“TENTPOLES.” THAT’S WHAT all these movies were called in early 2012, back when their releasing studios were relying on — and pouring megabucks into advertising — these “coming-this-summer” films with much-vaunted casts, budgets, stunts, and CGI special effects.

     Yet all these tentpoles and more, even with so many hopes, dollars, talents and expectations riding on them, pretty much went (and stayed) “saggy” from somewhere in Act Two onwards (if not sooner).

     And so it has been with far too many “tentpoles” over the last 20 years. Ultimately, no matter how “big” their budgets or star “names,” far too many do not end up feeling like complete, satisfying or enduring stories. And I want an end to it!!

     (Okay, The Dark Knight Rises was pretty good, but were you really satisfied with the patched-together, hodge-podge denouements of The Avengers and other duds above???)

     Indeed, the “sagginess” of these tentpoles ends up costing writers, producers, investors and studios hundreds of millions of potential dollars! And why is this happening?

     Because their weak set-ups and second-half fragmentations — in terms of MC Resolve: Change or Steadfast, MC Problem-Solving Style, MC Growth, MC Judgment, MC Purpose, Four Throughlines, OS Outcome, OS Limit, OS Driver, etc. — do not deliver the kind of depth, meaning and satisfaction that will draw this generation of consumers (much less the next one) to pay to see them en masse. We do not just watch movies for “spectacle”!

Whose fault is it?

Of course, it’s not like the marketers don’t try to make it sound like these tentpole movies are going to be meaningful must-sees with gripping characters coming to fulfilling, provocative conclusions!

     The teasers, trailers and clips are carefully put together to impress us not only with the tentpoles’ visual-spectacle potential, but also their “high drama,” “killer characters,” “unique settings,” or “thrilling conclusions”!

     Yet over the last 20 years or so, it seems like so many of the tentpoles have at best offered only the first three out of the above four, and the “thrilling conclusions” have actually turned out to be mostly tepid, lackluster, clichéd, shoulder-shrugging, forehead-scrunching, or otherwise disappointing and ill-conceived.

     So no, we can’t fairly blame the marketers, because their job is just to sell finished films. We can’t expect marketers to make sure upcoming films are actually going to contain these treasures that audiences have always wanted, from time immemorial!

Real source of the troubled tentpoles

Fact is — and I wish I didn’t have to say this — the troubled-tentpoles syndrome actually starts with most of the screenwriting and producing community’s lack of understanding about how meaning, fulfillment and the audience’s emotional satisfaction should actually be “engineered” into screenplays from early in their gestation — and how movies that don’t somehow intend to (and manage to) “take a superior-worldview position” almost always befuddle and disappoint audiences, leaving them little or nothing useful to think about or “take away.”

     In fact, such “pointless” tentpoles have become so common, many have stopped going to see them — or go with ridiculously lowered expectations borne out of too many prior disappointments — or desperately seek out meaningful indie films or TV shows (thank you, Emmy-winning series on network and pay TV!). Such an audience rejection, after so much money and talent has been thrown at these “tentpoles” — it’s a shame and a crime!

‘Pro-meaning’ does not mean ‘anti-entertainment’

Be assured, I do not write all this “meaning stuff” as some kind of entertainment-phobe who revels in philosophical tropes but can’t relish a great comedy or a spine-tingling thriller. I just simply see that Tootsie is a better comedy than Dude, Where’s My Car. And Four Weddings & A Funeral is clearly superior to The Ugly Truth.

     (I hope you see this clear difference too; if you don’t, keep revisiting this site and we shall explain.)

     Tootsie, Four Weddings & A Funeral, As Good As It Gets, The Fugitive, The Incredibles, Toy Story 1-3, Amadeus, The Apartment, When Harry Met Sally…, Win Win and at least 250 more critical, popular and box-office successes (and that’s just a start)… not all were tentpoles, but all do have profound wisdoms to teach today’s screenwriters and producers, no matter what your genre.

Actually learning from proven, non-simplistic wisdom

How? Because they demonstrate a wide variety of profound approaches (not just “heroes’ journeys”!) to make sure your script’s or movie’s story is “really about” much more than whether or not it has the biggest and most-numerous stars, explosions, stunts, and CGI special effects.

     Using timeless, universal, yet widely diverse “core” questions and principles about worldview-testing, these deep-and-wide pools of story wisdom, properly understood, can give you incredible insights for making your script or movie story “work” much better for audiences than you imagined, from gripping beginning to fully-satisfying end.

     C’mon… we all know we can do a LOT more to stop the “saggy tentpoles” — if only we’re willing to learn time-tested approaches from those films that stand firm!

  1. Garrett Amerson says:

    Interesting article Key. I took your advice and have started checking out some of these “dramatica” theories on Some of it is hard to understand, but I am learning more and more as I read on. You know, it’s funny you mention “The Avengers” in this list, because I’ve decided to add it to my top 10 films of this year. I felt it did a *lot* right, especially with 5-6 characters all vying for spotlight moments in the film. Ultimately, I agree that it was lacking some coherent and deeper meaning, but… ?
    I look forward to learning how to become a better writer. I appreciate the sources!


USELESS (2011)
Best Film 168 FilmFest
Best Screenplay 168 FilmFest
and more!

Best Comedy, GIAA FilmFest
Award of Merit, The Indie Fest
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