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Old April 28 2011, 06:26 AM   #100
Maurice
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Re: Fan Filmmaker's Primer

Been a while since I posted. Let's jump into a topic that's related to both writing and shooting...
SHOW, NOT TELL

One thing Star Trek does too much--and fan filmmakers ape to an extreme--is a tendency to have too much talking. Everything is described in dialog rather than portrayed visually. But this is contrary to what film does best: which is communicate story through visuals.

Let's look at a fine example of showing instead of telling from the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit. At this point in the film we've learned that Eddie Valiant's brother was killed by a Toon, and that Eddie doesn't work Toontown. It's also established that he has a thing with Dolores, the waitress at the Terminal Bar across the street. That's pretty much all we know about Eddie until this scene. In it, Eddie, upon seeing pictures of his late brother with him and Dolores, casts a longing gaze to the desk next to his own. The camera then executes a slow move, making a circle across the adjoining desk and we see the following as the camera pans across and lingers on each of these, before ending up back on Eddie.









In this one short scene--essentially a single shot--we learn everything else we need to know about Eddie for the rest of the film:
  • The dust shows he hasn't touched his late brother's desk, which shows how much he misses him or can't accept the loss
  • He and his brother were involved in helping Toons in the past
  • He and his brother were the "clowns" of the police department
  • He and his brother were circus clowns as kids, along with their dad
  • Dolores worked with them in their detective agency, which was founded 9 years earlier (the photo is dated 1938 and the film takes place in 47)
  • Finally, Eddie has passed out, drunk (we can tell by the empty bottle), over the photos that brought on this melancholy
In less than a minute of screen time we get all this information about the character without a word of dialog. Little of it seems important at that point in the story but everything shown in this single shot informs plot points and Eddie's behavior throughout the rest of the film.

For instance, we know Eddie has lot of experiences with Toons, so his knack for getting them to do what he wants makes sense (tricking Roger into drinking the drink he doesn't want, for instance).

Furthermore, we see that he's not shocked by the insanity of Toontown when he goes there, and that's because we know he has a history of working for Toons.

Even more important, at the climax of the film he does a bunch of comic slapstick to get the weasels to "laugh themselves to death". If we didn't see that he'd been a "clown" on the police force and a literal clown with Dad in the circus, this comic activity would seem out of character and appear to come out of left field.

Chances are, most audiences didn't or couldn't consciously remember virtually any of what was shown on the desk pan, or even that it was shown, but the information was communicated regardless, so it all makes narrative sense, and really no one questions Eddie's behavior later because it's set up.

This is but one example, but I think it's demonstrative that it's possible and desirable to communicate story and character points via what you show on the screen rather than what a character says.

Lesson: Don't tell us how your character feels or why they're doing what they do. Show us!
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Well, I've been to one world fair, a picnic, and a rodeo, and that's the stupidest thing I ever heard come over a set of earphones."
óMajor T. J. "King" Kong

Last edited by Maurice; April 28 2011 at 09:50 PM.
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