Home » Archives » January 2007 » Sometimes You Don't Want to Dissolve
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01/16/2007: Sometimes You Don't Want to Dissolve
"Style" is a word that makes me nervous when it's applied to clothing or home decorating. It just sounds so, risky, you know? If you attempt stylishness and fall short, then you're just standing there in your seersucker culottes, looking silly and wondering what went wrong. But if you know what you're doing, "style" is what sets you apart. It conveys confidence.
I noticed a stylish little scriptwriting move the other night on The Simpsons. A group of new army recruits is being addressed by their sergeant. We're ANGLED ON the sergeant, giving his lecture. Talk, talk, funny, funny... and then he tells them all that due to lack of time, while he's been talking, their hair has been cut and they've been put into their uniforms. ANOTHER ANGLE REVEALS that this is true. Now, of course, this is amusing because of the absurdity of it. But it is also incredibly elegant. Instead of using a DISSOLVE to indicate passage of time, the story has been advanced efficiently and in a way that underscores one of the main story points, that the pressure of an on-going war is speeding up the recruitment process. Also, I would argue, doing it this way emphasizes the recruits' own sudden sense of powerlessness.
But that's an animated show. They can do that stuff. What about something with real people in it? Well, a recent episode of 30 Rock did something similar. Tina Fey holds a co-worker's baby. She twirls around with this baby in her arms, and then, suddenly, the camera angle reveals we've changed location. She realizes, at the same time the viewers do, that she is in her apartment. She has taken someone else's baby home. Again, there was humor in the absurdity, and again, the story was elegantly and efficiently advanced, because the audience was put in the same position as Tina... startled with the realization of what must've just happened.
And it doesn't even have to be played for comedy. The most shocking, wonderful moment on Battlestar was when the show "jumped ahead" one year. They could've handled this in a lot of different ways. They did it by pushing in on the tangled, burdened, top-of-the-head of Gaius Baltar, slumped on a desk, and then pulling out again to reveal that everything had changed. It was a stunning moment, made all the more stunning because it happened under our noses like a magic trick. Again, it was being used to purposefully disorient the viewers for a reason. In this case, the viewers got a sense of how unstoppable the events of the missing year were, how they had followed with a kind of inevitability from everything that led up to them. Ooh, it was nice.
So look at your script. Look at how you've got time passing, scenes following scenes. You know how to just slap events down in order now. So start looking for ways to be stylish about it. The things I've described don't just look cool on the screen, they work on the page as well. They make you look really skilled. They're style.
Lunch: sushi at Echigo. Skip the crab roll at the end, pay to have them bring you more whitefish instead. I did, and I have no regrets.