How to Kill a Character the Avengers Way

May 9, 2012 Leave a comment

SPOILER ALERT – THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE CONTAINS DETAILS FROM THE RECENT AVENGERS RELEASE

It’s become a cliche that is hard to get away from. To elicit an emotional response from the audience, you take away something your protagonist needs. In many cases, this thing that gets taken away is a person. Be it loved one or friend, it’s a person that our protagonist has come to rely on through the course of the film. So how do you make this an impactful moment? Too often the characters killed off are poorly developed or have no real attachment to the audience. It’s no easy task to make someone love a character and be upset when they die all within a two hour time period.

Before discussing any further, in case you missed the warning above, this article contains spoilers from the recent release of The Avengers (2012). If you have yet to see the film, I encourage you to do so before reading further.

When looking to kill a character to further the story, the first thing to identify is if the character means something to your hero; in this case the Avengers. If that answer is yes, move on and ask yourself if the audience is attached to this character. If your answer is no, then you need to figure out why and fix the issue.

Most movies that lose this moment haven’t taken the necessary time to promote and advance this character. They’ve gotten too little screen time, or not enough meaningful dialogue, or any other of a multitude of issues. The bottom line is the audience hasn’t been given or simply does not identify with your character and isn’t surprised or upset when thy die.

The recent release of The Avengers shows us a film that doesn’t suffer from this issue. While it is debatable whether the character is actually dead or not, Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) is the perfect example of an impactful character death. From the technical standpoint, his character’s abilities are not critical to the plot of the film and, therefore, he is an easy character to kill off. From a personal standpoint it comes as a shock when Loki (Tom Hiddleston) stabs him in the chest.

 

This shock comes from the simple fact that the audience identifies with Agent Coulson. Marvel has now spent four movies building up this character not as a superhero, but as the audience’s window to the action in The Avengers. Coulson is us, the fan of heroes who loves to be around them. He’s good at what he does, but more importantly he’s not as good as The Avengers themselves. While Coulson walks with his idols, he has reached his ceiling. The Avengers aren’t living up to theirs.

That’s why it takes Coulson’s death to pull the team together. He is the glue that brought the team together, and the one thing all The Avengers have in common. You could have killed other characters like Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) or Mariah Hill (Cobie Smulders), but the audience reaction would be different. The audience doesn’t yet know if they should trust or even like Nick Fury, and his death would only leave them with question marks and an indifferent reaction. Mariah Hill is a mystery in this movie for the most part. She shows ability early on in the film, and comes across as Fury’s right hand woman, but doesn’t receive enough time for the audience to be surprised or care about her death. These are the reasons why Coulson is the perfect choice.

This isn’t writer-director Joss Whedon’s first foray into killing a character for emotional impact, either. In Serenity (2005) we can see the same stylings applied to fan favorite Wash (Alan Tudyk). When the team is most in need, the biggest shock of the movie is the death of Wash.

So what are your favorite and least favorite examples of killing off a main character? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/zhogle.

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

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The Avengers Marathon – Live Tweet Extravaganza

April 27, 2012 Leave a comment

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All right, we’re trying something new tonight. In preparation for next weeks North American release of The Avengers (2012) the ZacHogle.com team and the team from TeachesYouLife.com will be live tweeting as we work our way through the six major pre-Avenger releases: Hulk, Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America.

To follow along, be sure to follow @zhogle and @teachesyoulife on Twitter. We’ll be hash tagging #AvengersMarathon as well.

Categories: Movies

A Long-Awaited Update

April 11, 2012 Leave a comment

For frequent readers, you’ve probably noticed the blog has been inactive for a while now. Fear not! Most of my efforts lately have been going towards getting my podcast, Zac Hogle Teaches You Life up and running. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, you can find it at TeachesYouLife.com or you can subscribe in iTunes here.

This is just a short update to let everyone know that, with the podcast going strong, I’m back and working on new material for ZacHogle.com again. Thanks to everybody for all the support!

Categories: Uncategorized

Up for an Oscar: Great Nominations and How They Got There

February 4, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s easy to look at the Oscar nominations list and talk about the favorites; who should win and who will win.I thought it would be fun to look at some of the unconventional nominations from this year’s field, and talk a bit about why they deserve to be there. This is by no means an exhaustive list; I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t seen all the movies and performances in the running. These are just a few of my favorite nominations, and why I feel they deserve to be in the running.

Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids (2011) – Actress in a Supporting Role

What a run it has been for Melissa McCarthy. Before 2010, McCarthy was probably best known for her role as Sookie in TV’s Gilmore Girls (2000-2007). In the last two years, that has all changed. In 2010 her new series Mike & Molly (2010-Present) premiered and became a hit. In 2011 she stole the show in the hilarious Bridesmaids as Megan. People gave Bridesmaids credit with convincing Hollywood that, yes, women can be funny. But that’s a topic for another article.

The focus here needs to be on how a comedic performance ended up nominated for an Oscar, especially when The Academy tends to reward dramatic performances over comedic ones. The first thing that needs to be noted is the pure comedic value of McCarthy’s performance. There are a lot of comedic performances that pay homage to  earlier performances, but McCarthy created a truly original character that struck home with audiences. But I believe she got the nomination based on her character, and not just the comedic performance. In a brief moment of exposition, Megan explains how she was an outcast as a child. She rose above it to become the overconfident and sexually agressive woman she is today. This doesn’t become just a small detail. All the humor McCarthy portrays is deeply rooted in her overcoming her childhood problems and becoming confident in who she is now.

The character of Megan can also be used as a microcosm as to why the original screenplay for Bridesmaids, penned by Annie Mumolo and Kristin Wiig, is also up for an Oscar.

Animated Feature Film

While it’s no real surprise considering their entry this year, it’s important to note the growth of animation as a genre. This will be the first time since 2007 that Pixar will not win the Oscar for Animated Feature Film, and the first time ever that Pixar has not even been nominated since the category was introduced in 2001. This fact shows the growth of the industry internationally, with nominees from all over the world making the cut. Pixar will have it’s work cut out for them when Brave (2012) is released this year.

Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) – Actor in a Leading Role

Best Actor Oscars have a tendency to go to period pieces and overt displays of emotion. This isn’t to say overacting, but instead to congratulate an actor on being able to tap into difficult emotions and display them in a believable sense. This is why Gary Oldman’s George Smiley from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is such an incredible nomination.

Instead of an overt display of emotion, Oldman has to carefully control his emotions to play the introverted Smiley. Many times you can actively see Smiley’s internal emotions fighting to come to the surface, only to be pushed back down by his cold and calculating demeanor. Smiley’s struggle with the corruption of the spy organization he was a critical member of, is subtlely portrayed throughout. His final triumph is recognized by Smiley allowing himself a small, smug smile at the end of the film. In an era of overt emotions, it’s great to see an incredibly subtle performance get a nomination.

The Artist (2011) – Best Picture

The Artist, at first glimpse, seems to be an incredible triumph for a silent film. In an era of 3D, action, and explosions, a film that’s soundtrack consists of only music (for the most part) and has special effects that are nearly nonexistent, it’s incredible how The Artist has grabbed a hold of audiences and The Academy.

But on closer look, The Artist is a tremendously made film that speaks to the very culture that drives The Academy. Instead of a revolutionary or risque story in any way, The Artist compiles a greatest hits of Hollywood look and feel. Films ranging from Vertigo (1958) to Citizen Kane (1941) have visual and audio cues throughout, giving the film a legitimate feel. The Artist doesn’t have to fake its way through Hollywood’s golden era, it’s well versed enough to live in Hollywood’s golden era. Because of the incredibly well educated performances, cinematography, writing, and direction, The Artist fits right in as a Best Picture nominee.

How about you? What are your surprise nominations this year? How about all-time? Leave your thoughts and comments in the comments section below!

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/zhogle.

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

The Oscars air February 26th, 2012 at 4PM PST on ABC

Categories: Acting, Industry, Movies

It’s in the Game: What Makes A Sports Movie?

January 17, 2012 Leave a comment

There’s a great debate that rages among enthusiasts: what’s the greatest sports movie of all-time? The answers vary from every person, but the great hang-up of the argument is defining what a sports movie is. Is it a film that simply revolves around a sport or a team; or does it have to involve the actual participation in that sport?

Looking back, there are many great examples of movies on. both sides of the coin. Hoosiers (1986), considered by many the best sports movie ever, is a pure sports movie. While it focuses on the coach and the town, the crux of the movie revolves around the results of the team on the court. The underdog story is also probably the most common theme in sports movies.

The theme can also be found in Moneyball (2011), a very different take on the sports movie. While the film revolves around the success of the Oakland A’s, very little is actually seen of the on field performance. Instead the film focuses on the behind the scenes dealings of General Manager Billy Beane, who doesn’t even watch baseball. This fundamentally changes the perspective of the film. The audience doesn’t identify with much of the team and, instead, identifies with the upper management. In a sports movie, this is a large shift from tradition.

