Attention to detail and suspension of disbelief...



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  • Attention to detail and suspension of disbelief...

    Here's a question for all you Done Dealers... how much attention to detail is really necessary in a screenplay? Because of some feedback I've had on my last two projects [from fellow writers], I'm absolutely paranoid about having anything in the story, however minor, that's going to pull my reader out of it, going, "No way in hell would that happen" or "Why didn't they just do [whatever]?" It drives me CRAZY when people do this, but I can't very well convince them, a la Mystery Science Theatre 3000, to "just say to yourself 'it's just a [script] I should really just relax'", now can I? Because of people's annoying tendency to bitch about details [and because, frankly, as a flyover-country peon, I can't afford to do ANYTHING to alienate readers... when I get as powerful as Aaron "I'm just trying to tell a good story, I don't care about reality" Sorkin, maybe I can afford to relax a little] I spent a good deal of time on my latest screenplay researching all manner of things that are, to one degree or another, stupid and inane and in a couple of cases [city council meetings, arrest and trial procedures, trains, and the finer points of risotto preparation] only had bearing on ONE OR TWO SCENES. Is this overkill? Should I just chill out and just concentrate on making everything plausible rather than making sure it's all not only plausible but accurate? [I write romantic comedy and other such character-driven things, not anything that's detail-oriented by nature like medical thrillers or science fiction]

    somewhere in the general vicinity of $0.02 worth of late night, slightly feverish ramblings from


  • #2
    Disbelief shocks and struts.

    The problem is that everyone in the audience is an expert at something. If your movie is wrong on some little detail, someone will pick up on it.

    When I watch a movie, I can overlook one or two little flubs or anachronisms, but if there are too many of them, my brain clicks out of suspension mode and into disbelief mode. At that point I cease movie watching and begin movie critique (or lampooning!)

    Example. In Goldeneye, James Bond rides a motorcycle off a cliff and powerdives to catch an unoccuppied airplane that had already gone over. Although catching the airplane is improbable, it certainly is possible, thus, I can suspend my belief.

    After he gets in the airplane, which is diving towards the valley below and certain destruction, he pulls it out of the dive and flies it to safety. Now, I know quite a bit about airplanes and the only utility aircraft that could plausibly pull off a stunt like that is the Pilatus Turbo Porter. Guess what kind of airplane they used in Goldeneye? A Pilatus Turbo Porter. I can guarantee you that using a Cessna 172 would have been a lot cheaper and only one out of a 1000 viewers would know the difference. But someone in that production crew asked himself "Are there any real aircraft that could pull off a stunt like this?"

    Example 2: I read a pretty good script recently that had a daring helicopter rescue during WWII. However, there were no helicopters used in WWII.

    Last example: Years ago when I was a kid I saw a pretty exciting movie in a theatre about a submarine. At one point the sub was underneath the Artic ice cap and the bad guys were trying to destroy the sub by blowing up the ice above it. Big chunks of ice were falling down around the sub which had to dodge them to survive. Suddenly, someone in the theatre yelled out "Hey! Ice floats!", which is true. After that, I couldn't view it as anything but a self-parody.

    So, I'm a stickler for details; I think they are important. However, I think your best bet is to write your s/p the best you can and then let some people read it who know about the various subjects embodied in your s/p.

    I hope this has been helpful, and I am always willing to read anything you need read.


    • #3

      You can fall into the trap of being a research junkie who never gets around to writing the script because you need to know how zinc oxide helps us in our every day life...

      But if you are getting feedback about research issues, you may need to hit the books more.

      The writer is the brains of the script. Everyone expects what it says there on the page to be real (or possible).

      I remember seeing I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER and there's a radio contest where they ask the capitol of Brazil... half the audience yelled "Brasilia" at the screen... then Jennifer Love Hewitt gave the wrong answer. People started yelling "Stupid". The audience wasn't made up of JEOPARDY contestants, it was made up of kids who were studying World Geography in school... high school kids.

      If you have a scene in a courtroom, you'd better have it seem real to anyone who watches Court TV or the nightly news. If you have an arrest, you had better make sure it seems real to the people who watch COPS every night. It's your job to get basic stuff like this right. Anything that the general public has some knowledge of... plus all of that tech stuff that you'd need to research anyway.

