Arcs sont Triomphe

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The comments thread for Arcs sont Triomphe.

This one's a little less Public Service Announcement than the previous three, in that it's not making a clear-cut case for anything. Just a series of observations about the causes and effects of shifting audience expectations. I even did some actual legwork, talking to a couple of critics for independent quotes on some of the things discussed therein.

Hope you guys find it interesting.
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Some interesting points Yods, it's like the rule of 3 while telling a good a joke.

The way I see it is similar to what you wrote, there's a completely different mentality within Society these days, people want 'stuff', and they want it now.
The three acts of a movie make an arc within the movie, then combining those into three parts with 6 more acts, (ie; 3 movies altogether) seems to be the most succesful way to build something that modern audiences can relate to.

The audience doesn't have to wait too long for 'stuff' to happen and there's just enough in between to keep them fixed to the screen without getting bored.
Hence... the current trend of taking the completely random aura and storytelling of already succesful comicbook heroes, and building it into a nine-act trilogy of movies that taps into the 'want stuff now' mentality of the modern audience.

Gone are the days of the Serial TV Show, with exception to the odd comedy like The Big Bang Theory (for example). Then again, TBBT is similarly written to the comicbooks they quite often reference in the show: Relatively random storytelling with one or two continuity points, and a couple of extras.

The audience today want the short of it with a few extras to boot, rather than the long of it with too many extras.

But, there's one with an arc of sorts that ran for close to 100 episodes that you missed, Quantum Leap.
Though that was 20 years ago, so I'm guessing a remake or even a repeat of the series on TV with today's audience probably wouldn't be that succesful. It dies off toward the end anyways.



The Adventure Starts Here!
Ironically, though I'd agree that stories/movies/TV shows are more realistic and gritty now than they used to be, I'd also say that some of that compression you mention means that characters change a lot more (and a lot more crisply) than actual people do in real life. Have you ever noticed just how LITTLE most people really change?

And since most of us don't have Big Life Events happening all the time in our fairly safe world, there is so little to even get us to contemplate real change.

As a writer, I've learned that, although writing dialogue has to sound natural and real, it can't REALLY sound REAL or it will be horrible reading. Anyone who's ever had to transcribe a speech or other spoken words knows this.

The point being, art can't really imitate life. It would take too long.



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Your thesis seems a bit hard to explain... It bounces between two things. First, story arcs are being cut off faster (hence the quick reboots). But then, story arcs are being extended across a show's entire run. These seem at odds. The first one is due to a shorter attention span, but the second one requires a longer one. The goal of both seem to be real character change, so that makes sense, but relating it to attention span (or 'accelerated culture') only makes sense for faster reboots. An accelerated culture values grab-and-go type things. A show with a huge story arc is inaccessible to people who are not willing to sit for hours and make up for lost time. I don't see how that willingness to wait week after week and/or the willingness to make up for lost time has anything to do with complicity to an accelerated culture.

In general, it seems weird to me that an 'accelerated culture' would cause that kind of shift. The real cause still seems mysterious to me, but I think it's closer to something like your idea of wanting 'real change' than 'grittiness/realism.'

Also, I'd just like to say that the James Bond example above all is really great, because that has such a long history of being totally stagnant.
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I'm still considering your essay Yoda. Thanks for the time and effort (including legwork) you took. I'm not sure I even agree with most of it, but that's not because I think there's anything wrong with it; I am probably just ambivalent. I haven't even watched most of the TV shows you mention, so I could be off base when I don't consider serialized TV dramas to be the only great forms of TV.

The one thing I especially wonder about is how do you reconcile the idea of "more grittiness" with more CGI-generated F/X? All these movie trilogies seem to be a barrage of non-stop F/X which seem to mimic something comparable to a video game. In fact, the main thing I notice watching an F/X-laden film in high-def and on blu-ray (which isn't that often, I'll admit) is that the big action scenes really do almost look like video games. I'll admit I'm also not a video game expert, so I may just be blowing hot air here, but I think there's also a tie-in with these "grittier" TV shows. They use lots more F/X than ever before too. In fact, many of them aren't even shot on location but actually green-screened at a studio. It's much cheaper to bring the location to the studio than to take the production to the location. It often makes me wonder if the audience actually craves some form of reality in their serialized shows. After all, most people seem content with watching real people make utter idiots out of themselves on "reality TV" nowadays. However, I realize there will always be viewers who want good writing and true acting over some form of contrived reality.

Sorry if I hijacked your essay to make some more comments about "art" vs. "entertainment", but I think I addressed a little of your topic, at least from a sideways (if not skewed) perspective.
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PN, it's a good point, but with anything there's always two ends of the spectrum. I think the 'short and sweet with a few extras' is the majority of moviegoers these days ie; The kind of audience that would rather watch Jurassic Park than read the more philosophical and scientific ramblings of Crichton's book.
They still want a little bit of complexity in the characters and arcs, yes, but want mainly smash and bang Bay-Stylee movies.

