In my movie, should anybody ever let me make one:

  • if someone at a party gets some kind of news that makes them drop what they’re drinking, the glass won’t shatter
  • if two people are fighting and one of them has a pistol, then that person with the pistol will win. Which is to say we won’t have to have that shot of the gun sliding away
  • if anybody’s carrying a bag of groceries, then not only will it have toilet paper instead of a loaf of French bread, but the bag won’t be paper either
  • if a character is despondent and lonely &etc, this won’t be expressed by his sitting alone in a hotel room, flicking playing cards into and around a trashcan or hat
  • if a guy and girl are lying naked in a bed, then the sheets will fit them the same — either he’ll have them up to his neck, for the PG rating, or she’ll be wearing them low
  • if the characters need to hack into somebody’s computer, too bad, that password will be totally unguessable, no matter what the combined IQ in the room might be
  • if it’s an American movie set in Russia or Germany or Vienna or wherever, then the characters will either just talk straight, uninflected American English, or they’ll talk Russian or German, etc, leaving us with English subtitles. What they won’t do, however, is talk with a suitably ‘foreign’ accent
  • if one character’s standing with another at an ‘important’ headstone, then there simply won’t be any perfect thing to say. Because being there’s enough, really
  • if someone gets hit in the head with a flowerpot, then not only will it not knock them out, but the flowerpot probably won’t even break
  • if we need some kind of backstory in order to understand the frontstory, we won’t use a photograph to ramp into an extended flashback (really, unless we’re in a rashomon situation, there won’t be any extended flashbacks. Or limited flashbacks. Any. There won’t be any flashbacks)
  • if there’s an (American) Indian in my movie, then he’ll be the litterbug from hell
  • if there’s some big and final showdown on a boat, then it won’t be finally decided with a flare gun, no matter how ‘dramatic’ that might look
  • if the story traipses through a park, and there’s a dog catching a frisbee there, then either that frisbee will be explosive or the dog will have rabies. Maybe both
  • if any character ever, upon exiting, says to any other character “Is there something you’re not telling me here . . . ?” then it will be a joke, as this is quite possibly the least sly way in all of human relations to ever get anybody to tell you anything
  • if there are ghosts (or monsters, or aliens, etc) in my movie, then ideally there’ll just be one or two, but definitely no more than four or five. Just because they lose their effect when they become too expendable, and are around every corner. The real scares come when the room is ‘haunted’ with our (misguided) certainty that they’re going to be around the next corner. If they in fact are, then the movie’s become a video game, and the only real pleasure is our trigger finger, twitching in wishful empathy
  • if somebody’s riding a horse, and that horse jumps over a fence or log or whatever, then the camera angle for that jump won’t be from the ground looking up at the horse, who also won’t be jumping in slow motion
  • if somebody cuts their wrists in the bathtub, there won’t be a lit candle for miles
  • if people are going through the drive-through for fast food, then ordering through the intercom won’t be some static-filled, frustrating deal, but will just happen (same for grocery shopping: there’ll be no shots at all of that front wheel on the cart clattering back and forth)
  • if there’s to be gore, then it’s first going to have been set up with skin, just because the dynamic between sex and violence is fundamental — they’re flipsides of the same coin, and the pleasure of storytelling is watching that coin spin through the air, trying to guess at which side’ll land facing up
  • if the bad guys are shooting at the good guys, then, instead of shooting to scare or graze or ‘send a message,’ they’ll be shooting to kill. And probably have good aim as well. And arms won’t count as good aim
  • if there’s a detective of any kind in my story, then he won’t keep a bottle of bourbon in his drawer
  • if a tech-geek/scientist etc’s ever giving a jargon-laden explanation to my protagonist, then the only reason my protagonist or any of his his buddies will ever say “in English, please,” will be if the scientist has accidentally slipped into Klingon or something
  • if someone throws up in my movie (characters, not audience) — and it’s a safe bet they will — then the amount they throw up will be more than a mouthful. And it will hurt, this throwing up, and make their eyes water, and the back of their hands nasty when they try to string it all away. And just looking at what they’ve done here, it’ll probably make them just throw up all over again
  • if there are cars, then what will make them blow up won’t be getting shot in the door or the re-entry that’s evidently associated with plunging off a cliff, but dynamite or pipe bombs or C4 or magic spells or telekinesis or dragon fire. and even then it won’t be a huge mushroom cloud, and, if there have to be springboards involved, it’ll be because this car has BJ & the Beared into some gymnastics place
  • if there are monsters of whatever-kind here (vampires, mutants, etc), then the way to finally overcome them won’t be to outmuscle them — that would be letting them dictate the terms of the fight — but to do that fundamentally human thing, and out-clever them. This both makes the victory more sweet and it puts it in the arena of ‘people vs. non-people,’ letting us walk out of the theater somewhat satisfied with our species. Nevermind that we probably made the monster somehow . . .
  • if the camera’s looking down along some character’s POV into a steamy mirror, and the shot’s framed such that all she or he needs to do is wipe away the fog to show who’s right behind, then there either there won’t be anyone behind, or there’ll be a camera man, smiling sheepishly
  • if there’s a chance to one-up Charlton Heston in PLANET OF THE APES, then the real irony will be just to let that opportunity slide on by . . .
  • if there’s a bad, truly evil person in this, then it won’t matter why he or she is evil and twisted and mad. That he or she is is enough, and much scarier
