Wednesday, October 24, 2007

For The Moment...

Last week I was enjoying Michael Clayton in the darkened comfort of the local Galaxy cinema, when I witnessed a '(movie) moment'.

It's dawn, and George Clooney (Clayton) drives quickly down a country lane when, without warning, he pulls over to the side of the road. On a nearby hillside he notices three unsaddled horses standing at attention. Clayton thinks a moment, then carefully exits his vehicle and walks across the field until he stands right before the three animals. The sun starts to rise...the misty fog starts to evaporate. Clayton's face is a twisted mess of guilt and remorse...for what's he's done with his life, and what he hasn't done. The music quietly builds and swells. The camera slowly circles him and the horses. And we feel his pain and sense his disconnect and despair. (Next, in the background, his car suddenly explodes...but it's merely the button to the moment I'm describing)

Why was all of this a moment? Because it was written and directed with a primary goal of invoking an emotional response in the viewer, and it took its time doing so. It 'breathed'. It also paid explicit attention to 'getting the details' of the scene, and, not surprisingly, would've taken a good chunk of a day (or two) to film.

EDIT: Just let me add this as I fear I may not have been clear. The explosion isn't the moment I'm trying to's simply the conclusion of the sequence of Clayton leaving his car to square off against the horses. That sequence is the moment...a series of shots, usually with no or little dialogue, that make you the viewer 'feel' something. I 'felt' whatever Clayton (Clooney) was going through at that 'moment', as it were.

Feature films, or at least the good ones, usually have several of these throughout the movie....and they can, because they have the time and budget to do so.

TV? Not so much.

When making television, shooting schedules are fast and furious, and you're fighting the clock every minute just to make your day, much less 'create' any movie magic. Not to mention there's expectation of a certain pace and energy to network television drama when it airs (I'm excluding cable and premium pay channels for now as they tend to have a movie/TV hybrid in their look, style, and execution) that demands you keep the story moving. The prevailing network exec notion seems to be if you try to slow it down and let the moments breathe, the viewer will just click away.

But why? Those moments are the ones that tend to stick and make an impact on the viewer, both intellectually and emotionally. They 'move' people...and are fun to make and watch because they're usually done by showing, not telling (as in, sans dialogue).

But TV's so much about the telling.

Still, today's shows have tried to manufacture their version of the moving movie know what I mean, the closing scenes set to some popular song where we generally see all the characters in some form of 'reflective' moment or situation. Except it's really more of a montage than a 'moment', and tend to feel manipulative instead of honest. And it may not necessarily go where it would be most effective dramatically (as in the ending's not always necessarily the best place). In a nutshell, it's not the same thing.

TV drama could use more 'moments' more often, in my opinion. And any TV director worth his or her salt should try to weasel in a few into every TV episode they work on. This even though the machine will fight you every step of the way (the shooting schedule will kick 'moments' out quicker than you can say Action!, with A.D.'s and line producers marching up to you waving your shotlist over their head: "Are you nuts? We don't have time for this?"). But fight back a bit and make some time, even if for just one short sequence...

...and maybe we'll see more (movie) moments, on TV.


jimhenshaw said...

Coming from film, I learned a lot about writing for television by listening to shows without watching them. Invariably, it made bad shows better.

Unfortunately, while you can follow the gist and certainly the emotional tone of most good movies with the sound turned off, television visuals don't convey the same level of information.

Although, I have to say "Viva Laughlin" was much better on mute and especially when you provided your own soundtrack. Check out your own clip by replacing "Sympathy for the Devil" with "I Feel Pretty".

Trust me, those un-aired episodes have a future at midnight screenings.

blueglow said...

we put a "movie moment" into the thing we most recently shot (a pilot). it was a very liberating thing to be able to do and it was interesting in how if affected the standard TV rhythm when we were cutting the show. even though the moment timed out at only 1:38 min (and it wasn't an action montage but rather a couple of longish shots meant to convey how the character was feeling) it has caused some viewers to regard the pilot as a movie as opposed to a tv show.

wcdixon said...

Jim: this was when movies went from silent to talkies, right?

blueglow: Interesting...and did it help? Or hurt? Or indifferent? Did just one stand out too much, as in does there seem to be an appropriate number of 'moments' in a TV hour to help make them seem part of the show instead of feeling like a mistake? (not saying what you did was a know what I mean)

blueglow said...

some people liked it, some didn't -- the job title attached to the likers and the dislikers will tell me if it was a good idea or not.

The_Lex said...

I think they did those moments beautifully and relatively often in Buffy.

japhy99 said...

Well said. This is, in a way, why I don't watch too much TV.

To the average viewer, do moments mean they have to think a little, and the average viewer would rather not think?

Jutratest said...

There was a great sequence in Deadwood after Wild Bill got shot. People filling the streets, the news spreading. Gustavo Santaolalla music (which is now over used) on the soundtrack.

I love movie moments.

Also, there is a similar sequence in EMPIRE OF THE SUN when the young JG Ballard is watching a kamikaze cerimony. He starts to sing and, well movie moment stuff takes place as the plane drifts off into the sun, then Boom, the plane blows up and the Americans attack.

Book of Don said...

..with respect, I must ask whether or not this "movie moment" would have remained if it hadn't been one of the key motivating scenes in the entire film driving the entire narrative forward.

would have really have left it in...if George had simply looked at the horses...regained his composure...jumped in his car..and drove away.

Probably not. And didn't you feel it was terrible contrived that he would have his "horse moment" mere seconds before the clock struck 12 ?

Spoiled the whole film for me.