Tag Archives: romance movies

How To Do Romantic Sub-Plots Right (And Why Some Fail)

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This will probably surprise no one who regularly visits this site, but I love romantic sub-plots. In many cases, they’re my favorite part of a movie, TV show, or comic book. I’ve made my love for romance in general fairly well-known, but romantic sub-plots offer a special kind of appeal.

Now, when I say romantic sub-plots, I’m not referring to the stories built solely around romance, like many of my novels. I’m referring to stories that are primarily presented as another genre, be it sci-fi, fantasy, or a blatant “Die Hard” rip-off, but include a secondary romantic story that runs parallel to the main story.

Sometimes, that story is subtle. Sometimes, it becomes a major catalyst for other parts of the main story. Sometimes, it just adds a little melodrama in between all the bigger, flashier conflicts. Watch pretty much any prime time show on the CW these days and you’ll see examples of every kind to some extent.

As much as I love these sub-plots, though, they can also be frustrating. For every romantic sub-plot I felt was handled well, I can think of five others that were horribly botched. On one end, you have the rich, balanced love story of Han Solo and Princess Leia in the original “Star Wars” trilogy. On the other, you’ve got the inherently toxic love story between Penny and Leonard in “The Big Bang Theory.”

There’s so much variety and diversity to romantic sub-plots that I could spend an entire weekend going through all of them. However, for the sake of making a more concise point, I want to focus on what makes a romantic sub-plot truly compelling. Regardless of genre, medium, or scope, a good romantic sub-plot can really enhance the overall plot.

Like every other sub-plot or storytelling tactic, though, romantic sub-plots are prone to all sorts of tropes, cliches, and traditions. Some are more useful than others. However, some can create obstacles and pitfalls that derail an otherwise promising romantic sub-plot.

While I don’t consider myself an expert on all the mechanisms that go into a good romantic sub-plot, I do know plenty of others out there who are far smarter than me and far more capable of explaining the subject in a more comprehensive way. They may not be experts either, but they know how to get the point across.

That’s where wonderful YouTube channels like Overly Sarcastic Productions come in. I’ve referenced it before in previous discussions about strong female characters, but it also provides other extensive breakdowns of various tropes and does it in a colorful, entertaining way, sometimes literally.

One such video in their Trope Talk series covers romantic sub-plots and the breakdown here is the best I’ve seen to date on what makes a good and not-so-good sub-plot. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend you watch it. If nothing else, it should put some of your favorite and least favorite romantic sub-plots into a larger context.

There’s a lot of fast-talking, broad-based breakdowns of this trope, which the narrator freely admits she doesn’t fully understand. However, she demonstrates that she understands enough to point out what not to do when pursuing a romantic sub-plot on a fairly basic level. I want to go beyond basics.

The video singles out a few TV shows and cartoons where the romantic sub-plot falls flat, such as “The Legend of Korra” and “Castle.” In both cases, the sub-plot is very shallow in that it’s built entirely on the fact that a straight male and a straight female character work closely together. As such, they become romantically entangled.

Therein likes the most glaring problem, though. Just being two characters who work together is seen as sufficient to justify the sub-plot. As a result, there’s no effort to build meaningful chemistry between the characters. In some cases, there isn’t even an effort to establish whether they’re romantically compatible with one another.

This is probably the most common, not to mention the most annoying, problem that arises when romantic sub-plots enter a story. The sub-plot is given the bare minimum in terms of depth, relying on the audience to fill in the blanks as to why these two should be together.

This happens a lot in the superhero genre. Romantic sub-plots and soap operas are the cornerstone of some of the most iconic superhero comics, TV shows, and movies. One of the most epic examples, the Dark Phoenix Saga, is set to become a movie next year. However, I would argue that the superhero genre is most guilty of this common shortcoming.

Take, for instance, the first “Iron Man” movie and the romantic sub-plot between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts. Never mind the fact that these two characters don’t have much of a romance in the comics. The first movie and the two successful sequels that follow do plenty to establish Tony and Pepper as the primary romance of the story. However, it does little to show why these two belong together.

The same thing happens with Thor and Jane Foster in the first two “Thor” movies. Unlike Iron Man, the comics establish a more robust romantic history between these two. The movies, however, do little to drawn from this history. They rely solely on the fact that Thor spends a little time around Jane, she’s attracted to him, and that’s all that’s necessary for the romance to unfold.

Again, it’s shallow in that it relies too heavily on the audience to fill in the gaps of chemistry and compatibility. For any functional romance, those gaps are pretty big. Just getting together is only a small part of that process and the story around it. Movies like “Thor” and “Iron Man” give the impression that just being around each other long enough is sufficient. These characters don’t have to actually work on their romance.

Compare that to the much more developed romances in the superhero genre, such as Barry and Iris in “The Flash” TV show. In that romance, just getting together isn’t the end of the story. It’s just part of it. Barry and Iris actually work, struggle, sacrifice, and even argue at times, but that’s exactly what makes their relationship so meaningful.

Outside the superhero genre, there are other ways the romantic sub-plot gets derailed in a way that’s more annoying than entertaining. I think “Friends” was one of the worst offenders with Ross and Rachel because almost the entirety of the sub-plot was built around them struggling to get together. Sure, the process of two people coming together can be compelling, but that can’t be the whole story.

Movies tend to struggle with it even more, but mostly due to logistical reasons. There’s only so much romantic development you can squeeze into a two or three hour movie. However, it can be done. Despite being brief and tragic, the sub-plot of Sarah Conners and Kyle Reese in the original “Terminator” movie showed that it is possible for a romantic sub-plot to be meaningful within those limitations.

Far more often, though, movies try to rush a sub-plot or outright force it. That’s part of what makes any romance hard to take seriously. In a movie like “Jurassic World,” where you have two very different characters in Claire and Owen, it really has to be forced because outside the plot of the movie, it’s hard to imagine these two having a meaningful relationship.

