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08/07/2006: Leaving Early, Staying Late
One more word about Little Miss Sunshine, if you will indulge me, gentle readers. The movie is as good an example as you’re likely to find of cutting out of a scene at the earliest possible moment. The INSTANT that a scene has done its job, we’re moving on. And the implied sentiment of “you don’t really need to see what happens next” is funny in itself.
I was going to praise this dynamic as an unimpeachable positive. Who wouldn’t want to write a script full of scenes that march along in this swift and entertaining manner? But then I realized there is another type of aesthetic. Does The Office cut out of scenes at the earliest possible moment? Or does it wait up for agonizingly funny awkward pauses and horribly diverting endless embarrassments? Albert Brooks movies also can live in those moments that never end, and that get funnier the longer they hang there.
The first kind is funny because it suggests what happened in the missing moments, and you laugh at the way the situation has led to an inevitable and universal moment that we all understand without seeing it. It's the funny of understanding -- a conspiratorial wink at the audience. The second kind, the late cut, is funny -- I think -- because it tends to be about the utter relentlessness of human nature. The hapless tourist just keeps arguing with the unmoved casino boss. Michael Scott won't give up his determination to make an employee concede a point. It's less of a wink and more of a pointing-at, I'd say. A "look at this guy not giving up" kind of funny. At any rate, that's my first guess. Feel free to discuss this among yourselves.
I’m reminded of the rule about jokes. Tell a joke once, it’s funny. Twice, it’s not funny. Eight times… it gets funny again. (The oft-cited example of this is the Simpsons bit in which Sideshow Bob steps on a very long sequence of rakes.) Could it be that the rules of cutting out early versus cutting late follow a similar pattern? Short good, long good… medium bad. Hmm?
At any rate, if you’re writing a spec of an existing show, do whatever your show does. Pay close attention to the moments in which their scenes end – do they end with everyone exiting and one character left alone to settle back into their chair? Or with everyone still up on their feet? With the sense that something is about to happen, or the sense that it just has? With a focus on inevitabity of the outcome? Or on the nature of the character in the situation? Emulate!
If you’re writing your own spec pilot, you get to find and apply your own style here. Which aesthetic speaks to you? I’m a early cutter outer myself. But your mileage may vary.
Lunch: Half a pastrami sandwich and a cucumber salad from Art’s Deli.