Friday, May 30, 2014

Does the Bechdel Test apply to comics?

Sometimes a test may be applied in some weird ways, obtaining some very weird results. Recently a study was published on how Doctor Who would do when it the Bechdel Test was applied to it. Briefly, in order to pass the Bechdel Test a movie has to have two women talk about something other than men; the test was applied by episode over the last seven seasons in order to compare which writer was more feminist friendly.

It stunned me, leaving me with a permanently cocked eyebrow.

The problem character was River Song, as always. The problem with having a romantic pairing is that, if done well, both parties are going to talk about each other. A lot. Sometimes just to vent, sometimes to remind them why they don't just find someone else, and others to express their love for one other, but the statements are there. And River Song and The Doctor are very much in love, so of course every episode she's in she brings up The Doctor.

According to the criteria of the study, River Song is a bad character.

Suffice to say that Amy Pond did not fare much better. Donna Noble, on the other hand, did rather well. Not that there is anything wrong with Donna, of course; I just thought RIver and Amy were much better characters.

That is, The Girl Who Waited and her daughter were considered horrible characters by the study because they couldn't stop talking about the men they loved and this made them obviously anti-feminist characters, despite their being a match and then some for their paramours. And there is just something wrong with that.

Obviously the problem is that the Bechdel Test was used for something it was not designed for; it was designed as a pro-feminist test as a result of the creator getting tired of seeing too many movies that reduced otherwise great women to mere copies of the vacuous, sex-starved Cosmo-dependent Sex in the City girls, and should probably not have been applied to anything episodic.

But it does bring up an interesting point for comics. If I put a lot of effort into establishing a great female character, what do I do about romance? The reality is that even if I'm writing an all-ages comic, heterosexual romance is going to rear its ugly head. Can I write such an obviously depraved romance while still writing a great female character? Or will the fact that the character is having such a horrible romance and need to discuss it at some point with someone else, possibly another [shudder] female destroy any credibility she has a potential role-model?

Obviously it won't. But as a writer we need to be aware of the criteria others use to judge our works , and we need to decide if we are going to apply those criteria to our own works. There is the understanding that the more criteria we add the less fun it will be to write and the more annoying it will be for others to read as I'm writing for the criteria and not my own passion. We need to decide if we are going to write for ourselves or some set of rules. I get that peer acceptance is important, but at the same time if we write strictly for that acceptance our work suffers. The question becomes to what degree we write for ourselves versus others, and that's an issue we can only decide for ourselves.

Personally, as far as the Bechdel Test is concerned, I don't mind failing. It was designed to act as a tool to see if women were being written shallow, and mine usually aren't. I also tend to write for myself first and others second, so I don't care really care about writing for someone else's criteria. But right as you feel comfortable, and see what happens.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Casting Your Movie

Let's talk casting your webcomic. There are a number of different ways to determine who will portray your characters, and you need to decide which one works best for you.

Consider the two Judge Dredd movies, with Sylvester Stallone and Karl Urban. Ignoring acting skills and the writing of the two movies, casting took two different approaches. Keep in mind that Dredd is a muscular man who doesn't take anything from anyone.Stallone had the muscles, while Urban had the requisite bad attitude; if you would have combined the two you would have had the perfect Judge Dredd. In this case the casting director had to debate what worked better for the movie; in Stallone's version, they needed someone physical because it was a very physical movie, making Stallone the better choice. Urban's version was more of a crime drama that needed the attitude. In this case it was decided to go with the more appropriate actor.

Unknown vs. Known
Other movies face more interesting choices. Movies are all about branding; you want to create a look that when people see it they think of the movie. This includes the actors; if the actors become associated with the movie they become full-time ads for the movie. Although an experienced, well-known actor brings his own fanbase, which can translate into more sales, they are also associated with other movies, meaning that the fans willl think of any of the movies he has made, including the most current, splintering sales.This makes talented unknowns worth their weight in gold; until they are associated with another movie, they work well as towards the branding of the movie. This also means that you want a mix of knowns and unknowns, so you can have the audience attached to the known actors and the advertising boon of the unknowns.

Consider X-Men: First Class and its mix of actors. On the unknown side you have Caleb Landry Jones and Lucas Till, Banshee and Havok repspectively. Although they have been in other movies, Till for example has been a number of Disney movies, they are still relative uknowns. Till has become part of the branding of the X-Men franchise, appearing in a couple of commercials. Conversely, James McAvoy and January Jones, among others, bring in their audiences. Of special note here is Jennifer Lawrence, a double threat here; she is still relatively unknown so she can be used for branding, but brings her fans from the Hunger Games movies. Obviously an excellent casting move all-around.

