Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The one word to watch out for

Now with YouTube, everybody makes videos. HD cameras are so inexpensive that full-length films can be produced on a shoestring budget. Recording an album no longer requires a million bucks. You can do all the engineering and processing on your iMac Mini.

But what the new technology still can’t do is provide feedback.

You still have to show it to your friends and get their reactions. But rarely, if ever, are you going to get an honest appraisal. They’re not going to insult you. They’re going to be very diplomatic. You have to learn to read between the lines.

Here’s what people say when they really hate something.

“That was really fun.”

If you hear “fun” you’re doomed.

It used to be “Well, you did it!” or “How did you do it?” or “That was something else!” but those are so old school. “That was really fun” is both a veiled compliment and right up to date.

My favorite left-handed compliment came the night of the big industry screening for VOLUNTEERS, the Tom Hanks/John Candy movie that David Isaacs and I wrote. We’re standing in the lobby receiving guests. It’s me, David, and to my right – Walter Parkes, one of the producers.

People are coming up congratulating us until one woman took our Walter's hands in hers, looked him straight into the eye with a pained expression, and said, “Oh Walter, we love you anyway.”

Ouch!

I laughed so hard I almost fell over.

We live in a time of superlatives. Awesome now means okay, perfect means acceptable, and epic means it will be remembered for four hours.  So "fun" has been elevated to where it now means sucks. 

Oh, for those days when people were honest and told you “I never knew you had it in ya.”  So beware of false flattery. 

I know what you're thinking.  You want to go to the comments section and respond to this post by saying "that was fun."  I'm ahead of you.   You'll have to be more creative.  

Note: For those new to the blog -- whenever I can't find an appropriate photo to go along with the subject matter I post a picture of Natalie Wood.  

54 comments:

Hamid said...

A great example of this is a quote from a critic used on the DVD sleeve of the truly terrible sequel Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles:

"An easy-going piece of family entertainment".

Doesn't that just make you want to run out and buy it?! Well, here's another quote from a different quote also used on the DVD to get everyone excited:

"Cheerful silliness"

But if that still hasn't convinced you how good it is, here's the third and final quote used on the packaging:

"FUN"

:-D

To prove I haven't made this up, here's a link:
http://www.coverdude.com/covers/crocodile-dundee-in-los-angeles-2001-r4-front-cover-87967.jpg

Hamid said...

D'oh! I meant here's another quote from a different critic.

Ellwood P.Dowd said...

Wow that was really bitchen

Anonymous said...

"I could never do it like that!"

LouOCNY said...

You could post Natalie for ANY topic, and I don't think people would mind....

Brian Phillips said...

A late friend who was an actor and director would often have to field questions from friends and budding hopefuls about their performances. His response to a mediocre or bad turn was:

"Girl, you were IN that play!"

bill said...

I once performed my solo guitar/singer act in a bar in Pittsburgh. Afterwords a couple of young college kids came up to me afterwards telling me how much they enjoyed it: "You gave us confidence. If you can do this, than maybe we can too."

During my set a woman at the bar just looked at me at the end of a song and said: You Suck. In Pittsburgh, you know where you stand. :)

Brian Phillips said...

My fave left-handed compliment came from a performance I did at a church. It was a play that had four scenes and I was in three of them. Not only was I playing not-so-nice guys, I had a curse word in one scene. The church was warned of this beforehand, but they asked us to do the play, uncensored.

After the show, we introduced ourselves from the stage and during my spot, I thanked everyone and I included my wife. I said, truthfully, she supports me in whatever I do.

The only church member that engaged me after I left the stage said hello to me and then she said, "That was so nice what you said about your wife" and walked away.

Stoney said...

I'm reminded of a piece in "The Book Of Rock Lists" by Dave Marsh; the chapter on censorship tells of a radio-friendly version of "Locomotive Breath" by Jethro Tull in which "fun" was a substitute for "balls".

You could have used a pic of Doris Roberts from Everybody Loves Raymond. Marie Barone was the embodiment of left-handed compliments, not to mention passive aggression!

I wonder if, since Siskel and Ebert are no longer with us, if "Thumbs Up" is still a registered trademark.

Changing word usage could be a subject of a lifetime of blog posts!

Ellen said...

Cute.

*ducks and runs away*

emily said...

Very interesting.

Richard J. Marcej said...

"Yeah, you should be very proud. You, uh... got a beautiful home here."

Kathy said...

