Tuesday, May 10, 2016

When Enough is Enough

Saturday I was playing a blind grandmother in a short film, "Sightseeing," being filmed by The Magic Group. Evan, the cinematographer argued, many times, against "exposition."

Writers are often told to "Show, not tell"—a related aphorism—but I'd never thought of it applying to film, which is all about showing.

Here's the plot: Grandson is going to Cannes. Grandmother is giving him advice, by telephone, about the places to see, how to spend his time, all sorts of grandmotherly advice.  Grandmother is only present in voice-over until the last scene, in which grandson returns from France with a gift—an album of 3-D photographs of the places she remembers, ending with one of the beach where she met his grandfather, a French painter now deceased.

The audience doesn't know until that last scene that the grandmother is blind. Here's where the exposition arguments began. They filmed the grandson outside my apartment, ringing the doorbell, me making my slow, blind way to the door. "That's exposition," Evan said. "Do we need that? How does that emotionally touch the audience?"

Okay, assuming that grandson is familiar with my home, they filmed a sequence in which grandson opens the door, calls out, I go to meet him, he guides me toward a chair and pulls up a chair beside me. "That's exposition," Evan said. "Do we need that? How does that emotionally touch the audience?"

All of the many tries at this scene involved, of course, lighting, sound, camera adjustments, and, if grandson was to be shown coming through the door, waiting for the right light outside. And we were improvising the dialogue.

We ended up with no doorbell, no meet-and-greet, but with grandson in a chair next to me,  saying, "I brought you something," and placing the photo album in my lap. Exactly when they show my face with what I call the "cataract sunglasses," the dark glasses I was given after cataract operations, will be a matter of editing. A "reveal" that should produce the desired emotional effect. And now the title has a double meaning.

What Evan was arguing for all along was editing. "Do we need that?" I'm a fan of both "Master Chef" and "Project Runway," and often hear the judges on both shows telling the chefs and designers to edit their work.

When I was writing my first book, "Clues to American Dance," I spent an enormous amount of time researching, trying to understand American Indian dance, and then trying to translate that understanding into words. I was explaining my troubles to a writing friend, who asked, "How many pages are you giving to Indian dance?" I began to laugh as I said, "Four pages with illustrations." He didn't need to say, bud did, "You need to learn when enough is enough."


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