In some respects, that’s a good litmus test for any romantic sub-plot. If you can’t see the characters involved functioning outside the plot of the movie, then chances are the romantic sub-plot is fundamentally flawed. It’s easy to imagine iconic couples like Superman and Lois Lane, Cyclops and Jean Grey, or even Allie and Noah in “The Notebook” enjoying a functional relationship past the final credits.

Even for couples where it’s harder to picture them outside a conflict, it helps when a romantic sub-plot still puts in extra effort to make the romance believable. While this is a challenge in movies, TV, and comics, I’ve actually seen this handled a lot better in modern video games.

Romantic sub-plots are important elements of popular games like the “Uncharted” series. What makes that sub-plot effective, though, is how much time and energy is put into establishing why a man like Nathan Drake would be with a woman like Elena Fisher. It even goes out of its way to show how these two characters create a genuinely functional relationship towards the end.

While it might be a bit of a stretch, I would also cite the “Mass Effect” series that I’ve praised before in how well it handles romantic sub-plots. Now, it’s a stretch because the game is structured in a way where the player can choose a particular romantic sub-plot or choose to not have one at all. That makes the story a lot more fluid than a movie or TV show, but it still manages to create depth for a sub-plot.

That depth shows, regardless of which romantic sub-plot the player chooses. Whether it’s Shepard and Liara, Shepard and Ashley, or Shepard and Garrus, the game provides opportunities for depth and development. If you follow the sub-plot through to the end, the romance has genuine dramatic weight.

In the end, that’s the most important impact of any romantic sub-plot. When done right, it adds greater weight to the overall narrative. It creates an emotional dimension that goes beyond just achieving a goal or surviving a conflict. It fleshes out the emotions, passions, and desires of the characters involved.

Conversely, it can really disrupt the plot when done wrong. I’ve already covered how the worst love triangle in history derailed the X-men movies. Talk to any “Star Wars” fan and they’ll probably say the poor romance between Anakin Skywalker and Padme was the most disappointing part of the prequels not named Jar Jar Binks.

To some extent, a romantic sub-plot is a gamble. It stretches the odds, but it also increases the payout. When it fails, it can fail pretty spectacularly. When it works, though, it can make for some of the most dramatic, passionate moments in a story. As an unapologetic romance lover, I say it’s a gamble worth taking.

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My Ideal Romance Movie (And Why It Will Never Get Made)

When it comes to things men avoid with their lovers, going to a cheesy romance movie ranks right up there with cleaning a clogged toilet. Going with your girlfriend to see a generic love movie is almost a rite of passage for a couple, acting as proof that you’re willing to inconvenience yourself just that much in order to see her naked.

Some men actually do like romance movies, but most won’t ever admit it. I did recently when I highlighted my favorite romance movie of all time, “Crazy/Beautiful.” I might be undermining the status of my man card, but I could care less. I get enough weird looks from other men when I say I find Hugh Jackman sexy. If they think less of me because of that, then that’s their problem.

In talking about my favorite romance movie, though, it occurred to me that there haven’t been a lot of quality romance movies lately. I’m not saying every one of them have been garbage, but I can’t recall too many that really stood out or weren’t the sub-plot of a superhero movie.

At the moment, romance movies are almost like westerns in that they’re out of style. Unlike westerns, though, some romance-heavy movies are making an impact, namely the “50 Shades of Grey” franchise. Say what you will about those movies, and many have, but it did make money. That’s the only excuse Hollywood needs.

There will always be a market for romance, to some extent, because we’re a romantic species. We all seek love in our lives. Romance, despite what the bitter dispassionate cynics may say, resonates with all of us and it should. That’s part of why I write romantic sexy novels.

So rather than spend too much time trying to find another romance movie that appeals to me like “Crazy/Beautiful,” I’m going to try something else. I’m going to create a list, of sorts, to describe my ideal romance movie. Like I’ve done with other movies, I’m going to keep it simple and concise.

I’m not smart or successful enough to write an entire script for the perfect romance movie. I can only offer tips, concepts, and a general framework for such a movie. For the sake of shameless branding, I’m going to call them my “Passion Rules.” Since I emphasize passion so much in my novels, I might as well embrace that brand.

With that in mind, here are Jack Fisher’s unofficial rules for making the perfect romance movie. If any Hollywood producer wants to strike the right chords and soak the maximum amount of panties, then these simple passion rules will help in that effort.


Passion Rule #1: The Romance Must Be (Unapologetically) Sex-Positive

This is the most important element of any powerful romance movie. That’s not to say that it has to rely entirely on sex, sexy scenes, or sex-centered plots. That’s what porn is for. By sex-positive, I mean that in the tradition of superheroes like Deadpool and Starfire.

Sex and physical intimacy can’t be the center of the relationship, but it can’t be an afterthought either. In the real world, people express their love through sex. Priests, mullahs, rabbis, and monks may hate that, but that’s what’ people do. It’s fun, intimate, and enjoyable on so many levels. A good romance movie should not shy away from that.

The romance doesn’t have to exist because of great sex. The great sex needs to exist because of the romance. It shouldn’t be a complication, an issue, or an obstacle. There are enough nerdy coming-of-age stories about horny teenagers trying to get laid. In a sex-positive romance, the sexy parts complement the passion.

That also means those parts aren’t pornographic, but they aren’t heavily censored like a 50s sitcom either. They should be willing to show breasts, butts, and genitals in all their glory. If you want sexy, romantic love, you can’t and shouldn’t censor it. Granted, that may earn this movie an R-rating, but given the box office returns of the “Deadpool” movie, that doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker.


Passion Rule #2: The Romance Must NOT Rely Or Depend On A Love Triangle

This is only a rule because love triangles are so inherently toxic that they might as well be the romantic equivalent of a spastic colon. I’ve gone on record as saying that love triangles are an affront to romance in both the real world, the fictional world, and any other kind of world. As such, they have no place in an ideal romance movie.