My roommate used to run a charity where performers (generally unemployed) went to AIDS wards to cheer up patients, singing and acting. Consequently she got invited to their "real" performances for years, and more often than not they were dreadful. Her canned response: "I'm so proud of you."

Charles Emerson Winchester said...

Well, that was...pedestrian, dreary, and lacking anything even remotely resembling wit.

Anonymous said...

Is that your baby or a little monkey?

Covarr said...

Exception: Some films are designed to be actually "fun". If you call The LEGO Movie anything else, you're doing both the film and your readers a disservice. Although I guess the way to phrase it in this case is "Pure, unadulterated fun", which is a bit different.

VincentS said...

Unfortunately, Ken, I can't help but give out left-handed compliments because I'm left-handed! But seriously, I think you left out one of the most commonly used superlatives: "Huge," which, of course, means about medium size.

Clavinator said...

Looking up FUN as an acronym, here's one credited to Gary Busey: Finally Understanding Nothing.

Fundamentally Unsound Nouns

Further Underpinning for Novices

and various F-word insults.

By the way, Thank "U" Prince for your contribution!

Clavinator said...

Fantastically Unbelievable Nonsense

Igor said...

Ken, here's the problem. As much as you are clearly brilliant with comedy bon mots, by acclamation (oh, yeh, plus that Emmy thing), and as much as my mother said that I'm brilliant... We are both at a loss here because neither of us is British.

In a field of Brits, our best stuff is lucky to make the weekend cut. OK, that's unfair. You would make the cut; probably.

I mean, the Brits are so good at this, they could hit us with one, while simultaneously stabbing us in the chest with a dull kitchen knife, and as their dog bit us in the bollocks, yet we'd be there thinking, "Wow. What a thoughtful and generous compliment. Thank you so much."

Maybe it's something they have in the water over there. Instead of fluoride.

Richard J. Marcej said...

"I can honestly say that was the best episode of Impy & Chimpy I've ever seen."

tb said...

Oh, Ken, we love you anyway!

Steve Pepoon said...

"One hears such sounds and what can one say, but - Salieri!"

Gary Benz said...

My favorite critique which I'm more or less paraphrasing but it's directionally correct, from a review of a David Bowie album: Of David Bowie's 648 albums, this is his 434th best. End of review.

Lola Banana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

My mother was once talking to my pediatrician about whether he tells all parents that their babies are beautiful, even when they aren't. He replied that he had an all-purpose response when parents were clearly expecting him to comment on the beauty of their new child - he would say very energetically, "Now, THAT'S a BABY!" The parents beamed, and he was off the hook.

Tripper said...

Friday Question: Apologies if you've already answered this... having written on a military related show, what are your thoughts on "Enlisted"? Are we at a point in time when a comedy set in the military simply can't get strong ratings, regardless of execution?

benson said...

From Carl Reiner, Ray Brenner and Jack Guss, "I'm No Henry Walden" ep of DVD Show:

Mrs. Venetia Fellows: Hasn't he a marvelous mind?

Rob Petrie: Marvelous.

Mrs. Venetia Fellows: He has the gift and the ability to say things that, uh, uh... uh...

Rob Petrie: Well, uh, uh, seem vague but are in reality meaningless.

Mrs. Venetia Fellows: Ah, yes!

RCP said...

A columnist for a weekly paper in Santa Fe wrote about his experience while signing copies of his first published book. A 'friend' came up to him and said, "You've gained weight."

At least it wasn't false flattery.

Still Single said...

Great post. I would like to just say that the “That was really fun" line also applies to dating... any more tips?

Roger Owen Green said...

Yes, "interesting" is REALLY the kiss of death.

Bob Gunton said...

For me, as an actor, the one-word review I never want to hear is "unbelievable!"

Angry Gamer said...

Nice Pic of Natalie Wood by the way...


It's interesting how some of Hollywoodisms have crept into my line of work.

Recently a client would not meet with one of my subordinates. When the guy complained about the last 3 canceled appointments. A young lady in the meeting said, "their just being polite, it's a California No".

The young man paused for a moment and asked the girl. "Are you from California?"

DBenson said...

"it's been real," although that was ironic from the get-go.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I recall seeing Jack Lemmon interviewed and telling the story of a screening of one of his movies - I can't remember which one, but a dud. Naturally, Lemmon's best buddy, Walter Matthau, was in the audience, and he comes up to Lemmon after the screening, and Lemmon says, "What did you think?

Matthau: "Get out of it."

wg

RockGolf said...

Well, let me help you there.

No matter what role you see Bob Gunton in, you can be sure that his performance and characterization will be utterly unbelievable.

Hamid said...

Bob Gunton

If that's really you, you rock! Loved you in The Shawshank Redemption.

Cap'n Bob said...

My mother and her sisters used to say this: "This is very good, FOR YOU."

MikeN said...

I just realized the intent behind this praise for the movie Striptease

"Ving Rhames is spectacular!"

emily said...

Not bad...not bad.

Kelly Sedinger said...

"Good! Really good. I mean, it was no Dueling Cavalier, but you know, it was really nice!"

Gary Theroux said...

Oh, I don't know. I thought Septic Singovers were fun.

Dan Ball said...

Swell!

Blair Ivey said...

When I was a kid I heard an adult acquaintance comment on my sister's hairstyle: "That's . . . striking."

Storm said...

As a second generation drag hag, I learned a long time ago that if you ask a drag queen what they think of what you're wearing, and all they do is smile and say "Girl, that outfit/look is Very You", it ain't a compliment, it's a "read".

Cheers, thanks a lot,

Storm

DAVID BISHOP said...

Meh.

Hamid said...

Next time any of us has to break up with someone, just tell them "I'm not dumping you. We're consciously uncoupling".

Johnny Walker said...

I think I've said this before, but I think there's two types of criticism:

1. When you're starting out, and you need some support.

2. Before you release it into the world, and you want absolute honesty.

Indeed, I think Jane Espenson tells of a writer couple who, whenever one of them asks for feedback from the other, always qualifies it with which "critic" they want:

Critic A) Finding the promise in what they're doing.

Critic B) Finding the problems in what they've done.

As a general rule, if it's not finished: Be supportive! :)

17db87ec-8cdb-11e3-9c7e-000bcdcb2996 said...

Ken,
Unrelated, but...

Did you see that Modern Family last night? I haven't laughed that hard in years.

skarab said...

Yes, when I showed an animated music video that I had labored on singlehandedly for two and a half years, to a professional animator and mentor, his comment was "Lotta work!" Thank you sir, may I have another!

Kerrie said...

Me and my husband are Washington State University alums. We love VOLUNTEERS. At football games on the big screen, they used to play the scene where John Candy (Tom Tuttle) is tied to the pole singing the fight song.

I'm 37 (I think--just getting to that age where you forget how old you are), and recently decided I wanted to write a screenplay. But I also have a 5-year-old. So far, I don't have much to show for my dream. Right now, just doing a lot of "research" on the craft. I decided I need to focus on features since I don't live in LA.

It's not possible to have a TV writing career unless you live there, right?

Love reading your blog and getting insight into the world of screenwriting. Thanks!

Johnny Walker said...

This leads me to a Friday question:

Ken, when working with a partner, or indeed, in a writers' room, how do you approach giving negative feedback? If you see a problem, do you call it out?

When I attended the Sitcom Room I'd just spent three years working in the cold, no-nonsense world of entrepreneurship.

In that world, nobody is interested in how you feel; every suggestion or idea is challenged and picked apart in a brutally honest dissection. It's not personal, we're all just looking for the best solution as quickly as possible, after all, so why waste time.

I was used to having my ideas coldly scrutinized (although, I admit, I didn't enjoy it), and looking back I was probably far too brash in pointing out problems with ideas that were put forward our in our room (sorry to those who were in my room, if you're reading this).

But on a real show, when the deadline is approaching, and you're keen to break the story, or solve the problems with the scene, do you still take the time to try not to hurt someone's feelings? Or are people expected to have thick skin?

A nurturing environment seems most conducive to creativity, and nobody should be made to feel afraid to pitch ideas, but at the same time, the clock is ticking...

One obvious answer would be: "Pitch something better!", but what if the room, or your writing partner, don't believe your ideas are better?

Johnny Walker said...

I just remembered a back-handed compliment I got that kind of broke my heart. I was attending life-drawing lessons and, being the first time I'd done any drawing in a decade, I was feeling a little insecure. All I needed a little bit of encouragement and support, so after class I went to the teacher and mentioned that I was feeling a bit insecure, BUT -- I was about to say -- "this piece came out OK, I think..."

Before I could finish what I was saying, the teacher looked at the piece I was most proud of and said, "Well, it's not the worst drawing I've ever seen..."

Ouch. That was her attempt at making me feel better.

And to think I was paying for this abuse!

normadesmond said...

i know for a fact that natalie wood was fun.