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Christopher McQuarrie is responsible for two of the best action movies in recent memory. Specifically, he directed the last two entries in the Mission: Impossible franchise. Making a pair of back to back successful films like that isn't easy, which would make it seem like McQuarrie has something of a special formula for making Mission: Impossible movies work. In a way, it seems he does. According to McQuarrie, it all comes down to how you treat the audience...
It sounds like a fairly simple philosophy, and yet, actually executing on it is clearly difficult, or every movie would be great. Christopher McQuarrie explains the way he writes to the New York Times. He goes into the process knowing the audience wants him to succeed, we all want to see great movies after all. However, he never lets that knowledge let him take the audience for granted.
There's a lot of truth in that. Especially when it comes to action movies or genre films. The people in the theater have come because they expect to have a good time. If you've come to see the next Mission: Impossible film, then you have an expectation of some pretty impressive practical action highlighting your espionage movie. However, if you expect the audience will just be happy with whatever they get just because it has a Mission: Impossible title at the beginning, then you'll set yourself up for failure. You still need to do the work to make sure what you produce is something special.
While times have changed, there was clearly a time when these lessons were not heeded by many. Numerous bad movies have been made over the years by people who clearly assumed that simply by sticking a popular name in the title, the audience would come and accept what was provided. That's taking your audience for granted. Of course, bad movies still happen, but for the most part genre movies have achieved a level of respect that prevents them from being overlooked like that.
Christopher McQuarrie points out that the audience has "seen it all before" which is a telling statement because the Mission: Impossible films have certainly prided themselves on trying to show the audience something they've never seen before. In McQ's most recent film, Mission: Impossible - Fallout, that included seeing Tom Cruise HALO jump out of an airplane, something literally no actor had ever done before.
These ideas are certainly valid beyond simply making a Mission: Impossible movie. They work for pretty much any great movie. And once a writer accomplishes them, as McQuarrie says, the audience can be grabbed by the throat, and they'll go along quite happily.
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