Damn you, Seth MacFarlane

Let us sincerely hope the sun has not set just yet
Let us sincerely hope the sun has not set just yet

If ever there was a need for a man in a white hat to ride in and save the day, now would be a good time.

First THE LONE RANGER is the mega-bomb of 2013, followed by the much-heralded crash and burn this weekend of A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST.

Mea culpa – I’ve not seen MILLION, and based on what I’ve read, have no real desire to do so. It doesn’t bode well when a lot of the reviews generate more laughs than the trailer.

The western just can’t catch a break. Every once in a while you get something incredible like TRUE GRIT, 3:10 TO YUMA or DJANGO UNCHAINED. Jeez, even RANGO had a little redeeming value. Films like these come along and hope grows in our hearts, but then we get dreck like JONAH HEX or COWBOYS & ALIENS, and back to movie jail goes the western.

I had no real hopes for Mr. MacFarlane’s latest, but at least he was attempting to do some kind of western. Granted, it was trying to be this generation’s BLAZING SADDLES, but apparently failing miserably.

This goes beyond another nail in the coffin. At this point the coffin’s already in the ground with a few shovelfuls of dirt on it.

As a writer offering up a totally kickass western spec, my hopes for success seem to diminish just a little bit more with this kind of news.

I can imagine every potential recipient recoiling in fear. “A western? Eek!” followed by the frantic pressing of the ‘delete’ key.

Contacting a friend repped at a high-profile agency, I asked if anybody there might be open to reading it.

“I wrote a western, and they won’t sell it,” was the reply. “They don’t believe there’s a market for them after THE LONE RANGER.”

Well, sure. Because every western is going to be an overpriced, convoluted bloated crapfest.  It doesn’t help that a lot of them actually have been exactly that.

Why have so many recent westerns been bombs? Wish I knew.

Skimming the credits of some of the great westerns of the past shows that the people who made them had a real understanding and appreciation of the genre – John Ford, Howard Hawks, Clint Eastwood, just to name a few. And it shows in the finished product.

Hopefully somebody else will give it another go in the near future, sooner rather than later, and know how to do it right.

Did I mention I’ve got a totally kickass spec?

What’s wrong with PG-13?

One of the two movies which resulted in the creation of this rating
One of the two movies which resulted in the creation of this rating

In recent discussions with other writers, I’d be asked what I was currently working on. I’d mention the western and mystery specs, and give a thumbnail description for each.

Among the responses I’ve come to expect is usually the follow-up question:  “Who’s your target audience for that?”

Everybody.

While what I write would probably be too much for very small children, there’s no reason it couldn’t be enjoyed by anyone between 8 and 108, as the saying goes.

In addition to all the usual criteria, I want to make sure the story is interesting enough so it would appeal to a wide spectrum of viewers, as well as keeping the content dead-center on that fine line between “not enough” and “too much.”

One writer sent back his notes on the western. He had some very good comments, but some of them seemed to be through a DJANGO UNCHAINED filter (which he also admitted being influenced by). It was suggested I go for a more intense level of violence in some scenes.

Which would be fine if I were writing something that was a hard ‘R’, but this isn’t.

I’m just more of the family-friendly sort, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing that kind of material. (FROZEN has earned $350.7 million so far. Not too shabby, with the sing-along version ready to be unleashed.)

Although I want my stories to be fun and exciting, it’s also important to me they respect the audience’s intelligence, no matter what age they are, while also being fairly easy to follow.

I appreciate it when a movie does that, and hope to keep the practice going.

Deliberately avoiding a QT comparison

Mine is nothing like this
Something to admire, but not duplicate

When I was working on that student short a few years ago, the director was concerned the way a scene was playing out was too similar to how things worked in INCEPTION, and that people would think he was ripping it off.

I assured him it wasn’t on both fronts. It may share some similar aspects, but it was totally different.

Jump ahead to now, or at least last week. I finally got around to watching DJANGO UNCHAINED. It was great and a lot of fun. I loved it, especially the writing.

(Side note: Christoph Waltz fully deserved Best Supporting Actor, and I found King Schultz to be a much more interesting character than Django.)

So as I continue work on my western spec, I can’t help but think “But this isn’t how Tarantino did it.  Would somebody hold that against me?”

I’m inclined to think “probably not”, which is actually a good thing, and may even work in my favor.

He writes in a certain way, which is totally different from mine.  Nobody’s going to read my script and say “not grindhouse enough”.

Our two stories may share some similar elements, and that’s where the comparison ends.  It’s a western, so there are going to be the unavoidable elements (horses, shootouts, etc.), but that comes with the territory.  My challenge is to put my own spin on them.

Same rules apply to UNFORGIVEN, the vastly-underrated OPEN RANGE and the forthcoming LONE RANGER (which in theory may be the closest to my story in terms of rip-roaring, dime novel-type adventure).

This script is my opportunity to work in a genre I love, tell a story I’m excited about and create its world the way I want to.  The whole time, I’m striving to be as original as I can, and present stuff that hopefully hasn’t been seen before.

There are countless ways to tell a story, and there’s no reason mine can’t be one of them.

Lo, the cowboy ponders his fate

Guns + horses + good story = winning combo

Ah, air travel. When it works in your favor, it’s a very pleasant experience.

When it doesn’t…well, let’s just say it’s a good thing I had a pen, some paper, an outline to work on and an abundant supply of spare time.

I worked my way through the first act of my western-adventure, making changes and setting up setups where applicable. I still like how this is coming together. All that work fine-tuning the previous script is really paying off for this one.

But there’s one thing still nagging at me. Some significantly high-profile westerns are headed our way: Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED at Christmas, Verbinski/Rossio/Elliot’s THE LONE RANGER next summer and Chan Wook-Park’s THE BRIGANDS OF RATTLEBORGE sometime next year (in theory). All very different takes on the genre, and no reason why none of them won’t be successful.

So while I plug away at my story, the angst that plagues every writer kicks in: is it still worth the time and effort to do it?

In the end, there’s only one definitive answer:  Of course it is.

This is a story I’m very enthusiastic and passionate about, so to not write it would simply be a big mistake. It’s got familiar elements but based on an original idea to make it fresh and exciting.

And if those three films are successful, that could potentially create a demand for more scripts of that nature.

Which is where mine comes in.

All the more reason to hunker down, dive in and make sure this thing is done right.