THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHAT AND WHY
If you’ve ever taken a screenwriting class and lord knows, I’ve taken a ton, you’ve been told over and over again that every movie starts with an inciting incident. The Thing That Happens that sets the whole story in motion.
But here’s the thing. The Thing That Happens is important. But even more important is Why The Thing That Happens Happens to Have Happened.
Look at it this way: Option 1) Plumber shows up to fix toilet, housewife bangs him in the tub. That sets up a good 90 minutes of revenge and betrayal.
Option 2) Plumber shows up to fix toilet, housewife bangs him in the tub because she’s compelled to enter into self destructive relationships in order to punish herself for marrying the wrong twin. Another good 90 minutes of revenge and betrayal.
What’s the difference? The first one is all What. The second one is all Why.
The difference between What and Why is the difference between plot and story and by the way, is also the difference between porn and cinema. And telling a story about why –– making a movie that’s better than porn –– that can get tricky. For the simple reason that unlike in, say, a novel, in movies you can’t really tell the people watching what the characters are thinking.
Oh, sure. You can cheat. You can use voice over narration. But if I want someone to describe what I’m seeing, I’ll go to the movies with my Aunt Evelyn. “He’s opening the door,” she’ll tell the entire audience. “He doesn’t know the Turkish pastry chef lives there.”
Thanks, Aunt Evelyn.
I took her to a movie once that did the voice over thing. It flipped her out. “Who’s talking?” she kept saying. “Why does somebody keep talking over the picture?”
Here’s a better idea. Get actors who can act. Find someone who can convey pain and betrayal with a look, then trust them to do it. Most important, have a Why.
Even if some of the people in the audience don’t get it, if you’re lucky, Aunt Evelyn will be there to explain it to them.
Brian Belefant is a director who loves his Aunt Evelyn and hopes she’s not reading this blog. You can reach him at (503) 715 2852 or send an email to belefant (at) me (dot) com.