Pants on Fire
Lying has become a nebulous thing, of late. In the good-old-days, facts were never up for debate. Now, for far too many of us, our facts are driven by emotion and ideology, rather than reality.
As writers, we lie. That's our job. We make up stories and tell them, and by definition, that's a lie. Even stories about a real-life incident or person must be embellished, compressed and dramatized. Truth sprinkled with lies.
What we have going for us is that our audience knows we're lying, going in, and they're fine with it. They're willing to suspend their disbelief in order to be entertained. To a point.
While they will accept our stories as fiction, the way we tell those stories is the subject of great scrutiny and held to a high standard. The world we've created must be accurate.
I recently encountered a blog discussion regarding the bear attack on Leonardo DiCaprio's character in the film "The Revenant." There were many comments criticizing the filmmakers for a lack of authenticity in the scene. Some were valid, some picky, some far-fetched.
The bear wouldn't do that. The character would have done this. The season was wrong. The cub was too young. The bear didn't look real.
It harkens me back to a classic Hollywood story concerning the TV comedy series, "Mr. Ed," about a talking horse. A writer on the show pitched a line for Mr. Ed to George Burns, who was a producer. Burns listened to the line, then shook his head.
"The horse wouldn't say that."
The writer responded, "I got a flash for you, George. The horse wouldn't say anything!"
"No," George replied, "the character we've given the horse wouldn't say that."
Mr. Burns put himself in the audience. He was willing to believe a horse could talk, even knowing it wasn't true. He just didn't believe Mr. Ed would say that.
Mistakes can come in many forms in the making of a film. Sometimes, it has to do with continuity.
"Hey, the top button of his shirt was unbuttoned in that last shot!"
"Her drink was almost empty. Now, it's full!"
They point out these little flaws because they feel cheated when they encounter them. They were totally involved in your story, and now you've lied to them. You've rudely jerked them back to reality.
Other times, the problem stems from a choice based on time considerations, editing issues, lack of research or just plain laziness.
It's such a little thing, they tell themselves. The audience won't notice. Except, they do. They always have and they always will.
No place in our world for alternative facts.
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A professional screenwriter for more than thirty years, Robert Gosnell has produced credits in feature films, network television, syndicated television, basic cable and pay cable, and is a member of the Writers Guild of America, West and the Writers Guild of Canada.
Robert began his career writing situation comedy as a staff writer for the ABC series Baby Makes Five. As a freelance writer, he wrote episodes for Too Close for Comfort and the TBS comedies Safe at Home andRocky Road. In cable, he has scripted numerous projects for the Disney Channel, including Just Perfect, a Disney Channel movie featuring Jennie Garth. In 1998, he wrote the Showtime original movie, Escape from Wildcat Canyon, which starred Dennis Weaver and won the national "Parents Choice Award." Robert's feature credits include the Chuck Norris/Louis Gosset Jr. film Firewalker, an uncredited rewrite on the motion picture Number One With A Bullet starring Robert Carradine and Billy Dee Williams, and the sale of his original screenplay Kick And Kick Back to Cannon Films. Robert was also selected as a judge for the 1990 Cable Ace awards, in the Comedy Special category.
In 1990, Robert left Hollywood for Denver, where he became active in the local independent film community. His screenplay Tiger Street was produced by the Pagoda Group of Denver and premiered on Showtime Extreme in August of 2003. In 1999, Denver’s Inferno Films produced the action film Dragon and the Hawk from his script. In 2001, Robert co-wrote the screenplay for the independent feature Siren for Las Vegas company Stage Left Productions. His feature script Juncture was produced by Front Range Films in March of 2006.
Robert is a principal member of the Denver production company "Conspiracy Films." He is frequently an invited speaker for local writers organizations, served on the faculty of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference in 2002, and in 2007 was chosen to participate as a panelist for the Aspen Film Festival Short Screenplay Contest. Robert regularly presents his screenwriting class "The Elements of Screenplay," along with advanced classes and workshops, in the Denver area.