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Yesterday I picked up the Blu-Ray of A Quiet Place. I haven’t bought a movie on the day of its release in years. I wanted to fit in another post about it and landed on this first frame from the movie—DAY 89.

That’s minimalistic exposition at its best. It hooks the audience and forces them to wonder, “Day 89 of what?” And the mysterious part is we’re not given the answer. No tired voice-over of someone explaining what happened. Just “DAY 89.” It pulls the audience into the story and makes them put together the puzzle.

The opening scene of an abandoned town and a family of five having an unorthodox shopping spree would work without DAY 89—but I don’t think near as well. Don’t know if that came from writer/director John Krasinski, the other credited screenwriters Scott Beck & Bryan Woods, or someone else, but good choice.

It reminds me of another minimal bit of exposition from Sicario (2015) where a fellow tells Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), “Sorry for your loss.” But were not told what that loss is until much later in the film, where that information will have it’s most impact.

Until then we just have Del Toro’s face and body language to tell us that this is a man who has had a hard life. At the 2:29 mark of the video below, you’ll find Taylor Sheridan’s writing, Denis Villeneuve’s direction, and Emily Blunt’s acting—before her role in A Quiet Place—keeping us intrigued about what mystery man Alejandro lost.

“You’re asking me how a watch works.”= Mysterious Minimal Exposition

Related posts:
Screenwriting & Exposition (an oldie from 2008 post)
“Exposition is BORING unless…”
10 Solid Exposition Examples
‘A Quiet Place’ Meets ‘Screenwriting from Iowa’

Scott W. Smith

“Water can be very violent, and this is a very difficult [cave rescue] because of the extreme high flow, the zero visibility, the boulder pile chokes, restrictions.”
Edd Sorenson in Vox article about daring cave rescue 

Now that the 12 young soccer players and their coach have been rescued from a cave in Thailand, we can address why their story captived the world.

CONFLICT

Conflict is always a good place to start. Here you had young boys and their coach who accidentally got trapped 2.5 miles inside a cave.

Conflict-Conflict-Conflict 

STAKES
It’s monsoon season in Thailand and the timeframe was closing to get the boys out alive.

What’s At Stake? 

MAJOR DRAMATIC QUESTION

The major questions on everyone’s mind was some version of, “How are they going to rescue those boys?” It’s a simple and primal question that is clearly understood. Often movies/screenplays fail on this basic storytelling tool.

The Major of Central Dramatic Question

Goal. Stakes. Urgency. 

EMOTION
No need to explain why this was an emotional situation.

Emotion-Emotion-Emotion

ENDINGS
This was mostly a happy ending. It was tinged with the loss of life of one of the volunteers. That death reminded us of how dangerous a mission it was to rescue the boys. The fact that the boys had been in the cave since June 23—more than two weeks—built the tension with the world watching. That made their resue all the sweeter. Check out the VOX article by Radhika Viswanathan to see a solid example of multimedia journalism that’s only a couple hours old, but shows what it took to bring the boys and the coach out alive.

Earn Your Ending

Insanely Great Endings 

Happy, Sad, Ironic, Ambiguous Endings

P.S. You could do a nice list of the best movies written around the concept of a search and rescue. I’ll start a list here and keep adding to it until I get 20:
Saving Private Ryan
Die Hard
Captain Phillips
Black Hawk Down
The Martian
Apollo 13
Toy Story

Scott W. Smith

 

 

“The last 15 minutes of any movie are the most important, but the first 15 pages of any screenplay are the most important just from the standpoint of getting the movie made. I’m talking to young writers now who want to get their foot in the door. They want their scripts made. If you have a kickass first 15 pages, a studio executive will forgive the crummy 110 pages that follow. It’ll need to be re-written. But those first 15 pages, if they really hook you—someone’s going to be interested.”
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin
Masterclass

“I always think people should think of comedies as dramas when you’re writing… They should work just as well if there aren’t any jokes.” 
Writer/Director Judd Apatow
Masterclass

Making connections—that’s what I do. Today I’m connecting the Judd Apatow/James L. Brooks grace note concept to two films that had basically the same grace note. (If they qualify as grace notes.):

“You don’t need everyone to love you. Just a few good people.”
Charity Baily to her husband P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman (2017)
Written by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon

“Maybe you don’t need the whole world to love you. Maybe you just need one person.”
Kermit the Frog to Miss Piggy in The Muppets (2011)
Written by Jason Segel & Nicholas Stoller

To keep things in perspective remember that Robin Williams once said that basically winning an Oscar does changes your life—for about a week or so. Then everyone starts thinking about next year’s Oscar Awards.