Stunt Casting
This is one that needs to be really debated. The idea is to cast someone who is popular but will bring attention to the movie. The problem is that some moron stated that "any publicity is good publicity"; sometimes bad publicity really is bad publicity. Sure, the movie may have better sales than it should have but the curious will rarely see the movie more than enough to satisfy their curiosity. Successful movies are not seen by 100 peope once; they are seen by 50 people three times who then get their 200 riends to see it once. Stunt casting is a way to get people talking about your movie, but it had best be good casting as well; if not, you've just created a lot of bad publicity and an audience of curiosity seekers rather than potential fans.

This is sort of why the New Fantastic four reboot is getting a lot of flack. Michael B. Jordan is a great actor; he has done a phenomonal job in alost everything that he has been in. However, casting a black actor as the traditionally white "Johnny Storm" before casting anyone else stinks of stunt casting, and it focuses a lot of attention on the casting rather than the story, creating a lot of doubt on whether or not the story is any good. As movie-goers know that it's story first, focusing the attention elsewhere creates some big questions. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Casting is an important decision when it comes to making a movie work. So if you're cating your movie, find people that work for the roles, combine a mix of known and unknown actors, and try to avoid stunt casting, and it's the first step towards a successful movie.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Your Webcomic on the Silver Screen

Okay, let's assume that at some your webcomic gets some interest from Hollywood. It can happen; they have to get away from regular comics at some point and start exploring the web, right? Besides being a great boost to any comic's profit margin, as well as its popularity, this means that you will need to make a number of major decisions in very short order. Of course, it helps to have an idea what those decisions are.

Plot Details
The major change is that there will be changes going from comic to movie. The majority of these changes is simply because things that work well in comics don't always translate well. This can be anything from costumes to too many characters to lengthy exposition; comics done well are great literature, and that doesn't always translate well into a more visual medium like the movies. Yeah, go figure. Costume and exposition are usually the first to go; lengthy dialogue that works in a comic gets bowing when it is actually filmed, and not all costumes look right on-screen. Generally, this means Spandex and flowing costumes just look weird, which is why Spider-man seems to be wearing armor rather than just cloth.

Sometimes there are also character issues, as a comic has too many of the same type of character, so someone needs to be dropped. At the other end is that at least one character has to be the protagonist and another has to be an antagonist. Movies tend to do well when it comes to high drama; anything subtle tends to get lost. Movies are notoriously bad at showing emotions and nuances that work well in a book. As such there needs to be a conflict of some sort and one that is easy to film.

Avoid Marketing
You will also need to debate how much you will listen to the marketing department. A movie is not a cheap undertaking; even a low-budget movie can easily run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Understandably producers get a little antsy when it comes to making sure that the movie sees a return of some sort, and some take that to an extreme. Product placement is one option, where a company will pay to have its product featured in the movie. Although it can get annoying if abused, it is a traditional way to finance a picture.

Other options to pursue are ensuring that there is a game or other swag to merchandise; for some movies this is fine, but for others it just doesn't work. A subtle drama or even a slapstick comedy is unlikely to have much merchandise attached to it, while a kids movie or superhero may have a lot of merchandise attached to it. The producer needs to decide on whether or not to develop the merchandise or to allow another company to do so through a license. Keep in mind that this can include anything from toys to posters to a fashion line, so debate swag a long time before passing it over.

However, be wary of allowing the marketing department to make any creative decisions. The marketing department is always looking for ways to make the movie more profitable, which is fine as it their job, but some of those ideas involve making changes to the script, usually to better facilitate a product line or specific product. These ideas should be slapped down; the movie, from a profit perspective needs to manage a fine balance between creative and marketing, and there is an issue when that balance swings to much towards the profit side. To put it another way, there needs to be just enough marketing within the movie to make it profitable without the movie becoming an extended commercial.

Producers Produce
The other major issue is that the producer may interfere with the creative process. He can be so worried about the movie being a success that he decides he needs to add in more commercial elements to make the movie "more accessible". Others decide that they need to leave a personal mark on the movie and so take over. If this happens, the producer needs to be taken out and shot. Leaving a "personal mark" invariably means that something has to be changed or eliminated in order to insert that mark, and that usually hurts the movie. At he same time, more commercial elements may cheapen the movie or eliminate why the movie worked so well in the first place. As such, a producer should stick to financing the movie and avoid being creative.

That should help start things off. Casting is an issue that really needs its own space, and so it shall be....