Special Effects

Special effects are like cotton candy for the eyes. They look good and they grab an audience’s attention, but there’s a better way to make a compelling story than relying on action alone.

The latest “Transformers” sequel is a big hit with audiences, but a critical flop according to the critics. So who’s right?

The answer is both. The makers of “Transformers” simply wanted to show as many robots as possible beating the living daylights out of each other. Besides watching robots fight, the producer also knew that audiences (mostly men) wanted to see Megan Fox in as many seductive poses as possible. Combine sex appeal with raw action, and you have a winner.

Then again, maybe not. “Transformers” gets most of its appeal from people already familiar with the Transformers story. If someone submitted this script to Hollywood and said it was just about a bunch of robots beating each other up with a pretty young actress running around in between, no studio would have touched it. The reason is that the “Transformers” script basically sucks.

That doesn’t mean that the movie sucks. It only sucks if you’re expecting an actual coherent story. If all you want to see is robots beating each other up, the movie succeeds admirably.

Unfortunately as a screenwriter, you won’t have the luxury of having a built-in audience that will show up to watch the movie no matter what. Think of “The Phantom Menace.” If that had really been episode one of Star Wars, there never would have been any sequels. People only went to see “The Phantom Menace” because they already accepted the Star Wars background and so a movie like that was a can’t-miss proposition that obviously made millions.

Of course, not all lousy movies can rely on the goodwill of their background to attract an audience. “Terminator Salvation” made over $100 million dollars, but that’s only because of all the fans of the original Terminator movies. If this had been the first movie, it probably would have bombed.

As screenwriters, your job is to create a compelling story without relying on a built-in franchise like “Transformers” or “Batman.” You need to work on an interesting story just like the original “Star Wars” and “Terminator” movie did, which spawned so many sequels and fan clubs.

No matter how many crappy Hollywood movies you see that rely on special effects, you can’t write a screenplay that only relies on special effects. Hollywood is loaded with crappy screenwriters who can churn out equally crappy screenplays that rely on special effects. They don’t need to hire you.

To break into Hollywood, you need to create a story. Ideally, if that story can support special effects, then you might have a winner, but if your story sucks, all the special effects in the world can’t save it. Ultimately, the most powerful special effects are a great script, and that’s something Hollywood can’t generate with a fancy computer no matter how many millions of dollars they may spend.

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