How to Destroy a Blockbuster in 5 Easy Steps
They said that one man’s meat could be another man’s poison. I certainly can’t speak for people who love football or politics, but if you are a person who spends a considerable amount of time thinking, fantasizing, being depressed or obsessed about films, chances are the idea of becoming a film director is not that peculiar for you.
We all have heard about the horrific tales of being in the top management before. Your friends or relatives who have made it to the top of the food chain in organizations, be it a manufacturing plant, a government body, a small business or a criminal group, have all complained about the unbearable stress that comes with the huge responsibilities that they have to shoulder. What they don’t usually tell you, however, is the stress of seeing a tad too much money in their bank accounts.
So, as film lovers, it is of paramount importance for us to understand that film directors are not always a bunch of happy folks. Some of them have been grinding for years before eventually getting recognized by film studios and securing major contracts. Others could have been a subject of humiliation and ridicule before making it big. Even worse, he has to handle and motivate all his crew and casts, and might need to tell a guy straight out that he’s fired because he got beaten up by his wife.
With all that said, what if you are a distinguished film director who, that for whatever reason, is secretly seeking revenge against the studio that took you in? Perhaps, the executives of that studio are simply snobbish and obnoxious, like Leo Beebe in Ford v Ferrari? Or they have overstepped into your personal life (wife)? Or, maybe you two have been arguing for years on who is the most powerful Jedi? Fret not, here are five easy steps that you can take to destroy that blockbuster project of yours. It doesn’t matter if the film that you’re working on has backing from a giant studio, or commands a gigantic fanbase. These tricks will do it.
1. Tie every last thing in the film with popular folklore, or key historical events
This is a rather popular trick, widely deployed by directors who went sour. There is a reason why this tactic is so common — it perfectly encapsulates the metaphor which illustrates the position that those scorned directors were in. They waged war against their studios in secret, and it shows in their work. “Humans have been fighting this evil alien race for thousands of years”. “The magical artifact has surfaced in every powerful ancient civilizations, just before each of them collapsed”. See the trend here?
The key here, my friend, is not to be afraid of exaggeration. This is a perfect opportunity that reflects “bigger is always better”, and is the wrong time for you to hold back your punches or subdue your wild creativity. Some folks out there had even made the claim that Merlin was a drunkard and the legendary dragon which he had summoned to aid King Arthur in battle was actually alien robots.
On the other hand, films like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012), though presents a bold concept, failed to produce the desired, destructive impact because viewers had seen it coming via its title. You need to have some element of surprise, and it is best if you can drop the bombshell somewhere in the film where the audience least expects it. If you are still not confident with your argument, you can always say that earth is in fact a giant, shape-shifting alien, and we have been walking on it for an eternity.
2. Let the heroes and villains fight, but take away all their stakes
This will work regardless of whether your protagonist is a fictional superhero, or just an everyday person with Youtube-approved martial arts training. A good rule of thumb is, if your protagonist is not trading jabs with the villain as much as WWE superstars do in a single match, it is simply not enough. Crank up those punches and kicks, but always keep one thing in mind — the outcome of the fight should not hold any major consequences towards the story-progression. It has to be explicitly clear that even if the protagonist loses the fight, it will be perfectly okay. It is like forgetting to brush your teeth in the morning, your colleagues will smell your stinky breath, but you will be totally fine.
The success or failure of this strategic move will be hugely determined by how well you remove the stakes and urgency which usually occupies such adrenaline-pumping scenes. Don’t even think of hinting to the audience that the protagonist will lose a limb, an eye, or worse, his life. Everything has to flow as nonchalantly as possible during the brawl, and if you don’t really understand this distinction, a quick study on UFC fights versus slapping competition will help you out. Also, don’t be shy to let your audience know that those big fights exist because it is an action movie, plus you don’t have anything better to show them during these 90 minutes.
If your guys are complaining that they couldn’t resist falling asleep while editing those scenes, you are almost there. Keep going.
3. Kill off a fan-favorite character. If fans cry for justice, put him back and pretend that nothing happened
This move can appear to be intimidating at first glance, but really, it is fairly easy to execute just like the others. Of course, it can only work if you have a prequel leading to your current project, or you plan to make a sequel, which is very unlikely to happen if your current movie bombs. If you are thinking that the hardest part to kill off a character or reinstating him/her is having to tediously alter your plot, you are missing the point. You don’t owe any explanation to your audience.
In fact, your fans will eventually find out that the character is back in business because your writers have written themselves into a corner, or simply because the actor for the role has run out of money, and he desperately needs a job to keep his mansion and his Porsche. The more you try to conceal those facts, the more desperate you will appear to be when the press discovers them.
Remember, you are a film director, not a welfare worker. Despite your sinister attempts, you still have a reputation to protect. You can always use your writers to your advantage, and in this case, make them your scapegoat. If you are feeling a little adventurous and the situation permits, kill off the same character for a second time and see how the fans react.
4. Turn your most annoying character into the main villain for a sequel. Tell your audience to stay tuned
This is perhaps the least known strategy to propel your film into the hall of shame, but do not underestimate it just because you don’t see it often. It is actually a good thing for films to develop an unlikely character into a strong villain. They often call this a ‘character arc’, but really, this phenomenon is nothing more than milking a villain’s worth out of a promising extra. Your producers will love you because they don’t have to pay a hefty price and tolerate the extravagance of an A-lister in order to get the role fulfilled.
If done right, it will pull in plenty of attention and admiration towards that character, which might even surpass that of the protagonists themselves. Unfortunately, it will also draw praises from the viewers and critics, which, is something that you don’t want.
In order for this ‘character arc’ to work in your favor, he must be able to generate a significant amount of hate throughout the film. This is crucial, because if you start off with a character that is perceived to be good-hearted and give the opportunity for the audience to be sympathetic towards him, you may end up with an iconic villain like Vader, which is outright dangerous towards your plans.
You have to be insistent in making the character as annoying, cowardly, and cheap as possible, and it has to stay that way for almost the entire running length of your film. It has to be perfectly clear to the audience that the ‘pseudo-ally’ is a pest — a nuisance who will eventually bring bigger threats towards the protagonist, but as usual, the good guys are just too dumb to see it. If your writer raises his concerns and doubts about that character, fire him. You cannot risk having that character corrected and developing an arc against your will.
Now, the final trigger to seal the fate of your film has to be pulled just about moments after the climax. It has to be timed correctly before everything cools off, as your ‘pseudo-ally’ rises to claim the villain top-spot in the most jarringly convenient way possible. In other words, it has to fall into his lap. Better yet, he will assume all the responsibilities, outfit, powers, and status of the freshly-defeated villain, moments before you yell “cut” and give a tasteless-sort of a cliffhanger ending to your film. By doing this, you are literally thanking the audience for their (monetary) support and asking them to come back again in three years for a sequel with recycled materials.
5. If all else fails, your last hope is exaggeration
It is indeed your last hope because you have no idea how many great films had fallen because of this. If you have been thinking that this is basically the same trick that has been initially discussed, you could not be more wrong. Like small businesses that have achieved success regionally and are yearning for more, we are now going global with our exaggeration. Instead of being capped towards the explanation parts of your movie, you can now employ the power of exaggeration anywhere you want, however you want.
Surely, you are being extremely nervous at this point, because you are being summoned to wield the most destructive and unexplainable force in film-making history. Naturally, questions like “where do I start?” and “isn’t there nothing else that I can exaggerate?” frequently arise to challenge the sanity of those who have desperately ventured into this hole. Allow me to enlighten you with some examples:
- Law enforcer with overgrown biceps plays tug-of-war with a helicopter
- Human race threatens to invade the home planet of aliens that are 10 times more technologically advanced than them. They don’t have a clue where the planet is
- Showroom supercar with questionable amount of fuel jumps from one skyscraper into another
- Somehow, Palpatine has returned
They say that reality is often disappointing, so your studio will not blame you for bending your film project far away from reality in the name of spicing things up. I bet that the studio’s executives have a habit of frequently asking you how you plan to capture your audience’s attention, so you are indirectly doing them a favor by addressing their long-standing concern. The best leaders lead by example, and this is the best example that shows that you are a committed, resourceful, and ambitious film director, just that like Palpatine, somehow your film project bombs.
I will not go to the extent of sugarcoating my words to make you believe that once you have played your last card, everything will go well from that point onwards. Yes, exaggerating just about everything in a film is a powerful way to secure a rotten spot for your movie, but not all directors who have turned to the dark side have the creativity, patience or willpower to pull that off. If you are feeling tired, uninspired or maybe thinking that all hope is lost, just keep one thing in mind — a film series about street races and modified cars can end up in space. You can do it.