Scream’s all about pointing out the illogic of clichéd “rules” in movies, but its focus has been limited almost squarely to slasher flicks. What about all the other clichéd rules floating around? You know, the ones that get profiled in those mega-edits? We've even got a whole section devoted to them in the Screened databases. Sometimes the rules are right on the money. Sometimes, however, they identify things as cliches when they're really more matters of fact. How about we evaluate some of the more popular ones?
What’s funny about this one is that screenwriters are actually taught to do this. The basic principle for writing dialog in film is to keep it as concise as possible; nothing should ever be stated aloud that can’t already be inferred by the context of the scene. The typical class exercise used to get this across usually involves cutting out the particularly “flabby” portions of a dialog and the first targets are almost always the “Hellos” and “Goodbyes.” The idea is that if the characters are talking, we don’t need to know how they start or end the conversation. So if you ever roll your eyes at seeing this rude phone etiquette on screen, consider the alternative of the Room’s preponderant usage of “Oh, Hi…[insert character.]”
Look, we all know that cell phones, the internet and GPS collectively screwed mystery, thriller and horror writers. It’s much harder to get lost or inaccessible these days. Thus, it's a lot harder to create tension now then when it was when a dodgy, coin-operated pay phone booth was often your only means of contacting the authorities.Of course, considering how often I see people complain on Facebook or Twitter (more 21st century communication luxuries) about how their service provider’s dicking them over with high fees and inconsistent coverage, I see this less as a a cliché than a fact of life.
I’m a little befuddled over how this sort of “stock character” has become such a target of scorn--a boogie man (or lady) du jour, as it were. Most plots have to be shaped around the perspective of the lead. As such, the bad guy’s going to seem more evil than he probably would be in reality, we're probably not going to get time to learn what the lead's boss' hometown or favorite hobby is and, yes, the love interest will likely be charming and pixie-ish unto the point of fantasy. Putting all that aside, there’s also the more basic question of whether any viewer really, truly wants the alternative of a girl who’s stuffy, grown-up and boring... or whatever other qualities are considered antithetical to those of the "MPDG?"
I totally see what the intention and effect of this is, but it’s really the one rule here whose criticism I’m more in agreement with. The conceit honestly gives too much credit to the empathy of crowds to actually give a shit about your business. People will applaud their friends, sure, but they'll offer up as much care and attention to whatever personal breakthroughs you make in public as they do to the smelly busker on the corner. Ironically enough, the flick that so many damn in relation to Rule #3, (500) Days of Summer, has a most realistic depiction of how awkwardly this would play out in real life.
If a tree falls in the woods, and nobody’s there to hear it…
Most villains, I think we all can concur, are megalomaniacs. And the thing about megalomania is that it desperately, ferociously needs recognition. You might ask if it’s logical for a villain to detail his whole master plan to the hero. No, it probably isn’t, but it’s certainly essential for said narcissistic villain's ego to know his foe recognizes the genius of his plan and then agonizes helplessly over how to stop it. Hence, the monologues. I’d say it also depends on how exactly you want to get your exposition--through the dry briefing of the techie the hero has waiting back at HQ? Or through the colorful solliloquey that only a bad guy can properly deliver?
Anyway, there are many rules and cliches I'm not addressing here. I'm sure you Screened pups have plenty you're hungry to discuss, so let's stretch this gristle into a rabid chew. Do you agree about these rules? Do you disagree? Make your voices heard!