Now that it’s 15 years old, I think it’s safe to say that Se7en is a modern-day classic. When Se7en director David Fincher first started to read the Se7en script he didn’t get too far because the set-up was too common. It was the old detective/young detective scenario. But his agent encouraged Fincher to continue reading the script and he soon discovered what set the story a part and knew he had to make the film.
One key element that made Se7en usual (other than the ending) was the use of the seven deadly sins as an integral part of the story:
On the Se7en DVD commentary, screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker says;
“I don’t think I ever really had the seven deadly sins preached to me, just an awareness of what they were. I don’t know when I thought about it I could have sat there and named them for you even. I mean I was stupid, I thought—seven deadly sins—you could look them up in the Bible. But they weren’t in the Bible. I had to do the research to find out about St. Thomas Aquinas and them being used as a teaching tool. I love the fact that I think now more people can name them than maybe used to be able to because Brad Pitt was in a movie about them.
Researching the seven deadly sins it was like, I didn’t sit down and read all of the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas because that stuff would just go flying over my head. Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is a perfect example. In order to make a character like Somerset, who is kind of hyper intelligent on the intelligent scale you just have to have the tip of the iceberg intelligence to imply that the iceberg that lies underneath is Somerset.”
What that means is that personally in his writing Walker did not have to go as deep as he implied the character Somerset appeared to go. You don’t need to be as smart as a character like Somerset to write a character like Somerset. And when writing and directing the scene to show Somerset’s intelligence the filmmakers only needed one scene in the library to convey his attention to detail, research methods, and intelligence. (And Fincher and Walker basically conveyed that info without any words, just visuals and Bach music.)
And even that one scene can be boiled down to one five second clip that shows Somerset writing a note to Mills (Brad Pitt) that reads:
You may want to check
the following books RE:
7 Deadly Sins:
The Canterbury tales
The Parsons Tale
Dictionary of Catholicism
So when you have expo you need to convey in a script, remember you usually only need to show the “tip of the iceberg.”
Another good example of “tip of the iceberg” writing is in Good Will Hunting where we just need to see one quick scene to show Matt Damon reading a book with other books around him to know that he is smart and a voracious reader.
Can you think of other movies that revealed character by just showing the “tip of the iceberg”—or a scene that implied there was a lot more beyond the surface?