Tuesday, December 23, 2008

To Clue or Not to Clue

A post on a forum not too long ago discussed how important it is to give the audience a hint ahead of time to show how it's possible for a protagonist to extricate himself from a crisis or dangerous situation. He/she/it (can't remember) suggested that it's critically important that, even if only for a second or two, the audience sees that there's a way out or at least the potential.

I think this was specifically aimed at action writing but I'm not sure. Doesn't matter. I wholeheartedly disagreed with this premise regardless of the genre and, after a month or so of watching action films and reading scripts to explore the idea, I still wholeheartedly disagree.

It's not that I oppose giving the audience a hint that Richard Kimball might escape through a storm drain or jump off of a damn or viaduct or whatever that was, I just don't think it's critical or required in every escape scenario.

In some cases, sure, give the audience a hint. IF IT WORKS. The word "escape" reminds me of a scene in Finding Nemo where Dory and Marlin are fleeing from a shark who fell off the "fish are friends" wagon. In that scene, we do get a clue, a hint, a jab in the rib right before they escape. Dory's inability to read the word "escape" was both a comic element and a message to the audience that there is a way out. That may be particularly important in this case considering the young age of much of the audience and the need to keep it scary but not too scary.

But in film, we like to surprise the audience and the audience likes to be surprised. If we aren't careful about things like this, we'll get the ol' "it was so predictable" slap. None of us likes to be told what we wrote was predictable. That's like saying we wrote something flat or prosaic. One or two scenes where we see "it" coming could spoil the whole film experience for the audience.

That's not saying that it WILL. I'm saying that it COULD. There are some crisis situations where if we DON'T give the audience a hint, it may not make sense to them later or it will feel like a contrived deus ex machina.

I'm taken back to what my grandmother said about showing only a little ankle to make the eye want more. She wasn't saying we should always show a little ankle or never show more than an ankle. She said that IF you're gonna flash skin, don't show too much. I'm not saying we should never give the audience a clue, just that it is not always necessary.

Of course my grandmother also said "never show your cellulite until you're wearing a wedding band". I don't know how to translate that into film...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Verbal Viagra

I have finally accepted that I am a member of that not-so-exclusive club of writers I loathe. You know who we are. Deluded that we're brilliant minds stifled by life and held back by a terminally ill industry, we tap out dreck on our computers and then raise our fists at the door nobody knocks on. We're peddling piss in a bottle and calling it penicillin.

Well, I've recently looked over all the piss I've written in the past five years and it's pretty clear to me now that while I have potential, I've never written a drop of penicillin.

What appears to have happened is that I spent so much time studying the craft that I didn't actually write anything worth producing.

I remember reading my first screenplay a year after I wrote it and shuddering in embarrassment. Well, I'm no longer embarrassed by that piece of garbage or anything else I've written over the past five years. They're exercises in screenwriting. One is a thesis on character development and dialogue while others focus on structure, foreshadowing, or conflict.

But, they're not screenplays. They're homework.

If I believed in resolutions, mine for 2009 would be to write nothing that isn't great. My own opinion, though, is that resolutions are frequently little more than admissions of failures and shortcomings disguised as noble goals in order to help us cope with our deficiencies. Well, no need. I readily admit that I am deficient. That's the first step in any recovery process:

Hi, my name is Mary Anita Batchellor and I am an impotent writer.

Step one. Done. On to step two.