Dog Days at the Movies: New Perceptions and the Psychology of Better Screenwriting

Seriously, Sirius in relation to Dog Days.
Seriously, Sirius in relation to Dog Days.

When I wrote for Yahoo! Movies through Yahoo! Contributor Network earlier this decade, I once took on the complicated subject of Dog Days at the movies and ended up going in an unexpected direction. I equated the rise of the star Sirius as a subtle sign of hope that two different Dog Days could coalesce. To wit, I asked people to visit their local movie theaters in August and prove the Dog Days concept wrong. It was perhaps the only time anyone saw astronomy and movies consolidate into a forced attempt toward a celestial sign helping the cinematic arts.

At the time the piece was written, it was a delusion to think the era of Dog Days for movies could ever end. Perceptions persisted for decades by that point about how late July-early August was the official “dump months” (as it’s called in movie parlance) as an allegorical cornfield for all bad movies.

A couple of years after I wrote that piece, new analysis started popping up in the media asking whether the movie industry’s Dog Days were really a misunderstood concept all along. It was equivalent to finally comprehending an elusive scientific conundrum, despite the answer staring us in the face for decades.

The movies have frequently blinded us to accepting certain things, only because they’ve been such a persuasive element of pop culture. Our perceptions transformed quickly on the concept of Dog Days once big-budgeted movies started being relegated to the winter season. Moviegoers saw evidence of this already in the 1970s and ‘80s when the patterns of wooing Oscar meant cramming everything into a fall or winter window.

By the 1980s, we saw evidence of how the summer movie season opened the underworld gates to the studio leftovers in August. Even with a few exceptions, we’ve seen a good 35-40 years of movies that continually bomb in August, which placed us on automatic pilot about what later summer expectations were.

Then something happened last year that changed these perceptions. “Guardians of the Galaxy” managed to become a major success at the box office in the first week of August. While this might not seem surprising for a superhero movie with true star power, it obliterated the idea that no one goes to the movies in August with assumptions there isn’t anything worth seeing.

It’s puzzling why it began this way in the first place when August is the final gasp of summer and people need new entertainment to fix their late summer blues. Kids are about ready to head back to school and sometimes deal with inexorable vacation boredom. Adults probably need a vacation from their vacation before perhaps heading back to work in September.

So does that mean August’s Dog Days at the movies are probably over? The true litmus test comes in what happens this year and the next few Augusts. We have to question whether screenwriters took the perception that some of their movies will inevitably end up in the scrap heap of late summer and continue to write them in cookie cutter ways. All of this may be the result of why screenwriting has been so mediocre lately in the mainstream. I base this on the prospect of screenwriters knowing their screenplays will still be sold and released in a time frame away from the Oscars as basic filler.

With that in mind, the prospect for more success in August could alter the mind state of writers and everyone in the industry toward more inspiration. One thing I’ve learned as a working writer is that you need unexpected stimuli to sometimes inspire you toward fresher ideas. Because mainstream moviemaking is caught in a dangerous rut right now, it’s worth worrying about a new generation of screenwriters feeling trapped in a sea of creative mediocrity.

The above only gets wrapped into one’s soul and alters perceptions of the world to cynical moods. It only hurts how writing in movie progresses, and right now it has far too much devolving.

We’ll have to wait and see how this August shapes up as a rerun from last year. Now that “The Fantastic Four” is opening the first week of August, clearly Hollywood wants another “Guardian of the Galaxy” situation. If the former is a success, Dog Days may officially be another frame of mind we’ve managed to alter.

This could inspire screenwriters to write something that shoots toward something meaningful in late summer. It may also domino the perception that all the great movies have to be crammed into December where they all too commonly cancel one another out.

Perhaps we’re looking at more breathing room for great movies throughout the year to avoid taking rain checks on visiting a movie theater until the holiday season.