Never in all my years (have to fix that phrase) have I seen so many examples of bad puns, overused lines, tired camera angles, and well-worn jokes.
No, we are not talking about the Pauly Shore Film Festival (Love ya, P!), we are celebrating the cascade de cliches that is the response to last week’s request for the dullest conventions in filmmaking.
Thank you one and all! It was dreadful! Really, really awful!
But I digress (whoops, there’s another one).
The point of all this is to have a handy guide to what NOT to do, and to make sure that anything we send out is the freshest, newest take, and one we have never seen before. This is the nature of our job. So don’t be afraid of cliches, get to know them and learn to avoid them. If nothing else, use them as a springboard to find the take we have never heard or seen.
I myself have been guilty of the cliche, as a young writer it felt safer to use a joke others had used before me — wouldn’t they like me too if I said it?
Now if I find myself using a dull witticism or someone else’s joke, I either dump it or give it a twist that makes it new. Every aspect of our job is like that: Give me the fresh take on the rom-com, the ghost story, the epic adventure. Let me see the characters I have NEVER seen before with quirks and aspirations that make them new. Don’t give me the outcome I expect, surprise me! In a sense, we are like magicians, and must constantly look for new ways to pull a hat out of a rabbit (ewwww!) But you get what I mean.
The winner of the contest will now be decided by… You! There’s a twist. After reading over the 50+ cliche entries in last week’s blog, tell us who you think came up with the most startling cliche, the one that until that moment you didn’t realize had already “jumped the shark.” (whoops again)
The winner will be awarded a copy of the BRAND NEW Save the Cat! software, the upgraded version that will be available in October and includes some bells and whistles even I don’t believe we managed to squeeze in there.
And as a bonus, the commenter that makes the best case for the winner, and convinces us all he or she is right (as long as it is not his own brilliant insight he is pitching) will also win a copy of STC! 2.0.
How about them apples??? (Darn!)
- Robert Henny
I cast my vote for the answering machine, because they are virtually nonexistent outside the film world. Cell phones, cars that don’t start, shots to the nuts, embarrassing sexual situations, etc., while perhaps overused, can still be tweaked to the point they become creative. They could still happen! But, the guy who goes home to see he has “0” messages to show he has no friends, the person who plays the answering machine while performing other tasks only to be startled by one of the messages, the character who speeds through and deletes messages from debt collectors to show he/she is behind on bills… we HAVE to do better because it’s no longer believable. Most people only use cell phones nowadays… you know, the kind that won’t work when you need it most.
The reason most of these cliches will continue is because they still work. We need to try and put a new spin on them, but sometimes they just can’t be beat. Here’s the thing; when you’re home alone and something spooks you, don’t you always think there might just be someone hiding in the bathroom? And doesn’t it ease your mind when you simply pull back the shower curtain to make sure no one is there? In real life, no one is, hopefully. But in the movies…
- Zach Homer
Comment by Andrew
August 13, 2007 @ 12:18 pm
“So the cliche Iâ€™m so tired of seeing, which is constantly used in movies (for example, I believe Daddy Day Camp) is a man getting hit in the crotch. Sometimes theyâ€™ll jazz this up and instead having him get hit in the head, but it is such a tired, over used excuse to try to get a cheap laugh. At least the guys on Jackass would go to an extreme to do stuff to their bodyâ€™s, but anything else is just awful writing.”
I have to agree with Andrew here on this one in saying that people getting hit in the crotch or the head is getting pretty damn old. People get kicked in the nuts all the time, its not something I need to pay 10 bucks at a movie theater to see. As time moves on, more and more people are flocking to the outrageous and gross. For instance, the movie Superbad, which had a scene where one of the main characters, Seth, danced with a girl and got period blood on his leg. I had never seen that before, although the joke is still dealing with genitalia, its a whole new approach. Men getting kicked in the nuts I can only see being funny to the most spiteful of female divorcee’s, or maybe anyone under ten. Otherwise its just painful to see and reminds me how much it sucks to have happen. As for someone getting hit on the head, ill watch re-runs on The Three Stooges.
I think the dead bad guy who’s not really dead (even in Die Hard it was a tired cliche) is by far the worst groaner in movies right now.
Second place would go to the “opening the mirror and then closing the mirror to see someone standing there” cliche (also applies to doors too).
- Daniel McD
They’re all good, but if I had to pick just one (how’s that for clichÃ©?) it would be TOP’s, submitted on August 16, 2007: “Is she worth it?”
This clichÃ© is used to say, rather than show the audience, that the protagonist is worthy and deserving of our liking him – can you say, save the cat? If instead, the script had the protagonist scaling a 50 story building, fighting off baddies the entire time, while dangling from a rope that is ready to break, all to save the girl, than it would be self evident that “she is worth it.” And hence, no need to utilize a clichÃ©, to do the work of good writing.
- melissa hill
Isn’t “startling cliche” an oxymoron?
Nevertheless, I vote for the line from Enemy of the State — Save the cat — just because it’s now my favorite thing to point out and it didn’t phase me when I saw that movie (or any other). Now that I’m in the know, I want a more subtle “Save the cat” moment.
Just to add to that last post… remember that Will Smith also saves a cat in “I Robot” when he’s in the house and it’s being demolished around him.
Wow, Blake, your readers did come up with a gruesome list of narrative sins. The top (or bottom?) three, for me:
3) Closing the medicine cabinet door to reveal in the mirror someone standing behind the protagonist. This one is tired but merely makes me think, “Oh, that again.”
2) A hero who sees the enemy fall and moves on without verifying whether the enemy is dead…so that the enemy can pop up late in the third act for a “shock” finale. This has been done so many times that it actually angers me when I encounter it. Some writer (or committee) has to be stubbornly lazy to trot that out.
But the number one worst cliche in my book goes to:
1) Characters winding up in a stand-off, each pointing a gun at one another’s face, a la John Woo’s style in Face Off and countless recent action films. I’m giving this one the prize because the other two cliches at one point were creative, helped tell a story, and could happen in real life. But this deal where “we all freeze with guns a foot from each other’s face at the same time” makes no sense and has never made sense from any perspective. It is improbable logistically — how could two or more people have the exact same reaction time and land in the same pose at the same time? It makes no sense psychologically — one of the people IS going to pull the trigger! And if you simply want to arrive at a standoff, that technique is not necessary narratively.
It makes an interesting visual the first time you see it. Other than that, it has no redeeming qualities. It is also one of the newest cliches on the list, so it gets bonus points.
There’s my vote for worst cliche on your “worst cliches” list!
- Mike Rinaldi
I’m not sure everyone understood what Blake just asked for. He’s not asking for the worst offender of clams/cliches. He is asking for which person proposed one that you didn’t realize to be a cliche until they added it to the list. So therefore the villain who isn’t really dead shouldn’t qualify. We already knew it’s worn-out.
I vote for Joe who added Guy falls followed by a muffled off-screen “I’m okay.” For some reason, that one hadn’t occurred to me until he posted it.
And speaking of saving cats, Adam Sandler’s fireman character saved a whole bunch of them in Mr. Deeds.
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I think the worst cliche is the bad guy rising from the dead, after the unconfirmed kill. I understand how the nature of narrative need us as writers to go to the extremes of existence, where a life vs. death battle should travel to the point where someone rises from the dead, horribly deformed, but the audience are too clever for this one. The fact that this is about to happen comes of tired and old, and is always a major anti-climax.
Wish I knew how to fix it though.