A Good Story Well Told

A reader of my short blog yesterday about the pitching contest I have been invited to, wrote this comment: «These seems like a traditional “soldier-returns-home-with-problems-film”, with a woman instead of a man. What other things do you think this will bring to the table that we haven’t seen before?»

I had not disclosed more than two sentences about my film idea «Fallen», and already this question was posed. What is actually says is, «We’ve heard it before…». Yawn.

Mark Twain said, «I like a good story well told.» I could not agree more.

This summer I saw a remake of Jane Eyre. I read the book decades ago and since then have seen countless dramatizations of it. Even though I knew the story off by heart, I found myself wanting to cry out to on-the-screen Jane to warn her. To tell her not to run off after finding out the deep dark secret of the love of her life. I even cried a litte.

If the criteria for creative expression, be it literature or film, is something we haven’t seen before, most of all that we read or see on film is without value. The first dramatization of Jane Eyre should never have taken place. Because anyone who could bother to read, had «seen» it with their inner eyes, while reading the novel. Not to mention every single remake since the first dramatization.

Taking it one step further, perhaps Charlotte Brontë failed by even writing the novel, according to the standards of «what we haven’t seen before.»? The story is about two people in love who cannot have each other because of the conventions of society.

Where have I heard that one before? Hadn’t Shakespeare already exausted that topic to the t in Romeo and Juliet?

Look aside from every theatre that Romeo and Juliet has been staged on and all the films made of it, is the basic storyline of Romeo and Juliet packed in other novels and films? The first film I spotted in my bookcase of dvds in search of Romeo and Juliet-look-alikes was Pretty Woman. I gave up searching for more films after finding the first couple of dozen that actually were Romeo and Juliet rip offs.

Some of these films are «yawn» material for sure. Others absolutely not.

It is not that they show us something we haven’t seen before that sets them apart, it is about how the story is told.

Love is universal. It can be told in a story as a cliché or it can be told in a way that makes our hearts break or makes us believe in love again.

Boiled down, most stories have been told before. Another example besides boy-meets-girl, is the Hero’s Journey. Need I list any films that are about the Hero out to save the world and on his quest also has an inner journey?

Again, what sets them apart are not what we haven’t seen before (because we have pretty much seen it all and this has been the case since the ancient world), but how it is told.

I guess that is why we already as children love to hear the same stories over and over again.

As long as a story tells us a little of who we are and is well told, it makes an impact.

Back to «Fallen», which is not even written yet and the first critical voice is happy to join the arena. I have a basic storyline in place. A character I am developing. These are my road maps, but I might end up taking a completely different route than the one I have defined for myself today. In part, because I trust the creative process which all of a sudden can lead to magic. In part, because I am allowing myself time to do proper research. I spend hours listening to veterans tell their stories. Mind you, after a while, the stories blend into each other. They are basically the same, with small individual nuances. If I follow the train of thought of my critic I should just tell them, «Heard it before. What can you bring to the table that I have not?» Yawn.

Believe me, that is the furtherst reaction I have when faced with real people and their stories. Yes, I have heard it before. That doesn’t mean I am indifferent. I am deeply moved. And I leave each meeting a little different person.

My aim for «Fallen» as for all my stories is a good story, well told. I trust that this is what will move the audience at a deep emotional level, because it tells us a little about who we are as humans.

If I manage that, I doubt very much that people seeing the film will yawn at having seen it before.