Returning to writing screenplays is a significant adjustment after writing nothing but prose for the past four years. Reading quality screenplays and watching good movies with an eye toward dialog, character, and plot has helped me get back on track. On the other hand, there’s value in coming at it from the other direction.
It’s a truism that we should learn from our mistakes. To disagree with that adage would be foolhardy, but there’s a better way: Learn from others’ mistakes. That way, you can avoid some of those mistakes in the first place and still come out fully informed. That’s the rationale behind watching bad movies. And when you talk about bad movies, this is the best time of year for them.
No, I’m not talking about wonderful holiday films such as “Miracle on 34th Street” or “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I’m talking about a relatively recently created genre: The Hallmark Christmas romance movie.* There is a long list of immutable truths about these denizens of the holiday airwaves:
- Though there are dozens of them, all are minor variants of about three distinct plots. (Lest we sit too high on our horse, the same can be said of most superhero movies.)
- There is an ensemble of (usually) Canadian actors who take turns playing the leads.
- There’s a cute kid… who can’t act.
- Each features at least one washed-up sitcom star in a minor role.
- Although there is lots of talk about faith, belief, and fate, there is exactly zero reference to any of the spiritual aspects of the season. None. Nada. Zilch. Ever.
- If any of the protagonists spent any time being honest with each other, the movie would end after 15 minutes because all the misunderstandings would be resolved.
- The Kiss, which is always delayed until the final two minutes of the movie and is preceded by multiple near misses, is 100% antiseptic, and is performed with less passion than your average oil change.
- As with a train wreck, however, I can’t keep my eyes off them.
Re that last item, I confess it’s true. I watch a dozen or more every year. My expectations, which couldn’t be any lower, are rarely met, never mind exceeded.
Why do I put myself through this? They have all the suspense of a game of tic-tac-toe, the ending of which, like the Hallmark movies, is set in stone from the first move. There is almost never a new plot.
(Example template: Successful woman comes from the “Big City” in an attempt to convert a beloved local establishment into an impersonal commercial development, until some colorful local characters resist her, causing her to give up not only the project, but her home and career to marry her childhood sweetheart, an amiable fellow in a flannel shirt with a permanent three day growth of facial hair with whom she’d had a misunderstanding after the Big Game in high school, but not before a last minute appearance by the woman’s fiancé, who arrives from said “Big City” wearing a Brooks Brothers suit worth more than the other guy’s pickup truck and almost puts the kibosh on the burgeoning romance.)
Three reasons I watch these things almost against my will:
- Most of them are graphic lessons in how not to write a screenplay.
- I’m an incurable romantic and hope springs eternal (some of the time) that one of them will actually be… well, romantic.
- Occasionally, very rarely, one will rise above the dreck and actually be pretty good. In those few cases, I don’t have to waste another half hour of my life bemoaning the fact that I just wasted an hour and a half of my life.
The truly embarrassing reason I watch them, one I hesitate to admit, is that I want to write one.
Yes, it’s true! I would love to write the movie that rises above the miasma of the typical holiday romance porn. In fact, I’m doing it now. In truth, I’m rewriting one of my general romantic comedies to align it with the genre.
Yes, I’m a Christmas mercenary. So be it. At least I’m a romantic mercenary. ❤
* Other networks have noticed the popularity of these movies and have joined Hallmark in this orgy of quasi-romantic, quasi-Christmas tales. Ion and Lifetime are cranking them out almost as plentifully, often with better quality.