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Get Out Is An Instant-Classic [Five Reasons – And Spoilers]

get out - poster

Get Out was initially written to be a Rosemary’s Baby type dark psychological horror, yet some people seem to call it a comedy. How can a film that fits both bills possibly be so successful? Or how does it even work at all?

The film shows the descent of a young black male into the underworld of what appears to be a happy, liberal white family.

It’s like Eyes Wide Shut meets Meet The Parents. 

Did those references just confuse you?

A Dangerous Blend

This type of extreme genre mix is typically a recipe for disaster. But Get Out raked in nearly a quarter billion dollars in its first quarter at the BO.

It even made it into the all-time Top 20 for R-rated films.

So what made the movie so incredibly successful?

You can read it as a piece of racial propaganda, or even as a statement that whites are inferior:

            JEREMY
Cause, with your frame, your 
genetic make-up? If you pushed
your body, I mean really trained,
you’d be a beast.

Of course, in the quote above the speaker lacks authority, and his statement is part of the prejudice.

Because of the various points of view, and the topical nature of the theme, this movie provides an incredibly fertile base for heated debate. And that’s probably one of the elements that have fueled word of mouth.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.

At The End Of The Day…

What I found even more interesting as a filmmaker, is the story behind Get Out’s ending.

The production had wrapped, and the film followed the original screenplay. Then test screenings showed that audiences loved the movie, yet hated the ending.

It was not a matter of making a few edits. The studio requested an entirely new ending.

Trust me, this is not typically something a filmmaker is dying to do. After all, the original ending had remained consistent with everything preceding it, and the events play out closely to what you would expect would realistically happen in the real world.

The original ending was honest and true.

The new ending is the fairy tale.

It reflects what the audiences hope would happen in a better world, or perhaps in the future.

A Diamond Patch

To put it bluntly, Jordan Peele was asked to patch an ending to his movie that – on the surface – went straight against the very narrative he had built.

He may have had no choice, because the test screenings showed that the film could have easily flopped. Steven Spielberg is rumoured to claim that the most important part of a movie is its ending as it determines how people feel when they leave the theatre – and what they’ll say about it to others.

As a first-time filmmaker, it is not inconceivable that Peele’s contract with the studio stipulated that he had to make reasonable efforts to change the script, in case audience tests indicated the need.

To my taste, this is an example of the studio – or perhaps the tests – getting it right.

Three of my all-time favourite movies – Touch Of Evil, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and Blade Runner – have had re-releases that were closer to the director’s (initial) intentions.

None of these I enjoyed better than the original studio versions.

Studios step in all the time. These stories don’t always make it into the mainstream, though. In Hollywood, only a handful of directors enjoys final cut privilege.

Of course, the studios don’t always get it right. When they do, it is important to acknowledge this, and to study the differences between the original and the release versions.

Importantly, in the case of Get Out, the release ending may not be what was intended, ultimately it is still Jordan Peele’s.

 

get out - chris and girlfriend

5 Reasons Why Get Out Is A Classic

I love Get Out for many reasons. In some ways, I found it structurally similar to another fairly recent horror favourite: The Invitation. With that film, the parallels go all the way down to the animal-hit-on-the-road scene, which functions as a harbinger warning.

To name a movie an instant classic however, I need more than one point of excellence. In addition to a rock-solid single POV, I would point to the following:

  1. It Transcends Horror – There is a term in the industry for films that offer something beyond pure genre, and therefore appeal to an audience larger than just the fans: elevated genre. Although it is a murky concept, this film certainly falls under that banner. I have heard of viewers who took their parents to see the movie. Unless your parents are horror buffs, I reckon this phenomenon doesn’t happen too often.
  2. Incredible Mastery Of Tone – The hardest thing with genre blends, is to keep the tone in check. Scenes that play in one genre don’t always gel with the other. Even when you believe the script is fairly consistent in tone, the real challenges occur on set, and ultimately in the edit. How can a horror movie be scary if you have ample comic relief? And how can a truly dark movie be uplifting? I have a theory that comedy is not a genre but a tonal scale, applied to any genre. Remember Life Is Beautiful? And despite its upbeat ending, the discerning viewer will still leave Get Out with mixed emotions.
  3. A Kickass Mid Point – I often say that once you have found your mid point, you have your story. Here, the MP has two important beats: First Andre yells “Get out!”, and minutes later Chris discovers the evidence of what is going on at the Armitage’s. After a first half that was more about building tension and figuring things out, the second half has tremendous momentum, sheer unbearable suspense, and razor-sharp focus.
  4. Real Characters And Amazing Performances – No room for stock-horror cliché characters. Chris’ experience evokes that of millions of Americans, and the behaviour of the whites in Get Out reflects the omnipresence and the complexity of the issue. In terms of performance, nobody who has seen the film will ever forget the chilling performance by Betty Gabriel, when her character Grandma/Georgina goes up to Chris and apologises:
                GEORGINA
    I owe you an apology. I shouldn’t
    be touching things that don’t
    belong to me.
  5. The End – See above. I cannot overstate how difficult it is to get a movie’s ending right. (For Little Miss Sunshine, I believe Michael Arndt wrote ten different versions, and they shot four.)

