Monday, March 12, 2012

Celebrating the mundane

This image has been sitting on my coffee table for about a week, and I decided it was finally time to write about it.

It's the back cover of the February/March issue of Written By magazine, which my wife receives as part of her job as executive director of a non-profit screenwriting competition. As you can tell, it's a promotional ad intended to get eligible voters to select The Descendants when voting on a couple prominent screenwriting awards. (It obviously worked, as the movie won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay.)

What interests me about this image is how captivating it is -- even though there's nothing going on. In fact, because there's nothing going on.

During the life of a movie's advertising campaign, we become familiar with about a half-dozen of its prominent images, which pop up regularly in conjunction with the movie. That's because they're part of the press materials. I may be explaining the obvious here, but a number of stills are made available to the press to allow critics to write reviews, and to allow publications to write about the movie (and hopefully promote it) in other ways.

For The Descendants, these half-dozen prominent images include this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

What do these four images have in common? They all remind you of something specific that's happening in the plot. They all serve as a single-image encapsulation of what a certain scene is all about. In each image there is either kinetic or potential energy -- actions either in process or about to be in process. Implied movement, if you will.

The image in the "for your consideration" ad is quite the opposite. It is almost defined by its lack of movement. George Clooney's arms are at his side, and Robert Forster's are crossed. There's definitely a memorable scene between these two characters, but it's not this scene. Their memorable scene takes place at Forster's residence earlier in the movie, whereas this shot seems to be from later in the movie at the hospital.

But why I like it so much is what it says about screenwriting. It gets at the idea that when you strip everything else about a movie away, all the stars and all the glitz, what you have left is its nuts and bolts: the script. A good script is not all about big comedy bits or dramatic twists or explosions or memorable deaths. It may have some of those things. But this image reminds us that at its essence, screenwriting is a blue collar craft. Just like life, a good script contains its share of quiet moments, moments when nothing is really "happening." A good script makes getting from point A to point B as important and as interesting as those big moments.

If you've read my blog consistently, you know that The Descendants was not my favorite film from last year. In fact, I ranked it 66th out of the 121 movies I saw in time for my ranking deadline.

But this ad, and the contemplation on the art of screenwriting it has inspired, makes me like the movie just a little bit more than I did before the latest issue of Written By magazine spent the past week on my coffee table.

No comments: