Bad news from the box-office has become the rule in the last few years. The Hollywood Reporter sent up the most recent distress call in a story on January 7, 2015:
“Domestic movie attendance came in at an estimated 1.26 billion, a two-decade low and down about 6 percent year-over-year. Revenue tumbled 5.2 percent to $10.3 billion. Most troubling, several franchise pictures — including Paramount’s Transformers: Age of Extinction and Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 — grossed less than their predecessors domestically, pointing to the flight of younger moviegoers.” (“What’s Behind 2014’2 Box-Office Slide,” The Hollywood Reporter, 1/7/2015)
A new book was released January 1, 2015 by Michael Wiese Publishing, written by two entertainment industry veterans, that seeks to fix the modern story problem. Says one of the authors, Barbara R. Nicolosi, “Notes to Screenwriters is a resetting which suggests that in order to move ahead, everyone who makes stories is going to have to look backward to rediscover and embrace the essential elements of story.” Says author, Vicki Peterson, “What we are trying to do is to mediate a crucial conversation between writers, producers and the audience, so that they can each hear from each other what they need.”
Hollywood is broken in both its process of creating visual stories, and its fundamental understanding of what makes a good story. It’s more than just the general lack of rigor that is plaguing all the arts in the last few decades. The 21st Century entertainment industry seems to have forgotten why people need stories, and what will satisfy those needs. Stories should be the collective heartbeat of a society, but for too many people in Hollywood, stories are merely things to sell that sell other things.
The biggest challenge in the book is the suggestion that if a story does not lead to a catharsis, the audience will consider it a waste of time. So what is a story catharsis and how does a story deliver it? According to Nicolosi, “Stories will only matter if there is death on the table. If the audience never internalizes a personal threat, then they spend the movie witnessing a story instead of participating in it. If the movie never becomes their own experience it won’t satisfy them, it wont change them, and they wont run out and want to drag their friends and family to see it again and again.”
Nicolosi and Peterson are eager to talk about the contemporary story problem and how to fix it with journalists, bloggers, critics and anybody who is just sick of going to the movies and coming out empty. Email or call (310) 499-6726 to book an interview. Notes to Screenwriters is available on Amazon.