There’s a great little story about how on the set of E.T., Spielberg slowly unwrapped a toy off camera to illicit a reaction from the young actor playing Elliott. I’ve always thought this story was a great way to explain how a filmmaker should approach exposition. Exposition is the easiest, most fun, and most misunderstood part of storytelling. But filmic exposition is generally stupid, because people are afraid of it.
Somebody once asked me, about my 50/50 Rule, “When making a movie, would you pay extra special attention to how it starts, since you lose interest in so many movies so fast?” The answer is decidedly no, because every frame of a movie is sacred and equally important. If you treat your entire movie like that, then you don’t need to spend extra attention to any one part of it. Exposition is too often just underestimated as something that has to be blown through in order to get to the fun stuff. To counteract this, the indies have bloated their exposition with way too much visual minutiae. You can build a ‘stark’, ‘oblique’, ‘atmospheric’ world with your story—you don’t need shots that hold too long on a girl as she wistfully puts on makeup.
God’s Not Dead (2014) Directed by Harold Cronk
Written by Chuck Konzelman and Gary Solomon
Mild spoilers, but who cares.
There’s a scene in God’s Not Dead where a woman who has been diagnosed with cancer sits down with her boyfriend for a fancy dinner at a nice restaurant. The boyfriend smiles excitedly and says “I just made partner.” She responds with “I have cancer.” He replies, “Can’t this wait?” and then proceeds to break up with her for having cancer.
The cinematic powers-that-be tend to decree that Citizen Kane is the best movie ever made, or sometimes Raging Bull. I don’t have a problem with that appraisal. It’s fun. Lists are fun—they expose people to cool movies they may not have heard of, and cause debates over who’s the most badass horror villain from the 80s, or what the best movies for libertarians are.
I’ve told this story a billion times so this time I’m going to try to include some more details. When my late grandpa, Tom Easton, was ten years old, he saw Fantasia in the theater. He always wanted to be a cartoonist but his dad was cold and distant and thought cartoons were for kids and no way to make a living. But despite that lack of encouragement, Tom did some cool things. He avoided combat in the Korean War by teaching art on base and drawing army posters. Continue reading My First Feature Film Is Almost Done