It’s not just because love triangles require that one character get screwed while the other two come off as assholes. The very concept devalues the romance itself, creating the impression that these two characters have to be together just because another romance didn’t work.

That’s part of why I deemed the Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine love triangle in X-men the worst love triangle of all time. It makes every character involved look bad. It also creates the impression that these characters have to be in love, rather than actually wanting to. Short of dead animals and poop jokes, I can’t think of anything less romantic.

For any great romance movie to work, it cannot be the product or catalyst for a love triangle. There can be ex-lovers involved. There can even be a few broken hearts along the way. However, the story cannot revolve around two people loving each other despite or because of other romantic entanglements. It’s both counterproductive and frustrating to everyone involved.


Passion Rule #3: There Must Be Time, Energy, And Depth To The Romance

In many other movie genres, from over-the-top action movies to psychological thrillers, there’s usually some sort of romantic sub-plot. From the “Transformers” franchise to “Erin Brockovich,” there’s usually an effort to squeeze a little romance into a larger plot.

There’s nothing wrong with this and I totally support it. However, if you’re trying to make a real romance movie, you can’t use the same approach that Michael Bay uses in movies with giant robots. In those movies, the romance has to be wedged in between the scene where cities are blowing up and aliens are invading in order to keep the plot concise within a two-hour movie.

If the goal of the movie is to craft a compelling romance, it has to replace those invading aliens with the kind of time, energy, and depth that goes into making a romance work. It can’t always work like “Titanic” and unfold in the course of a few days. There has to be a sense of progression and effort for both characters.

It’s not enough to just meet in a bar and find each other attractive. Each character has to have a particular motivation that fully complements the other. That’s how strong romances form in real life. In a movie, those same elements can be pushed even farther by Hollywood magic. If you don’t think that has any appeal, then you haven’t seen “Magic Mike.”


Passion Rule #4: The Obstacles The Romance Faces Must Not Be Forced Or Contrived

This rule is related to the previous one in that it it’s a natural byproduct of romance being wedged in between alien invasions. Again, I’ll reference the “Transformers” movie because they do everything right and wrong with respect to these tropes.

The primary romance in the first two movies, Sam Witwicky and Mikaela Banes, is entirely built on a foundation of running from killer robots. That’s how they come together. That’s how their relationship progresses. That’s really the only obstacle we ever see them facing together.

In a sense, their romance is forced by circumstance, namely an invasion of killer transforming robots. That’s not exactly a catalyst for meaningful romance. A romance built around the adrenaline rush that comes with fleeing from killer robots is not a romance that’s built to last.

Every romance faces obstacles. Not all of those obstacles have to involve running from killer robots. They have to be stressful, meaningful, and even a little dangerous. More than anything else, though, they have to be something that both characters seek out together. By making it a shared journey, the romance becomes that much more epic.


Passion Rule #5: The Lovers Must Not Be (Entirely) Dependent On Each Other

This is one of those subtle rules that you don’t really notice until you scrutinize a romance. In some respects, it’s Disney’s fault for making the concept of the fairy tale romances so damn popular. As a result, we don’t always realize when a romance is less a romance than it is a dependence.

It’s something that plays out in cheesy love songs as well, the idea that someone loves another person so much that they need them. It’s not just that they want to be with them. They need to be with them or they’ll die. That may make for a good song by a generic boy band, but in terms of meaningful romance, it’s downright unhealthy.

I’ve talked about the thin line between love and obsession. Some movies do lousy job of walking that line, creating relationships where the characters can’t stand on their own two feet. It’s even more apparent in shows like “The Big Bang Theory” and “True Blood.”

Too many characters depend on others to be interesting. It makes the romance feel less genuine and the characters more bland. For any romance movie that looks to check the right boxes, it has to establish that this is not that kind of relationship. The characters should be individuals seeking to make each other better and sexier. That’s the core value of any great romance.


Passion Rule #6: The Little Things In The Romance Have To Matter

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The most epic romances in movies, TV, and sexy novels like the ones I write all involve some sort of epic journey where two people come together in a powerful, meaningful, and hopefully sexy sort of way. That’s a big part of what makes romances like Romeo and Juliet, Jack and Rose, or Superman and Lois Lane so iconic.

However, that epic journey is just one side of the coin. The other, which many movies ignore, are the little things that make a romance great. Those are the same little things that help some couples stay together for decades. It’s those subtleties between the characters that make their romantic journey feel meaningful.

Now, I’m not saying my ideal romance movie has to dedicate a full half-hour to two characters listing all the quirks they love about each other. Those quirks should reveal themselves throughout the journey that the story takes them on. They can’t just love each other when they’re at their most passionate. They also have to share that love when they’re at their most dispassionate, as well.

This might be the hardest element to incorporate into a movie. Then again, we have movies about stoners losing their car and snakes on a plane. If Hollywood can make movies about that crap, then they have no excuses when it comes to romance.


I hope that got hearts racing and panties moistening to all those who read it. Even for those who claim to not care for romance movies, I hope this offers some intrigue. We all need love in our lives. A good romance movie is like a free piece of cake. It inherently makes our day better.

Now, here’s why a movie like this will never happen. First and foremost, it has never been cool or manly for men to like romance movies. I’m sincerely trying to change that with my novels, but it probably won’t change much within my lifetime. Since the 18 to 35-year-old male demographic is one the most sought-after demographics in the economy, we can’t expect Hollywood to ignore them.

A romance movie like this, which actually emphasizes romance, would have limited appeal, if only because it wouldn’t translate as well to international markets as giant robots. It also couldn’t be watered down to a PG-13 rating, which every movie seeks these days to appeal to the most people possible.

A movie like this would also struggle to find the necessary actors and actresses. As I’ve pointed out before with the flaws in creating quality erotica/romance, most of the Hollywood elites are reluctant to take their clothes off and get too sexy. There’s still a stigma against getting too sexy, even if movies like “Deadpool” and “50 Shades of Grey” are changing that.

