I’ve done it, you’ve done it, everyone’s done it: as you watch a movie or TV show you find yourself screaming “not that again!” or “he wouldn’t do that!” or “that makes no sense!”
So now I’m going to list my pet peeves – those things I just can’t stand seeing over and over again in shows or movies. Or those things that just leap out as contrivances that just don’t work. I also reached out to colleagues in the entertainment industry for their ideas.
I’d like this blog post to be interactive: list your peeves and grievances in the comments section or let me know where you agree or disagree.
Every filmmaker and scriptwriter should look over these lists – and don’t do those things! Stop it! Cut it out!
AMNESIA – Forget about it!
Yeah, I like BLIND SPOT as much as the next TV viewer, but that’s the exception. Amnesia is such a cobwebbed, musty old idea. Do you know anyone who has ever had amnesia? Does it seem like something that’s easy to get? Yet every third TV or movie idea hinges on it.
I WAS DEAD ALL ALONG!
This one’s been around at least since the 1950’s (I remember CARNIVAL OF SOULS on late-night TV). And still they trot it out as if it were shiny and new. They’re remaking JACOB’S LADDER. And it’s the plot of some new hot books. Personally, I find this one as disappointing as “it was all a dream” – you get yourself worked up over a character and their situation, then it fizzles out in a huge way.
All male screenwriters and all male directors have to stop doing stories with hookers and strippers in them. Don’t set movies in strip clubs or brothels. Don’t make your women characters prostitutes or pole-dancers. It’s worse than adolescence: it’s just horny guys living out their fantasies. Your Mom wasn’t a hooker; neither was your sister; or your teacher; or your doctor; or your Congressperson. Write about them, please. Not strippers or hookers.
SAME PART, SAME THING
I really get tired of actors playing the same part every time. It’s not their fault – it’s directors and producers typecasting them. I understand that it’s familiar. It’s also boring. Look, I’ve met and interviewed Morgan Freeman. Wonderful man: intelligent, articulate, wise. But he doesn’t have to play The Wise Old Man every time. While I was snoozing through TRANSCENDENCE, there he was again! Just like in the BATMAN/DARK KNIGHT movies. He’s great at it. But guess what? He’s an actor. He can play anything. That’s why I loved him in WANTED as a villain. And most of us first noticed him in STREET SMART playing a pimp. He can do that.
You may have noticed that most recent movies about family reunions have bombed at the box office. That’s because they’re boring. No one cares about a dysfunctional family and their problems, because everyone has to deal with their own dysfunctional family. I don’t want to see another one. Unless you start killing off the dysfunctional family. That one I might see. A Chainsaw Reunion – maybe that.
BIG THINGS FIGHTING
A fair portion of comic book movies end up with one large, powerful being smashing into another large, powerful being for what seems hours. We don’t care. It’s no fun if they’re both big and powerful and hard to kill. There’s no sense of danger, no tension. Lately, producers have wised up and not gone that route. I applaud them.
The scene where someone gets mad and pushes everything off the table/vanity/desk/whatever onto the floor. Have you ever done this? No, because we know we’d be crawling on our hands and knees picking up all the broken stuff a few minutes later – we don’t have prop people to clear it up for us. So please find a new thing for angry people to do.
This seems to happen a lot in dystopian, post-apocalyptic stuff: filmmakers revel in taking out all the color and making it gray and grim. I hereby vote that such actions are clinically insane. Because by making it dark and colorless and gray, we don’t want to watch it. And we won’t.
YELLOW OR DESATURATED FLASHBACKS
Why is the past always yellow-tinged or colorless? I sure don’t remember my past that way. See the previous comment – it makes us not want to watch it. Does the past have to look ugly?
I think this trend is over. Shakiness causes nausea and it also is not realistic. Our eyes don’t shake and move about violently when we look at things. We settle on objects and our head doesn’t jerk around while we watch them.
I don’t know about you, but when I suddenly realize that the movie or TV show I’m watching is all going to be on one set, I do not feel happy or joyful. I feel incredibly disappointed. Moving pictures means moving around, even if you’re just going to go outside for a while. Yes, Hitchcock’s ROPE works (and see how he moves his camera in that film) but how many other one-location films have?
THE WINDOW STARE
A character dreamily or moodily stares out a window (usually we never see what they’re looking at). Then another person enters and talks to them – and the first person never turns around. They just both look out the window and have a conversation. Have you ever done this? Have you ever seen anyone do this?
No. First of all, no one stares out a window at nothing. Unless there’s a blizzard or someone is doing something out there, they don’t just sit there, no matter how much they’re moping. Secondly, you always turn and look at someone when you talk to them.
Obviously, this is an easy thing for a DP to light: just a nice soft light in the window, you light both faces prettily and you don’t have to do coverage or turn the camera around. But it’s awful. It makes no sense. People don’t behave like that.
So at least give them something to look at (yes, you will then have to go shoot that thing they’re looking at). And then have them look at each other. When eyes meet, magic happens.
THE WALK OF NONSENSE
The worst excuse a character can ever have to leave a place is to say they’re ‘going for a walk’ or ‘they need some fresh air’. Once again, nobody does this. Usually it’s an excuse because they have something they have to do – which they must hide from the other characters. But please exert a little more effort and give them another reason to go out, even if it’s to get a drink or to go see their Mom or walk the dog. Something that makes sense.
Those are many of my peeves – and now for some other viewpoints:
Famed film scholar and historian Wheeler Winston Dixon has written more than thirty books and one hundred articles on film. His blog is essential reading for anyone interested in movies. He’s a filmmaker himself who recently completed the short film AN AMERICAN DREAM, which you can see here.
He’s got a whole list of clichés that bother him:
The film opens up with the alarm clock going off, and the character smashes it.
People who work as secretaries live in duplex Manhattan apartments.
People who supposedly have a "job" but we never seen them working.
Book authors who make a living from their work.
People are reunited with long-absent family members, and everything is just fine.
Similarly, long-estranged family members solve their problems easily.
In the show MADAM SECRETARY: even when a "dirty bomb" goes off, characters nearby recover with only slight medical care, and are soon out of the hospital.
"Nooooooooooooo!" in slow motion.
Cops always catch the murderers.
Psychos always live in spooky attics or basements, a la SE7EN.
"You stay here, while I go get help."
"Let's split up; we're getting nowhere fast as a team."
The car that goes over the cliff & then explodes in mid-air for no reason.
A victim running away from a psycho killer will always trip and fall.
Cars will never start when a psycho killer is approaching to kill everyone inside.
Professors all have beards and glasses.
Brits are always the go to villains.
Renowned film critic Leonard Maltin also has things that bother him in movies. He wrote me the following:
As for pet peeves, one of them is a character finding an instantaneous parking space in New York City.
Another has to do with music. It drives me crazy when someone is playing an orchestra conductor and has no idea of rhythm or meter.
Same goes for piano faking. There are some egregious examples from all eras of filmmaking. Try to picture Whiplash if JK Simmons didn't have a musical background or Miles Teller couldn't really play the drums.
THAT MURDEROUS EXPLANATION
Screenwriter Judith Berg, who has collaborated with her sister Sandra Berg on many movies and TV shows (most recently LOVE ON THE SIDELINES, a highly-rated Hallmark Channel movie -- http://www.hallmarkchannel.com/love-on-the-sidelines) has this one:
My pet peeve is when a killer takes a good 5-10 minutes to explain everything rather than just kill the person. Not that I'm advocating murder, but if you were going to kill someone wouldn't you just do it and not give them an explanation? I mean, what difference could it make to the victim other than give the moviemakers time to get the person rescued.
THE EMPTINESS OF IT ALL
Director Joshua Butler, who has done tons of episodic television (he recently directed an episode of THE MAGICIANS which aired on SyFy channel – and here’s his homepage: http://www.iceblinkfilms.com/) hates this one:
A character is walking around with a lidded plastic coffee cup (usually some generic version of the Starbucks model) and based on their body language, it is clear there is NO LIQUID IN THE CUP. To make matters worse, they usually take a sip or two driving the point home. Yes, I know actors don’t want to carry hot liquid around but really, just filling the cup with water would be illusion enough.
CUT IT OUT! I could keep going, but that’s enough for now. Pick your own Tiresome Things in movies and TV shows. Have drinking contests around them. But producers and directors and writers and executives: PLEASE STOP NOW. We’ve had enough.
About Dennis Coleman:
Dennis Coleman has written, produced and directed countless hours of broadcast television. He has met and interviewed thousands of celebrities and Hollywood movers-and-shakers ranging from Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Tom Cruise and Will Smith to James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino, as well as legends like Bob Hope, Rudy Vallee, Hal Roach and Lauren Bacall. He’s been on the sets of thousands of films and TV shows, including Cliffhanger, Mission Impossible 3, NCIS, the Lethal Weapon films, Everybody Loves Raymond, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Friends and the X-Files. He’s covered just about every award show: The Academy Awards, the Emmys, the Grammys, the Golden Globes; and more movie premieres than he can remember: The Matrix, Toy Story, Titanic, Harry Potter – the list is endless. Dennis spent over ten years at Entertainment Tonight as a segment director. He was also supervising producer on the FX show DVD ON TV and post producer on the History Channel series SOLD. He co-produced the documentary Women Who Made the Movies with film historian Wheeler Dixon. He executive produced the short film Iguana Love which was featured at the San Diego Asian Film Festival and was bought by Creative Light Entertainment. He’s written over a hundred articles on the entertainment industry for numerous websites including, My Fox, Entertainment Connection, EHow, Helium, AnswerBag and Demand Studios. He was a segment producer and writer on the Sarah Purcell-hosted interview show Public People Private Lives and a freelance field producer on shows for MTV, VH1, A&E, ESPN and PBS. He started directing and writing the hit shows, Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous, Runaway with the Rich & Famous and Fame and Fortune & Romance. Dennis got his start in the movie business reading scripts for Francis Coppola, Fred Roos during the day and managing a movie theatre at night. He’s seen lots of movies. Almost as many as Leonard Maltin. But not quite
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