Is technology ruining movie romance?

© aliaschingTo write a romantic movie in the age of the iPhone is to battle with technology.

There’s no doubt that how we communicate about love has changed significantly with the advent of smartphones and social media. This is especially noticeable in romantic movies, where some of the most common tropes were based on the fact that distance was a great source of drama. Will they or won’t they cross paths again? Will he or she get the message before it’s too late?

Nowadays, love letters are relegated to period pieces and war movies, unless a writer finds a crafty way to work them into the script (think Big emailing Carrie love letters from famous men in Sex and the City). Our real-life expressions of love are much shorter, crisper, and less poetic (or less schmaltzy, depending on how you look at it) thanks to our cynical 21st-century sensibilities.

So, I thought it would be interesting to look at four movies from days gone by that would be markedly different if the characters had smartphones and social media at their disposal. These romantic classics are undoubtedly products of their eras, when screenwriters didn’t have to ask, “How can I get my characters to lose their smartphones?”:

1.) Roman Holiday (1953)
Audrey Hepburn plays a princess who’s bored out of her mind and escapes from her guards during a trip to Rome. During her jaunt around the city, she encounters American journalist Joe Bradley, played by Gregory Peck, who shows her the time of her life. They gradually fall in love, and though Joe eventually realizes that his companion is the missing princess, he keeps her secret (and the photographs of their time together) safe. When he briefly encounters her at a royal press conference, they wonder what might have been.

21st century ending: A fake Twitter account about the princess’ romp around Rome immediately springs up, gaining 200,000 followers in under 5 minutes. Joe is offered $5 million for his photos of the princess and he refuses to hand them over. But his email is hacked and the photos are uploaded to the Internet anyway. The princess continues to be hounded by paparazzi and is named one of Barbara Walters’ most fascinating people.

2.) An Affair to Remember (1957)
This 1957 movie is a real bummer, as illustrated by Rita Wilson’s emotional breakdown in Sleepless in Seattle. Terry and Nicky, both engaged to other people, meet on a cruise and realize they’re falling for each other. They agree to get their lives in order and meet at the top of the Empire State Building six months later. But on the way, Terry gets hit by a car and is severely injured. Nicky assumes he’s been rejected and moves on with his life. He only realizes years later that the whole thing was a tragic misunderstanding.

21st century ending: The to-be lovers exchange info on the cruise – just email addresses, in case one of them is a serial killer. Terry suggests meeting on top of the Empire State Building in six months, Nicky wonders why all the drama (Terry posts a comment about romance being dead on Facebook). But she never gets hit by a car because they Skype chat instead. A year later, Nicky proposes to Terry, and she changes her status to “Engaged.”

3.) Coming to America (1988)
Eddie Murphy plays an African prince about to be married off to a princess who’s been trained to do whatever he wants. But ever the romantic, he wants to find true love and embarks on a quest to find his future in queen in, well, Queens. He gets a job at a McDonald’s rip-off and lives in the most meager accommodations he can find, in hopes of finding a woman who loves him for who he is. Eventually he finds Lisa, an intelligent and independent woman who steals his heart, much to the chagrin of his parents.

21st century ending: Prince Akeem (Murphy) goes on to find his bride. But his best friend Semi spills the beans on Twitter that Akeem is a prince. When word gets out, he’s offered his own reality series not unlike The Bachelor called Finding Prince Charming. He offers a rose/proposal to Lisa in the very last episode and she accepts. Their wedding inspires African prints on Pinterest wedding boards that year.

So there you have it. While it’s pretty great that we don’t have to wonder if the great loves of our lives have been hit by taxis or thwarted by random events, technology is a thorn in a screenwriter’s side when it comes to building up romantic drama. To text or not to text, that is the question.

This article is adapted from a post that originally appeared on This Wonderful Word and The Huffington Post.

Can the romantic comedy live happily ever after?

Movie ending still - Editable Vector.For several years now, the romantic comedy has been kicked, maligned, and left for dead. Christopher Orr said in The Atlantic that they’ve been “lackluster for decades.” A.O. Scott of The New York Times thinks the actresses are too vanilla. And Linda Obst, producer of rom-coms like Sleepless in Seattle and One Fine Day says, “It is the hardest time of my 30 years in the business.”

And she’s got a point. The numbers don’t lie – when it comes to grossing big at the box office, traditional rom-coms have been disappointing at best. What was once considered one of the most bankable genres for studios and actors is suddenly risky business.

So what gives? Some say it’s just society changing. Marriage is no longer the life goal that it used to be. There are fewer obstacles to finding love. Technology has killed romance. And moviegoers are too savvy and cynical to believe in ‘happily ever after.’

Others blame the lack of charismatic movie stars: ‘They don’t make ‘em like Katherine Hepburn or Meg Ryan anymore!’ And the stars who really have that classic je-ne-sais-quoi are avoiding the genre altogether.

But to me, these arguments pinpoint symptoms of the rom-com problem rather than a diagnosis. Because the truth is, romantic comedies are an interesting beast. They’re inherently grounded in the social mores and cultural context that define courtship, sex, love, and marriage at that specific moment in time. For example, When Harry Met Sally wouldn’t be relevant today because well, these days, we know that men and women can be just friends.