Looking at a film like Any Given Sunday (1999) or Major League (1989) we see the more traditional sports film perspective. Management and ownership is vilified, the source of the strife for the team. In the case of Any Given Sunday ownership is putting pressure on a legendary coach to win at any cost, or risk losing his job.In Major League ownership is actually putting pressure on the team to lose, hoping to move the team after a losing season. Purely coincidental, and possibly the topic for another blog, is the fact that both of these films feature female owners who have just come into power on their team.

But what if the film, like Major League, takes a comedic approach to sports?

Look at Slapshot (1977), the film about an endangered hockey team with an owner looking to sell. The team tries to become successful enough for the owner to be able to sell them, and the niche they find is to make a mockery of the sport of hockey. The team is stocked with goons to beat their opponents into submission. Instead of the classic story of a team rising above adversity to attain the unattainable, we find a team that decides to sink to the bottom of the barrel to get their goals.

I would be hard pressed to go any further in this post without discussing one of the perfect examples of this argument: Rocky (1976).

The ultimate story of a hero rising from the ashes and doing the unthinkable, Rocky is a fantastic movie in so many regards. The heroes goal is not the championship, like most sports movies, it’s just to not get knocked out in an improbable fight against the world champion. But the argument on Rocky is over its status as a sports movie. Yes, the movie is focused on a boxer with the fight being the climax of the film, but Rocky is an emotional drama. All the characters have things at stake that are only loosely related to the fight. The stakes are so high because of the interpersonal drama between each character.

So, in the end, what makes a sports movie? Is Rocky a sports movie or a drama? Can it be both? What are your favorite sports movies? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/zhogle.

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

Categories: Movies, Sports

Adapting: How to Be True to an Audience

December 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Adaptations and reboots are huge right now. There’s no arguing it, and they’re here to stay. Studios are always looking to tap into the fan base of some existing franchise by bringing it back to the limelight. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it establishes an entirely new fan base while alienating the original. Therein lies the trick: establishing a new audience while keeping the original audience satisfied.

These are a few examples of films that did just that.

Star Trek (2009)

While some fans discount the new film, overall the reboot of the Star Trek franchise was a smashing success. Earning over $75 million on it’s opening weekend, Star Trek guaranteed at least a sequel and possibly a new TV series as well.

But how did they do it? Star Trek couldn’t have been such a hit if it hadn’t been for the original fan base coming out and supporting the film. A fan base that has supported five television series and ten feature films already. With the middling support of Enterprise (2001-2005), you have to be sure that the fan base was leery of another prequel. So how did they do it? One name: Leonard Nimoy.

The writer’s were well versed enough in Trek mythos that they understood the complexity of multiple universes. They also understood the basis of Trek science. If we know X is why we can’t do Y, then to do Y in Star Trek we need to have an X inhibitor. Basically they cheated. By sending Leonard Nimoy’s Spock back in time, they created an alternate universe. They weren’t rebooting the original Star Trek (1966-1969), they were creating an entirely new chapter in the franchise moving forward. That means all the effort that fans have put into previous incarnations has not been wasted, and doesn’t fundamentally change their understanding of the franchise.

Charlie’s Angels (2000)

A lot of rebooting a franchise has to do with timing. We’ve seen numerous reboots fail, not because of poor production but because of modern tastes. No matter how well you create a film, if it doesn’t mesh with the audiences conscience it won’t fly. A unique example in this article is the case of Charlie’s Angels.

When Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu got together to make this film, the timing couldn’t have been more right. We were in the heart of the modern feminist movement. Women were becoming more and more powerful everywhere, and they weren’t afraid to show it. We got shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) from this era, and we can’t forget the massive cultural concert series Lilith Fair (1997-1999). Women were kicking butt, figuratively and literally, at this time.

That’s what went into the film. It kept the traditional empowerment motif of the original, but modernized the sensibilities. The film was tongue in cheek, both a nod and a slap to the face of classic seventies exploitation. Over $40 million on the opening weekend confirmed the film was a hit.

What’s interesting about the case of Charlie’s Angels is that it has landed on both sides of the reboot coin. In 2011, a rebooted TV series was released. Drew Barrymore was still at the helm, but the moment had passed. Seventies nostalgia has moved on, and so has modern sensibilities. Much like a failed attempt at rebooting Lilith Fair in 2010, Charlie’s Angels was the wrong show at the wrong time and was cancelled early in its run.

The Muppets (2011)

It’s hard to characterize The Muppets as a reboot. The film fits with existing continuity, and carries on with all the familiar characters from the franchise. However, Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller had to shake the dust off the legendary Jim Henson’s franchise to get it up and running again.

