“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” – Thomas Edison
Below is an article I recently posted to my Examiner.com column. Maybe you saw it there. Maybe you didn’t. If you did, forgive me for my redundancy. Then forgive me again.
A movie's entertainment value is completely subjective. Just look at detailed user ratings at IMDb and you'll see movies with a high weighted average inevitably have a significant number of 1-star ratings. Take The Social Network; as of this writing, 8,484 IMDb users scored the movie a perfect 10 out of 10 while 868 scored it a 1 out of 10, the lowest allowable score.
Overall, only 3.1% of people who rated The Social Network on IMDb gave it a 1/10 while the 10/10 ratings accounted for just under 30% of voters. The numbers are insignificant except for the proof that in any given audience, there will be lovers and haters of the same movie. Whether the ratings are based solely on the movie's entertainment value or any other number of variables (didn't like the lead actor, saw it with someone who dumped you the next day, in a bad mood when you saw it, whatever), it can be assumed that at least a portion of the lowest ratings were given because the person genuinely hated the content of the movie.
Filmmakers need to accept that any movie they make is going to be loved by some and hated by others. As long as the lovers outweigh the haters, life should be good. One would hope that audience response comes down predominantly to the quality of the movie's content (plot, theme) and not petty intangibles (lead actor negatively dominating the tabloids, not enough 'eye-candy'). The content is completely controllable, and most intangibles are as well, so really there isn't an excuse for making a bad movie, is there?
Yet bad movies get made. More than good ones. The vast majority of current flicks seem to be wasting away in Mediocreville. Looking for their lost shaker of salt?
Nobody sets out to make a bad movie. Even Ed Wood believed his movies were high quality. And a small percentage of his audience actually agreed - most Ed Wood movies have user ratings on IMDb exactly opposite of The Social Network with the highest number of votes being 1/10 but a measurable number of votes rating 10/10).
The nebulous words here are good, bad, and mediocre. One cannot definitively apply the word "good" to The Social Network or the word "bad" to Ed Wood's Night of the Ghouls, because inevitably there are audience members who would disagree. But for the sake of argument, let's call a movie that is widely received in a positive light "good" and a movie generally regarded as poor quality "bad".
What are the most important details in assuring a filmmaker's efforts will result in a good movie? Ask ten filmmakers and you would likely receive ten different answers. One detail that I would hope consistently floats to the top is the screenplay. There has never been a good movie made from a bad screenplay, so the first ingredient in the recipe for a good movie has to be a good screenplay.
Of course, a good screenplay doesn't guarantee a good movie. Plenty can and does go wrong between pre-production and a movie's release. But none of the potential roadblocks during production, post-production and marketing make any difference if the filmmakers embarked on a project in which the screenplay was less than great.
Bottom line: Make sure your screenplay is GREAT before proceeding to turn it into a movie. Your chances of having more lovers than haters in the audience depend on the pages that build the foundation of the picture.