Similarly, Working Girl, the 1989 romantic comedy that launched Melanie Griffith’s career, seems almost quaint now in its exploration of women in the workplace. At the time, the concept was novel – a beautiful woman with no breeding but serious smarts who wants to make it big on Wall Street. Maybe that’s why it attracted a big-name director (Mike Nichols), an all-star cast (Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver), and even a best-picture Oscar nomination.

The reality is, the best romantic comedies aren’t really timeless – they’re very much a product of their time. Think about the Katherine Hepburn classic Desk Set, in which a fact-checker falls in love with the man who’s installing a giant computer that’s threatening to steal her job. Or take Sleepless in Seattle, which is about a single dad’s search for love.

The problem with romantic comedies today isn’t that they’re out of touch with reality. On the contrary, they best ones have evolved to look nothing like rom-coms of the past – and they defy simple categorization. Think Juno, Bridesmaids, Silver Linings Playbook, or the upcoming Trainwreck. 

In other words, the true romantic comedy – the one that delights and inspires us – isn’t dead. It’s hiding in plain sight, inside movies that are widely regarded as witty, well-made, and very much relevant.

Romantic comedies don’t necessarily have a bleak future — they’re just in need of a genre makeover and a willingness to see them as a product of their time.

A Simple Method for Beating Writer’s Block

© bramgino - Fotolia

How do you become a screenwriter?

Write. Write till you actually finish a screenplay. And then do it again.

I know, I don’t like the answer any more than you do.  But I came to this conclusion after confronting the harsh reality that talking about writing screenplays doesn’t actually result in a finished screenplay.

Once I came to terms with this, I decided it was time for action. I had the bad habit of wasting 30 minutes here, 30 minutes there, as if time was an endless resource. But in reality, time was everything — my biggest ally, and a really annoying foe. When I’d finally make the time to work on my screenplay – amidst my freelance writing gig, my one-year-old twins, and everything in between – the pressure would be so great to make the most of it, the words refused to flow. Classic writer’s block.

Making the most of minutes
Writer’s block is so pernicious, it once prompted Ernest Hemingway (a war correspondent, mind you) to say that the scariest thing he ever encountered was “a blank piece of paper.”

From Mark Twain to Maya Angelou to Stephen King, writer’s block seems to afflict even our greatest literary minds. In Hollywood, Barry Michels has had an extremely successful career as a therapist for blocked screenwriters. He’s considered an open secret in the industry.

But let’s say you can’t afford to hire a Jungian analyst. What’s a frustrated screenwriter to do?

I realized there was a technique I used to crank through my freelance writing under deadline. Why couldn’t I use the same method for writing my screenplay? The key was understanding that even the smallest chunks of time were valuable.

“The easiest thing to do on earth is not write.” – William Goldman

Undoubtedly, starting is the hardest part when it comes to writing, with finishing coming in a close second.  I’ve found that to be painfully true — but I’ve also found a method that helps me stop thinking (What should I write about? What if it isn’t any good?) and start writing when I feel the time crunch.

It’s called the Pomodoro Technique. Despite the commercialized name, the technique is free and it doesn’t require you to read any self-help books. Here’s the premise: You break down your work into 25-minute blocks. During that 25 minutes, you can’t answer your phone, check email, raid the kitchen for a snack, or update your status on Facebook.

“Writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all.” — Charles Bukowski

The deal is, you have to use your 25 minutes to write something — anything. Write about having writer’s block, if you have to. I often treat my first 25-minute block like a free-write or brainstorm where I can throw away whatever I write. If I’m starting work on a piece, sometimes I cover my monitor so I can’t edit myself or worry about making it perfect when I’m trying to get momentum.

Set a timer so you know when 25 minutes is up. I use a timer app because seeing the minutes count down spurs me into action.  It works for me because it’s “just 25 minutes” — it’s not a whole article, or in this case, a whole screenplay. After 25 minutes, your timer app will ding and then it’s time to take a 5-minute break. Get away from your computer — walk around your apartment or make a cup of tea. Repeat until you’ve done a string of these (take longer breaks as needed), and you’ll be surprised by how much you accomplish. And if you don’t have the luxury of repeating, at least you put in 30 minutes, which is a whole lot better than 0.

“I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.” – William Faulkner

Critics say that this technique prevents us from developing the ability to focus over long periods of time when necessary. Personally, I think this criticism misses the point. The Pomodoro Technique isn’t supposed to apply to all aspects of life. But if you’re having trouble starting a project that you’ve always wanted to do (or HAVE to do), it can help you establish a sustainable routine to get it done. For example, “Today I’ll do 6 pomodoros.”

The sad reality is, doing one task for 25 minutes without any distraction is actually a lot longer than most people are able to focus nowadays. I’ve found that working in a series of 25-minute blocks without interruption has been a great way to train my brain to focus for longer periods— and understand the importance of taking breaks and getting some perspective before you can truly finish major projects, whether they take hours, weeks or years.

Hey, if taking breaks ultimately helped Mark Twain finish “Tom Sawyer,” then it’s good enough for me.

This article is adapted from a post that originally appeared on This Wonderful Word.