Killer Instinct, Part Two
I have a friend who runs a literary agency in Hollywood. She represents screenwriters. I was having lunch with her a few weeks ago and I asked her, “Is there any one mistake you find your writers making over and over?”
My friend didn’t hesitate.
“They chicken out when they come to the Big Scene.”
I could feel my blood freezing when she said this. I was thinking, “OMG, I do that too.”
“It’s an issue that comes up on script after script. I’m not kidding. Writers seem to be so intent on not overplaying a scene or not writing it ‘on the nose’ that they wind up pulling their punches. The scene comes out underwritten and weak. I’ve had to literally sit side-by-side with some of my writers at their keyboards and make them attack the scene over and over until they finally face it and write it Big.”
I asked my friend for examples.
“Think about the final bloodbath in The Wild Bunch or the moment in The Godfather when Michael Corleone says, ‘If Clemenza can figure out a way to plant a weapon for me … then I’ll kill them both.’” Those are big moments. Big scenes. And the writers play them full-tilt. Even the Godfather scene, though it’s quiet, no action, just an actor saying a line … it’s killer.”
I asked my friend why writers pull back at these big moments.
“Fear of failure? Fear of going over the top and falling on their faces? I don’t know. But it’s definitely fear of SOMETHING.”
“Every book or movie comes down to one Big Moment. Luke Skywalker faces Darth Vader. The young Chasidic wife in Unorthodox confronts her husband. Charlotte Rampling stands up to Tom Courtenay in 45 Years. It’s a moment when all the cards are slapped onto the table. The writer has to have the guts to go big. The moment in 45 Years was so subtle, if you sneezed you missed it. But it was BIG. The writer and the filmmakers did their job. They crafted a moment that said everything, and they played it flat out.”
I admit it, I’m guilty of this too. It’s Resistance. We KNOW the Big Scene is coming, we recognize the Big Moment as we’re writing it. But we lack the killer instinct to take out the Big Hammer and hit it with all we’ve got.
Killer Instinct, Part Two. It’s not just finishing a project (as we talked about in last week’s post), it’s nailing the Big Moment and holding nothing back.