      Don't be a research junkie, and don't be afraid to bend things a little... but make sure there aren't any major inaccuracies that pull a reader out of the script. If your jail has co-ed cells, we're going to stop reading.

      - Bill (can I share a cell with Kelly Lynch?)


      • #4
        Re: Disbelief shocks and struts.

        I have to agree with PteranoDon. I always do enormous amounts of research, and true the info is sometimes only used for a scene or not used at all. I think it gives you a better feel for your characters. When I write a story I can answer just about any question a reader can throw at me regarding why someone has acted in some way or done some particular action. And a lot of it has to do with the research. And it does help to talk to professionals in the fields you are writing about. I have one script that has a US Senator as the lead. I used to call Diane Feinstein's office all the time and ask questions. Believe it or not they were more than happy to answer them for me. It helps to cultivate acquaintances in different professions. For a mafia script, I made friends with a man who used to do "business" with John Gotti. He went out of his way to meet with me and tell me the most amazing stories (as an aside, he shared the script with a couple of his connected friends who really enjoyed it). Most people think it's cool to help a writer out and just about everyone is more than happy to talk about themselves.

        But- you can't let yourself become a slave to the details. The most important thing is to tell a good story with characters we can care about.

        Just my humble opinion. I hope I made a little sense this late at night and completely exhausted.



        • #5
          Re: Attention to detail and suspension of disbelie

          Fiction and fact are funny things. Just because something is factual or did at one time happen, that does not mean people will believe it can happen or will happen. Even if you pull out proof that something has happened, people will often say, Well okay it did happen that one time but that was a fluke it would never happen again. That is how people think and there are things some people just do not want to believe no matter how much proof you whip out it could happen and you have to weave fiction and fact together in a way they will buy into. And that is a funny road to walk. Because if you do it right, well, they will buy into aliens from outer space for the duration of your story even if they do not believe in aliens from outer space at all. But only because you present it as a story. Not as fact you are trying to convince them of. And that is another funny road to walk.

          No one believes my family stories. They are great stories. And they are totally true. And everyone thinks they are great stories and I made them up. People will get me to tell them again to new people just to marvel at how I keep that fanciful convoluted story I made up all straight every time. I watch their faces waiting for me to slip. But, you know, I will not slip. It is family history. I am not going to forget it. But -- it is too far fetched to put in a script. No one would believe it. They do not believe it now when it is true and if anyone wanted to dig well there are documents and tombstones to back this stuff up.

          So maybe where you are getting into trouble is you are going out to find proof for things that are hard for people to believe in the first place and telling youself you can do this in a story if you can just find proof it really happened somewhere, sometime.

          Fiction sort of does not work that way. Fiction is about the world you create. If you create a world where people can believe your "facts," it works. If you just throw facts into this world? You can really fall over trying to justify things "just because they really happened."


          • #6
            Re: Attention to detail and suspension of disbelie

            VG: IMO, if you're dealing with minor realities in your story, such as how an actual heist might have taken place or how someone really got murdered (something along those lines), and it's not pertinent throughout the rest of the script, I think it's essential that you write your story 'uninterrupted'. That is...wait until your creativeness has drifted, then go and do something in the interim like, "…researching all manner of things that are, to one degree or another, stupid and insane…." I believe it is overkill to interrupt your writing to do research, and I think it can kill your artistic vision. I say this because of my own experience. I'm stuck on deciding between two different endings for a script because I interrupted my writing to do "stupid and insane" research. So, now, I try to approach each writing project with a relaxed attitude about the "truthfulness" until after I'm finished writing my story, unless it's absolutely imperative throughout and decides the outcome of my story. So, I agree… "chill-out and just concentrate…" on writing your story and worry about making it plausible afterwards, especially since you wrote that you write, "...romantic comedy and other such character-driven things, not anything that's detail-oriented by nature like medical thrillers or science fiction."

            That's just "my opinion" from my own experiences.


            • #7
              Re: Attention to detail and suspension of disbelie

              This topic hits home, as I just had to deal with this. My question - when was ice cream invented? Did they sell it on the streets in 1905 San Francisco?

              I wanted to have a grandfather buy ice cream for his grandchildren, but then I realized they might not have had that treat back then.

              P'don, this isn't rocket science, but do you know? Anybody?

              I suppose the easy thing to do is take it out of the script.


              • #8
                Re: Attention to detail and suspension of disbelie

                Bill, try visiting this website...


                This same question haunted me a few months while working on a children's script.

                And, if clicking on the above address doesn't work, (sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't), search "History of ice cream" and go down to "Here's The Scoop On Ice Cream".


                • #9
                  I scream, you scream...

                  Thanks Cornell, I did a web search and found out that ice cream cones were introduced at the St. Louis world's fair in 1904, so it fits in.


                  • #10
                    Re: I scream, you scream...


                    San Francisco? 1905?

                    You wouldn't be writing that great American earthquake story, now would ya?

                    Remember the movie "Earthquake" back in the 70's and the 'shake-a-vision' technology (or whatever it was called)? A lot of theaters actually sustained minor structural damage due to showing that movie...

                    Just a little nostalgia. Dating myself now, so I'll shut up...


                    • #11
                      Re: I scream, you scream...

                      Smurf, no it's not an earthquake story. But the quake actually had some significance to the real story I am loosely basing my screenplay on. I've written a comedy about a man mistaken for the notorious California outlaw, Joaquin Murieta (var. sp.) of the 1850's.

                      Joaquin's head was cut off and brought back by a special posse of rangers as proof he had been killed. The head was allegedly on display, pickled inside a glass jar, in a museum in San Francisco up until the 1906 earthquake, and was never seen again afterwards.

                      But that's not the funny part! And don't bother stealing the idea, my 'play is on its way to the WGA. :b


                      • #12
                        Re: I scream, you scream...

                        Well if I can't steal that one then I'm calling dibs on the sequel:

                        Title: The Outlaw Head (sub: Joaquin Does Dallas)
                        Genre: Horromedy
                        Synopsis: Missing since 1906, the preserved head of notorious California outlaw, Joaquin Murieta, turns up in the carport laboratory of the great-great-grandson of Victor Frankenstein, a Dallas proctologist who dabbles in whole body transplants in his spare time. A stitch here, a stitch there, and 50,000 volts later, the pickled-headed outlaw rides again! Donning a hockey mask (which bears a strange resemblance to William Shatner) and armed with one mutha of a chainsaw, Joaquin turns this Halloween night into one the city of Dallas will NEVER forget.


                        • #13
                          Great Periods In Ice Cream


                          Try calling Dreyers in Oakland. Somebody in thee PR dept can probably give you a bunch of info on ice cream history in the Bay Area. Heck, they INVENTED Rocky Road, my favorite flavor,they've got to know something.

                          - Other Bill


                          • #14
                            Re: Great Periods In Ice Cream

                            Bill (other),

                            Thanks. I didn't meant to take over this thread with a question about ice cream, but I do think a point has been made about research. First, ask people you know, like folks on this board. Second, call up a company or agency in your area that deals with your topic. Third, do a search on the WWW. You would not believe how many ice cream sites there are! If all else fails, try the library.

                            Apparently, ice cream goes back to the seventeenth century, in one form or another. The wafer cones were introduced in St. Louis in 1904. That's good enough for me. If San Francisco didn't have ice cream cones in 1905, they SHOULD have!


                            • #15
                              Giant Bugs and Gargantuan Lizards and...

                              When I was a kid, I learned - to my great disappointment - a bit of science.

                              I love Godzilla even though I know he cannot get proper oxygen intake while being any size larger than a tract-house.

                              I can't deal with Disney's The Black Hole because of what my science teacher told me about gravity/mass/density when I was 12.

                              Genre problems. BUT:

                              In regards to romedies/dramadies/etc., I think that the suspension of disbelief problem would depend more on characters/personae than "cold-facts". Example: You set one in Dublin. I've been to Dublin. Been romantic in Dublin. Been nearly run down in the road in Dublin. Never saw a fresh tomatoe in Dublin (they send them frozen from Greece, etc.).

                              Let's say your romance/comedy shows us good Dublin drivers. No sweat. Or freshly grown tomatoes; I can deal with that. Wouldn't cause a reading "hiccup". But if there was a scene with a man and woman openly joking about masturbation during any date, even if while drunk, I'd have a problem. Since that never happens there. Still, to this day.

                              I think it comes down to genre again; all I care about is whether I can believe that any man/woman you write about could/would fall in love.

                              My ha'penny, kosk