At the moment, there are too many forces working against a movie like this. A lot would have to change, both in terms of the movie industry and the attitudes of movie-goers, for something like this to ever happen. Then again, if a movie like “Crazy/Beautiful” can still work, then maybe I’ll live to see the day when a movie this romantic and sexy happens. I may not be able to inspire it with my novels, but I’m sure as hell going to try.

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On My Favorite Romance Movie: “Crazy/Beautiful”

When it comes to romance movies, most men will never admit they have a favorite. They usually won’t admit to ever having sat through a movie, unless they were with a woman they were desperately trying to bang. It’s just not a very macho thing to do, admitting you actually enjoy romance movies.

However, if you hook those same macho men up to a polygraph, strap a jumper cable to their balls, and threaten to shave their head with a brick, though, most will concede that they have watched a romance movie. They’ll even admit they have a favorite. Up the voltage on the jumper cables, they’ll even admit to getting choked up while watching it.

There’s no need to subject me to such torture. I freely admit that I’ve watched romance movies from beginning to end. I’ve even seen them in theaters by myself and without a date. I’m a romance-loving guy. I admit that with no shame. If anyone wants to give me crap about it, then they can kiss my romance-loving ass.

I even have a favorite romance movie, one that I think has inspired me in my efforts to become an erotica/romance writer. It wasn’t some big blockbuster. It wasn’t some shameless Oscar push either. It didn’t even have killer robots, explosions, or comic book characters. I’ll give everyone who has noted my love of comics a moment to stop gasping.

It wasn’t a box office smash. It wasn’t a critical darling either. I don’t care. It’s still the premier romance movie by which I measure all others. It came out in 2001 and it’s called “Crazy/Beautiful.” I’ll give everyone another moment to stop rolling their eyes.

This isn’t one of those romance movies that’s too cheesy or too dramatic. It’s also not overly serious or overly cynical, either. It’s just a sweet, sexy story about two young people falling in love, going through some upheavals, and coming together in the end. Again, it’s one of those concepts that gets the jaded cynics of the world to roll their eyes, but still feels undeniably real at the end of the day.

The story is somewhat basic, but mature in a sense. The characters involved are Nicole Oakley, played by Kirsten Dunst just before her fame peaked with “Spider-Man,” and Carlos Nuñez, played by Jay Hernandez, who is best known for his work on TV shows like “Nashville” and “Gang Related.” From the very beginning, there’s some very heated chemistry between both characters.

Like many other love stories, both characters are from different worlds. Nicole is the rebellious child of a wealthy, but broken family. Her mother is gone, but her father remarries a woman who she does not get along with. Being young, beautiful, and hormonal, she ditches the comfortable settings of her home and looks for adventure on the rougher parts of town.

That’s where she finds Carlos, a young Latino man with dreams of rising above his rough upbringing. He’s on the football team. He has dreams of becoming a pilot. He’s not some stereotypical bad boy that women get with for all the wrong reasons. He’s the kind of guy you actually root for to succeed. That’s what draws Nicole to him and the chemistry they create is pretty damn hot.

It doesn’t take some horrible tragedy or elaborate circumstance for these two to come together. Nicole and her friend are just out partying on the rough side of town when their paths cross. They flirt, they tease, and they fool around like actual, normal teenagers do in real life. It’s sweet, it’s sexy, and it feels so genuine and real.

That’s a big part of what appeals to me and what sets movies like “Crazy/Beautiful” apart from typical romance, many of which follow the same bland formula. Many romance movies feel as though the love between the two characters needs to be epic, intense, or tragic. Sure, that has created some pretty iconic romances, but those romances are iconic for a reason.

Not every couple needs to be Romeo and Juliet or Princess Leia and Han Solo from “Star Wars.” In fact, trying to recreate those romances can underscore the actual chemistry between them. It happens all the time in comics, especially with couples like Batman and Catwoman. It happens even more in movies, especially when tragedy is a big factor, like “Titanic.”

Granted, these kinds of romances have their unique appeal, but they’re often lacking in depth and development. That’s where “Crazy/Beautiful” really shines. It gives amazing depth to Nicole and Carlos’ relationship. It actually goes through a process, not unlike the one actual people use when they fall in love.

First, they meet and feel an attraction. Then, they start exploring that attraction. They start learning about each other, from their hopes and dreams to their past and failures. They actually learn about each other and even help each other, something failed romances in the real and fictional world often fail to do.

Then, there are the sexy moments. Yes, there are many sexy moments in “Crazy/Beautiful” that men and women alike can appreciate. There are scenes where both characters get naked. It’s a time when Kirsten Dunst’s sex appeal was at its peak. There are scenes where she’s walking around in her underwear and it’s a true sight to behold.

It helps add to another important element in “Crazy/Beautiful” that stands out. It’s very sex positive. Throughout the movie, the sexy moments Carlos and Nicole share aren’t full of complications or reservations. They’re just sweet, intimate moments. Some are loving. Some are just two horny teenagers wanting to get laid. It’s never shown in a negative light. They might be the most sex positive themes outside of the “Deadpool” movie.

Beyond the sex and the chemistry, the biggest and arguably most important element that makes “Crazy/Beautiful” my favorite romance movie is how strong the romance becomes. It’s not enough that Carlos and Nicole share attraction and sexual chemistry. It’s how they actually complement each other, making one another stronger in the end.

What really makes that connection stand out shows towards the end when they each show that they’re willing to sacrifice for each other. They’re willing to step off the path they’ve laid for themselves, find each other, and forge a new path together. That’s the kind of sacrifice real couples learn to make, but are rarely shown in movies that don’t rip-off “Titanic.” I’ll give a moment for “Avatar” fans to stop gritting their teeth.

When all is said and done, Nicole and Carlos are both better because of their love for each other. It’s not just because they’re have someone to have sex with that they love. Their lives objectively improve. Carlos realizes his dream of being a pilot. Nicole develops a better relationship with her family. Their love, and all its sexy chemistry, is a net gain for everybody.

