Thursday, November 4, 2010

Christmas In Connecticut or When Does This Thing Start

After yesterday's post I decided to watch the movie again.  As soon as it began I remembered I fast forward through the first 10 minutes until we get to Elizabeth Lane.

I realized this is something important.  Something went really wrong in this movie if you can replace that much story telling with 2 lines of dialog spoken by the magazine publisher which goes something like "A nurse at the Brooklyn Naval Hospital wrote and asked if Elizabeth Lane would host Christmas for a heroic sailor who never really had Christmases growing up and so enjoys her cozy magazine columns.  I said yes."

Actually that's pretty much the log line isn't it.

Do we need to see Jefferson Jones in his act of heroism, floating on the ocean for 18 days?  I don't.  If it was any good, I'd watch it again.  After all, I've seen the movie a bazillion time and it never gets old.  Except the first 10 minutes.  Has storytelling changed so much since 1945?  No.  If I were to guess why we see Dennis Morgan for 10 minutes is that they paid for him and they were going to use him.  They would have been better off doing the dinner scene that doesn't exist for 10 minutes.

So what's wrong with these scenes?  They don't advance the story.  Do they reveal his character?  He is the love interest so maybe we do need to know about him.  Yeah, that's a good argument, but what we learn isn't that positive and also is restated later when the nurse shows up at the farmhouse.  While we supposedly should care about Jefferson Jones because he's the love interest, he's with the nurse and his buddy who we are not supposed to care about and don't.

Why am I making a big deal about this?  Because starting your story when the story commences is better than starting your story when your story starts.

What am I saying?  Starts?  Commences?  Same thing.  Probably the words are close but take the movie, yes because the sailor survived an ordeal on the ocean then was in the hospital and the nurse fell for him and wanted to do something nice is where the story "started".  It's the backstory.  But the real action begins when Elizabeth Lane finds out she's hosting Christmas for the sailor at her Connecticut farmhouse where she supposedly lives with her husband and baby and woops she doesn't have a husband, a baby or a beautiful farmhouse in Connecticut.

I don't think we need to know the particulars of Jeff Jones' incident.  We don't need to see it, especially if everything we need to get out of it can be said in a couple lines of dialog.

In general, if you have to set your story up, keep it brief, keep it salient.

Do I always do that?  No.  Read Sweeps and you'll be shouting I don't follow my own advice.  That sounds like a part 2 to this thought may be required.

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