CRAFTY WRITER'S TOOL: THE CUT AWAY FROM THE PREDICTABLE CONVERSATION
You never want to waste time showing the audience a scene if they can pretty much guess how it's gonna go. But, sometimes we need to see that scene -- or more accurately, we need to see it occur.
Say you have a dramatic conversation between two girls about, say, an affair. "Are you gonna tell him?" "I don't know."
If it's a multiple-storyline show, we probably go out on the second girl's indecision -- we want to keep the audience hooked while we go to other story lines.
If it's a single-storyline show, the conversation probably ends when the second girl decides: "I have to tell him, don't I?" and then we cut to her with her boyfriend, working her way up to actually telling him. (I'm theorizing that in a single storyline show -- whether on film or TV -- you go out of scenes on decisions more often, and in multiple storyline shows you go out on indecision more often.
Think about that, class, and let me know if you agree.)
Probably the least
interesting part of this whole story is the girl telling the guy. We know
how that conversation's gonna go.
But we have to see that the conversation happens.
So, what we do is start the conversation onscreen and then cut away. You can cut away to a wide shot where we just see the body language -- and a few seconds of that will stand in for the whole dreadful conversation these two people are having up close.
What prompts me to write about this is a very, very neat trick Boston Legal
pulled. There was a big argument about whether a lawyer should tell her client something she knew that would crush him emotionally. She has an obligation as a lawyer to tell her client everything she knows about the case. She has an obligation to him as a human being not to give him information that can only hurt him emotionally.
The conversation itself, of course, is not something we want to watch. We don't want to see the guy suffer. So she says "There's something I have to tell you" and then we cut outside the conference room to watch him crumple on hearing the news. And we go to another story line.
, clever writers that they are over there, we come back to this story line close to where we left off -- and she's not
having the conversation with him that we were expecting. (It's a different, slightly less crushing conversation; and it's a lie.) They used the conventions of TV to trick us. We accepted the Cut Away from the Predictable Conversation
and assumed it meant that the conversation would go predictably. But it didn't.
Clever, clever boys and girls.