Monday, April 5, 2010

Background Noise

In writing any kind of script, but comedy especially, one of the most undervalued tricks in keeping a scene interesting is bringing the background to life. It’s kind of what Blake Snyder means by ‘putting the pope in the pool.’ But we say, take it further. Don’t just put the pope in the pool. Put the pope in the pool, surround him with eccentric pool floats and a precocious kid that keeps repeating the same swear word.

Snyder advocates putting the pope in the pool as a tool for disguising exposition. But even when you have snappy dialogue happening in the foreground, there’s no reason your scene can’t be enhanced by some ridiculous setting. If your characters are having a raunchy, hilarious conversation about anal suppositories, don’t make it happen in the privacy of their home. Make it happen in a crowded McDonald’s that’s overrun with a middle school gymnastics team. Or make it happen at a church get together. Don’t shy away from raising the stakes because it’s easier just to write two people talking.

Here’s an example:

INT. VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT – DAY

Dick and Jane wait in a long line in the crowded bistro. PETA stickers and happy animal faces adorn the walls. A HAPPY CHILD pets her dog in the corner.

DICK
How was I supposed to know, Jane?

JANE
I don’t know. Common sense? Normal human instinct.
The use of your eyes, maybe?

DICK
I used my eyes. It didn’t look real.

JANE
In what way did it not look real? Its fur? Its cute little nose?

A few RESTAURANT PATRONS chat nearby.

PATRON 1
Did you know it’s National Dog month?

PATRON 2
Yeah. I’ve adopted three puppies already today.

DICK
Look, I’m sorry, okay? Why did you bring me here anyway?
Torture? Guilt trip?

JANE
I’m a vegetarian, Dick. In case you forgot.

DICK
How could I forget? Huh? Maybe none of this would’ve
happened if you weren’t always breathing down my neck.
It makes me very tense. I get jumpy.

PATRON 1
God, I love dogs.

JANE
Please, Dick. Don’t blame this on me. I didn’t pull the trigger.

DICK
Your father is not usually a joking man. When he said target practice,
I thought he meant it literally.

JANE
Well, good work. Excellent judgment.

DICK
I didn’t mean to shoot your dog in the face, Jane! I’ve never
even used a gun before!

Aghast Patrons stare in horror as Dick panics and hurries out. The Happy Child bursts into tears. Jane calls after him.

JANE
We’ve had that dog for ten years, Dick. She survived two car accidents!

1 comment:

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