Friday, April 06, 2012

A Thousand Words

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the Tuesday outbreak of tornadoes in North Texas has generated more words than stars in the heavens. These beasts (14 at last count by the National Weather Service) have been photographed and filmed more than any other tornadoes recorded thanks to accessible technology. That's good news for the geeks that study these things and for the rest us due to the resulting science that forecasts weather events (must resist "Twister" reference here). While I understand storm chasers and filmmakers taking calculated risks to get a shot of the monster, I shudder watching video of people hanging off their fences as an FE3 with 160 mph winds is coming at them and tossing tractor trailers around like tinker toys.

Two tornadoes hit my little town. A small one (if you can call a tornado small) hit our historic downtown area but the behemoth that tore across Forney, Texas landed on the north side and took out 95 homes, hit the high school, damaged an elementary school, and brushed the Walmart right next to the Chili's restaurant where everyone was standing outside taking pictures.

I'd like to spend about three paragraphs on my faith in the enduring human spirit and the compassion and decency demonstrated across the metroplex and in my little town as it rallied the moment the winds moved on to destroy the next town. but you will think you've heard it all before and just skim over it. So, I won't. Instead, I will just say that I am so thankful -- so very very thankful -- that I live where I do, tornadoes and all.

But this post is about photos and words.

It's common practice now to manipulate a photo and add a caption or post a cartoon and circulate it on a social network to show how just or unjust a cause is or criticize somebody's beliefs. One line. One caption. Not that many words. But, the image behind that punchline is designed to provoke a response - humor, anger, indignation, etc. A photo with a single word or caption is a powerful thing - funny, derogatory, thoughtful, whatever. Isn't that the same premise we use in screenwriting? We create a visual image (minus the photo or cartoon) in our screenwriting and use as few words as possible to make our funny, derogatory, or thoughtful point?

Somebody once told me to think in pictures while I'm screenwriting and then take a series of snapshots to try to tell my story without using words. As I look through the hundreds of photos of the tornado damage, I don't even need to go to YouTube and watch the videos. I have, of course, because there are images of the funnel forming, some of the debris turning the base of the tornado black, the funnel changing from a point to a cylinder, and other fascinating moving pictures that science will benefit from. Each video is gold.

But---- the still photos, like the one above, those are the images that shout at me.

As a writer, I wonder where I need to draw the line between getting a good shot and running for my life. Maybe it depends on how much you have to say and whether you think you can say it without the image. I really really don't know. I was standing in my back yard with my video camera as the beast went by.

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