If you are a screenwriter, read the Get Out script and compare with the final film. If you’re a filmmaker, study the movie, its theme and its tone.

If you’re neither, just watch and enjoy.

-Karel Segers

 

 

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Is It Worth It? [The Answer]

screenwriter at work

I received a letter from Kryz, asking Is it worth it? The subtext of the letter expresses doubts about his chances of making it in the industry, about the steps he’s taking, and perhaps ultimately about his own talent.

The question is not new to me. My answer is never the same.

But today I’m giving you the one, definitive answer.

First, a personal story.

Years ago I went through a difficult time, and had just moved to a place that was miserable compared to my previous home.

I was so lonely, broke and distracted, I couldn’t do my work. So I went outside, and sat on my balcony with my eyes closed, feeling miserable.

As I was sitting there, I felt how the sun was burning on my skin.

Then, I had a Ratatouille moment.

Remember when in that Pixar movie, Anton Ego tastes Remi’s ratatouille, and his life flashes back to his childhood?

is it worth it? (writing in the hope of a lifestyle change)Suddenly I remembered the happy holidays in the South of France with my parents, brother and sister, and our best friends. Putting my book down after reading by the pool, I would close my eyes, and just enjoy the sun burning on my skin.

Now, 35 years later I realised how most of my life I had been dreaming of living in a warm country, so I could have that experience every day.

At my all-is-lost moment, I realised that I had in fact achieved my number one life goal. I was living in Sydney, one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

And I could enjoy its wonderful climate every day of my life.

So I decided to enjoy it.

What does all this have to do with screenwriting?

It #1: Some Success At Some Point In Time

“Is it worth it?”

Did you notice the most important 2 words in the title of this article are it and it? Two placeholders.

Because no two people come to screenwriting from the same background, with the same aspirations, those two words mean different things to different people.

Before we can answer the question, we need to clarify it.

The first it refers to what you are hoping to achieve as a screenwriter. This could be a million different things.

Is your goal to pay off a debt, or improve your lifestyle in the short term from your earnings from creative writing? Quit now. Writing is a long game, with a low average income.

Is your goal to write exclusively for cinematic features? Quit now, unless you are extremely patient, and okay with the thought that this dream may never be fulfilled.

Do you want to earn a living from any kind of writing, be it for film, TV, webisodes, theatre, from copywriting, blogging, technical writing? Persist, and you will succeed. Many of my students are earning from writing for a range of platforms.

There is a fourth option, but I’ll get to that later.

It #2: Lots Of Sacrifices, Now And Forever

The second it is about the effort a screenwriter puts in to get ‘there’.

Again, the type and amount of effort you put in can be anything. Perhaps you read scripts, analyse movies, or network like crazy. Or you may be paying lots of money to screenwriting courses, script editors, and contests.

For some, the cost amounts to thousands of dollars every year. This may seem a lot, but the same people often happily spend even more on their hobbies. And once you start earning from your writing, the expenses become tax deductible.

Screenwriting is not the only area in life where it seems you need to put in an inordinate amount of time and effort to gain anything. But the problem for many is the lack of tangible progress.

Meanwhile, all we get is rejection emails.

The rejection that screenwriters experience is not too different from that of real estate agents making cold-calls or door-knocking. When a real estate agent hits pay dirt, it can be big. When a screenwriter is successful, he can pay last month’s rent.

Sometimes it seems the effort is somewhat out of proportion with the results.

And this brings us back to the original question.

So, Is It Worth It?

Literally, hundreds of thousands of people are writing scripts all over the world. Collectively, in one week they complete more scripts than you can watch movies in a lifetime.

