Tuesday, April 1, 2014

"A Matter Of Time"

Sometimes, when I am telling a story – I detect this particularly among younger listeners, when I can attract any – I look into their eyes while I am holding forth, and the glaze I see indicates that, as a consequence of their youthful and agile minds, they have jumped ahead, reaching the conclusion of my story before I do. 

The kids “got it” – meaning the message of my story – earlier than I had apparently given them credit for.  This leads me to wonder about that discrepancy.  I had related the story the way I would want to hear it.  But they would have been totally comfortable – and would, I imagine, have happily preferred – hearing the same story, told shorter and faster.

So why did I tell the longer and slower version?

There could be a couple of things going on (other than an unquenchable need for attention.)  One explanation involves, my preferred method of storytelling.  Which is comprehensive.  (By my detractors’ judgment, to a tedious extreme.)

Why am I comprehensive in my storytelling?  Because I do not want to leave anything out – and by “anything”, I mean anything pertinent and germane to the listener’s understanding.  (Though again, my detractors adjudge my evaluation of “pertinent and germane” to be agonizingly scrupulous.)

The other explanation for my – in my detractors’ opinion – “long-windedness” involves – and I can feel a self-aggrandizing compliment coming on here – my belief that I possess certain attributes that make the storytelling journey as – self-deprecating cough – satisfying as its ultimate destination.  (Though it appears that, in some cases at least, I am seriously deluding myself.)

What has just popped into my head in this regard is an impromptu seminar on filmmaking once (forty plus years ago) delivered to me by Lorne Michaels, an expert, then and possibly still now, on all things modern and cutting edge.

Expounding on the evolution of the audience’s thought process, Lorne imagined two versions of the same scene, one, filmed the “Old Moviemaking” way, the other, shot in a more contemporary manner.  (I realize this anecdote is over forty years old.  Which means, I have no doubt, that the phenomenon I am about to describe has progressively escalated.)

OLDTIME MOVIE VERSION:  A car pulls up in front of a house.  The driver parks the car.  The driver emerges from the car, closing the car door behind them.  The driver then proceeds up a walkway to the house’s front door.  They ring the doorbell.

CONTEMPORARY MOVIE VERSION:  A car pulls up in front of a house.  CUT TO:  The driver stands before the open door facing whomever it was that answered it.

Lorne’s message:  You do not have to include every physical action.  The camera jumps ahead in sync with the audience, which has mentally filled in the intervening gaps. 

That’s modern filmmaking.  Skippity doo dah!  The old-fashioned version? –  comprehensive but unnecessary.  And “unnecessary” spells dull.  (Though it is pronounced “unnecessary.”)   

The question is, “Jumping ahead”:  Is there anything valuable that’s lost?

Which takes my mind to my first spec screenplay, entitled Movie Magic – the story of a neophyte screenwriter who pens a small romantic comedy, which, through a series of circumstances, balloons both in budget and in scope when an “Action Movie” superstar, looking to radically alter his image, determines to take on the leading role.  (And who can – or by the “Hollywood” way of thinking would want to – stop him?)

At one point in the movie, the young writer, who is also (trading the miscasting of the action star for the opportunity to be) the film’s director, is explaining to the action star how, in the scene they are about to shoot, he wants the action star to drive up to a house.  (Perhaps I had Lorne’s illuminating example in mind, and was unconsciously attempting to prove him wrong.)

The director explains that the “backstory” to the scene is that the action star has a difficult message to deliver to the person inside the house.  Keeping this in mind, the director instructs the action star to park the car in a manner reflecting his emotional distress about delivering that message. 

“I don’t understand,” the action star replies.  To which the director replies,

“I want your inner turmoil to register in your driving.”

Too diplomatic to laugh in his face, and too concerned about being blindsided by paparazzi to thoroughly beat the guy up, the action star dutifully complies with the director’s instructions. 

And, not surprisingly, he fails. 

Finally, the director surrenders, allowing the action star to simply drive to the house and park his car.

Okay.  The director was trying to inject subtlety and nuance where it didn’t belong.  But that does not mean that – in an appropriate example – something emotionally meaningful cannot be potentially sacrificed by the kneejerk reaction of “jumping ahead.” 

You just have to not be an idiot when you are picking your spots.  

As frequently happens here, the preamble to where I was planning to go has expanded into a blog post of its own.  (Inadvertently exemplifying the precise point I was attempting to make.) 

I have proceeded to my point more deliberately than my detractors might deem necessary.

My response to that critique is:

What’s the rush?

Tomorrow:  Where I was intending to go today.

1 comment:

Mike said...

In the words of the StoryTeller (UK, 1988): "The best place by the fire was kept for the Storyteller."
Here's Dave Allen.