Why Snakes on a Plane is Great Stuff

15 Aug 2006

Just a quick thought to share ... I made a comment over at Rhythmball Lynn's blog the other day about Snakes on a Plane being the ultimate in High Concept movie ideas.She responded with a link to a recent interview by Eric Vespe (aka "Quint") at Ain't It Cool.Having made that comment on her blog, I wasn't surprised to read the following:

QUINT: Is it true that you agreed to do the movie just based on the title?

SAMUEL L. JACKSON: Uh, yeah. Pretty much true ... But not like most people say ... that I got the script, I saw the title, I looked at it an threw the script away and said, "Sure, I'll do it." Naw, I was reading the trades and I saw where it said, "Ronny Yu to do Snakes." I went, "What the hell is this?" I read the article and it said Ronny Yu was doin' this movie at New Line, SNAKES ON A PLANE. So, Ronny and I had done a film before and we were in touch, so I emailed him. "What is this, man?" He's like, "Oh, it's a horror picture about poisonous snakes on a plane." I said, "Can I be in it?" He was like, "For real?" I'm like, "Ya'! For real. Seriously!"

I subscribe to an excellent screenwriting eNewsletter called Script For Sale written by Hal Croasmun (more info here ). Each issue opens with a quote from Sissy Spacek: "A great screenplay is the most powerful bait inHollywood."Trust me:Even if you're not a screenwriter, Hal's newsletter is well worth the price (free). It's usually filled with excellent advice for creative writers. (Even if screenwriting isn't your genre, you'll still benefit from the advice offered.)

One of Hal's mantras is the notion of High Concept pieces being what sells inHollywood -- at least for those who have not previously established careers for themselves in the industry.High Concept is basically an ultra-engaging concept that can be described in a sentence or two (or, preferably, much less). "Snakes on a Plane" is about as good of a High Concept idea as I've ever heard. Four words, and you're envisioning an insane white-knuckler 30,000 feet up -- not to mention many of the things talked about in that article.

Artistically, I started out more or less resisting the idea of High Concept. After all, I'd been an English major and an MFAcandidate in one of those programs that churns out writers who publish in Ploughshares and The Paris Review. No one in those circles would dare write about a giant shark terrorizing Amity Island, reanimating Tyrannosauruses offCosta Rica, Pirates of the Caribbean, or snakes on a plane. They very much preferred the profundity of the tawdry anus. (Sorry, that's a reference to a very old post of mine.)

But, nowadays, I think there's something to it.Croasmun's aim is not to disparage or discourage the literary, of course. In fact, he's standing smack at the threshold gates ofLa-laLand(or, you might even read that more generally as the "land of published authors"), waving you directly in. He's not denying the existence of the marginally (or even, more uncommonly, "highly") successful indie flick;he's just saying, "If you really want to attain artistic freedom, as a paying career, then this is one decent way to do it."

You sort of have to "pay your dues," in other words.Sure, you might have some idea for a wonderful slice of life-type film, book, play, story, etc. And, that's great; by all means, pursue it. But, that's probably not what's going to get you in the door to creative freedom as a career. You've got to come up with a blockbuster-type deal -- which is much easier to sell. After you're established, you can then be paid to become as eccentric and esoteric as you like.

Which brings me to my thought for the day:I think I know what I'm going to work on for this year's "NaNoWriMo" event in November. NaNoWriMo, for those unfamiliar, is a great organization built to encourage participation in National Novel Writing Month. You sign up and try to write 50,000 words in one month.According to the site, it's all about quantity --not quality. Go back and edit later, they say. I did it last year --wrote an epic Pirate adventure spanning 300 years. (Didn't turn off half-bad, if I do say so myself.)

For anyone interested, I did a little research into novel length.Most publishers, apparently, simply wouldn't consider a 50,000 word manuscript. Technically, that's more or less a novella. So, if you wanted to do a normal-length book, I think you're looking at 80,000 -- 90,000 words. That could be an important distinction for anyone planning to write something for publication through normal channels.

So, yeah, I'm going High Concept this year. I'll keep the plot to myself for now, though, as I'm still developing it. It's justthatgood, folks.

A long, long, time ago, I used to work at The Museum Company (a retailer of museum replicas) in a mall outside of Washington, D.C. That was during myMFAdays, come to think of it.I used to let my daytime surroundings enter my creative endeavors at the time. For example, as I recall, my peers absolutely hated my poem entitled "The Claude Monet Condom." But, I digress ... There was a woman there named Louise -- an older Jewish woman. Retired, I think. She'd had an interesting life;like Roxtar, she'd even been on Jeopardy! After all those years, she had a HUGE project underway that she loved to talk about -- with one small exception: She refused to divulge any details. The idea was SO GOOD, she said, that she couldn't possibly share even the slightest morsel. I often wonder whether Louise ever developed and sold her masterpiece.

Original Comments

Below, are the original comments on this post. Additional comments may be made via Facebook, below.

On August 17, 2006, Vica wrote:

When the Snakes on a Plane trailer ran at the last movie I went to, most of the audience seemed to be stunned into silence by the sheer hokiness of it. An animated discussion ensued in the row behind me. The upshot: That had to be a joke. Nobody would make a real movie like that. It was some kind of lead-in to a Real Movie that would be revealed later. Hmmmmm.

On August 18, 2006, Jim Dee wrote:

Vica- I look forward to your review! -PH