Do you follow?

Let’s say we’re in a room, just you and me. Any room you like, doesn’t matter.

Okay, I can see you’re uncomfortable with being alone in a room with me. That’s fine, no really. Very sensible. Tell you what, why don’t you bring someone along as a chaperon, okay? Bring whoever you want. Bring your mum if you like … is she hot?

Kidding.

Sort of.

Anyway, we’re in this room and I suddenly get up and ask you to follow me. Being an obedient and obliging sort, you do as you’re told and we wander out of the room, down the hall, out of the house …

Now, the question is this: how long would you follow me without asking where we were going?

1 minute?

10 minutes?

Half an hour?

More? Really?

I’m betting you wouldn’t go more than a minute without asking. Okay, if we were having a nice natter about biscuits or moss or something then maybe you might let it go 5-10 minutes, but I doubt much more. Remember, this stranger is literally leading you up the garden path … and it’s not even your garden, it’s a strange garden. One you’ve never been in before.

And would you be taking in all the detail or peering down the path, trying to work out where the hell this ginger, moss-rambling fool is leading you? Again, my money would be on you thinking: ‘Is he taking me to the shed, or the gazebo? God, I hope he’s not taking me to the compost heap. Shit, there’s a gap in the back hedge – we could be going anywhere.’

Whereas, if I said we were going to the ornamental fountain, you’d probably be free of that worry and make some passing comment about liking what I’ve done with my azaleas.

This is what watching a film is like for me, I like to know where I’m going so I can take in the journey. I don’t want to know every step of the way – I don’t want a treasure-map style pace count read out before we start; I’d just like to know roughly where we’re headed so I can wonder how we’re going to get there.

It’s just natural human curiosity to wonder what kind of story this is. True, you want the audience asking questions, but ‘Where are we going?’ is not the same as ‘What happens next?’

‘What happens next?’, if you’re good at your job, is a question they can ask excitedly all the way to the end – even when they know what that end is going to be.

‘Where are we going?’ quickly becomes ‘What the hell am I watching?’ which becomes ‘Fuck this shit, let’s watch a re-run of Minder.’

Which is why I think it’s important to quickly establish roughly what the film’s about – give people the same information they’d get if they read the blurb on the back of a book. If it’s a comedy, start with something funny. If it’s action, start with some action. If it’s horror, start with something scary.

Introduce your main characters quickly, explain who they are and what they want and then get on with the story. No fannying around, because you can guarantee if I don’t know what’s going on within ten minutes I’ll probably change the channel. If it’s really entertaining, I might give it until thirty minutes in … but I doubt it.

Basically, I like films which point out their destination and then make me wonder how they’re going to get me there; not films which don’t seem to knwo what they’re about and make me wonder if I can get my money back.

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Categories: Random Witterings | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “Do you follow?

  1. What about films that start out as one thing, then become something utterly other? From Dusk Till Dawn for example; Act one is crime caper while the rest is bonkers vamp action.

    Or what about something like The Machinist, where you don’t really have any idea where you’re going until you get there?

    What about them, eh? Eh? EH? As Steve Tyler once sang, “Life’s a journey, not a destination.” He might have added “and so are films” if he was having this conversation.

    • Excellent points … although:

      From Dusk Till Dawn – I’m constantly amazed at how people managed to get to the cinema to see this without knowing there were vampires in it. I’ve said it before, but I can only assume they managed to arrive without seeing the poster, the trailer or even the name.

      But anyway, the first act and half of act two are the crime caper – which has a very clear destination. The family has to put up with the criminals until they can escape from them … knowing they’ll probably be killed so there are no witnesses. Assuming you weren’t, as I was, waiting for the vampires and wondering where the fuck they’d got to – then I presume you’d be thinking the ending is going to be the family pulling together and beating/escaping the bad guys. The Chinese kid will probably die, but the dad and the daughter will probably survive and be closer because of it.

      Then we get to the mid-point and start a second story, which also has a clearly defined destination: they’re trapped in a bar full of vampires and must band together to defeat them/stay alive.

      Two separate stories (although you could probably find thematic links between them if you really felt the need) which both have clear directions/destinations/end points.

      The Machinist – did you really not have any idea? There’s a guy who never sleeps hallucinating people and running from some traumatic event in his past. The story is probably going to be him wondering if he’s going mad or not and eventually remembering whatever it is he’s forgotten.

      On top of that, they actually show you bits of the ending in the first few scenes. We see him beaten and bruised, carrying the dead man’s body, dumping it off the cliff and discovering the body doesn’t exist. That lets you know the story is definitely heading for that point – you just don’t know where in the film that point is.

      And as for Steve Tyler – life is a journey because you know what the destination is. If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s not a journey – it’s just an aimless meander.

      • How’s that?

        You know, I wish I didn’t start these posts – I’d already disagreed with myself before I’d finished it.

        • I was disappointed after about a minute’s reading because I thought the post was going to be about the fab social phenomenon of Twitter.

          You said ‘follow’, you see. It’s what people do on Twitter.

          Turns out it was just about films! Gah!

          I’ll just say “Well, take Memento, for example.” Because arty filmy people are *always* going on about Memento.

          • You got a whole minute into one of my posts before getting disappointed?

            Wow – I think that’s a personal best.

            Memento – why do people site Memento as proof art doesn’t have to follow an arbitary set of rules? As far as I can work it out it’s got a very clear three act structure and is pretty much a standard detective story.

            Act 1: murder, introduce the characters and the protagonist’s flaw.

            Act 2: find clues and investigate the murder while the protagonist’s flaw gets in the way.

            Act 3: Solve the murder and protagonist resolves and/or comes to terms with his flaw.

            One of the two stories may run backwards, but the structure is still there – and so is the destination: we know he’s going to solve the murder by the end of the film and that’s what we’re heading (backwards) towards.

            • Now I’ll had to go and read more about Memento and find out what the hell it’s all about.

              [goes and reads more]

              Oh.

              Doesn’t sound much fun to watch. Not as much, say, as Top Gun or Pretty Woman.

              Still, you’re right. It’s just that some of it is running backwards. A bit like Douglas Adams’ metaphor of the creation of the universe: filming a bath tub full of sand draining away and then watching it backwards.

              Actually, I think Adams described that as *not* what the creation of the universe was like, but simply an entertaining way to pass the time on a quiet afternoon.

              Which brings me back to Top Gun.

              Now, where was I?

      • Damn you Barron!

        In fairness The Machinist was the first non-linear film I thought of. Well, actually the second after Memento. Anyway as you point out not being linear doesn’t mean you can’t see where you’re going.

        And if you will persist in breaking From Dusk till Dawn down like that then yes it does rather shatter my argument.

        Hurrumph.

  2. Yay. Go me. Do I get a prize?

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