Each year, filmmakers and distributors gather at international venues like the American Film Market and the Cannes Film Festival to sell their movies (whether entirely completed or just thought up) to exhibitors around the world. As a common marketing tool, they will publish a blurb that briefly describes the film's plot or its hoped-for impact.
From about 6,000 such blurbs written to sell films at this year's markets, I've ferreted out a few that demonstrate the principle that odd characters and quirky team-ups do not guarantee that a lot of people would want to see the finished movie. Actually, these film market capsule descriptions rarely include any films that do well at the box office.
Any how-to book on screenwriting will tell you that a successful screenplay must have characters that engage the viewer immediately and that those characters should interact in interesting ways.
All too often, however, lesser writers will simply attempt to use bizarreness as a shortcut to crafting an interesting character. That doesn't always work. Not all odd groups of characters turn out like "The Avengers" or "The Usual Suspects."
I haven't edited these capsules other than in some cases for length, but I have included some of my own comments in parentheses. Everything in quotation marks is genuine.
"The Man Who Collected Food"
"Miguel Appet is an unique collector, a food collector. He takes his collection seriously, a little bit too seriously. In order to protect his collection Miguel eats people. He has to since eating his precious food is not an option. However, being a cannibal is not as easy when you have an overbearing mother and neighbors who do not leave you alone." (But if he eats people, then don't they by definition become "food" and then logically shouldn't he save them, too?)
But why stop with one bizarre character when you can have a whole team of them or at least a team of unlikely allies?
"Lancelot: Guardian of Time"
"Merlin sends Lancelot du Lac through time in order to protect a young Arthur before he becomes king. However due to an accident Lancelot and Arthur are thrown into the future. Lancelot must team up with a writer and computer programmer in order to save the young king " (That might actually make sense if the writer were T. H. White.)
"Faced with the extinction of their species, shape shifting, evil alien monsters descend on earth with the intent to mutate with humans. They choose Las Vegas as their destination, seeking to blend in with Sin City to hatch their plan. Little do they know what they will be up against when they cross paths with Cindy, a hypnotherapist, and Lucas, a mystery man. ..." (I'm not sure about the "mystery man," but surely Cindy could hypnotize them into thinking they were chickens — or the perfect Elvis impersonators!)
"A Catholic missionary in AIDS-stricken Africa, a Chinese blood smuggler and a hapless Montreal porn star each make a seemingly insignificant sacrifice " (Or walk into a bar together?)
"When a team of sexy roller derby girls and two young hitchhikers becomes stranded at an abandon insane asylum, all hell breaks loose when they encounter a strange and mysterious young girl with a dark past." (They had me with sexy roller derby girls, but every successive noun phrase pulled me farther away!)
"When the Earth is attacked by alien machines on the 4th of July, a small town firefighter and a rogue SETI scientist team up to activate the only technology capable of defeating the invaders." (A fire ax — that could work. SETI means Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, it relies heavily on radio telescopes and I don't think the term rogue has ever been applied to any scientist involved in it.)
"Night of the Alien"
"Fran, an unemployed slacker, and best friend of The Lord of Evil and Darkness are two lost souls on a road trip through the Southern California desert. Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker, who claims to be an Alien from the planet Zoltran. This unlikely trio then encounters Stoners, Strippers, Knights of the 'square'-table, an effeminate drug thug, the 'Vortex of Destiny,' and a master plan to take over the world via 'American Idol.' Oh, yeah, and there's a fish tank." (And the kitchen sink, too, apparently.)
"A high-profile prostitute, a dreaded judge, an idealistic journalist: the love that they feel for each other will at once become deadly." (When they walk into a bar?)
"The kidnapping of a plump billionaire's dog by a deaf-mute and 2 ketamine addicts goes wrong. ..." (Really? What could possibly go wrong with a gang like that?)
"A widower with agoraphobia is threatened by a hooded gang of 'twisted feral children' but is helped by 'an understanding nurse and a vigilante priest.'" (I'm guessing they help him overcome his fear of public places so he can walk into a bar with them.)
Of course, if you're really at a loss for an unusual character, you can always try what the next two films do: Clone Jesus!
"A retirement home where time seems to have stopped has its structures shattered by the arrival of a new tenant, which challenges the conformity of the place, and the news that the church has cloned Jesus Christ. Lots of laughs, revitalization and romance abound." (Not exactly how most religions describe the Second Coming! And wouldn't you tend to mention that first?)
(Alternate Title: "I'm Not Jesus Mommy") "Kimberly would stop at nothing to have a child of her own. After recovering from cancer her possibilities seemed slim. However, the world's first successful human cloning project brings an unthinkable solution and a son named David." (Many very bad things happen in the world for the next seven years and then ) "Roger, the head researcher of the cloning project returns to reveal that David was cloned from DNA taken from the Shroud of Turin ... from blood of Christ. Has cloning made it possible to bring Christ back? Is David the Second Coming of Christ or something else?" (And what about the folks in the retirement home? Exhibitors should make these a double feature!)
Richard J. Leskosky taught media and cinema studies at the University of Illinois and has reviewed films for more than 30 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.