So, I'd been considering this the last few weeks...
...Partially because of my involvement in a number of on-going script-writing projects, partially because of the current movie and social atmospheres--and it's this: outside of niche markets, what scares the general moving-going public?
Recently at the Oscars (which I don't watch any more, been throwing shade at all awards-type shows the last couple decades, personally loath'em) "Get Out' won for Best Screenplay, while "Shape of Water" won Best Picture. For a good portion for each film, there are of course lots of outside effects, but the thing I want to touch on are what elements 'rang a bell' with the GP.
So what are those elements?
Broadly: (1) a well-told, clear, engaging story; (2) a tightly directed, well-edited film; (3) a solid cast; (4) themes and plots which resonate with the GP.
It's that last which pretty much is the culmination of the previous bits. And really thats truth for all films.
But what is it that makes a 'good' horror film for Modern Audiences?
I'm going to posit something. And it has to do with fear...underlying fear which authors like Stephen King and Clive Barker tap in to (oh and I'm quite certain there are other, newer voices, these two are just the ones I'm most familiar with).
Fear which is part of our Mundane World. Fears which we as story-tellers can also tap in to and shape and tell whatever tales we want.
So here's my thinly-sketched out supposition: Modern Audiences react deeply and fundamentally to stories which are ripped from today's news headlines--yeah, yeah, I know, that's not an old idea or conceit.
However I think this is (or at the very least we're in a place and time to tell more blunt offerings thereof): 'Race War Horror', 'Immigration Horror', 'Ultra-Nationalist Horror', 'Terrorism Horror'...and one which everyone thought had disappeared with the Cold War: 'Nuclear War Horror'.
Those are themes, broad starting plots to get to where we want to get at the meat of our stories. However, I'm really thinking that those (and other such) themes will get more play in the near-future. Hm, I just might start writing up a few scripts based on those...
What will you choose to write on?
I'm out, need more coffee, a long drag on me pipe, and perhaps a dram or three of warming single malt whiskey on these currently frigid Hawaiian days!
You want to be praised by the 'Art House Crowd'?
Write an obtuse, dialogue-heavy, 99% action-less script and shoot on 16mm film. Include homoerotic scenes, Twenty/Thirty-Somethings looking pallid and introspective, and an ending that abruptly cuts on a broad ambiguous note.
Want to appeal to the prurient adolescent-minded masses? Grab a rapid monstrous three-day BO [*Box Office] in the high six figure (maybe even seven figure) range? Have young female breasts thinly clothed--or even better uncovered!--bouncing all about, sprinkled throughout your summer blockbuster. Sandwich said scenes in-between frenetic chases, deafening high-energy generic soundtrack, visceral ultra-violent choreographed battles, massive blunderbuss explosions, and quip-y rejoinders.
Enjoy being the 'toast of Hollywood', lauded by the WGA [*Writers Guild of America] and talked-up at the SAG [*Screen Actors' Guild] Awards? Go on and craft a 'serious film', a 'DRAMA'! Option a 'Name' prose Author's novel, hire a team of experienced professional screenwriters, nab an Auteur Cinematographer, and a host of Famous Actors. Throw in a soundtrack by a Revered Film Composer, a High Fashion Designer, and...you're set!
We, as Story-tellers and as The Audience, expect a LOT from this specific Art Form. As viewers, we have particular conventions we want and have been conditioned to see. Hollywood (for example) has created, for over a century, classes of movies which fit into 'genres'. Why? Money, to be blunt and yes, overly simplistic.
The "Western". The "Cop Flick". The "Gangster Film". And today, the "Superhero Movie".
They're "important" for marketing. They make it 'easy' for the Audience to make decisions on what movie they want to view. But, are genres subconsciously subversive? In that those who create and promote genres exercise the power to sway the perceptions of the Audience?
Arguably, one can say that any story told has subversive powers; seeks to present a different perspective for the Audience to consider. In our Modern Era, however, the mass production and consumption of Entertainment has seeped into every facet of our lives; the blurring between 'Reality' and 'reality' has placed intriguing, dangerous psychological pressures on us.
Labels aid in putting context to our lives. When those labels become subverted we Human Beings tend to freak out. To push back against the tide of change. To lash out against the tradition of 'How-things-are'.
As Story-tellers, I feel, we have the responsibility--inherent in our Craft--to re-write those labels, to over-turn Traditions, to burst out of the enclosure of Genres. The most deeply-affecting tales are unclassifiable; cannot be easily placed in any single category.
So. Whether Story-teller or not, we are all The Audience. Going forward can we, do we, must we sit idly and simply ingest what others believe we WANT to see? Or, as is now the case in our Modern World, can we not only be The Audience but also The Story-maker?
We (all of US) have the technology; the processes are not Magic--the average person can create a movie of their own without spending $300 Million dollars. So, is the 'next great revolution' in Story-telling going to be a true evolution? It appears to be. The Gaming World is certainly at this forefront. Web Series, Indie Films, even the old joke of Community Television are providing doors for the average person.
So to that, to all the people who are NOT film-makers, writers, musicians, or primary artists--this IS your time. Go out and make your stories. They don't need to be Hollywood quality. They simply need to tell the story YOU want to tell.
Welp, time fer another pint an' dram o'whiskey...
The Carnal Coyote