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Also, not every scene has a clear progression from A to B. Sometimes they go from A to B then end up right back in A. Or sometimes they never leave A. Maybe this scene is like that?
I agree with that. Holden approaches the situation with a closed mind and no intention of holding back his frustrations, but throughout he seems to change his perspective until the very last line. He kinda drops the mic and walks off leaving the scene the way it started. Her upset and him pissed.
Yet it's still essential. It's a scene where the protagonist learns about his girlfriend's history, confronts her, and in the process confronts himself and begins to explore who he really is and what he really wants. So the scene is maybe a turning point within the larger structure where he begins that process of self discovery.
Definitely a turning point. After this scene, an old friend of Holden's tell him of a similar experience and that being bitter towards a girlfriend because of her past was the reason he let "the one" go. Holden realizes the only reason he's disturbed by this is because he doesn't have the same experience as her. He drops the grudges towards Alyssa and wants to make it up to her. (By having a threesome, so they can be adventurous together)
The scene itself works because, as you said, it's so raw. She spills her guts all over the battlefield.
The writing was perfect here IMO, but it's not only the way it was written but the way it was filmed. There was nothing special about it. That makes it feel so real.
And something else important: she's smart. She sees herself, she sees him better than he sees himself. That matters a lot. It raises her character to a level where we want to see her happy. We want to see them together. That heightens the story goal and the stakes.
I never realized this. Another approach I can take for building a loveable, or even a hateable character. Thank-you.
And for guys watching this, it prompts our own introspection. How many times have we made such quick and unfair judgments about girls with a bad rep? This makes us uncomfortable...and BINGO!!!
Too many. When I was an obnoxious, narrow-minded 18-year-old.
This scene creates tension because it causes the audience to look inward. Even women might look inside and wonder if they have judged other women too harshly, though this is more relevant for men in the audience. But making an audience uncomfortable by causing it to take a hard look inside...that's tension!!
Anytime a flick can move someone so much to really question their own belief, that's what it's all about.
Gonna go QT again, since I knew this was on youtube. It's from True Romance. What I love about this scene is the structure.
Our hero's father, Dennis Hopper, has been taken for interrogation by the bad guys(Chris Walken) who are trying to find his son, who has his coke worth a ton of money.
Walken asks Hopper if he'd like a cigarette. Hopper declines, saying he quit.
Walken's goal in the scene is to convince Hopper that one thing is certain: he will give them the info he wants. He's a professional for the mafia, he WILL torture Hopper, and Hopper will eventually give up his son's location.
Once Walken succeeds in convincing Hopper, the game for Hopper changes. His goal had been to resist, to pretend he knew nothing. But now, knowing he will eventually spill what he knows under torture, he decides the only way to protect his son is to trick Walken into killing him before he spills the info. No easy task.
What's great is the way we know Hopper has made this decision: he says he's changed his mind and he asks for the cigarette. That signifies that he now is committed to dying here, so no point in quitting cigarettes anymore. Such a great transition.
Hopper proceeds into a long story meant to insult Walken and get him to pull the trigger. It works, and the father protects the son, who had not seen in many years until that morning, making it an even more emotionally satisfying scene.
In my experience, most movie scenes are built like this: the double hinge. The second hinge might also be the end of the scene. So here, the first hinge, Hopper becomes convinced the only way he can protect his son is to get Walken to kill him. So his goal has changed. The scene begins with this goal for Hopper: he wants to protect his son by not spilling, and he wants to survive. The goal becomes he wants to protect his son by dying.
The second turn comes when Walken kills him at the end of the scene.
So two things hold our attention. First is the stark conflict: Walken wants info, Hopper wants to protect his son. Then our attention is booted up when Hopper asks for the cigarette. We know something has changed in his mindset, and something crucial is about to happen. Then Hopper goes into his story about "Sicilian niggers", which seems a strange thing to do, provoking your captor, unless we understand why he's doing it, which most of us don't probably figure out until Walken shoots him.
So once again there is the principle of the unexpected. We don't expect this story, we don't expect him to provoke Walken. As with comedians on stage, I think there is great power in creating the unexpected in scenes,
As I've said many times, I'm a big believer in the larger structure for scripts. I just think it's also possible for a story to have a structure that follows its own logic rather than some standard model.
Something else that I have noticed: often when people fall in love with a script or a movie, it's one memorable scene that makes it for them. Many people like the recent Alien film, Prometheus I think, because of the scene where the woman hero uses an abortion machine to take the monster out of her while she's awake.
Trying to craft scenes that linger in the memory is a huge challenge. Even flawed films and scripts can overcome their flaws with a great scene or two.
I don't think it's crazy to think you can craft a loose-fitting structure around several really good scenes and end up with a good movie or script. Just an alternative way of looking at it. I think that movie directors are more likely to think in these terms. Obviously if you can do both, have the perfect overall structure AND great scenes, that's preferable, but given an either/or choice, isn't it better to have the great scenes?
You can often spot the script written by the guru. It conforms to rules that are widely taught, hits all the structure points right on cue...and is as exciting as watching the ice melt in your drink.
I can write that boring script that hits all the plot points. Most of us can.
I want to learn how to write the scenes that leave the audience cut and bleeding in a way that will leave a scar. Hopefully people will keep pitching in, I'm not here for the free drinks, I'm hungry to learn.
OK, let's jump back to the True Romance scene, as it is indeed a classic...but I really can't agree with everything you said about it, Kevin.
First of all, why does it work so well? Answer - because it's extremely memorable...and unique.
