Monday, October 11, 2010

Recovery and Subtext.

I had a great weekend [minus that really really horrible and embarrassing football game]. But it was not relaxing. Today it was a struggle to get back into productivity mode. But I did it! [I am very proud of work done on Mondays.] I wrote my 8 page quota in Places, a segment of another project, and had a lengthy phone call with my mother concerning my next trip home, relationships, and leftovers.

I watch less television than I could. That's what I would say if anyone ever asked me if I watch a lot of TV. Maybe, but less than I could. It's all research, anyway. I mean, it mostly is. Scott Myers' mantra is "Read scripts. Watch movies. Write pages." One thing I've been picking up on recently is the lack of subtext in television.

I feel like when I'm working on a film script, the biggest pitfall I want to avoid is to have my dialog be too on the nose. Characters shouldn't say exactly what they feel or mean because as people we don't do that very often. However, when I'm watching TV, that seems to be all they're ever doing. There are usually two extremes--either burying their emotions completely or just coming out with them. Scenes with subtext shine at a low percentage.

For instance, on Bones this season, nearly every single character has asked Brennan if she's
ok with Booth dating Hannah. Or Daisy and Sweets have real conversations about their relationship status instead of having scenes with subtext. On Grey's Anatomy last week [and this was the first time I ever watched Grey's], no one felt any inhibitions about stating their opinion on whether or not Cristina Yang was ready to work in the OR again. In Sex and the City, the girls go out for drinks or lunch for complete disclosure at least three times an episode. In Modern Family, Jay and Gloria fight about what's really bothering them as it is, not disguised as something else.

Does television get away with more on the nose dialog? Usually honest dialog comes up in scenes of strong conflict, which makes sense. Yeah, the stakes were there in Glee when Terri was trying to conceal her fake pregnancy from Will, but things got really good when he actually found out that she was lying. You can have characters dance around an issue to make it engaging, but when they start getting raw is when the emotional stakes jump to a different level.

Also, there seem to be way more confident characters in television. How many times an episode do Lorelei and Rory Gilmore rehash their problems and advise each other towards a solution? How many plans did the boys in The League come up with to get Rafi out? How many episodes of the
Undercovers will it take for the main characters to talk their way into a balance between being partners and being married? A character may be hesitant to broach a problem with the character they have it with, but they always have a friend who they can hash it out with, and the audience is always privy to that council.

Sometimes it's strange to write those on the nose scenes. But at the same time, they feel right. Because my heart doesn't pound when I'm dodging an issue with someone. It starts thumping right before I get terrifyingly honest with someone. And TV is drama, so it's going to capture those moments right as your emotions are exploding out of you, making a terrible mess of whatever you've been trying to be polite about.

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