Posts Tagged With: information

The information pass

The other day I had a fantastic idea for a blog post. One of those light bulb, one in a million ideas which would greatly benefit the scriptwriting community and help raise the level of writing the whole world over.

Unfortunately … I’ve forgotten what it was. A bit like that time I invented time travel in the bath, but got distracted by some grout and forgot how it worked.

Time travel. Not grout. I know how grout works.

So instead, I’m going to witter on about the first thing which pops into my mind.

Um …

Maybe I don’t know how grout works? I mean, I’ve used it … but do I really understand it?

Meanwhile, back at the point:

Ooh! Got something!

So, one of the techniques I use when plotting out a script or writing a treatment or even rewriting an existing script is The Information Pass … which … I’ve got a sneaking suspicion I’ve rambled on about before but called it something else?

Never mind, I’m committed now. It’s this or a 10,000 word musing on the nature of grout and its impact on humanity.

Let’s go with The Information Pass.

Feel free to say THE INFORMATION PASS in a deep, booming voice. If you feel it helps?

Sometimes I find I get carried away with a story and miss out the crucial piece of information which makes the whole thing make sense. I find the art of scriptwriting is partly the art of parcelling out information.

Too much and the audience gets bored.

Too little and they get confused.

What I’m aiming for is the fine line betwixt boredom and confusion, the line of engaging mystery.

Feel free to say ‘the line of engaging mystery’ in a spooky voice, if it makes you feel better? I’d go for the same tone as ‘Have you ever seen a shirt make a phone call?’ in the Son of the Invisible Man.

So what I do is I go through the treatment or script or whatever and I try to clinically and coldly describe exactly what information I think a scene is conveying.

For example:

There’s a spaceship. Shooting at a bigger ship that’s chasing them. The people on the smaller ship look scared. There’s two sentient robots. Apparently there’s a princess somewhere who won’t be able to escape whoever’s on the bigger ship. Not this time at least, which implies she’s escaped a lot before …

And so on.

I am, of course, doing an information pass there on Kramer vs Kramer.

 

This helps me keep the story on track.

Sort of.

The downside of the information pass is it doesn’t really help me work out what the audience will be able to guess. I mean, it kind of does but it’s also limited. The idea is to imagine you’re watching the film cold, with no foreknowledge, and trying to piece all the clues together.

Certain events come with built in knowledge, like: someone crying over a grave.

I’d probably assume that person has lost someone they love, hence the tears. Depending on the age of the person crying, I’d probably make a stab and guessing who’s in the grave. A child … probably lost a parent. An elderly person … probably a spouse. Someone in the middle … could be anyone – parent, lover, offspring … who knows?

Being able to figure out what information the audience is likely to guess at helps subvert it or not make a mystery of things they’ve already guessed. I hate watching the protagonist, particularly one who’s meant to be a detecting genius, desperately trying to figure out something the audience guessed straight away.*

Understanding what information the audience have helps me work out what information they haven’t got … then all I have to do is figure out if they need it and when to give it to them.

I find it helps me to separate out the logic of structure and information from the emotional journey of the characters. Writing, like all arts, has a logical, ordered component which some people can do instinctively, but others (like me) need to think about in a separate pass.

I find it useful, if you don’t already do something similar, maybe you’d find it useful too?


* The caveat there being, if there are five suspects for a murder then a tiny portion of the audience will have decided each person is the murderer and then claim it was obvious who it was, when in fact it’s just an unavoidable statistic.

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Categories: My Way, Random Witterings | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Rose vs. Jurassic Park

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Following on from last week, I’ve been thinking more about parcelling out information. Whereas there are undoubtedly lots of different approaches to this, two examples always spring to mind.

My mind, anyway. Maybe not yours.

These examples are polar opposites yet are equally as effective as each other. As I’m sure you’ve deduced from the title of this post, the first of those is Jurassic Park, the second is Rose (the first episode of the current run of Doctor Who).

Both are master-classes in delivering exposition and yet take totally different approaches.

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Jurassic Park goes for the info dump. The first … what? Half an hour? 45 mins? … is a science lesson. We get told how dinosaurs died, evolved, what a velociraptor is (because none of us knew back then) what DNA is, how it’s extracted, how it’s spiced with things, how it’s turned into new dinosaurs, how incredibly fucking stupid that is … and so on.

The genius for me here is I didn’t get bored. I didn’t roll my eyes or start yelling “Get on with it!” at the screen … I just sat there and learnt the things I needed to know. The fact a lot of the exposition was disguised as either a theme park ride or a story told to scare a child/accountant helped. The fact the theme park info-ride didn’t go the way Hammond planned nicely foreshadows what’s to come.

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To me there was the perfect amount of information, all clumped together so the following action can be uninterrupted thrills and spills.

That’s version one for me: get it out of the way upfront and then get on with the story. But make it fun and thematic and part of the story.

Version two makes me think of Rose. Russell T. Davies does a fantastic job of feeding us the information in tiny sips. This was probably the best choice here because half of the audience were Doctor Who fans who knew all this, the other half were brand new who had no idea what the show was about.

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So he feeds us a morsel at a time.

We focus on Rose*, we see the normal, boring world from her point of view – it’s normal and boring.

Then something scary happens! And there’s this guy who shows up and saves her! He’s weird! He’s exciting! He’s called The Doctor! He blows something up!

And then he’s gone.

And life is even more boring without him.

Who is he?

And then there he is again! He’s an alien! He’s clever, he knows things we don’t!

And then he’s gone again.

Just before the mystery tips over into confusion (which is problematic), there’s a conspiracy theorist who gives us a mini-info dump … which we deserve. We’ve earnt a little respite from the mystery.

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Now we have some answers … and a lot more questions. Is this guy immortal? Is there more than one of them? Is he some kind of time traveller?

And then he’s there again and it’s all action and adventure! And we’re in the TARDIS, which is … what? Another mini-info dump. It’s a spaceship, it’s bigger on the inside … stuff like that.

There’s only about ten minutes to go now and we nearly know everything … except we don’t. The Nestene Intelligence hints at things even hardcore fans don’t understand – why is it scared of the TARDIS? What’s a Time War? Something’s happened in the 16 years the show was off air. Something we won’t find out about for a few weeks yet.

Even when all’s resolved, there’s still one more piece of information. The very last line of the first episode completes the basic set up:

45 mins to fully educate the new audience as to the nature of the show. Without leaving people confused or bored.

Well, I wasn’t anyway.

True the actual story feels a bit light … but that feels inevitable in reintroducing the concept to the masses. It’s a simple story with few twists and turns … but they are there and the sense of mystery the episode creates makes up for the lack of story.

I think so, anyway. You may have a different opinion. Good for you.

Those two extremes are how I think about exposition. Which serves the story better? Is one inherent to a film (because you have a captive audience in a cinema and more (or less, depending on how you look at it) time to tell the story?) and the other better suited to TV (because people will change the channel if they’re being lectured for 30 mins)? Can you do a mixture of the two? Is there a better, third way?#

All these questions and more will probably never be answered by me because by now I’ve either forgotten I’ve written this or am already bored of thinking about it.

I just like to think about these two examples whenever I start a new project.

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*To me, this centring the show on the companion is both a genius move and a bit of a problem. I may talk about this in more depth at some point … or I may not.

#Depends, probably not, possibly, I imagine so, probably.

Categories: Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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