If you do the maths, I think you’ll find that something like 0.0005 will ever be able to make a living as a screenwriter.

Now think about it, while you are not yet earning from it, you are writing. And isn’t this exactly what you wanted to be doing every day in the first place?

This is your fourth, and most important option for the first it.

The ultimate goal for most writers is to be able to write for a living. This means that most of your day will be filled with exactly that: writing.

By the way, if you have a decent paying job now, it is unlikely that you’ll be earning a whole lot more as a writer. You may well have to live (even) more frugally.

So, instead of focusing on the material side of screenwriting, be aware that the biggest change in your life will be that you’ll be writing more.

And when you look at all the so-called sacrifices you are making, how many of those are really procrastination? Perhaps you should just be writing more. Because that’s how you improve. By practising.

In which case, the sacrifice is the same as the goal.

In other words, what you are doing now, is what you’ll be doing when you get there.

You already have what you want.

Ain’t that ironic.

Now close your eyes, and have your Ratatouille-moment.

-Karel Segers

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Is It Worth It? [The Letter]

I received a letter from a screenwriter with doubts. Doubts about his chances of making it in the industry, about his process in trying to get there, and perhaps ultimately about his own talent.

In the next post, I will give you my reply.

Meanwhile, here is the letter.


Dear Karel Segers,

Hi, my name is Kryz Woodhouse, and I’m addicted to screenwriting.

Six years ago I was working as an assistant manager for a retail company and was feeling the pressure to move up into a store manager position. Keen to expand my horizons I began meeting with other companies looking for store managers and found quite a lot of interest.

I took some time to stop and think: What did I want to do?

The nagging answer: I wanted to write more.

I realised that when I get to the end of my life and look back, I’d rather have failed at something I wanted to do than succeed at something I didn’t.

I left my job, got a fairly easy part-time non-management position instead, and threw my spare time into writing.

At that time I had already written a few screenplays and undertaken a number of screenwriting courses and I was convinced that with one year of hard work and dedication I could come up with a seller.

As I said, that was six years ago.

A few weeks ago I submitted the first rough draft of a screenplay at the conclusion of your Immersion Screenwriting course. This would be the start of my tenth screenplay.

I am hungry for the next step of my career, but for all the information and courses out there, none of it seems to be progressing me any further.

Yes, I am motivated by the job of the craft and not the lure of the dollar. Yes, I have focused on developing and writing awesome stories rather than chasing agents and producers. Yes, I have been entering leading international screenplay contests, and have made it twice into the top 10 per cent of finalists, but do I keep writing and flogging this tired trail, hoping to one day beat the odds of one against many thousand?

Repeatedly I have been told the first step in selling a screenplay is to become a great writer first.

Well, I am a great writer. I say this not to be vain, but I honestly believe it. I also have great feedback from both friends and professional assessment services. I have done many courses, studied many books, and have written and written and rewritten and rewritten.

I’ve told myself it doesn’t matter that I live in Tasmania, away from most of the industry. It doesn’t matter than I have no connections. It doesn’t matter than year after year, I get older and older and more delusional. Story is king.

I’ve told myself I can overcome these barriers if I work hard enough, be committed enough. If I keep writing and writing and getting better and better… then finally… perhaps one day…

But here I am. Years later with a growing pile of projects underneath me, yet still no closer to finding the next doorway, never mind having a chance to open it.

And so. This year. I will again continue to write, and get assessed and do courses. I would like to send some of my more developed projects to your services for assessment, and I look toward the Get Your Script Read course that you are proposing to run later this year.

But, in all seriousness, is it worth it?

For me and all those in similar situations, or all those who are just starting out, is it worth it? Is the belief that if one works hard and is dedicated enough one might finally sell something – or, forget selling, just have somebody, anybody, willing to take a shot at making a film out of it – are there any grounds for this belief? Or are we doomed to keep writing, doing courses, rewriting, reading books, and more writing – forever?

And look, if that is the case, it’s okay. Even if I’m doomed – or perhaps it’s not within me to write well enough no matter what I do, ever – then I will be hurt. It will smart. But I will sooner or later return to the thrill of screenwriting like the addict I am. Because succeed or fail, this is what I love to do.

I am a writer, and I will keep writing.

But, still, I just thought I would ask.

Regards,

Kryz


I’m grateful that Kryz allowed me to publish his letter.

Here is my answer.

-Karel Segers