Doug Richardson's first produced feature was the sequel to Die Hard, Die Harder.Visit Doug's site for more Hollywood war stories and information on his popular novels. Follow Doug on Twitter @byDougRich.
It was a black tie event. Cocktails and formal wear with possibly a charity involved. I recall standing amongst some writing peers, one of whom was a word jockey whose name had been attached to a string of blockbusters. We’d only just been introduced when he grinned and offered a compliment.
“Hey, congratulations,” he said. “I saw your movie.”
“I’m sorry,” I hastily apologized, certain he was speaking of Money Train, which had been in theaters barely a week.
The A-Lister’s smile turned slack as if he’d accidentally stepped in a pile of excrement.
“Well, I enjoyed it,” he tried to save. “Thought it was a good time. I hope it makes a lot of money for you.”
I thanked him for the kind wish and carried on with the evening. A bit later, while waiting for a refill at the bar, I met up with a friend who’d overheard my brief exchange with the blockbuster writer.
“That was real dick thing to say,” he offered. “The guy was trying to pay you a compliment.”
“You mean the part where I apologized?” I rhetorically replied, the aftertaste of my own lousy movie still spoiling on my tongue.
“Did you stop to think he may have actually liked it?” my friend asked.
In a word? No.
I hadn’t stopped to think about anything other than my own disappointment in the picture. In fact, my response required no thinking whatsoever. It was my movie. I’d birthed it. A parade of well-meaning others had lobotomized it.
It was mine to loathe. End of argument. I win.
Am I the best and ultimate authority to judge my own work? Maybe. Maybe not. As it applies to my own sense of accomplishment, I can and should accept the mantle. Who better to criticize myself besides the hit-making trio of me, myself, and I? I set my own standards. Whether I live up to them or fall short is for me to resolve. Yet does that diminish opinions of others who view the work differently? And should my own sour grapes be allowed to infect the enjoyment of their own movie meal?
Part of surviving the inevitable ups and downs of a career producing entertainment—be it movies, books, TV, or even an article such as this—I have to accept that no matter how much I think a story is worthy of public consumption, there will always be those who think the work simply sucks. I accept this fact in the same way I accept other irrefutable certainties of nature such as Newton’s Laws on Gravitation, E=mc2, and that we will suffer yet again another remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
If the former assumption is correct, so then the opposite must be true: however much I dislike one of my own works, others will find something favorable in it. Hell, they may even like or love it. Does that make them stupid or blessed with underwhelming taste?
Not even close. My taste is not necessarily your taste nor is your taste anyone else’s threshold for good or bad.
How often have you seen a movie or TV show or read a book that you flat out loved? Then in an effort to learn even more about your awesome discovery, you Google the title and find it has a sub-fifty percent score on Metacritic or that there are internet bulletin boards dedicated to pummeling it and its author(s) into celluloid dust. Should that change your opinion of the work? No. Does it distract or diminish any of the enjoyment you’d already ingested? Absolutely not. You liked it because you liked it. And there should be no excuses despite what others might think.
My daughter recently discovered a movie that I’d never heard of. It was an indie title that she’d DVR’d then made an appointment for me to view it with her. After we’d unspooled the flick, she asked me what I thought.
“I enjoyed it,” I told her flatly. “It was really interesting. Thanks for asking me to watch it with you.”
Now, if it sounds like I was being overly polite, I wasn’t. I just really appreciate that my teenager wants to share anything at all with me and I want to strongly encourage her to continue said efforts as long as she’s willing.
“Yes,” she responded. “But what did you think of it? As a movie?”
I easily broke the picture down into my basic likes and dislikes, leveling my practiced eye on everything from the writing to the production to the casting and performances and despite having really enjoyed it, I found some aspects unsatisfying and the dramaturgy to be an uneven mess. It was late. My daughter was asking my opinion. And since that happens so rarely, I probably droned on well past my welcome. Finally, I decided it was her turn.
“What did you think?” I eventually thought to ask.
She was hesitant to answer, continuing to grill me over my criticisms.
“You’ve heard what I think,” I told her. “I want to know what you thought of it.”
She still dodged me, clearly not wanting me to hear her review. At least not yet.
“My opinion is just another opinion,” I insisted. “Yours is yours and of equal merit.”
Yeah, that’s what I said. But I’m her father. And my opinion probably counts more than just any old opinion. At least this week. She wasn’t being oh-so-politic with me.
“I really want to know,” I pressed her.
“I really, really loved it,” she finally admitted.
“Why?” I asked her.
As she explained herself—quite cogently I might add—she continued to qualify her judgment in deference to my obvious disagreement. Essentially, she told me it was hard for her to give an opinion that differed from mine, as if doing so would lead to my disappointment in her.
It wasn’t that my opinion was that strong. It was because I’m sometimes way too quick to share it without thought for who asked or if I was even queried at all.
Yeah. Add this to articles about me and my big fat mouth.
If past actions are a genuine predictor of future behavior, I can’t precisely say that my lesson has been truly learned on a molecular level. But maybe… just maybe… I may from time to time be more inclined to seek out another’s aesthetic opinion before being so quick to draw my own.
- More articles by Doug Richardson
- Balls of Steel: When to Stop Listening to Screenwriting Experts
- Meet the Reader: Critical Thinking
Writing The Hollywood Blockbuster
How to Build on An Idea and The Importance of an Outline