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Posts Tagged ‘Jennifer Garner’

“Subtext is what the character is really saying beneath and between the lines. Often characters don’t understand themselves. They’re often not direct and don’t say what they mean. We might say that subtext is all about underlying drives and meanings that are not apparent to the character, but that are apparent to the audience or reader.”
Linda Seger
Creating Unforgettable Characters
page 148

“If two characters say  ‘I love you’ and mean it, the scene is over. In other words, a story must have a subtext. Subtext is what lies beneath the text. It can be the underlying meaning of a story, the subconscious motives of a character, or what is really going on moment by moment in the scene.”
Linda Stuart
Getting Your Script Through the Hollywood Maze
Page 90

By adding the prefix sub (under, below) to a word changes the meaning of the root word.  A submarine is able to go under the water—sometimes deep under water. Writing good subtext in a screenplay is writing dialogue and scenes that are beneath the surface. Sometimes deep below the surface. Sometimes it takes multiple viewings of a film for you to catch the subtext.

I first heard the term subtext in an acting class years ago. Actors love to play the subtext of a scene. You can give an actor a line like, “I’m going to miss you,” and they can play it ten different ways.

A very simple example of subtext is in the movie Juno when Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) are contemplating what color they’re going to paint their nursery for the baby they are adopting. At the end of the page and a half scene Mark says, “I think it’s too early to paint. That’s what I think.” On the surface he seems to me saying, “Let’s wait until we know if it’s a boy or a girl and then decide on the color.”

But it’s really two short sentences packed with subtext. And as you read the Diablo Cody script. or watch the movie, the story unfolds a little more and you know exactly what was really going through Mark’s mind.

Sometimes, like in that case from Juno, the subtext isn’t recognized until later in the film. And sometimes the subtext is instantly recognized by the audience like the 70s guilty pleasure Smokey and the Bandit when Burt Reynolds says, “I only take my hat off for one thing….”

One of my favorite scene of subtext is in Cast Away, written by William Broyles, Jr. (Technically it’s two or three scenes, but one just spills over from the house to the garage to the jeep.) It’s toward the end of the movie when Tom Hanks has returned after years of being stranded on an island and is going to meet his old love (Helen Hunt).  Like most people she believed he was killed in the plane crash and is now married with children.

It’s a tender scene that in the script goes on for six pages as they talk about everything but their relationship; The weather, her kids, the Tennessee Titans almost winning the Super Bowl, where the search parties looked for him—everything but their relationship. Finally Hank’s says, “I should have never got on that plane.” That revelation is too powerful for Hunt to deal with so she changes the subject to take him to the garage where she still has his old jeep.

He says, “You kept the car? She says, “I kept everything.” The scene plays on and no one is talking about the elephant in the room; they still love each other. At one point they pause and look into each other’s eyes and it’s subtext without any text. Finally, Hunt says “Right back. You said you’d be right back.” They open up and proclaim their love for each other which is all the more agonizing because she has another family she is committed to. Great writing full of conflict, and full of subtext.

Scott W. Smith

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One of the reoccurring themes of this blog is that big things can come from small places. Most people don’t normally connect Granville, Ohio to Hollywood because…well, because they’ve never heard of Granville, Ohio. But there is a small liberal arts school there that was founded in 1831 and is now known as Denison University and it has produced a surprising amount of entertainment talent. (As well as legendary Ohio St. football coach Woody Hayes.)

Denison University is located in a rural area 27 miles east of Columbus, Ohio and happens to include as its alumni actress Jennifer Garner (AliasJuno) , actor Steve Carell (The Office, The 40 Year old Virgin)  Oscar-nominated screenwriter Jose Rivera (The Motorcycle Diaries), Emmy and Tony-winning actor Hal Holbrook (Wall Street, Into the Wild) and former Disney CEO Michael Eisner.

Since I’ve been writing about webisodes the last few days I’d like to focus on Eisner today. He graduated from Denison in 1964 with a degree in English and worked his way up to become president and CEO of Paramount Pictures in 1984. He moved over to Disney in 1984 and remained CEO until he resigned in 2005. (As a quirky side note my wife worked as a temp secretary for Eisner and Disney executive Frank Wells back in the mid-eighties. Part of my so close–so far away story.)

Since leaving Disney, Eisner has been busy with various entertainment ventures including the independent media studio Vuguru. Here’s been an early innovator of bringing web-based scripted programs not only to the internet but also working a deal with Verizon Wireless for V CAST video-enabled phones. One of the online programs he is connected to is The-All-For-Nots about an indie rock band.

A while back Eisner was asked by NewTeeVee what specifically attracted him about web content:

“I don’t look at it as web content. It is being distributed in a different mode. Hopefully [people] will forget whether it’s sitting on their lap or on a screen or on a desk, they’ll just be engaged in what the characters are saying. I don’t care about the technology, except that it opens up eyes to content.”
                                                                                               Michael Eisner 

 

Related posts: Screenwriting and the Little Fat Girl from Ohio 
                       Screenwriting and Liberal Arts
                       Screenwriting from Sunset Blvd.

Updates: Just last week Steve Carrell retuned to Denison University to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Burpee’s Seedy Theatrical Company — an improvisational group he was a part of as a student.

Denison University also has a Department of Cinema. 

 

Scott W. Smith


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