The other end of the spectrum, the audience that actually wants something more substantial/longer/complex, are becoming a bit of a minority these days. Yoda being one of them obviously... after all, he just wrote an essay on it.




You've hit a pretty good point there Mark too.
Most movie CGI is tat-up-market-video-game style at best... maybe that's why Matrix Trilogy did so well... with the look they gave the second movie especially, it subconciously tapped into the advanced gaming culture that was starting out at that time (online PS2 games and decent, more realistic gaming graphics etc).
I doubt the makers of Matrix 2 & 3 did it purposely, but it's certainly something that could be a factor in how successful a movie is.


Yods has started a philosophical thing here.



Keep on Rockin in the Free World
Look at Yodes flashen un peu de francais.

formidable.

(I just read the title so far, so good)
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But, there's one with an arc of sorts that ran for close to 100 episodes that you missed, Quantum Leap.
Though that was 20 years ago, so I'm guessing a remake or even a repeat of the series on TV with today's audience probably wouldn't be that succesful. It dies off toward the end anyways.
This is true, and a good point. So we should add some nuance by saying that pretty much all these shows have some arc, but that some just put a little in the beginning and a little at the end, with everything in the middle stretched out. So while a genuine arc would always be changing, like this:



Shows like Quantum Leap would be static for the majority of their run, but just bookended by real developments, like this:




Your thesis seems a bit hard to explain... It bounces between two things. First, story arcs are being cut off faster (hence the quick reboots). But then, story arcs are being extended across a show's entire run. These seem at odds. The first one is due to a shorter attention span, but the second one requires a longer one. The goal of both seem to be real character change, so that makes sense, but relating it to attention span (or 'accelerated culture') only makes sense for faster reboots. An accelerated culture values grab-and-go type things. A show with a huge story arc is inaccessible to people who are not willing to sit for hours and make up for lost time. I don't see how that willingness to wait week after week and/or the willingness to make up for lost time has anything to do with complicity to an accelerated culture.
A good point; see above for a distinction on a genuine arc and a narrative bookending.

Regarding attention spans: you're right, the two push in different directions. But it's the same force pulling on both sides! A demand for immediacy in seeing the new episodes now, versus the demand for being able to see another episode immediately after the previous one, which you only get by waiting. It's just a matter of which type of attention span gratification you value more.

That said, I think the delivery of the entertainment gets around the problem a bit. Specifically, the fact that lots of people deliberately consume these shows all at once. I've heard from lots of people who deliberately let shows build up a store of episodes before diving into them, which has the added benefit of having to worry that a show will be prematurely cancelled, too (a huge deal with serialized shows). There's enough out there now that people can consume these things at a tremendous pace, and yet still be pretty selective about narrative moment, without running out of options. It can't go on forever, but given the number of options it can go on for a pretty long time. Courtney and I, for example, have been making our way through lots of the great shows of the last decade for a couple of years now, and we're still not through the standard dozen or so that form the consensus top tier.

In general, it seems weird to me that an 'accelerated culture' would cause that kind of shift. The real cause still seems mysterious to me, but I think it's closer to something like your idea of wanting 'real change' than 'grittiness/realism.'
It could just be contradictory, in that being impatient means we want things faster, but that means they run out quicker, which makes us more impatient. It would hardly be the first human desire to find that trying to satiate it only makes the desire worse, no? It can work as an explanation for the shift, even if the shift is unsustainable in the long-run.

Also, I'd just like to say that the James Bond example above all is really great, because that has such a long history of being totally stagnant.
Yeah, it's pretty much Exhibit A, especially now that they've tried to change it. Pretty sure that's going to fade and we'll only have "arcs" that involve a few movies with an over-arching shadowy organization, maybe, without a lot of psychological change from Bond himself, but we'll see.



are you french?



junk in junk out
attention span cannot be blamed on audiences
infact its a just an excuse to write crap to make money.
junk in junk out
dont blame the audience for trends in bad arcs or whatever you are talking about within movie plots and character types and spin offs etc.



I'm still considering your essay Yoda. Thanks for the time and effort (including legwork) you took. I'm not sure I even agree with most of it, but that's not because I think there's anything wrong with it; I am probably just ambivalent. I haven't even watched most of the TV shows you mention, so I could be off base when I don't consider serialized TV dramas to be the only great forms of TV.
This is a bit of a digression, but what TV do you watch? Any reason you don't watch much? Lots of great storytelling going on there, and a lot of it isn't too fundamentally different from movies. Though I guess you watch enough movies that there's only so many hours in the day.