It may not appeal to those who think every love story needs to have an element of tragedy. There are moments in “Crazy/Beautiful” where the story could’ve taken a tragic turn. That doesn’t happen and that’s a good thing. It makes for a satisfying, genuine, heart-felt ending.

You can easily see Nicole and Carlos getting married, having kids, and still having hot sex. It’s a romance that feels truly complete. It has that Hollywood sex appeal, but it’s genuine enough that you can easily see it happening in the real world.

That’s a big part of why this movie appealed to me so much when I first saw it. It gave the impression that love could exist in the real and fictional world. It could be sexy, intimate, and powerful without aliens, robots, or super powers. To someone who had grown up on comic books and cartoons, that was a revolutionary idea for me.

While “Crazy/Beautiful” will never go down in history as an epic love story, its ability to be romantic, sexy, and real helps set it apart. It presents a romance that feels achievable in the real world. I believe that we all need that sort of thing every now and then. As fun as epic love stories can be, sometimes it’s refreshing to know that two ordinary people from different walks of life can fall in love and have hot sex.

Maybe there will come a day when I see another romance movie that tops “Crazy/Beautiful” in all the relevant ways. While “Deadpool” came close, “Crazy/Beautiful” still holds a special place in my heart and my pants. It helped influence me in my passion for writing erotica/romance. I sincerely hope its impact helps me craft something as romantic and sexy.

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Animation: A Possible Solution For Erotica/Romance Movies?

This is a follow-up to a post I did a couple of days ago on the future of erotica/romance in movies. It’s an issue that I find myself contemplating more and more with the success, financially speaking, of the “50 Shades of Grey” movies. Since it’s an issue that may end up affecting the industry I work in, namely that of erotica/romance, it’s one in which I’ll keep a close eye on in the coming years.

I’ve already laid out the unique challenges facing erotica/romance in cinema. Even with the success of “50 Shades of Grey,” those challenges are pretty daunting. We’re still a long way away from a sexy erotica romance movie getting as much hype as a “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie. Given how that movie has the sex appeal of Chris Pratt going for it, it’s not  affair fight to say the least.

Fair or not, the obstacles for erotica/romance are still pretty daunting. Between its association with the porn industry and a society that is still horrified of the idea of women being excessively sexual, it really does seem as though this genre on which I’ve chosen to build my writing career has a long way to go.

At the moment, there is a sizable, but not exceedingly large gap to overcome. On one side, you have mature stories with erotic themes like “50 Shades of Grey” and “Showgirls.” On the other, you have porn and the poorly-acted skin flicks that only air after midnight on Cinemax.

Bridging this gap, telling a serious story in a movie with a non-gratuitous amount of sex, is the key. As the success of “Die Hard” and all its assorted rip-offs can attest, it only takes one solid movie to kick-start a new trend.

In giving this issue some serious, sexy thought, which I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at on this blog, I think there might be one avenue that erotica/romance can take. It would help circumvent some of the biggest obstacles that I laid out before and complement other emerging trends as well. It could even completely reinvent the way movies, sexy or otherwise, are told.

What is this sexy solution, you ask? Well, it already exists in a major way, but it’s due for a major leap forward. It’s this:

That, my friends, is high-quality animation from the video game, “Destiny: The Taken King.” Take a moment to admire it. Then, think back to how animation used to be. If you’re with me to this point, you’ve already made the overtly-sexy connections.

This may be the key. This may be the secret weapon with which to shatter the seemingly-impenetrable walls that keep erotica/romance relegated to midnight skin-flicks on Cinemax. Animation, namely the high-quality kind that companies like Pixar and Bungie pay top notch for, could be the key to making erotica/romance work.

On paper, it makes perfect sense. With animation, you overcome one of the biggest obstacles in producing a quality movie, namely finding actors and actresses that can both emote the necessary passion and not shrivel, literally and figuratively, when they have to get naked and make love on demand.

Animated characters don’t complain about mood, chemistry, or how their trailers are painted. They don’t age. They don’t get fat. They can look as beautiful or as ugly as a director wants them to be. They are, by default, the perfect medium for bringing a character to life. A number have already become quite iconic.

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Now this isn’t a wholly radical idea. In fact, it’s already an established industry in a magical land called Japan. There’s an entire genre of animated porn called anime porn. This brand of porn utilizes themes and stories so outlandish, so extreme, and so disturbing that even the worst moments in “Game of Thrones” cannot compare. Look up something called “Futanari” for proof. Be warned though, you won’t be able to unsee it.

Radical or not, Japanese anime has the same problem that our softcore skin flicks on Cinemax have here in the United States. The stories are flat. The acting and dialog is atrocious. The main point of these movies is to titillate and not enchant.

Pretty much every male character in an anime porn acts a certain way, just like every bleach-blond, big-breasted woman in a softcore porn acts a certain way. There’s no real depth. It’s just basic, bland, and blunt.

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That may be a product of sticking to a winning formula. Japanese anime porn has been around for decades, has an established fan base, and isn’t going to risk that fan base by doing something different. That’s just how an established industry works.

That said, it does prove that there’s a market for mature, animated content. We’re already seeing major studios attempting to tap that market beyond the usual “Simpsons” and “Family Guy” demographics.

In the past few years, new cartoons with mature things like “Archer” and “Bojack Horseman” have found a major audience. Even among younger audiences, shows like “Samurai Jack” reveal that there is a market for a more mature cartoon.

The timing of this growing market couldn’t be better because as this audience is growing, technology in graphics and animation is improving. Moreover, video game companies and developers are using those improvements to tell better stories. Some of these stories are every bit as engaging, dramatic, and emotional as movies. I know this personally, as I’ve freely admitted that the end of Final Fantasy X and Mass Effect got me choked up.

Major video game makers are already exploring deeper, more mature stories that don’t just rly on killing zombies or shooting aliens. Games like “Heavy Rain” utilize mature themes, a rich story, and intimate moments. Having played the game, I can say that this definitely strikes plenty of chords, including the sexy kind.

