Saturday, December 17, 2011

Revealing things to your characters and to your audience.

One of the most important parts about screenwriting is your ability to control and manipulate information. This basically means creating situations that get the audience interested in your story. If you can do it well, the whole process of writing becomes much easier and much more enjoyable.

When it comes to writing, I think a rule of thumb is that it's almost always good to have certain elements in your story that aren't immediately revealed to everyone. Because if all the cards are face up from the start, it's pretty hard to get your audience excited.

This also applies to your characters. If they know everything about what they want to know and there's no mystery left, it's pretty hard to get them excited and to react to anything either.

So you have to be pretty smart about who knows what and when they get to know it. Keep things secret if you can. Reveal information gradually and mislead the audience without alienating them.

I don't know if there's a better example of this than the sixth episode of 30 Rock's second season. In 'Somebody to Love', Liz Lemon suspects that his neighbor Raheem is a terrorist because he acts suspiciously.

After certain misleading revelations Lemon becomes so convinced about Raheem running a terrorist cell that she decides to contact the Department of Homeland Security.

Raheem is taken away and Lemon feels like she has done her job as an American citizen. Only later will she and the audience find out that Raheem isn't a terrorist. Instead, the maps in his house and the video that he did with his brother in the park was to audition for the Amazing Race.

Lemon feels embarrassed and Raheem.. well, he promises that he'll show everyone (as if as he would become a real terrorist).

Honestly, I don't think the pay-off could have been any better and boy did Lemon feel bad about her mistake. She couldn't have been any more wrong about them.

The episode was written by Tina Fey which didn't really surprise me at all. Everything works in it, information is gradually revealed, the audience is mislead but not alienated, the final reveal is one of the best that you'll ever see and there's even a lesson to be learned.

If you want to learn something about storytelling, this is an episode that you want to watch again and again.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

About that upcoming JFK miniseries on HBO.

It's not exactly a secret that writing is supposed to be about character and truth. So what happens when you have a project in the works that doesn't have much to do with either of them? Well, that's basically what the Tom Hanks production about the assassination of John F. Kennedy is going to be all about.

It won't have much to do with character or truth.

That's because Tom Hanks' miniseries tries to convince us that John F. Kennedy wasn't killed by a conspiracy but instead by a lone gunman called Lee Harvey Oswald. The only problem with this narrative of course is that Lee Harvey Oswald (unfortunately?) did not shoot or kill John F. Kennedy.

If you want proof, read for example this book.

Thankfully, you don't need to know about the medical evidence, ballistics, eyewitness testimonies, secret service behavior, JFKs policies etc. Whew. One crucial witness is what it really takes to demolish the whole Oswald-did-it-alone nonsense for good.

Yet for some unfathomable reason Tom Hanks and HBO are funding this hopeless project that is based on Vincent Bugliosi's book 'Reclaiming History'.

The book by the way runs for more than 1600 pages in trying to convince the reader that the president was killed by a guy who didn't have any motive for the deed and who even said that he didn't do it - before he was silenced by, surprise surprise, another 'lone' gunman.

I'd honestly like to see how someone constructs a script that could create an even remotely believable scenario based on these ingredients. Because that would take a lot of talent and even more magic tricks to pull off and to make it seem plausible.

Oswald had no motive, he said that he didn't do it and there's every reason to believe that he was a CIA controlled fall guy and that rogue elements of the government with the help of anti-Castro Cubans killed JFK.

But anyway, if they'll make the miniseries and find him.. errr... invent that missing motive, hatred for Kennedy, determination, etc...

I would like to see how they show Oswald shooting from the sixth floor. Him doing the shooting is something that still hasn't been repeated by anyone. No marksman has been able to pull off what Oswald supposedly did in less than six seconds.

Then, I'd like to see Oswald descending to the second floor while managing to evade Victoria Adams - the witness that Warren Commission tried to discredit. (the proof about the deliberate fraud by the government is in the book that I gave a link to).

But most importantly, I'd like to see them show how only a couple of minutes after the shooting Oswald is seen drinking or at least holding a bottle of coke (latter part is an uncontested fact) after pulling off the most stressing feat that one even can think of - killing the most powerful man in the world.

I mean, that would be such a weird sight. To see Oswald trying to put those coins in that vending machine while on that adrenaline rush. It would look so implausible that no sane person in the world would believe it. Nobody kills a president and then casually buys a coke. Nobody.

Oswald didn't do it, so seriously, Tom Hanks and HBO - what are you thinking here?