Bad movies are good and bad. On the bad side, they waste everyone’s time and suck two hours out of your life that you’ll never get back again. You might as well shorten your lifespan by two hours after watching a bad movie.
On the good side, a bad movie can show you what not to do.
I recently watched a bad martial arts movie. Martial arts movies tend to focus on pure action. That’s mistake number one, but here are some other lessons to learn from watching bad movies like this pitiful martial arts movie.
- Action is not the purpose. The bad martial arts movie I saw was basically a series of unrelated action scenes. Watching the most exciting action is pointless if the audience doesn’t have a stake in the outcome. Watch any Little League baseball game and you probably won’t care who wins or loses. Now if you have a child or relative playing, suddenly the game takes on more importance because you have a hero to root for.
In a bad movie, there’s always a hero, but there’s no emotional connection to that hero. Just because you have a hero, why should people want that hero to win? Here are some ways to make your hero likable.
First, make your hero someone like the audience. Notice that most movies are about ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. Even super heroes are ordinary people who get turned into super heroes.
Second, if your hero isn’t an ordinary person, make that person an underdog with a problem that ordinary people can relate to. In “Iron Man, “ few people can relate to a billionaire industrialist like Tony Stark. However, people can relate to the fear of being shot at and nearly killed.
Third, make your villain someone everyone can hate. When people vote in elections, they often don’t choose who they want, but vote for someone they want to win so someone worse can’t get elected. By making your villain obnoxious, you make the audience root against the villain and thus support the hero.
- Choppy scenes. In that bad martial arts film, a scene would start and stop suddenly, and then another scene would arrive that had no relation to the previous scene. Scenes should flow with an exposition, a problem, an obstacle, and a final conclusion. Bad movies simply jump straight to the conclusion (the battle) without the initial explanation of what’s at stake, making the conclusion meaningless.
“Terminator 3” suffers from this as well. Instead of any suspense leading up to the good and bad Terminators pursuing a goal, getting closer towards each other, and then battling it out, “Terminator 3” just has the bad terminator about to do something, and then the good terminator magically appears to start fighting. No suspense, no tension, and ultimately, no interest in the meaningless action.
Every action should be a mini-story in itself where we clearly understand what’s at stake, see the characters initially succeeding, then halted by some obstacle, then battling to win or lose. Skip straight to the battle scenes without the understanding of what’s happening and what’s at stake, and you wind up with a bad movie like “Terminator 3” or “Transformers 2.”
- Confusing plot. In this bad martial arts film, there were characters all over the place pursuing different goals that it made it hard to keep track of what the hero was trying to do. First, your hero needs a clear goal. Second, every other character in your story needs to be pursuing similar emotional goals as your hero even if the physical goals may differ.
In “Die Hard,” Bruce Willis is trying to save his wife and defeat the terrorists (a physical goal) but his emotional goal is to get back with his wife and overcome the mistakes of his past. The black police officer who helps Bruce Willis is also trying to overcome his past of accidentally shooting a kid with a toy gun and now being unable to shoot his real gun. Despite having different physical goals, both characters have similar emotional goals, which helps unify the story so it’s easier to follow the whole movie.
Not every movie will be perfect, and even classic movies have faults, but sometimes watching a good movie can show you what to do right and watching a bad movie can show you what not to do. Every time you watch a movie, look for what it did right and what it did wrong. Then try to apply those lessons in your own screenplay.
If you get caught watching a bad movie, at least learn from it. That way every bad movie becomes another lesson in what not to do.