Am I cheating?

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  • Am I cheating?

    I'm currently writing a sci-fi screenplay. There are some things that need to be explained early on to the audience before the story can progress, and it's quite complicated. So I have inserted a scene where my protagonist is actually giving a lecture to a room full of students, where he basically explains what I need to, but does it in a way so it looks like he's helping them with their course and he's a guest speaker.

    I am basically lecturing the audience, is it cheating? I really can't figure out any other way to do it, unless I insert a character who represents the audience and have my protagonist explain everything to him for the sake of the audience.

    Thanks

  • #2
    Think of great sci-fi scripts and how they handle exposition.
    Back to the Future has Doc (of the present) telling Marty that the Delorean needs 1.21 Jiggowatts in order for the Flux Capacitor to work.

    The only way this works is because it's a setup for a later payoff where Marty tells the same thing to Doc (of the 50's) and he freaks out thinking that it is an impossible goal to attain.

    The two questions you must answer are:

    1. Is everything you're telling ABSOLUTELY neccesary?
    2. Can you use it as a setup for a great payoff later.

    I also find that you must be as brief as possible if you are going to use the whole "see, this is how this works" beat.

    Can a character discover it? An investigative reporter snooping around? It's their job to ask how stuff works. Can you show it as opposed to telling it?

    Remember, Jurrasic Park had some major expository moments but they tried to keep it brief and original (including an animated sequence on how the dinosaur and frog DNA were combined). This technique worked in the eyes of some and failed miserably in the eyes of others.

    Just think, did people pay their eight bucks to see a science lesson or to see the cool 3D dinosaurs?

    The trick with exposition is to hide it, keep it brief, make it worthwhile of being told in the first place.

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    • #3
      Sometimes a little exposition like you have done is necessary at the start of a script.

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      • #4
        Re: Am I cheating?

        Raiders of the Lost Ark did it pretty well when the Army guys came to find out about ravenswood being in the nazi comminuque.

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        • #5
          Re: Re: Am I cheating?

          Raiders of the Lost Ark did it pretty well when the Army guys came to find out about ravenswood being in the nazi comminuque.
          And I've also read a few comments on exactly why that worked. It took place in an interesting and somewhat imposing structure, used compelling visual aids, and on top of the exposition and story setup, it clearly outlined integral facets of the Indy and Brody characters.

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          • #6
            Re: Re: Am I cheating?

            That "lecture" idea is going to reek of exposition unless there is a second purpose to the scene; not just to give us information about the story, but also to tell us something about the character or at the very least make us laugh as well.

            In Back to the Future, Doc could spout out as much exposition as he wanted in that first scene, because the audience is introduced to that character in that scene and is also distracted by the process that Doc is going through getting the Dolorean ready for travel, etc. There's so much going on in the scene that the audience is accepting the exposition unconciously while focusing on other elements of the scene.

            So if your scene is only about the guy telling the students information, it will be interminable. However, say that the guy is telling the students this information while he is eyeing a suspicious person in the audience, worried that this suspicious audience member may be concealing a gun. Near the end of the scene, the suspicious person starts to pull out the mysterious object and the lecturer ducks. The lecturer pokes his head back up and sees the suspicious person has pulled out his cell phone to make a phone call.

            That scene tells us several things... that the lecturer is nervous, and has probably done something that has given him good reason to think that people are after him. The scene has built up a level of suspense that (hopefully) pays off with a good laugh. And during all that, you also delivered the necessary exposition to the audience while keeping them entertained.

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            • #7
              Re: Re: Am I cheating?

              Thanks for the replies. Obviously I'm not happy with the scene as it stands because I've questioned it, but I'll keep it there as a template until a better idea comes along.

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              • #8
                Sci-Fi

                It really depends on the depth of the information. It can be a pain in the butt to relate info as it occurs. Because a lot of the time it happens through dialogue...

                You have to ask yourself this... "Using a lecture as a medium of communication. WILL the audience REMEMBER all the little details that I lay out in one chunk"...

                Keep in mind. And this is very important. Your audience just got their popcorn, and drink are settling in. You hit them with a big expository scene right off the bat to draw them in. Viewers are not like us. Most of them don't know that the "intrusive crystal" can power a space shuttle if hooked up to the "Nathanian powerhead on a Bratuitous electrical inverter" is going to come up later in the script in a situation where your protag is trying to escape from Martians...

                I'll say that again. Viewers don't know format, arc or many of the complexities of setup and payoff. So this information, if it is that important... Must stick with them.

                At least open with action to get their brain on the movie. Then hit them with the expositition. Otherwise they don't know it's relevant.

                Ever sat with someone watching a movie and you've seen it and they haven't? During a crutial scene they go to whisper something to you and you say, "Hey. Shut up. This is an important part?" Pretend you're not there. Or you too haven't seen the movie. What if you miss that part?

                Make it interesting all the way through is all I can say. Put A LOT of conflict into a scene like that to keep their attention.

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                • #9
                  Re: Sci-Fi

                  Spielberg's A.I. seemed to start out with a long-winded speech. Didn't work there.

                  In Indiana Jones, the speech comes later, and the scene has a lot of conflict in it. So it worked.

                  I'd worry about a film idea that needs a lot of explanation. It's not like a book, where you can re-read it. If the audience doesn't get it right away, will the movie make sense?

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                  • #10

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                    • #11
                      Re: Sci-Fi

                      Some Sci-fi movies have a textual prologue to ctach the audience up. Blade Runner, Star Wars, and The Terminator come to mind.

                      But then, so did Waterworld...

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                      • #12
                        Re: Sci-Fi

                        I've seen the lecture scene done before.

                        One thing I've found helpful is to write out everything I believe needs to be told, as if one character told it to another character. Then, I took a red pen and cut out anything that didn't absolutely need to be said. Right now, I'm going through a draft in search of places to put information, ways to illustrate it or something interesting to look at that ties into what is being said. It has cut down exposition considerably.

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                        • #13
                          Re: Sci-Fi

                          If it's the best way, and it's physical placement doesn't hurt the overall rythm of the act movements, well then focus on the polish of the scene.

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                          • #14
                            Re: Sci-Fi

                            you know, the old "Mission: Impossible" basically had a lecture scene in every episode what with the tape recorder telling them what the mission was going to be.

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                            • #15
                              Re: Sci-Fi

                              I like the idea of a prologue, as I can insert quickshots of what's going on as the narrator explains it, keeping the audience interested.

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