Friday, June 29, 2007

Looking for Unities, Finding Tools

This posting builds on the last two, so if you haven't read those, it might make sense to start with "Props Manager" and then read "The Number Three" before reading this entry.

Or not. We talked about looking at the props in a scene as a way of working with meaning, and we talked about how you can build unity into a script by repeating just about anything three times or more. So now you're probably wondering how this becomes useful. Let me give you an example.

I realized recently that a script I'm planning out has three or four significant scenes built around meals. It opens with a birthday breakfast that goes horribly wrong. There's dinner with the white-trash parents. There's the main character realizing his girlfriend is cooking breakfast for her kidnapper. What does this do for me?

I realize that meals are a TOOL for me as I think through the plot. How?

I can characterize the location: the food is a source of humor.

I can characterize the main character with his reaction to it. I can build sympathy and dramatic interest. Can this poor guy just get a decent meal?

I can use the meals as a pacing device. Right now they're placed roughly every twenty minutes through the first hour.

And that last one helps me with the ending: Maybe he finally gets the meal he wants.

There are lots of "cans" and "maybes" at this stage. That's a given. But it's all worth trying out. I will try writing the perfect meal at the end of the script. I will try looking to the food as a source of visual humor.

None of it may work. All of it might. It's most important to look at this as an EVOLUTION.

Making a unity perfect isn't the point. A unity has to awaken a connection in the viewer's mind. It's best when it's not too obtrusive. The Coen Brothers are kings of this stuff.

Seeing the potential unity helps me think about the scenes the way an audience might view them. To capitalize on this, I'll write the scenes together. I'll make them work as a story. I'll do what I talked about in last posting.

I'll find a repeated food issue. I'll find the one thing he hates. I'll think of a line to repeat, and see how much meaning and humor I can get out of it. I'll tell the story of one poor guy and four meals. As I work to exploit the meaning, I'm learning more and more about the character.

When I take it back into the script, I will undoubtedly shift some material. It's not a script about meals. Meals are just a small part. Some stuff won't work. I will not be gentle. It doesn't help me if it's just funny. It doesn't help me if it's a perfect unity. It's what I can use. It's a tool.

This stuff is the fun part. This is what writing's for. But then comes the hard part:

Throwing stuff out. Moving it around. Being flexible. CONTINUING to think through new material. Rewriting. It's a long road, but you're writing. That's what makes a good day, right?

Unity is a tool. It helps you write the story, but it's not the point of the story.

No comments: