Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Exactly *not* the movie I wanted. Exactly the movie I needed.


I finally saw ‘Silver Linings Playbook’. I know. Back off. I’ve had a rough last couple of months, what with friends passing away and an increasingly vitriolic divorce from a woman whose moral compass points to an entirely different north from my own. 

So you can understand my reluctance to see a movie about a guy whose wife betrays him meeting up with a woman dealing with the death of her husband. 

It was exactly not the movie I wanted to see. But it was exactly the movie I needed. 

Why? Because it's a  good story. And at this moment in my life I've had so much bad that I need all the good I can get.

I have a theory about good stories. That good stories require a protagonist overcoming obstacles in order to achieve something.

That’s nothing new. All of us story geeks will tell you pretty much the same thing. Where I go a little different is that I look for one more wrinkle. I like to see the protagonist’s Want in opposition to his or her Need.

Silver Linings Playbook’ is a textbook example. 

The main character wants to save an unsavable marriage (hmmm –– that sounds familiar). What he needs is to accept the truth that his marriage can’t be saved. 

I’m going to tell you how it ends. He gets what he needs. But you know this already, even if you haven’t seen the film, because I said I liked it. For a story to be satisfying, the protagonist must fail to achieve what he or she wants in order to achieve what he or she needs. 

Yeah, there needs to be more. Otherwise, my going to see the movie would make a good movie. The Need has to be life-altering. The protagonist has to be single-mindedly dedicated to achieving his or her goal. The forces conspiring to thwart the protagonist must be formidable. 

This film had all that. Plus extraordinarily good acting, nice writing, and fresh, likable characters. 

In short, it does what any good film does: Provide an escape from our own miserable lives. 

I know, speak for yourself, Brian.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Everything I Ever Needed To Know About Advertising I Learned From A First Century Babylonian Rabbi

Rabbi Hillel making fun of crappy advertising. 
My nephew just called with a “quick question”. His high school Spanish teacher gave his class an assignment to create a TV commercial that communicates the value of speaking a foreign language. He wanted to know how to make a TV commercial. 

Oh, and the assignment is due tomorrow. 

When I was a kid, I remember a hearing a story in Sunday school about one Rabbi Hillel, who was challenged to explain the entire Torah while standing on one foot. The Torah, in case you didn’t happen to have the good fortune to be raised Jewish, is, to quote Wikipedia, "the foundational narrative of the Jewish people: their call into being by their God, their trials and tribulations, and their covenant with their God, which involves following a way of life (halakha) embodied in a set of religious obligations and civil laws." It's five books long, plus, oh, 58 centuries of commentaries and interpretations by a people who, to put it mildly, have a thing for commenting and interpreting.

Okay, so what my nephew was asking me wasn’t quite as daunting. If you count the entire history of TV commercials, you can’t really go back before 1939, when RCA began broadcasting TV signals. 

Still, Dude? Seriously? You want me to tell you how to make a TV commercial while standing on one foot?

In the Torah story, the rabbi thinks for a moment, raises one foot, and says, “Do not do anything to others that you would not want done to yourself. The rest is all commentary.”

So I raised my own foot and told my nephew exactly that. Except that I substituted “inflict anything upon” for "do anything to". 

And then I hung up. I have to come up with a commercial for a client that communicates the value of buying something much less worthwhile than learning a foreign language. And the assignment is due tomorrow.