Sadly, this franchise didn’t fall off from simple disuse. It fell to the side from misuse, as evidenced by less than stellar reviews for more recent Muppet-fair. Thanks to this, the team putting together The Muppets had an uphill climb, an audience that was owed a strong showing, and a lot of hard decisions to make in regards to the movie. Would they continue in the tradition of previous Muppet movies by placing the Muppets in a real world adventure, or would they go back to the roots of The Muppet Show (1976-1981)? Over the years the Muppets have accrued a large cast of characters, how would they pay their dues to all of them?

What made this movie successful was the decision to ultimately prey on sentimentality. They ignored the more recent history of works like Muppets Tonight (1996-1998) and Muppets from Space (1999), and focused on the original Muppet Show. This struck perfectly. Adults who grew up with The Muppet Show can find all their traditional humor embedded in the film without the distraction of more recent characters, for the most part. Those adults bring their kids, who don’t know that they should wonder what happened to Bean Bunny and Clifford. Disney chose to focus The Muppets on the heart of the franchise, not the sum of its parts. From this, they have a hit and a revitalized franchise.

Those are just three successful movie franchise reboots, there are always more than could be talked about in one article. There are also plenty of failed attempts at reboots, we can look at how The Avengers (2012) will include our third incarnation of The Hulk. So what are your favorites on both sides of the coin, the good and the bad? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Also, I would be remiss to write an entire article on reboots and not include the opening credits from the classic kids show ReBoot (1994-2002). Enjoy.

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/zhogle.

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

Box office numbers courtesy of Boxofficemojo.com

Categories: Movies

My Influences: How The Muppets Helped Define My Style

November 22, 2011 1 comment

This is the first instalment in a series I’ve wanted to start for a while. The series will discuss some of the figures and people that have influenced my style as a filmmaker. Over the course of the series, we’ll cover everything from writer’s and directors, to cinematographers and poets. All of these icons have had a large influence on my career. Today’s episode: The Muppets. I want to focus on The Muppets as a group, instead of focusing on individuals like Jim Henson and Frank Oz. Those two deserve blogs of their own, and when I began experiencing The Muppets I couldn’t have told you who either of these two were.

When I was growing up at home in the suburb community of Aldergrove in Edmonton, Alberta, my parents had a TV in their bedroom. As a kid without a TV in my room, this was obviously a magical device. Sure, I had the TV downstairs to watch, but the TV in my parents room was the one that I didn’t have easy access to. Once a week, I believe it was Sunday nights in a pre-Simpsons era, my dad and I would hang out up there and watch The Muppet Show (1976-1981). We would frequently watch shows together, and Saturday morning cartoons were a favorite past time. My dad introduced me to Mighty Mouse and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse in those days, but there was always something special about sitting up in that room watching The Muppets.

The show was, and still is, incredibly dynamic. As a child I laughed at the same times my dad laughed, and not necessarily for the same reasons. The Muppets have always had that ability to bring out the inner child in everyone. I like to attribute it to what I call unbridled creativity. I often wonder how the initial pitch meetings for this show went.

“Okay Mr. Henson, so it’s a show about puppets?”

“Well, there’s also people in it. And they’re not really puppets.”

“If they’re not puppets, what are they?”

“Well they’re kind of puppets, but they’re kind of marionette’s. I call them Muppets.”

“And what do these ‘Muppets’ do?”

“They host their own variety show.”

 

The show is inexplicable, and completely open minded. There was no concept too absurd or too down to earth for The Muppets to try. The Muppet Show was also my gateway drug to Sesame Street (1969-Present), introducing me to a love of Grover (especially in Super Grover form), but I always came back to the original crew. I could not, and still can not, get enough Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy, or any other Muppet from The Muppet Show.

Later in life, I was 8 at the time, I lived in Japan with my family for a year. Among the many highlights from living there was the fact that my family seemed to be as nostalgic as I was for culture from back home. Not watered down Japanese approximations of North American culture, but the real thing. Thankfully, we had a TV station that would broadcast popular children’s programs during the day, and the latest dramas at night. On this station I experienced Lonesome Dove (1989) in its entirety, while also discovering the classic Muppet children’s show Fraggle Rock (1983-1987).

 

All of these shows came together for me in what might be the greatest Christmas special of all-time: A Muppet Family Christmas (1987). Every year I get a great amount of joy putting in my old VHS copy of this special and watching it start to finish with whoever will sit through it with me.

 

 

Needless to say, I can’t wait for the Jason Segel / Amy Adams reboot of this franchise in The Muppets (2011). I’m hoping that the team putting this one together can capture some of the magic that I try to incorporate in all my work.

 

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/zhogle.

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

Categories: My Influences
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