopkins and that it was directed by Michael Cimino that it might at least be entertaining, but one character and a few scenes were so bad, they were laughable.

In one of the climactic scenes near the end, a house is surrounded by a bunch of SWAT types with long guns equipped with electronic sights, lasers, and probably night vision. The antagonist bursts from the house with a hostage and the SWAT guys let off bullets as if it was a scene in the trenches of WWII. The unbelievable thing was that they didn't seem to hit anything but the bushes around the two characters. The antagonist then runs back inside the house and the SWAT team peppers the door as if now that they can't see him anymore they have a better chance of hitting him. Really stupid. I'm not a great shot and even I can can hit a 1 inch circle at 50 yards with a rifle.

The other thing about this movie that was so bad was one of the secondary characters. She was supposedly the team leader of a special FBI task force. I tried hard to understand whether it was the writing or the acting that made this character so bad, and I guess I'd have to say, it was both.

She was supposed to be a tough as nails, take no prisoners, hard ass team leader, but between the stupid dialog and bad acting, I could barely keep from giggling every time she appeared on the screen. In the previously mentioned scene she gets shot in the calf. One of the team members comments that she's bleeding and she responds "It's nothing, I got shot in the ego." Huh?

Watching a bad movie is probably not as good as analyzing a bad novel because it can be difficult sometimes to separate bad acting, from bad writing, from lousy screen work, but if you analyze what doesn't work about a particular scene, it can be quite helpful to show you what not to do.

How about you? Do you watch bad movies and analyze what doesn't work?


  1. For some reason, I saw Deep Blue Sea in the theater. I'm really not sure why, except maybe because it was something to do with my friends. Anyway, I'll always remember when this one guy is attacked by the shark. Bitten and bloody. A short while later, as they try to take care of one someone else sells out, "He's hemorrhaging!", as if it's a new and horrifying development.

    I think of this soften often when I find myself saying obviously unnecessary or is not as dramatic as I first thought it might be.

    I try to never treat my readers like Deep Blue Sea treated me.

  2. I've seen a great number of bad films and knew I could do better. Most books however, are better than mine! lol

  3. Doug, I totally do this. Sometimes you real bad movies are actually not that bad.

    Often, however, the problem with bad movies starts with bad writing. Even bad acting in a movie with above average writing doesn't seem that bad.

  4. @nevets OMG Deep Blue Sea, I think I sat through it one time, just for the reason that I mentioned, but I don't think I could do it again.

    @charlie I don't know, there are a lot of bad books out there too

    @anthony I have from time to time been surprised, but since I have become I writer, I've learned to recognize bad writing, and it's totally ruined my B movie experience. You are correct though, even bad acting is better than bad writing

  5. Bad movies. This is when we MST3K the movie. The worst movie I've ever seen IS Mystery Science Theater 3,000, but they made it into a GREAT movie that we quote all the time around our house. It's fun to watch bad movies and analyze what doesn't work. We do this a lot around here. :)

  6. Energy Park: Creating a safe place for energy to play.

    So if you drove by the studio one afternoon you're considered a grip.

    Oh, I could go on. :)

  7. Should we be seeing this?

    Self-cleaning mut-A-nt!

    And if your hands were metal, that would mean something...!

  8. @nevets, @michelle, I don't know what those comments mean, but now you've got me curious to see that movie. At least my expectations will be set low. :)

    That can make a huge difference as to whether or not I enjoy a movie.

  9. Douglas, you have GOT to see that movie. :)


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