Category Archives: Burn Hollywood Burn

A Hollywood Reader’s Notes on “Get Out”

Get Out is a horror/comedy film, written and directed by Jordan Peele, of sketch comedy duo Key & Peele.  It tells the story of a young black man meeting his white girlfriend’s rich liberal parents for the first time.  However, not everything is as ideal as it appears, and a sinister plot is soon revealed.

Get Out is Peele’s first feature film, and is written and directed with a surprising confidence and competence, injecting a well-balanced element of social commentary that deftly portrays the experience of young black men in contemporary America.  Any genre aficionado knows that social commentary themes are often present in horror and science fiction.

The film was produced by Blumhouse, a studio known for low budget horror (Paranormal Activity, Sinister, Insidious, etc) and made for a budget of $5 million.  A modest amount by Hollywood standards, but it must have felt like a fortune to Peele, coming from TV sketch comedy.  Get Out grossed $30 million on its first weekend.  As of this writing it has a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is well on its way to breaking $150 million.  By any account, a huge success, and deservedly so.

Often when I see a film like Get Out — an unusual film that finds great success despite, or perhaps because of, defying Hollywood genre  conventions — I imagine what kind of notes the script would have received from studio readers and executives, that shadowy cabal of gatekeepers and tastemakers who daily crush many an aspiring filmmaker’s dream.

Readers are notoriously risk averse, and generally repulsed by anything “too original”, instead looking for established (i.e. overused) genre conventions, formulaic structural dogma, and existing properties with built-in audiences, when evaluating the potential of any material.

It’s also well known that most readers have the heart of a writer, which they keep in a jar on their desk.

In that spirit, I present:


The tone is inconsistent, mixing horror and comedy.  Not sure if this is supposed to be scary or funny.

Protagonist is passive for most of the film.  Things happen to him, instead of him being the prime motivator of the story.  He doesn’t really act in any significant way until the very end of the script.

The “comic relief” character is removed from the main characters and central story, and only interacts with them on the phone, until the very end.  Constantly cutting back to him to deliver exposition is distracting, and slows the pace down.

Some of the logic of the premise breaks down, mixing hypnotism and brain transplant surgery.  If the brains are transplanted, how does the victim’s suppressed personality remain?  Doesn’t make sense.

Does it have to be about black people?  It stretches credibility that old rich white people would want to be transplanted into black people’s bodies.  This “social commentary” element seems grafted on, and distracts from the central story.

There is the core of an interesting science fiction/horror premise here, but the script is undermined by an unnecessary and heavy-handed “social commentary” theme.

Not sure that a young black man can carry a horror movie.  This goes against convention.  A niche market with small box office potential.

Not a good fit for Blumhouse, which primarily focuses on stories about white people in haunted houses.


Films, Games, Apples, and Oranges

“Once we start seeing video games that have more memorable characters, you’ll see better movie adaptations.”
– David S. Goyer

What’s the story of Tetris?  

Success disappears, and failure piles up.

Games are fundamentally about rules, mechanics, and agency.  Players interact with the game’s system, and sometimes other players, with as much freedom as the game’s rule set allows.  It is this interactivity that makes games a unique form of media.

Other mediums are passively observed or experienced.  The individual’s imagination is engaged in terms of interpretation, inference, or extrapolation, “filling in the blanks” of the world, character motivations, consequences of action, etc., and the most successful storytelling includes lots of hooks for the audience to “hang their imaginations on,” increasing involvement, engagement, and investment.  But no matter how much “engagement” there is between media and audience, no amount will change the media in any way.  The pictures, words, and stories in other media remain immutable.  Paintings, books, movies, and music are impervious to audience input or reaction.  A possible exception is performance, but even then it is the performer who responds to audience, not the work itself.

Games, on the other hand, are all about interactivity.  Whether a computer game, a board game, or a card game, games are fundamentally responsive to player action and reaction.  In fact, input-output is the foundation of the game loop.  Games accept and often expect audience input, receiving it through a keyboard and mouse, controller, touch screen, or Kinect sensor.  The game system integrates player(s) input, running it through the rule set or simulation, and generates output, which is presented to the player(s) as a moving image, sound, or configuration.

In computer games, this is ideally done at least thirty times a second.

Many games feature a traditional “plot and character” driven linear narrative, especially single player games.  Stories are often presented using techniques borrowed from other storytelling forms, like cinema or prose.  However, even games without direct storytelling tend to depict fictional contexts, in terms of world, characters, setting, or tone.  These “light story, heavy context” games provide tons of hooks for the players to hang their imaginations on.

Those hooks are the scaffolding that supports the story the player “makes up” as they play the game.  The imagined connective tissue between action, result, and reaction, that creates a contiguous chronological history of individual interactions with the game system.  The most important and memorable story a player experiences is not a traditional narrative, even when a game relates one.  The story a player remembers and tells others after playing a game is not “Mario saved the Princess,” or “Chell destroyed GladOS,” or “Link defeated Ganendorf.”  It’s a story that goes something like, “We were down to one health potion, and no town portal scrolls, when we walked right into the dragon’s chamber.  It wiped out the entire party before I used my last bit of mana and killed it with a lightning spell.”

Game stories are the history of the player’s experience interacting with the game system.

Game developers should keep this in mind, especially those guilty of filling their interactive experiences with passive cinematics or text that many players just button mash through, to get back to that experiential interaction.  Yes,  Hideo Kojima, I’m looking in your direction.

Many of these ideas are discussed at greater length in an excellent article by Terence Lee of Hitbox Team, “Designing game narrative” at

That said, game developers sometimes do want to simply tell a story.  When that’s the case, they are wiser to work in a media more suited to storytelling, like film, graphic novel, short story, etc.  Focussing primarily on character and story in game development guarantees a weak game, just as failing to focus primarily on those elements when writing a screenplay results in a weak movie.  The goals are different, as are the measurements of success.

This is the mistake made by Goyer — and many people in both films and games — who compare the mediums directly, when they are apples and oranges.  I can illuminate this mistake by simply saying, “Once we start seeing movies that have better upgrade systems, you’ll see better game adaptations.”  This is why movie adaptations of games often fail, and likewise, game adaptations of movies.  The adapters do not understand what elements are compelling in the source material, and how to best bring them to a different media.  Lack of a “memorable character” or “story” of any kind in a game is simply not a failure.  Period.  

These elements do not contribute to the success of the game as a game.  

This is like a translator complaining, “If they would just use more English words, my job would be so much easier!”

Any failure is the translator’s alone.

Bren Lynne is a game developer with 20 years experience designing games, and an aspiring filmmaker and screenwriter.  This post is adapted in part from the Foreword to “Side Stories: Short Fiction by Game Developers”.