The one thing I especially wonder about is how do you reconcile the idea of "more grittiness" with more CGI-generated F/X? All these movie trilogies seem to be a barrage of non-stop F/X which seem to mimic something comparable to a video game. In fact, the main thing I notice watching an F/X-laden film in high-def and on blu-ray (which isn't that often, I'll admit) is that the big action scenes really do almost look like video games. I'll admit I'm also not a video game expert, so I may just be blowing hot air here, but I think there's also a tie-in with these "grittier" TV shows. They use lots more F/X than ever before too. In fact, many of them aren't even shot on location but actually green-screened at a studio. It's much cheaper to bring the location to the studio than to take the production to the location. It often makes me wonder if the audience actually craves some form of reality in their serialized shows. After all, most people seem content with watching real people make utter idiots out of themselves on "reality TV" nowadays. However, I realize there will always be viewers who want good writing and true acting over some form of contrived reality.

Sorry if I hijacked your essay to make some more comments about "art" vs. "entertainment", but I think I addressed a little of your topic, at least from a sideways (if not skewed) perspective.
You guys are really bringing it with the questions. Good!

I think there's some definition tension there, with effects, and I think we're already seeing people sour on them. I know when I first say the wide pull-back shot of all the "thousand" ships in the trailer for Troy, my jaw dropped, but that was the beginning of the end. LOTR's "Massive" was a revolution, and ever since then, Hollywood has cheapened the crap out of CGI-based scale.

That said, I think it happens anyway for a pretty simple reason: narrative arcs require big events, and big events can be hard to show without big explosions, buildings falling down, large crowds, whatever. Obviously exceptional writing can generate a "big" event that is entirely personal; just one person saying something to another. But that can be hard to do. So I tend to think of CGI as a cheap way of trying to generate big events (with big narrative consequences). And if it looks good enough, it may not take away from the "realism" too much.

But there's already a bit of a backlash, anyway, with guys like Nolan actually flipping over 18-wheelers rather than going the CGI route, on the theory that people can really feel the difference with real stunts and action sequences. And I think he's right.



It's a good point going on about the CGI thing. As Yoda said, look at LOTR and compare it to, say, 2012.

2012 is cheap, even though it probably cost more to make.

Nolan, I think I read somewhere, has flatly refused to record with digital cameras too. All of his stuff is done on film and requires an editor with a pair of scissors.
Only one or two partial CG shots exist in his Batman Universe.

I think the evolution of CGI is a good thing... but the old Jurassic Park phrase comes into my mind with the way CGI is used: "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop and think if they should!"

As long the story and the character arc is well written, CG can be a bonus to the viewing experience.



It's a good point going on about the CGI thing. As Yoda said, look at LOTR and compare it to, say, 2012.

2012 is cheap, even though it probably cost more to make.

Nolan, I think I read somewhere, has flatly refused to record with digital cameras too. All of his stuff is done on film and requires an editor with a pair of scissors.
Only one or two partial CG shots exist in his Batman Universe.

I think the evolution of CGI is a good thing... but the old Jurassic Park phrase comes into my mind with the way CGI is used: "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop and think if they should!"

As long the story and the character arc is well written, CG can be a bonus to the viewing experience.
Lord of the rings is different, the whole thing is a fantasy set thing, no reality being mixed with the sets, no real life needed to be mixed. That is why is it looked better.
The problem is when you mix real life things with cgi.



That's a pretty good point. It might not be as bad if there's only so much real life for contrast. In the case of LOTR, there was tons of on-location shooting and plenty of sets, but it was all pretty larger-than-life anyway, and a lot of wide-shot landscapes from a distance, too, so the shift probably wasn't as jarring. It's a bigger deal when it's trying to show you a fake version of a real thing, as opposed to a fake version of a fake thing.



CG can be a bonus to the viewing experience.

it spoilt Gladiator.

The colosseum and Rome had that horrible fake gray look ( so common with cgi everything looks so dull and miserable when they use it - cheaper version?-also same grey in Lord Of The Rings), and the people occupying it looked fake and the top of it looked fake from the interiour.
the best scene in that movie was Joaquin Phoenix in his roman bust armour and white linen, rising up under the stadium in white cloudy mist.



That's not the thing though Medusa, it's the usage of CGI these days.

I know what you're saying with the different worlds they're set in... but I meant the cheap way that CGI is banded around with little regard to story, plot, character writing/arcs and overall screenplay.

CGI has become the modern day equivalent of the 80s musclebound action-up. All flash and bang... very little sustenance.
I was using 2012 as an example of the broad disregard that most modern filmmakers have toward their audience.

If you want another example... Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.



A system of cells interlinked
Very cool stuff. I need to chew on it a bit more before jumping in to the conversation, though.

What are your thoughts on shows (ie Star Trek) that would try to shake things up during any given episode, only to hit the reset button at the 55 minute mark, and all was well again? Does this relate to attention and expectation, or more so, a narrative security blanket?
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