P.S. If you know someone who used the term “grace notes” before James L. Brooks let me know.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

“A lot of people think that my films are attempting to be moral in some way. And they usually say it as an insult. But I do think that’s probably true to some extent because I want people to be better. I want people to try to be better. And I like showing the struggle that people go through to try to make that happen. And I also like to let them get better because that’s hope. 

“If you could watch a movie about a person whose struggling and at the end they’re a better person than at the beginning it’s hope for yourself, it’s hope for the people you love, it’s hope for the human race and I do think that’s why people go to the movies.

“Sometimes it’s to see a superhero protect the earth. But other times it’s to see everyday problems reflected and to see how people deal with that. And to meet people you like and to root for them to figure something out and to evolve in some way.

“And that’s a big thing I always took from James Brooks, from his movies and his television work, is that there was always a grace note at the end of the stories. The stories would be hysterical, but a lot of the time there would be a moment that would just touch your heart.

“For instance, there’s a great episode of Taxi that I always think about. And in the episode, Louie De Palma is dating a blind woman. And the idea is that she doesn’t know that he’s not some handsome guy. And now he finds there’s going to be an operation where she’s going to get her sight back. And he’s terrified that she’s not going to love him when she sees him. And it’s very emotional and heartbreaking and a very funny episode. And then there’s the big moment where they take the bandages off and what will she do when she sees him? And she thinks he’s beautiful. And it’s very moving. And it makes you cry. It’s very touching. And then he leaves the room and one of his friends says ‘how’d it go?’ and he basically says it went great. And then he takes this ring that he got her and he says ‘I guess I got to get her a real ring.’ (Laughs) And to me that’s perfect. It’s just perfect storytelling. It got me emotionally, it touched my heart, and it has the funny, awful, edgy joke that stays true to the character. And that’s what I’m always trying to do, in some way find a James Brooks grace note.”
Writer/Director Judd Apatow
Masterclass/ Judd Apatow Teaches Comedy

If you want to track down to watch, it’s Louie and the Blind Girl from season 5, episode 19.

Here’s what I think qualifies as one of Brooks’ most well-known grace notes:

P.S. If you’re unfamiliar with the work of James L.Brooks track down his scripts for Broadcast News, As Good as It Gets, Taxi, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. That’s a good start. He’s also the creator of The Simpsons which has been on the air since 1998.

Scott W. Smith

“Wile E. Coyote is always trying again. When he fails, he tries again. His one goal in life is to catch the Road Runner. Nothing will force him to give up.”
David Mamet
Masterclass

“Stanislavski said something great. He said the most interesting thing in the world is a guy trying to get a knot out of his shoelace. So that’s what you’re watching in Glengarry Glen Ross. Another name for that is an objective.”
David Mamet

Wile E. Coyote wants to catch the Road Runner, and the guy trying to untie the knot out of his shoelace both have a goal met with conflict.

The goal is The Major or Central Dramatic QuestionWill Wile E. Coyote catch the Road Runner? If he does the story is over. If he doesn’t that’s Conflict-Conflict-Conflict. Ole Wile E. he must find another way to achieve his goal. While he keeps coming up with many creative ways to attempt to catch the Road Runner, he’s single focused on his goal.

Another way to think of the goal/conflict is what screenwriter Aaron Sorkin calls intention and obstacle.

“What I need before I can do anything is an intention and obstacle. Somebody wants something. Something’s standing in their way of getting it. They want the money. They want the girl. They want to get to Philadelphia. It doesn’t matter. But they’ve got to really want it bad and whatever is standing in their way has got to be formidable. I need those things, and I need them to be really solid, or else I will slip into my old habit, back when I was 21 with the electric typewriter, of just writing snappy dialogue that doesn’t add up to anything.”
Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men)
Masterclass

Are your protagonists and antagonists in the stories your telling as single focused as Wile E. Coyote?

P.S. The original Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner cartoons were created in 1949 by animator Chuck Jones and writer Michael Maltese and have entertained who knows how many millions of people with a simple reworking of the old cat and mouse idea. TV guide listed Wile E. Coyote as one of The 60 Nastiest Villains of All Time.

Scott W. Smith

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