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So there’s a growing market for mature cartoons. The technology for graphics in animation is also improving and being refined through the $5.2 billion video game industry. What’s the hold up then? Why aren’t we seeing an animated “50 Shades of Grey” movie that isn’t limited to Jamie Dornan’s acting abilities?

As is often the case in the entertainment industry, it all comes down to money. That’s the simplest and most complete explanation. It’s safe to assume that if every major movie studio could replace every actor and actress with a 3D animated model, they’d do it in a heartbeat, thereby ensuring that they never have to work with Shia LeBeouf or Lindsey Lohan again.

The reason they can’t do that is because, as much as animation has improved, it’s still expensive. Toy Story 3, the current gold standard for animated movies, cost $200 million to make. For TV, the average cost of a half-hour animated show is about half-a-million and the cost of a top-quality show like “The Simpsons” is about $2 million.

For comparison sake, entire movies like “Boyhood” and “Whiplash” cost less than $5 million. Animation is also more labor-intensive, which requires a great deal of outsourcing, something the cast of a typical sitcom doesn’t have to worry about.

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As it stands right now, animation is not a preferable option for making movies, TV shows, or erotica/romance. It’s costly, labor-intensive, and affiliated with too many talking animals. However, that may be changing in a major way very soon.

This is where I try to channel my inner psychic and see a bit into the future. Granted, I’m about as much a psychic as I am a starting point guard for the Golden State Warriors. Don’t assume I know more than someone working at Starbucks, but at least trust me when I say I do try to see the forest from the trees and make connections where I see them.

While the cost of animation is going up, advances in computing power and AI are growing as well. Most are content to let AI’s run their schedule or make annoying telemarketing calls, but they can’t make are, right? That’s intrinsically human, right?

I’m sorry to say that our future robot overlords are catching up faster than you think. Back in 2014, the University of Spain created, Iamus, a program that creates its own melodies. Not to be left out, Google followed suit with a program of their own in 2016.

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That’s all well and good, even if it sucks for the future Taylor Swifts of the world. That doesn’t mean robots can draw, right? Humans still have that on the machines, don’t they?

Again, our future robot overlords are catching up faster than you think or feel comfortable accepting. In 2016, Google created another AI called “Quick Draw,” which can recognize simple doodles. A number of robots have even been able to produce their own artwork.

Granted, these works of art are a long way away from being Picasso or Elvis Presley. It’s a start though and, as our recent history with technology has shown, the pace of that technology will only accelerate. Given how slow and clumsy we humans are, it’s only a matter of time before they’re a billion times better at it than we are.

On top of that, the technology for computers to read our minds is emerging as well. This too is in the very early stages of development, but there’s a lot of money in technology, art, and doing things a billion times better. If a computer can make a movie like “Frozen” a billion times faster and a billion times cheaper, you can assume Disney will be all over it like Homer Simpson in a donut factory.

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This has huge implications for every art-based industry in the world, but what does this mean for animation and erotica/romance? Well, most importantly, it means at some point the cost of animation is going to come down.

Eventually, a future version of Google’s drawing software will be so advanced that it can do the job of 100 animators 100 times faster and a million times cheaper. That means movies like “Toy Story 3” no longer cost $200 million. They could cost only a couple million. That means episodes of shows like “The Simpsons” can cost less than a used car.

This opens up countless possibilities for new stories to be told, which don’t have to rely on the bloated budgets or corporate backings of major studios. Since AI is also developing to a level where it can mimic voices, it means that even the cost of voice actors will go down or be replaced altogether.

It won’t happen all at once. There won’t come a day when entire animation studios go out of business or new studios pop up overnight. These types of technology trends take time to develop. They never happen all at once. Cell phones took 40 years to get to where they are now. Modern TV took over a half-century. Expect this kind of technology to take a few decades at the very least.

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However, there’s a lot of money to be made. The rising cost of producing movies is creating a strong incentive to find an easier, cheaper way to create a similar product, minus all the zeroes at the end of the price tag. When there’s that much incentive, then economics usually makes it an inevitability.

That means the first real erotica/romance movie may not be the same live-action piece we saw with “50 Shades of Grey.” It may very well take the form of colorful, sexy animated feature that doesn’t require self-conscious actors or actresses to use body doubles. Maybe one of my own novels will one day take that form. I hope I live long enough to see it.

Again, that day will not be tomorrow. However, this may be the future of erotica/romance. In that sense, Jessica Rabbit may be less a cartoon sex icon and more a prophet. If so, she may go down in history as the sexiest prophet of all time.

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“50 Shades Darker” And The Future Of Erotica/Romance Movies

What can we say about the state of sex in movies that hasn’t already been said by radical feminists and Christian fundamentalists? That’s not an entirely rhetorical question. Sex in cinema is as old as cinema itself. Like every major advancement, we kinky humans just love to take great technological advancements and wonder how we can have sex with it. Why else would sex robots be a thing?

It’s also a very relevant question to ask. Earlier this month, “Fifty Shades Darker” came out in theaters. It’s the sequel to 2015’s “Fifty Shades of Grey.” In terms of erotica/romance in movies, this is basically the alpha dog of the pack. This is the big gun and, in some respects, the only gun with any bullets in the chamber.

Why is that and why does it matter? Well if, at this point, you don’t know about the “Fifty Shades of Grey” phenomenon that started out as Twilight fan fiction, then you’re either just waking up from a coma or are too shy to ask your parents about why they keep ropes under their beds. It shouldn’t be too shocking. It’s not like E. L. James invented erotica literature or BDSM fiction. That has been around longer than movies, TV, or whatever else priests and mullahs thinks are corrupting society.

What makes “Fifty Shades of Grey” so important is that it achieved such staggering success. This wasn’t some niche title that a couple horny housewives read while their husbands were busy fucking their secretaries. This book sold over 5.3 million copies. That’s more than the last Harry Potter book.

