Sunday, November 06, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 443: Loose Ends

There's nothing that gives screenwriters nightmares more than the idea that they've left something unresolved.

The process of writing, no matter how organized, plot-mapped, index carded, character studied you are, is always chaotic. Ways to enhance or improve the twists and turns of plot and character you intended constantly spring to mind. 

As the tale unfolds, you inevitably find better ways to tell it. And then when you're done, you go back over the pages time after time, making sure everything tracks, it all makes sense and no one will ever question the logic of the fiction.

And you inevitably miss something.

As a junior member of the writing team on my first TV series, I remember waking up in a cold sweat one morning, realizing that the scene we were shooting that day left something important hanging. Something that needed to be fixed or the entire story would collapse like the house of cards it probably was.

It wasn't a script I'd written. But it was one I'd read a dozen times and a plot hole so big you could drive a truck through it. I raced to work, finding the senior story editor, an experienced Hollywood icon with credits on almost every show I'd ever heard of, calmly perusing the call sheet as he lit a smoke and reeled off the ponies he was picking to his bookie over the phone.

When he finally hung up, I spilled out the problem, my concern increasing because I still didn't have a clue how to fix the problem.

He squinted at me through the cigarette smoke and smiled, "No big deal, kid. Refrigerator moment."

That day I learned that if audiences are caught up in a story, they more often than not don't see the errors and omissions that drive we so-called professionals crazy.

A refrigerator moment is one where a guy watches the show, goes to get a beer while the credits roll, senses something was left out -- and then just drinks his beer and finds something else to watch and/or worry about.

A more nuances version of this is the "hot tub moment", where the guy gets his beer, settles in the hot tub and while recalling the leading lady's cleavage suddenly blurts out "Hey, wait a minute...".

For most people, watching movies and TV shows is just Chinatown -- "Forget it, Jake. It's only a movie." The experience is over. They got their money's worth. Time to move on.

But for us, the nightmare remains. Someday, some Comic Con asshole is going to raise his hand, ask about an episode of some TV series you don't even recall working on and reveal a plot hole so massive it'll be trending on Google and Twitter for weeks designating you as the irresponsible idiot who let it happen.

We've all got 'em. How long did Indiana Jones have to hold his breath to get where that submarine was going? Will Toto still have to be put down now that Dorothy is back in Kansas? Can you really escape the Nazis in Casablanca just by having a piece of paper?

I'm reminded of the refrigerator moment that annoys me the most every time I watch my favorite James Bond film "Skyfall". The entire film is set in motion by the search for a missing file that could reveal the names of every MI5 and NATO agent. But halfway through the film, nobody cares about that anymore because they've got a psycho-killer to worry about.

And maybe that old Hollywood hack whose pony picks I interrupted had the right idea. Maybe showing the audience a good time and giving them their money's worth is a laudable feat in itself. If they want accuracy, they can watch the Weather Channel.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

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