More storytelling: Mystery Boxes

What’s Die Hard about? Divorce.

What’s ET about? Also divorce.

What’s Jaws about? A man’s struggle with masculinity.

So says JJ Abrams, writer of Lost, producer of Cloverfield, director of Star Trek and composer of themes for various films and TV shows. He obviously knows his way around a story. The most important thing he says here is that writing is, basically, character creation; everything else comes second to that. So, the best bit of Jaws is not the big scary shark but the scene between the protagonist and his son; it’s the characters that draw us in. Why would we care who gets eaten if we’re not interested in the people? ET works because we know how troubled Elliott is and thus we understand why he clings to the alien so much. When we make short films, it’s often tempting to skimp on the character development, on those scenes where maybe not much happens except the audience gets to know the characters a bit better. Abrams calls those scenes ‘investment in character’, and that’s exactly what they are. If successful, they pay back much more than they cost.

This continues the thought from yesterday’s post; the plot is often just a means to convey the emotion, and the success of the film depends on whether we can believe that those characters are experiencing that emotion. ‘Character is plot, plot is character,’ said F Scott Fitzgerald – he meant, I guess, that the plot and the character grow out of each other, and that they are at least as important as each other.

A fantastic talk, full of good stuff, including tips about Tom Cruise’s nose. Oh, and one last thing, the advice probably all creative people need to hear now and again:

Go make your movie. There’s nothing stopping you.

JJ Abrams

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