For reasons that still baffle and frustrate many, especially in the Catholic Church, this book struck a nerve, among other things. It tapped into our collective libido like few things haven’t outside of Barry White music. The fact it’s finally manifesting in movies should shock no one. Like any form of successful media, Hollywood is going to milk that tit until it’s bone dry.

Now, I’m not going to gloss over some of the obvious here. I know that both “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “Fifty Shades Darker” have been eviscerated by critics. At the moment, “Fifty Shades Darker” has a pathetic 9 percent at Rotten Tomatoes. For some context, the much-maligned Fantastic Four movie that came out in the same year also got a 9 percent. The sequel to that movie was promptly cancelled.

It doesn’t help that the first “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie scored only a 25 percent, but at least that movie can say it made a decent profit. According to BoxOfficeMojo, the first “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie made over $571 million worldwide on a $40 million budget. That’s nothing to scoff at. Even Roger Ebert would admit that.

As a rule of thumb, movies typically need to make double their budget at the box office to turn a profit. By that measure, “Fifty Shades of Grey” succeeded. At the moment, “Fifty Shades Darker” has grossed over $284 million on a $55 budget. It’s not exactly “Avatar” numbers, but it is a profit. Rotten Tomatoes can bitch about it all they want. If a movie makes a profit, then that counts as a success.

It’s the fact that movies like “Fifty Shades of Grey” are turning such a profit that the prospect for erotica/romance in movies is changing. It used to be that if a movie had too many erotic themes on it, it would be doomed to an NC-17 rating or left to whither in late-night time slots on Cinemax.

As a result, not many studios put much effort into these movies. There’s a reason why all those unrated movies or MA-TV series on Cinemax are just glorified softcore porn. Maybe that sort of thing had its place in the days before the internet, but now any 13-year-old can whip out their phones and look up the most hardcore sex acts this side of a German brothel.

Now, thanks to “Fifty Shades of Grey,” studios have a precedent. They now know that there is a market for movies with heavy erotic themes. Unlike cult classics such as “Showgirls,” it can be profitable. It can have a place in a market currently dominated by movies about superheroes and Legos.

That said, being profitable and being good aren’t the same thing. Just ask Michael Bay. Profitable movies that are not well-received will make some short-term profits. In the long run, however, audiences will catch up to the lack of quality and lose interest. Again, just ask Michael Bay.

It’s in the best interest of a studio and a genre for a movie to be both well-received and profitable. That’s how one good X-men movie or one good Iron Man movie can turn a franchise into a full-fledged phenomenon that culminates in a billion-dollar blockbuster.

In some respects, erotica in movies is in a similar place compared to superhero movies. While it’s hard to imagine now in an era where a talking raccoon can benefit from the superhero craze, but there was a time when superhero movies were box office poison.

In the mid-90s, thanks to the misguided efforts of Joel Shumacher, superhero movies and comic book movies were right up there with Paulie Shore in terms of things studios avoided. The idea that superhero movies could be so profitable was just ludicrous. It would only take away vital resources from making more Die Hard rip-offs.

It took a few studios with the balls to take risks, as well as some actual effort beyond just giving Roger Cormen a few bucks, to make superhero movies work. I’m not saying erotica movies can follow the same path, but there is precedent.

There’s also one other factor that’s working in favor of erotica movies and that’s demographics. According to census data, the population of major industrial countries is getting older. That means the market for more adult-oriented media is growing. Sure, kids still have their Disney movies and princess toys, but an older population isn’t going to be content with remakes of old cartoons and “Frozen.”

At some point, a standard PG-13 movie where the blood is CGI and all the boobs are covered just isn’t going to do it for some audiences. They’re going to want something else. The softcore themes of movies like “Showgirls” just doesn’t work anymore, thanks to the impact of internet porn. Tits and ass alone just aren’t enough. For erotica movies to grow, it needs both story and sex appeal.

I say this as someone who is trying to do that with his novels. However, there are already plenty of erotica novels out there that also have rich, engaging stories. I hope to write a few of them in the future with “Passion Relapse” being a stepping stone. For movies, however, the road is a bit longer.

Right now, I get the sense that Hollywood doesn’t know how to make a good erotica movie that doesn’t devolve into softcore porn. While “Fifty Shades of Grey” turned a profit, it’s poor critical reception does not bode well for the long-term prospects of the genre. However, that can change with only one movie. Just ask “Die Hard.”

What kind of movie would that be? Well, if I knew, I’d be working in Hollywood right now scheduling dates with Jennifer Lawrence and Megan Fox. Hollywood has a lot of problems right now and not just because of things like “whitewashing.”

Many Hollywood movies still are somewhat uptight when it comes to certain themes, especially those involving sex. Just look at slasher movies for proof of this. In those movies, characters who dare to be too sexual are often killed or are the villains. It’s extremely sex-negative, albeit indirectly.

For an erotica movie to work on a large scale, it needs to be more sex-positive. Movies like Deadpool were rare exceptions in that it was extremely sex-positive. The fact it was such a successful movie definitely helped.

It also needs actors and actresses who are just as sex-positive in spirit. That means those who rely on body doubles for nude scenes probably wouldn’t fit the role. That may be challenging because collectively, our culture still reacts like school-girls around a sick puppy when celebrities dare to show a nipple. However, I do believe that with demographics and more movies like “Fifty Shades of Grey,” this attitude will evolve.

At some point in every movie genre, there’s a moment where the situation is just right to get it going. The current situation isn’t quite there for “Fifty Shades of Grey,” but I do believe it’s much closer than we think. I, for one, intend to have plenty of loose pants handy for when that day finally comes.

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Deadpool: A Valentine’s Day Classic

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d also celebrate the one-year anniversary of a true Valentine’s Day classic. No, I’m not talking about “Love Actually” or “Titanic.” I’m talking about the greatest romance movie in a generation. Yes, I’m talking about Deadpool. As it just so happens, Valentine’s Day marks the one-year anniversary of this wonderful accomplishment of sexy superhero cinema.

