Unfortunately, everything I’ve seen from him recently has been utter garbage. In the last few months I’ve watched Lucy (with Scarlett Johansson), Lockout, and this evening, Brick Mansions (one of the late Paul Walker‘s final movies), all of which reeked with poor storytelling.
I can’t say for sure that it’s entirely his fault, but Brick Mansions was mostly terrible, as were Lucy and Lockout. Taken 2 (also written by Luc) was mediocre and definitely a letdown compared to the first one. While I can’t pinpoint why his stories have tanked recently, the fact that he continues to get work suggests five key things that I think we authors/creative types can learn from:
1. If you start with a bang, people will give you lots and lots of chances. The Fifth Element, Taken, and Leon: The Professional are all solid films, and Luc deserves credit for those being good. Because of his early success with these films, people with money continue to fund and finance his stories, and they continue to get made into movies and television shows. Just look at Luc Besson’s IMDB page and you’ll see what I mean.
The takeaway here is to lead with your strongest work. If it meets with success, then you’ll have plenty of ground to stand on when it’s time for someone to publish or produce your next work. You’ll have something that you can point to for several years when you’re pitching to publishers or producers as evidence that you deserve another chance to create something great.
2. Get good at selling. Luc Besson must be a great salesman. He must. Why else would top actors like Liam Neeson, Jason Statham, and Scarlett Johansson sign on to work on his films? Why else would producers finance these films, despite many of his recent ones amounting to steaming piles of garbage?
Sidebar: You can say that I’m being unfair or that I’m jealous of his success. To that I challenge you to sit down, watch Brick Mansions, and explain to me why that’s a good movie on any level aside from some cool stunts. I could write an entire post on why it’s terrible, but in the end, that doesn’t matter because it’s a movie that got made. See #5 in this post for more info on my perspective.
My point here is this: if you’re good at selling people, you can achieve greater levels of success than folks who are talented creative types but who can’t effectively market/share their work.
3. Don’t give up. Luc Besson keeps writing stuff, though I’m beginning to think he shouldn’t. He isn’t content to stop and rest on his laurels.
This is different than being able to highlight the good work he’s done in the past. While I’m sure he gets some residual income from some of his older movies, he’s clearly not done creating more content to be produced.
Is it all great? Certainly not. I think he’s getting worse as he goes along (though I haven’t seen Taken 3 yet), but he keeps writing/creating nonetheless. As should we all.
4. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Let’s face it–if his last three movies hadn’t sucked, I wouldn’t be writing a blog post about him. Luc Besson’s recent movies haven’t lived up to the standards he set with Taken, Leon: The Professional, and The Fifth Element.
Given his successes with these earlier movies, I’m not sure if he just doesn’t know how to structure a story or how to develop characters realistically. Maybe various directors’ or casting persons’ choices have skewed the quality of his more recent movies. It could be (and likely is) that a combination of multiple issues contributed to the mind-numbing disaster that is Brick Mansions or the confusing, poorly-executed-but-should-have-been-awesome Lucy.
As writers, all we can really do is control what we can control. We can control our stories as they come alive through our fingertips while typing at the keyboard. We can control how our characters behave (to an extent), how they interact with each other, and what they say. We can control the settings and the conflicts around them, and we can control how a story begins, develops, and ends.
We can’t always control how a producer/director/editor/publisher will take our story, mess with it, and turn it into something that doesn’t line up with what we originally envisioned and created. We can, however, throw a mighty fit when we feel that our work is being misrepresented or damaged by someone else’s involvement, just like how Alan Moore refused to see The Watchmen when it came out as a movie, despite being one of the original comic’s authors.
There’s always the option to not sell your work to people who intend to crucify it in some vain attempt to make it more appealing to the masses. Maybe that’s what Luc Besson should have done with some of these later movies–or maybe he just stopped writing quality material. It’s hard to say.
5. If he can accomplish this, how much more can you and I accomplish? I always take it as encouragement when some movie that never should have been made shows up on my Netflix cue. It’s even better when I watch them and realize that someone out there spent millions of dollars getting that terrible movie made.
Think of what that means for you and me, my fellow creative-types. If we can produce better quality stuff than these yahoos, it’s just a matter of time before we’re running the creative industry. Surely I can write a better, more cohesive story (click that link to download it for FREE by signing up for my author newsletter) than Luc Besson.
At the end of the day, the task of writing rests solely in the hands of the author. We may not all achieve success (followed by what I would classify as glaring failures) like Luc Besson has, but we can at least learn from his career and make adjustments to our own creative lives and processes to ensure that what we produce is high quality and worthwhile. That’s the approach I’m taking, anyway.
And yes, I will probably watch more Luc Besson movies, if for no other reason than I can shake my head at them and learn from their mistakes. Every movie, book, etc. is an opportunity to learn, after all.