  • if we’re in a police procedural, then the breakthrough that cracks that case will be intuitive, rather than forensic-based. Otherwise we’ve reduced the mystery to facts, which is to say we’ve killed it — it reveals nothing about the bigger mysteries, of human nature
  • if there are monsters or ghosts in my movie, part 2: they’ll be off-screen for just as long as possible, because the boogeymen we imagine are so much more real and intense and terrifying than anything an effects team can dream up, due just to the obvious fact that we’ve Frankensteined them together from our own innermost fears
  • if one of the main characters (especially the romantic lead) gets involved in a basketball game, then the defense will be smothering, rather than token (not to mention that, if there’s a slam involved, it’ll be one continuous shot rather than cutting to above the rim for the throwdown dunkface)
  • if there’s any punching, then, first, only every fourteenth punch or so will connect, and second, when it does connect it won’t be with the sound of a two-by-four slapping a cinderblock wall but will instead connect with the unmistakable sound of an underweight kid falling down because he’s trying to impress a girl by slowskating backwards with her to Shalimar
  • if the production company or distributor or whoever gets to control the eventual trailer, then I’ll beg and plead and chain myself to something sharp and unmoveable just to get them to please, please, please not merely reduce the entire two-hour movie to a three-minute series of highlights which function as a pre-synopsis.
  • if there’s a dog in my movie, and this dog meets some end, no matter how unfortunate, still, things will be balanced such that the audience isn’t sadder about that dog dying than it is about any people who might have died
  • if there are zombies in my movie, then it’ll take more than a tap or two on the head to dispatch them. I mean, they’re unfreakingdead. They won’t give up until there’s nothing left of them at all
  • if voice-over is just absolutely essential, then it’ll permeate the whole movie instead of just being used to ‘guide’ us through the murky or compressed parts. And then of course the story will be about the telling more than the tale (which is no problem, and maybe even ideal)
  • if someone wearing a bulletpoof vest gets shot (in the vest), then we’ll know that immediately, rather than waiting the customary scene or two to space the effect out
  • if everyone cast to be in the ‘lab’ or ‘class’ or whatever social group of my movie is fashion-model beautiful, then I’m going to be forced to rewrite my Victorian script about marriage and etiquette such that a deranged, slobbering beast of some kind tears through the tea party. Just because that’ll obviously be the level of reality my producers are expecting me to operate at
  • if, on the promotional posters for my movie, any critics are cited as having ‘raved,’ then I’ll be sad, I think, because they’ve also been raving on all the other posters, to the point where ‘raving’ really says more about their mental states (and associated speaking levels) than my movie
  • if there’s a sex scene which moves all the way from flirting in the street till the cigarette after (which also won’t be in my movie), that is, a sex scene which has its own little dramatic arc and even gets a bit graphic as payoff, then the music won’t ‘crescondo’ for each character at the same time(s). And there’ll probably be some laughing too
  • if there are aliens, then they’ll be neither bipedal nor bilaterally symmetrical. And it will be fundamentally impossible for us to communicate with them in words
  • if there are old, ancient people in this movie, then they won’t know (and express in some cryptic, only retroactively articulate way) what’s ‘really’ going on. Neither will they care. They will probably grin a lot, though, maybe try to cadge some lemonade, or a smoke
  • if there’s a haunting in my movie, then it won’t finally be ‘explained’ in the end as some wronged soul coming back to seek justice, any of that. Because that closes the cycle of horror, leaves it on the screen, in the theater — we don’t take the scare with us, as we do in, say, random possession cases, where the victim could very well have been us, who didn’t deserve it. That’s the real fear horror can inject, when done right
  • if it’s a movie where people are dying, then none of the characters, from the grandmother all the way down to Tiny Tim, will be ‘immune’ to death
  • if some vital bit of info is supposed to be in the news, or is going to, ‘surprise,’ be in the news, then it won’t be as easy as just turning the television on, going up a channel or two
  • if there are werewolves, and these are the type of werewolves that bring you into their ‘pack’ by biting you, which is to say the lycanthropy’s in the saliva, then that’s how they reproduce, man, sorry. So neither sex of werewolf will have genitalia. I mean, the only reason there will even be male and female werewolves is that their human hosts were and are male and female, and some of those characteristics survived the slow-motion change
  • if the character has to have a dream, and we have to see it, it’ll be just wildly unrelated to anything in the dramatic line, and not emotionally resonant at all (see ‘flashbacks’ [above] for exactly how many dreams I’ll be allowing). The dream’ll be about a duck, maybe, named either Francis or Mark

But, yeah, I mean, that gun sliding away and the rest, I know, they’re part of the grammar or syntax of film or something — without the economy (metonymy, really, or, I assume, ‘cinematic shorthand’) they provide, the movie would bloat and swell and take four hours to even start to tell itself. However, that doesn’t excuse the French bread. And don’t even get me started on fruit carts and car chases.

However, should ‘they,’ whoever ‘they’ are, ever let me make a movie, then yes, the right kind of kiss will always and forever be enough to bring someone back from the dead. Without magic, I mean, why even go the theater?

©Stephen Graham Jones, 2006

Author :
is the author of 22 or 23 books, 250+ stories, and all this stuff here. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, and has a few broken-down old trucks, one PhD, and way too many boots