I’ve already made my love of all things Deadpool quite clear on this blog. He’s unique in so many ways and not just because he actually tried to have sex with the embodiment of Death in the comics. He completely upends the traditional tenants of superhero movies and romance movies in general.

In many respects, the Deadpool movie has the most balanced romance in all of superhero movies. Considering how the other X-men movies relied on some of the most god-awful love triangles in the history of romance, that says a lot.

You want a love story between two people that is sex-positive, sincere, and fun? You want a love story that pushes them to be better without fundamentally changing who they are? you want a love story that’s fun and entertaining in a way that men and women alike can appreciate? Well, Deadpool checks all those boxes and shoots the ones he can’t.

So to all those lovers out there looking for the perfect Valentine’s Day movie, Deadpool is the way to go. It has everything you want in a romance, including gratuitous nudity, obscene language, excessive violence, and heartfelt passion. If that combination doesn’t get you horny, then I don’t know what will.

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How NOT Tell A Love Story: The Cautionary Tale Of “Passengers”

We live in an era where it’s impossible to hide a twist ending to a movie. Movies like “The Empire Strikes Back” or “The Sixth Sense” simply could not be made today and have the same impact. As soon as someone sees it, they just tweet the ending and it’s spoiled for everybody. Even those without social media can’t avoid it.

You could argue whether or not this is a good thing from now and until our robot overlords enslave us. I’m not going to have that argument here. It’s not an argument anyone can win, let alone an aspiring erotica/romance writer. However, this era of excessive spoilers does sometimes pay off, if only in the sense that it saves you a few bucks here and there.

This brings me to the movie, “Passengers.” It stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, two big time Hollywood stars that are at the top of their game at the moment. I’ve made my love of Jennifer Lawrence very apparent many times here on this blog and it’s not just because she walked around naked in an X-men movie, although that definitely helps.

Now I love Chris Pratt too for his role in “Parks and Recreation” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but I’d much rather see Jennifer Lawrence naked and covered in blue paint. That’s just me though.

So with two acting talents like this, I was naturally excited about the prospect of “Passengers.” It’s a sci-fi movie with a lot of sci-fi elements, from interstellar travel to conflicts involving how mankind goes about traveling the stars. It also is heavy on romance, which definitely appeals to me as an erotica/romance writer. After seeing the trailer, I was tempted to reserve my ticket right then and there.

Then, I read the spoilers. I found out that there’s a very important detail that this trailer leaves out. I won’t go into the full scope of that detail, but I’ll just keep it simple. This whole movie is just one big case study in Stockholm Syndrome romance and personally, that just doesn’t appeal to me.

What is the Stockholm Syndrome? Well, if you saw Beauty and the Beast as a kid, then you already know, but didn’t realize it. It’s when a hostage begins developing sympathetic, almost affectionate feelings for their captors. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. In fact, it makes perfect sense with caveman logic.

For centuries, we lived in small bands of tribes. Those tribes didn’t always get along with other tribes. Sometimes those tribes fought one another and took captives. Psychologically, this is pretty damn stressful for some people. Our brains, wired only to help us survive and reproduce, developed a mechanism to help us cope. Just being upset and terrified all the goddamn time isn’t a productive use or resources.

While it makes sense with respect to caveman logic, it also makes for a really shitty love story. This is not “Titanic.” This isn’t even “50 Shades of Grey.” At least Anastasia Steel willingly entered Christian Grey’s world of BDSM. The characters in “Passengers” didn’t get to choose shit and when they did, they chose badly.

Now based on the spoilers I read, there is a concerted effort to redeem the characters. There’s even a concerted effort to make a happy ending. However, as the Rotten Tomatoes score for the movie shows, it didn’t really work.

What happens here is that Chris Pratt’s character basically dooms Jennifer Lawrence’s character and he does it for all the wrong reasons. He just does it because he’s lonely and losing his goddamn mind. That’s understandable when you’re marooned, lonely, and lacking in some of your most basic needs as a human. However, it’s worth restating that this is a awful way of establishing a romance.

Even “Beauty and the Beast” did a better job of twisting the Stockholm Syndrome premise just enough to feel genuine. There’s none of that here. There’s nothing Pratt’s character can do to redeem himself. He effectively killed someone just because he was lonely and basically tried to lie, cheat, and justify his actions. That’s not romance. That’s making excuses.

As a result, I’m not seeing this movie. That’s not the kind of romance I care for. It sends the message that if two people are stuck together in isolation, then eventually they’ll fall in love, no matter what sort of lies and atrocities are committed behind the scene. I like to think genuine love is a bit more complex than that.

This movie sends a message that someone can just randomly pick another person and get that person to fall in love with them. I’m not a love expert by any stretch, but even I know human emotions aren’t that basic. A love story based on that premise can only ever be forced and nothing is less sexy than a forced romance.

Now there may be other factors involved in how this movie played out. The premise of the movie might not be the same as the result of the movie. I’m not qualified to speculate, but the folks at Midnight’s Edge, a YouTube channel I follow that digs into Hollywood news, do a great job of breaking it down.

Overall, it’s times like this where I’m grateful we live in a world of abundant spoilers. If this movie came out in the mid-90s, I probably wouldn’t have realized the flaws in this movie until after I bought the ticket. Thanks to spoilers, I saved myself money that could be better spent on whiskey and comics.

Now I don’t want to give the impression that my distaste for this movie is because of some radical feminist concept of men manipulating women for their own ends. I’ve made it clear on this blog that I take issue with a lot of firebrand feminism. My aversion to this movie has more to do with how poorly it handles romance.

As an erotica/romance writer, I feel like my standards for solid romance are a bit higher. Maybe that’s just a byproduct of writing about it so damn much, but it means forced romances like “Passengers” just don’t do it for me. I think Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence deserve better. Hopefully, they’ll get a chance in a future movie.

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