Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Question.

Every coherent screenplay answers one question. Not every coherent screenplay answers the same question. (That's the mistake of the Hero's Journey and such--that every film is the same film.) But each coherent screenplay answers its own question, the question which it forms, poses, insists upon and manipulates.
  • The Question exists in the minds of the audience. It gets there by insinuation, outright statement, and the audience's past experiences.
  • Each scene poses a partial or temporary answer to The Question.
  • The Question might get modified by each scene. Each scene can ramify, modify, inflect The Question.
  • The Question gets satisfyingly (richly, complexly but clearly) answered by the end of the film.
I wrote some time ago about misleading the audience--in a productive way--by getting them to concentrate on the wrong question. But I should have started with a clearer discussion of The Question. So that's what this is.

It's easy to find clear examples of The Question. Jaws (1975) is one.

In the first scene of Jaws, we find there is a dangerous man-eating shark. From there, there is a single question in the minds of the audience.

Can the town stop the shark?