Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The ARKOFF Formula, Part 6 (The Final Chapter): 'Foreplay is as Important in Dramaturgy as in Bed'



'The ARKOFF Formula' was a model B-movie mogul Samuel Z. Arkoff (1918-2001) designed all his films around. This old post by Bill Cunningham brought this paradigm to my attention, and it has great value for microcinema filmmakers. This is the last part in a series of articles elaborating on this formula. Also see Part 1, 'Action Them 'til They're Dizzy', Part 2, 'Revolutionary Scenes Get Talked of', Part 3, 'Kill Colorfully and Often', Part 4, 'Tell the World about Your Picture!' and Part 5, Fantasy is what Audiences Spend Money for'. 

'F' is for Foreplay (or Fornication)
This is one place where I differ a bit from Mr. Arkoff. His point is as old as the hills--sex sells. Put moderate nudity and/or sex in your film, and you'll get a lot of people to watch it. Since I am not a fan of exploitation, and want to draw the largest audience possible, I'm never putting a topless woman or a sex scene in any movie I make. I don't believe in it from a moral standpoint, and I think it limits the range of viewer I want as a customer. Just witness the popularity of the 'PG-13' (and lower) rating vs. the 'R' rating. Studios will often cut a film to get the rating with the wider appeal, and potentially greater box office and DVD profits. Especially for the microfilmmaker, every dollar counts.

Sex Appeal is Just as Effective
Remember how great all those presents looked under the tree on Christmas Day? Remember the letdown when the wrapping was gone and there was nothing left to open? So it goes with your movie. If you have a sultry female character, or studly male one, the sexy attitude they project can be an intensely powerful tease. The way they dress, the way they move, and the way they speak can be even more powerful than if they just got naked on the floor (pan to the billowing curtains, please). Like with horror, what your mind conjures up in the wake of literally showing the goods carries much more weight than the real deal.

Chemistry can be Explosive
One thing I really enjoyed about the big budget Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) was the very real fire between stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Okay, so they were literally involved at the time, but their passion for each other translated very well to their on-screen personas. It was a tangible feeling, and if you can get something like that in your movie, it will move up a notch on the want-to-watch-o-meter. Our challenge is casting actors that have that chemistry, involved or not. Read different people together (and videotape it), take their picture, and hope you get a good combo. A solid relationship at the core of your film is crucial (also see Rear Window (1954)).

Cast Good Looking Actors
As I've mentioned here before, "easy on the eyes" can only help your cause. Get an attractive woman, and men's interest will be piqued. A handsome man will draw the ladies. It's all part of a heightened reality that movies play directly into. When it comes time to promote your movie, and you want to sell posters, what are people going to buy? Those hot people looking cool and striking cool poses (probably with firearms and explosions, but I digress). It's part of the movie mystique, and if Hollywood does it, why can't we?

Don't Forget Technique
Another way you can generate sex appeal is through actual production methods. Could any hair products ever be sold without slow-motion cascading hair? How about the overcranked stroll of a woman in silk dress crossing the street (I don't care what the product is)? What about a subjective closeup of a dramatically lit pair of velvet brown eyes? You get the idea. The camera can convey any mood you choose, and with the proper tools, sexy is no different. Unfortunately for us, doing slow motion (which can make almost anything more appealing) is difficult. It can be done in post, but it's never like the real thing.

That wraps up this six part series on The ARKOFF Formula, and I hope you were able to get something out of it. While the core of these articles was Mr. Arkoff's words, much of the elaboration is strictly my opinion, and I take full responsibility for it. I'm not an expert, just a humble filmmaker who wants to make good movies. I hope this series has caused you to reflect on how to make your movies a little better. Special thanks to Bill Cunningham who posted exerpts from Julian Meyers' interview with Arkoff, upon which my writing is based. Be sure to check out Bill's blog, DISContent, which covers pulp movies and a lot of other cool stuff.

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