Tuesday, May 31, 2011
This is a little later than usual, but I am still on my jaunt overseas. It has given me some tidbits to share.
NY is an interesting place. LA is downright strange.
America is full of Americans, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Overall, the experience has been so varied, so I am really not sure what I think of the USA.
They are capable of so much and so little at the same time, e.g. they can find a single person in a world of billions, yet they can't master basic world geography.
They are obsessed with pretense, yet can produce some of the world's greatest thinkers and scientists (google Jonas Salk)
Is it dumb luck? Is it a numbers game? One in a milion here creates 250 to 300 'special' people after all.
After talking with quite a few of them, in a variety of random situations, I realised that the key to understanding Americans is the idea of the 'Niche'
Americans are not about breadth of understanding. They are about 'depth', that is, deep focus and understanding on a single (or very few) subject. Talk to an American and they will bamboozle you with words that show how little they know about things generally. But hit on their niche subject and they will tell you EVERYTHING about it, with a richness and depth of detail that seems beyond belief.
On a normal hot day in LA last week, I had a conversation with a guy who led me, inexorably, to the conclusion that he was missing one (or more) chromosomes. But when the conversation inevitably turned to the comic book universe, his pupils widened and he spoke with detail that even a savant would struggle with. He even knew about how certain storylines in the comic book world were an allegory for events in the real world. When this part of the conversation finished, however, the familiar glaze returned and he went back to using phrases like "Y'now ya?"
I realized then, that for those of us trying to tell stories that have appeal in America (and can therefore sell - it is the biggest film market in the world, after all) you need to be extremely skillful in your craft, in order to tell a story that appears to be simpler than it is. Americans need a high concept story that fits their niche, in order to appeal to their singular focus. That doesn't mean it can't have more layers, but in the end the story needs to be about...well....the story, not the social point you are trying to make. That's not to say that you can't make your indie gem and sell it in the North American Territory. But it will be difficult, and your story telling skills will need to be razor sharp to make sure it has enough of that overarching story 'niche' to make them see it.
Think I am over-intellectualising? Look up: Xmen (racism), and The Matrix (corruption in 'the system'). Even Pirates of the Caribbean (the corrupted empire/accepting who you are), had these elements. If I'm wrong then why is Johnny Depp's character the good guy; the one we sympathize with?
According to www.the-numbers.com (worldwide totals in $US):
XMen - $334,627,820
XMen Origins: Wolverine - $374,825,760
XMen: The Last Stand - $459,359,555
The Matrix - $460,279,930
The Matrix Reloaded - $738,576,929
The Matrix Revolutions - $424,259,759
Pirates of The Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl - $653,211,224
Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest - $1,060,615,812
Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - $960,996,492
Determine your high concept. Know your craft. Preach in the subtext only.
Find the niche.