Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Are Super & Myth Movies Only about FIGHT v. FLIGHT?

A Screenwriter Asked:
Hey, Stan, 
I find myself thinKing about your stuff; the thing I like best about “Moral Premise” is it’s the book to turn to when you’re suddenly asking, “Why am I writing this again?”   
It seems to me that all the “myth” movies, from Superman to Spiderman to Batman to Iron Man to Gladiator to Matrix all are about the responsibility of saving everyone when you have the power.   
I just read an outline for Gladiator, and I could see that Maximus (Russel Crowe) wants “nothing to do with politics” but gets pulled into a battle with evil.  It’s like the Edmund Burke quote: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  Is this the point of all these movies?   
Is my moral premise: 
 “Running away from evil leads to disaster and isolation; but  
Facing and fighting evil leads to victory and freedom and togetherness”? 
I guess my question is, do I have no wiggle room here?  Should I embrace that moral premise, and stop wondering why I’m writing this??? 
Thanks,  Mike

Dear Mike:

I think most of the “super” stories can be defined by a moral premise that you articulated. But in such clear cut hero/villain stories I think there are dual moral premises that are related to a foundational one, like what you suggest. We might call these “secondary” moral premise statements, which are organically related to the foundational one. But it’s the secondary premise that is more likely to connect to non-super human audiences.

But in both cases the values in conflict must be universal … if you want to avoid niche audiences.

What you wrote:
Running away from evil (isolationism) as a value to find happiness vs. Fighting evil (engagement) as a value that leads to happiness...

...is the proverbial FLIGHT v FIGHT dilemma. It is definitely a universal concept that appears at all levels of the humanity condition.  It's evident in (a) a confrontation I witness on a street corner between a pimp and a whore, or (b) the Bush Foreign Policy Doctrine vs. the Obama Foreign Policy Doctrine. Fight or flight is everywhere and the answers are not easily answered.

You are perfectly safe keeping this simple and direct moral premise as the heart of your story, if that is what you focus on.

But you can give your story more personal and human death by looking deeper into the “human” story that exists in the “super human” diegesis.

For instance:

THE INCREDIBLES is also about:
Battling adversity alone leads to weakness and defeat; 
but Battling adversity as a family leads to strength and victory. 

BLIND SIDE (yes it’s about fight vs. flight) is also about:
Courage to do what is difficult but foolish leads to dishonor;  but
but Courage to do what is difficult and wise leads to honor.

SUPERMAN II (1980) is also about:
Pretending to be someone we’re not leads to fragility; but
Being whom we were made to be leads to superlatives.

DARK KNIGHT (2008) is also about:
Revengeful, self-service leads to nihilistic  desperation; but
Sacrificial public service leads to purposeful hope.

And there are manny other examples.

So, I think your fight or flight is a good place to start, but I think you can also go deeper, to another layer, that will give the basic “super” movie an even more “human” connection that everyone in the audience will get. Not everyone will get “saving the world” because they can’t. But the secondary moral premise (exampled above) are value dilemmas we all deal with.

This moral identification is one of the  20+ techniques filmmakers and authors use to get audiences/readers to identify with their characters on a physical, emotional, and moral level.

Since you have been writing "short" stories for years, and your material is well accepted by the mainstream public, (if I were you at this point), I’d just write it and see if a moral premise (at the secondary level) doesn’t pop out later on. Don’t feel you have to figure it out beforehand. That can be a hinderance. Trust your instinct.

stan

3 comments:

Unknown said...

Dear Mr. Williams,
I am a screenplay writer from Hong Kong, yes! you have loyal fan all the way from China:) Firstly, apologies for my poor english. I really love your book and your blog. You have such a kind heart to share your idea.
Here is my question: I always find the moral of my story wobbling. Maybe I want to say too much within one story? or maybe I dont know how to shorten the moral in an one-line 'moral premise'? Recent project I am working on is about:
“Is self-protection enough? Is it (survival/ stable life) more important than the basic human need to love, to be loved, and to make real friends? Should one take risks for love and justice? "
Self-protection leads to safty, stable life and money, but also loneliess and isolation. By protecting oneself, one must lie, and to reject chances to help others. Meantime the hero might be haunted by his own act, because he does not contfront the rightiouness in the bottom of his heart.
In the beginning of my story, the hero always ignore justice by remaining neutral; at least that's how he comfort himself (I am only being neutral, I don't take side). Later on, he find the youngster he 'trained' become evil; more self-protective than him, not only remain neutral, instead, they destroy justice. That's one of the moments awakens him.
I find myself got stuck in concluding it into an one-sentence moral premise. Seems it's about self-proection, but it's also about 'what one does bounces back to oneself'? ...the thing is that, I am not even sure if 'self-protection' is enough to articulate what I want to say. Is it that I am using too much perspectives(too much means) to talk about one thing, which makes me talking about too many things? Is it 'ok' to dig deeper on a philosophical question? Will this only make my story more wobbly?
(sorry for posting this in the comment section, I can't find button to post my question)
all the best to your novel:)
g

Unknown said...

Dear Mr. Williams,
I am a screenplay writer from Hong Kong, yes! you have loyal fan all the way from China:) Firstly, apologies for my poor english. I really love your book and your blog. You have such a kind heart to share your idea.
Here is my question: I always find the moral of my story wobbling. Maybe I want to say too much within one story? or maybe I dont know how to shorten the moral in an one-line 'moral premise'? Recent project I am working on is about:
“Is self-protection enough? Is it (survival/ stable life) more important than the basic human need to love, to be loved, and to make real friends? Should one take risks for love and justice? "
Self-protection leads to safty, stable life and money, but also loneliess and isolation. By protecting oneself, one must lie, and to reject chances to help others. Meantime the hero might be haunted by his own act, because he does not contfront the rightiouness in the bottom of his heart.
In the beginning of my story, the hero always ignore justice by remaining neutral; at least that's how he comfort himself (I am only being neutral, I don't take side). Later on, he find the youngster he 'trained' become evil; more self-protective than him, not only remain neutral, instead, they destroy justice. That's one of the moments awakens him.
I find myself got stuck in concluding it into an one-sentence moral premise. Seems it's about self-proection, but it's also about 'what one does bounces back to oneself'? ...the thing is that, I am not even sure if 'self-protection' is enough to articulate what I want to say. Is it that I am using too much perspectives(too much means) to talk about one thing, which makes me talking about too many things? Is it 'ok' to dig deeper on a philosophical question? Will this only make my story more wobbly?
(sorry for posting this in the comment section, I can't find button to post my question)
all the best to your novel:)
g

Stanley D. Williams said...

G, See my response in the following blog: Wobbly Moral Premise Statements