How much do audiences care about realism in crime thrillers?

ironpony

New member
Well when it comes to thrillers and how I am writing this one, one thing reader's tell me, is I am not being realistic enough. But how important is realize in a screenplay, since many movies bend realism for drama?

For example, in the movie The French Connection (1971), Popeye Doyle, after being shot at, commandeers a civilian's car, and and drives after the shooter.

This is not realistic police procedure, since in real life, a cop is not illegally allowed to "commandeer" a car, and they have to make a phone call, and send other cops after the shooter instead, and wait to see what happens. The reason why they broke this law for the story, is that it's more exciting to see the hero in a high speed chase after the villain himself, as oppose to relying on others.

In the movie Ransom (1996), Mel Gibson's character is a father who's son has been kidnapped. He fears that if he pays the ransom that the kidnappers will kill his son and not return him. So he puts out a four million dollar bounty on the kidnappers, and says "dead or alive". But in real U.S. law a citizen cannot kill someone to collect on a bounty, especially if the suspect, has not been convicted yet.

In the movie The Negotiator (1998), a cop is framed for murder, and has his own police force after him. In order to prove his innocence, he finds out who the real killer is by threatening to kill him if he doesn't talk, then when he talk. Then when the hero gets the info he needs, he goes to the villain's house, breaks in, and attempts to remove the evidence to prove who the real killer is. This leads to a police stand off, and the hero manages to trick other villain cops into incriminating himself and he records it.

(for some reason when I try to write out nineteen-ninety-eight in numbers, a happy face comes up unintentionally, just in case anyone was wondering)

After the dirty cops are recorded incriminating themselves, the honest police then handcuff them and arrest them. However, since the MC got the evidence through threats of death, and breaking and entering, the evidence cannot be used in court cause he broke the fourth and fifth amendment, and it would be 'fruit of the poisonous tree'.

The movie ends with the police cuffing the real killers. But even though the real killers, murdered a cop, would the police really cuff them, knowing full well that the evidence, will not be admissible in court? Why bother? The movie ends, giving the audience the impression that the hero got the real killers, when realistically the cop killers would be back on the streets, and the police full well know it.

In season 5 of 24, Jack Bauer was able to arrest the terrorists after, recording conversations as proof, but he recorded it on his own, without obtaining a wire tap order, so an arrest would not be able to follow legally.

In the movie The Departed (2006), the police follow Costello and his men, to a drug selling transaction. Once the police see them do the drug deal, they send in a SWAT team to swarm in and arrest everyone. This causes the villains to pull out their guns and open fire on the police, causing a big gunfight.

This is also unrealistic, cause in real life, the police, do not arrest everyone after the drug deal. Instead they would wait till all the culprits went home, and they would send officers to arrest all the culprits, individually, while each one is alone.

The reason why the police wait for this, is so they do not have to engage the culprits all in a firefight, while they all together, as a team of armed men. It's easier to fight one armed man at a time, rather than them all together as a whole. But the writers break this rule as a means to have a big exciting shoot out.

In the movie Cell 211 (2009), prisoners have broken out of their cells and taken all the guards hostage. They will kill the guards as well as other prisoners if their demands are not met.

After a long stand off, the police offer to pardon the leader of the hostage takers, if the leader kills his fellow men, and saves the hostages.

This is also not realistic as the police are not allowed to offer pardons, to a hostage, taker, in exchange for the hostage taker to kill his own men. That is not allowed cause it puts the hostages in possibly more danger, even if the pardon comes from the leader of the nation himself, it's still against real protocol.

The reason why the writers wrote it this way is cause it makes for one hell of a suspense scenario to play with.

So when it comes to readers saying my story lacks realism, what are the rules when it comes to bending it, for the sake of drama, like other moves do?

I wrote some drafts to a script and am making several changes now. I was told by readers that they felt the premise didn't work cause they felt it was too unrealistic.

In the story, a cop who wants revenge on a serial killer type villain, is willing to do whatever it takes to get it, including planting evidence and framing, in order to get the killer off the streets.

But I was told it was unrealistic, cause any evidence the cop has to acquire would mean he would have to brake the killer's fourth amendment rights, since he is acting on his own, without warrants, and it's not even his case, and he is making it personal.

This is true, but is possible for this premise to work, and disregard the law, like other movies and other works of fiction do?
 
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Kim Welch

Senior Member
Staff member
I think your basicly right. There is a notion that when people go to watch a movie they are willing to temporarily suspend disbelief. As long as nothing jars them out of it they will stay in this mode. So, as long as the story flows I think it's ok if cops take cars and break laws consistantly all is good. Bad sound bad camera movements and those kinds of things are more serious.
 

Jared Isham

Moderator
I would guess that the reason people say the story lacks realism is that you may have not built proper context for the to believe it. You can do anything you want in a screenplay but for people to get on board and believe it you have to make sure they understand the world the story takes place in (by world I don't earth or planet, fantasy place, etc.). Were there laws passed in your world, certain events, public figures, everything that the reader must know in order to understand your story. Make that as clear as possible as soon as possible. Give your characters clear goals with high stakes and make those evident a s soon as possible as well.

It may just be a disconnect in understanding the story you are trying to tell. An extreme example: you write a horror and people think it is a comedy - something happened in defining your world or building context there.
 

ironpony

New member
Okay thanks. Well the first half relies a lot more on legal technicalities to the tell the story. The first half is a courtroom thriller more, so, then the last half turns into a revenge thriller, where the technicalities are more disregarded.

Could this perhaps be the problem with readers?
 

Jared Isham

Moderator
Possibly. It sounds like you may be trying to cram too much into one story. Sounds like there is potential of not having clear cut goals for your characters. Just make sure your characters have a single goal they are trying to achieve, may provide for more character development instead of explaining your story. You may have all that just worth checking. Ask some of your readers what they thought the characters goals were. That might help identify problems.
 

ironpony

New member
Okay thanks for the advice.

In what way does it sound like there may be too many ideas, and that the goals may be unclear, just so I know?

And I don't think the readers had a problem with the character's goals. They just said that they had a problem with their goals being unreachable in the legal system, that would prevent it from happening. So I think the system is the problem and not the goals, from what I gather.
 

Jared Isham

Moderator
Often times switching between genres, courtroom thriller to revenge thriller the character goals may change and confuse an audience. But there are no rules saying you can't do that. It sounds like from your previous post, that you spend a lot of time crating context for your story. This is good to establish so that the reader follows, perhaps you need to have a technical pass done to make sure things work with the legal system if that is what you are basing your world around.

There is a chance you can get away with things if you try presenting your goals sooner. Maybe mix the context with the conflict.

To clarify the breaking bad scenario. I heard that they would decide what they wanted Walter White to do (let's say set a car on fire) then the would throw different scenarios at him (all in the writers room, this is just the brainstorming stage) until they felt his response would be the one they were hoping for (setting a car on fire). Hope that helps.
 

ironpony

New member
Okay thanks for the advice. Well in my story, in order for any type of revenge plan to work to bring a killer to justice, the main character cop has to either try to find a way around the fourth amendment law, or I would have to throw the law out of the story altogether and pretend that it doesn't exist.

It's just it may make the story seem hypocritical cause the first half relies a lot on the law, to catch the killer, but also to get the killer to go free later. But then the second half, I have to disregard the law for any revenge plan to work on the MC's part.

Mainly the fourth amendment keeps getting in the way of the plot I find. When you say I should present goals sooner, do you mean the villains' goals or the MC's?
 

Jared Isham

Moderator
When I am writing I usually ask myself a series of questions in attempt to fix any problems I have. When in the script is it clear the goals/intentions of the characters? Can I make that point come sooner? If not, can I move the "context" before that point into the body of the scene/story?

In my opinion, I think it is totally okay for a character to "break laws" in order to get to their goal. I don't see anything unbelievable about someone who is a law abiding citizen break the laws, you just have to make sure the stakes for the character are high enough in order to make it believable. If the character wants donuts not likely they will break the law to get them. If it is to save a dying son or spouse, then maybe the stakes will be high enough for the character to break the law.

This all is part of the context.
 

ironpony

New member
Okay thanks. Well I think from readers have told me, they do not have as much of a problem with the MC breaking laws to catch the villains, it's the fact that it works, that they have a problem with. If an MC records a conversation without a wire tap order, the evidence cannot be used. If an MC searches a cellphone and finds information, without probable cause, or a warrant to legalize the search, the evidence cannot be used.

So the plot hole is, is that none of the evidence can be used and the villain would go free, which he doesn't and that's the plot hole I was told. If that is the case with readers, then the MC breaking the law is useless.
 

Jared Isham

Moderator
A question I have then, what if the villian does go free? That would be the worse thing for the character, right? That would make the reader guessing maybe? Make the worst possible thing happen for your characters and you will likely have people guessing.
 

ironpony

New member
Well the villain goes free at the end of the first half. Why? Are you saying that the villain should perhaps go free again later, when the MC breaks laws to catch him?
 

Jared Isham

Moderator
Ah, thought he went free because of the invalid evidence. If that is the case, how does he get caught at the end? Another court case or is he killed? I would workshop the problems you have until you have some ideas to work with.
 

ironpony

New member
Well that is just it. He goes free halfway through cause of a lack of valid evidence. So the MC takes matters into his own hands. I wrote it so that he got caught by the MC taking matters into his own hands and recording conversations and getting evidence from cellphones. But legally it doesn't fly cause he would get off again, since the MC is breaking the fourth amendment. But since the villain has committed his crimes in private, the MC would have to invade privacy to get any evidence, and that is the paradox. I cannot find a way around the fourth amendment issue. So I am not sure how it ends therefore, and in my legal research I keep ending up at that same paradox, since the law is written pretty tight.
 

Jared Isham

Moderator
That's gonna be something you'll probably have to figure out, it may mean you'll need to change elements of your story so that it works. I honestly can't give you any suggestions without having read through the script. My suggestions probably would be useful if I did. I would just say to keep working at it until you get a break through. Screenwriting is a marathon not a sprint and you have to continually condition yourself, so keep at it.
 

ironpony

New member
Okay thanks. Well I have read some law articles and the fourth amendment itself, and there really is no way around this law for my plot.

The villain has already been found not guilty, earlier in the story, so the MC cop, cannot get any search warrants or wire tap orders in order from that point on.

So if this is the case, I am wondering how much I should apply legal realism to the story.
 

Kim Welch

Senior Member
Staff member
Thank you Jared. I get a lot our of your posts. Ive been working on a couple of things and making only incremental progress on them. It's hard for me to keep it at the top of the list of my things to do with the websites and magazines. I think I'm going to have to make them more of a priority and like you said look at it like marathon not a sprint.
 
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