Greetings, Movie Buffs! It’s certainly been a while since my last entry. My apologies. This is due to working a ridiculously amount of hours at these last two jobs. That’s right. Since moving down to North Carolina, I’ve had two jobs. Thankfully not simultaneously.
That said, let’s get down to it.
A few days ago, a guy I’ve given a few scripts to had a couple really good questions for me: What makes for a great script? And what makes a great pilot script?
I proceeded to give long and detailed answers to both questions. It was during the answering of the first question that I had an epiphany.
Quentin Tarantino is considered a God among filmmakers. He’s my favorite director working today. To put it in perspective, I saw “Pulp Fiction” probably ten years ago. It was, I believe the first of his movies that I ever saw. Ever since then, it has changed my perception of cinema, and it has been my de facto favorite film.
He is the king of writing ten minute dialogue scenes that are iconic for their cadence, and timbre. And as the king, many writers try to imitate. It is here where every single one of them has failed. They all think that all you have to do to write one of these scenes is to have your characters talk about life for ten minutes and maybe introduce a gun into the scene.
The epiphany I had dealt with just how Tarantino can make these scenes work. These scenes of people just talking for ten minutes shouldn’t work as good scenes. So HOW does Tarantino do it? It’s actually quite simple. He treats these scenes like mini movies. Most, if not all of these scenes have a little three-act structure to them.
Take for instance the opener to “Pulp Fiction”: Pumpkin and Honey Bunny talking in the diner. At first, it’s inane, throwing the audience off their balance, not knowing what to expect. Finally, they start discussing the act of robbing a bank with just a phone. Back in the day when this came out, that was an unusual concept, so I can only imagine how interesting it must’ve sounded to the audience. Call this Act One. From there, we get the two dropping lines about their profession: robbery. Now this becomes even better for the audience. Are they planning on trying this method on their next job? Finally, they decide to rob the very place they’re eating breakfast. They pull out their guns. This is Act Two. Then, they actually rob the place. This is Act Three. In this case, Act Three is short.
Care for another example? I thought you might!
I know the previous example wasn’t a ten minute scene, but it did have a three act structure to it. So let’s examine the opener for “Inglourious Basterds”: Act One: Hans Landa interrogates Mr. LaPadite about his former neighbors. Once again, we are thrown into the scene without any real direction to follow. Tarantino likes to let the audience play catch-up. Then we see the very family being discussed is hiding under the floorboards DIRECTLY BENEATH THEM. That is Act Two. Finally, Landa deduces that they are nearby, and forces Mr. LaPadite to reveal their hiding place. He does, and Landa has his men execute all of them. That is Act Three.
So let’s look a little closer at them. Both of those scenes end in major plot points. If these movies were told in chronological order, that fact would be a little more obvious. The little “Inciting Incident,” as it were is utilized in the second act. Usually in a Tarantino film, there is plenty of glorious violence to look forward to. That violence will more likely take place in the Third Act. From the promise of violence in the Second Act, Tarantino can pull the audience along for however long he damn well pleases. He knows the audience will watch the carnage, so he makes the build-up worth our while.
Most amateur writers don’t understand this, and they just write a ten minute dialogue scene where their characters just pontificate about life, and that’s it. The scenes don’t build, they don’t pay off the audience’s patience, they just linger for ten minutes. Or should I say crawl, since that’s what those pointless scenes tend to do.
These “Mini-Movie” scenes can work by themselves and back to back. As long as they build, and have a good payoff, they can work. I wouldn’t advise a novice writer to try writing these scenes, but hey, what do I know? If you decide to, I would advise that you start small, doing a shorter scene as practice before you try the longer ones.
I’m sure more of these examples can be found in Tarantino’s films. The other thing to keep in mind is that these little “Mini Movies” are layered upon actions and dialogue that show so much about the characters.
While scenes that show character are paramount, layering them with a building point will put you well over the top. That was my big takeaway from that realization. I hope you guys found this helpful.
Until next time, Movie Buffs!