Why is it so memorable and unique? The dialogue exchange between Hopper and Walken is simply brilliant, both in how it's written and how it's delivered and performed.
It's played out to the max, in terms of "milking the tension" and just the way that it goes back and forth is amazing.
Like the opening to QT's IB, once again, we have a badass Antag who smiles, jokes around, and is "polite".
For me, it has nothing to do with Hopper deciding his only way to protect his son is to get Walken to kill him, because this character doesn't really give 2 shits about his son. In fact, he comes across to me that his only real cares are his dog and just getting through his miserable existence.
I think he may actually have thought he could get away with lying to Walken...at first...but more importantly, I think he realized he was going to die anyway, so why not get a big "Fuck You" in before he goes?
Either way, this is 1 of many very memorable scenes in TR, and 1 of the reasons it's 1 of my very favorite movies of all times.
To ski or not to ski...that's not even a question.
I think the structure of the scene is what gives QT the room to play with his creative dialog. As you say, at first Hopper thinks he can hold out. But once Walken convinces him that he will torture him and get him to talk, he decides to protect his son. The fact that he had not been in his son's life makes this all the more poignant.
See, if Hopper only cared about himself, he would at least try to give the info to Walken and see if it buys his life. I mean why not give it a shot?
Anyway, the however one views it, it's the scene structure that gives the dialog room to flourish. IMO.
It's the Wolf of Wall St scene where Matthew McConaughey mentors Dicaprio.
At first glance, it doesn't fit the model for usual scene construction. But the example BSunders has left us from Chasing Amy has maybe given me a better insight into where the tension really lies.
Normally we build a scene around conflict. That's what holds the audience's attention. Conflict usually comes from characters with opposing goals.
But here, that doesn't seem to exist. McConnaughey is the owner of the brokerage. He takes the green new hire to lunch. Never does he put an ounce of pressure on him. He orders drinks, and when Dicaprio declines, it doesn't bother him. He offers him coke, the same. They both have the same goal in life: make a ton of money. So there's no tension, no conflict, just an entertaining scene brilliantly acted by McConaughey. It's an important scene in the larger scheme of things, as we see a transition in the hero from idealistic and clean to a scumbag. Which is the heart of the film.
However, thinking about Chasing Amy and the scene linked to, there may be more to this Wolf scene. There is no tension between the characters...but there IS a little tension we feel. Not much, but it's the seed of something that will grow. The tension comes from the trip wires of our own conscience being tripped. The mentor explains that it's all about screwing the investor from his money. That no one really predicts what the market will do. This makes anyone in the audience who uses a broker cringe. And it goes further. McConaughey explains the only way to get through the job is to be high on coke. He talks about masturbating on breaks at work. None of this makes Dicaprio's character uncomfortable. But it does create unease in the audience.
Stand up comics use this to great effect. Watch Dave Chapelle and see how he gets audiences uncomfortable with his politically incorrect topics and takes on things. Being uncomfortable is to exist in a state of tension. That tension captures us, we can't turn away. For the comic, every punchline or comical action releases some of that tension, and that whoosh comes in the form of laughter. But without the tension, no whoosh.
No problem. Pia emailed me saying not to expect much activity during the OWC. I told her it's ok, because forcing myself to post helps me organize my thoughts and sometimes leads to new insights. So I don't mind playing with myself!
I was digging through old files yesterday. I found a document I created a few years back on story building. I had a big section on tension, and I kept a whole list of situations that make an audience uncomfortable. And uncomfortable audience has built in tension. Think, for example, about the King's Speech. He has a stuttering problem. So when he has to go on the radio, or speak in public, the tension is built in, no conflict required. Same with a nerdy high school boy getting a ride to school from his mom and they end up picking up the hottest girl in school to give her a ride. That boy is feeling it, and so do we!
Another thing I have long emphasized in my own understand of story is the importance of the bond between characters. No theorists seem to talk about it, but it's critical, sometimes the most critical element. That comes into play in the Chasing Amy scene. We like both these characters and want to see them together. That creates the stakes of that scene. The Affleck character has to get past his problems with her past, but he can't seem to. We watch the whole scene hoping he will. Even when she tries to get close to him, he can't do it. All of that creates tension for us watching it.
All of the theorists on story and screenplay seem to forget this crucial thing: a story is not just an interaction between characters. A story involves the audience. So an audience might feel tension even where the characters themselves do not. A story has to create anticipation and tension in the audience. The audience is a part of that equation: their fears, their beliefs, their experience.
Recently watched Fracture again for the umpteenth time .... one scene really stuck with me though. Unfortunately I can't find a complete clip of this scene on Youtube, but the entire movie is on there.
Scene starts at 47 minutes, may have to use the 1.25x time speed ... it's slowed down a bit.
The No Country scene is a classic scene. It has what I consider the most common structure and I try to use this structure in most of my scenes. I call it the double hinge.
The store owner angers the killer by mentioning the killer is traveling from Dallas. The killer doesn't like nosy people who pay too much attention to him, this endangers him of course. So right away he begins deciding whether to kill the man.
We know this is what the killer is thinking, so this loads the tension. Once loaded, the directors indeed milk the tension for all its worth. Imagine how less effective this scene would be if they went right to the coin toss?
The coin toss is the second hinge, the pivot that determines whether the killer will let the man live.
Outside of that basic structure, the scene is great because it gives a strange insight into the mind of the killer, whose world has its own set of internal rules. I'm not sure, but he seems to believe that all lives and events are subject to a kind of predetermined fate. He sees himself as merely a tool of that fate, an enforcer of fate's rules.