Writers or Actors – who gets you to watch? (Weekend Assignment #281)

In this Assignment, Karen has asked what lures us to watch what’s onscreen – the people we see there, or the ones behind the scenes.

Weekend Assignment: #281: Who has a greater impact on your decision to go to a movie or watch a tv show, the actors you see on the screen, or the behind the scenes writers, producers and/or directors?

Extra Credit: Who is your favorite actor?

I’ve said it before, and here’s another chance to say it: I really have trouble with questions that ask me to name my one favorite anything. I honestly don’t think I have a favorite actor these days, since I can’t think of anyone whose film or TV appearances are always must-sees for me. It depends on what they’re appearing in – if the project itself doesn’t grab me, I’ll probably give it a pass.

Given that answer to the extra-credit question, it seems like my answer to the first question would be the “behind the scenes” people…and if I think about it a little more, that’s probably right. Since I spend most of my non-watching time reading, it makes sense that I would have an affinity for the people who create the premises, develop the settings and themes, and put the words in the characters’ mouths. The actors bring those characters and words to life, and when the part is cast just right – when you truly can’t imagine someone else in the role – they’re integral to the project. But without the writers, producers, and directors – who sometimes overlap in two or even three of those roles – there would be no project in the first place.

There’s a reason that Hollywood promotes movies and TV shows as “from (award-winning) director so-and-so” or “from the team who brought you such-and-such” or “the fourth film from writer/director whatshisface” (which, come to think of it, is about the only time the “writer” part gets mentioned – not fair!). It refers to a track record, and provides an easy marketing hook. If the potential audience is familiar with the work previously associated with the creative people behind the show, it’s a quick way to intrigue them – or help them decide quickly that this one’s not for them. Granted, past performance is no guarantee of future results, in entertainment or anything else. Aaron Sorkin created Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, but it was definitely not the second coming of The West Wing; still, those of us who loved The West Wing are likely to at least give any new efforts of his a chance. Dedicated Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans will check out pretty much anything Joss Whedon is involved with. And while I was dubious about the entire prospect of the new Star Trek movie at first, I was willing to put my faith in J. J. Abrams. (My son Chris, on the other hand, had the opposite reaction; he still has not forgiven the last couple of seasons of Alias, so his expectations were very low. A track record can cut both ways.)

Overall, I’d say the story has more to do with my decision to see a particular movie or watch a certain TV show than anything else. Since that comes from the people behind the scenes – not the ones acting it out in front of the camera – they’re the ones who bring me in. What about you?

As always, the Weekend Assignment is hosted by Karen Funk Blocher at Outpost Mavarin.

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  1. Amy Reads – I wish I had a few actors like that, but I really couldn't think of any. Meryl Streep's worth seeing in nearly anything, though.

  2. It has to be a gestalt thing — I consider the whole before shelling out to see a movie in a theater. I like Harrison Ford but he's not enough to make me watch a movie! There has to be a plot, some hint of competant writing and direction, appropriate special effects where needed.

    Oh, and I actually need to have time to see it.

    Tell you what though, Netflix has sure changed our viewing habits. You know they've got lots of movies you can stream? Just decide to watch, hit a button, and enjoy the popcorn!

  3. It's a tough call. Sometimes i would give a movie a chance because of an actor, but it has to sound decent at least. Writers/directors are a little harder since sometimes they are attched to a project then leave before it is finished. It's hard to tell how much influence they may or may not have.

    Oh, and thanks for the link!

    Now to go see the fifth (or sixth) Tarintino movie. 🙂

  4. Bridget (ShortWoman) – We still haven't gotten into Netflix, so I didn't know about the streaming.

    Mike – Good point about the times that a writer/director doesn't stay with a project – although there are times when that's actually worked out better for the movie. I think. Don't ask me for examples right now – I'm tired :-).

  5. Marketing something as the "fourth film from" so-and-so struck me as odd, too, but your track record point is a good one. And "track record" doesn't necessarily mean commercial success. There are writers and producers I like who have a marked tendency to make excellent but short-lived shows.

    Maybe it's just that we're a rather literary bunch, but I'm surprised and pleased that people are mostly more interested in the writers than the actors.

  6. Karen – This is true. Sometimes the track record is one more of artistic cred and critical success, but I think sometimes Hollywood wants to market to the smaller sect of the audience that values those too.

  7. Some great comments. Adding to my original, I won't touch most movies that are gory or graphic. I think those types of films do a great job at desensitizing people to the real thing. Jurassic Park was an exception. There was some shock value in it but the movie was more a thriller than a gore flick.

    The characters is the main reason I stick with SVU on TV even though it has some gore – mostly reserved for the first 5 or 10 minutes. Then it's the story and the characters.

    There aren't too many shows on TV that have distinct characterizations. Most characters could be interchanged with any of the actors on that show.

    Meryl Streep. I love her and will see just about anything she does. She's so versatile. BUT she is also a most intelligent lady and picks great projects to work in, so I'm sure it's the story and the script that draws her in.

    On TV, I stay tuned to the characters and story but it's hard to keep me around for the medical dramas, even if they have good characters and scripts.

    House is totally character-driven as was Boston Legal but I'm more inclined to watch a Boston Legal than a House. The ailment of the week becomes boring after awhile. Murphy Brown was another show I watched for script and character rather than actor. I wish they would release more seasons of Murphy Brown on DVD. Season 1, which they did release, was the weakest season of all.

    As for movies, I am much more selective now than I ever was because so much out there is drek. Horror, gore, toilet humor – nothing worth spending money or time on. I was really thrown by the toilet humor in Monsters VS Aliens. Gave that movie an F for that and was sorry I saw it.

  8. Jo – Nice to meet you!

    I agree with your comments about watching TV shows for the characters, and seeing how they develop. It almost becomes a relationship over time.