Write the Big Moment Big

I have a friend who runs a successful literary agency in Los Angeles. She represents screenwriters. I asked her once, “Is there any single mistake your writers make, not in business or marketing, but in the writing itself?”

She replied without hesitation,

“When they come to the Big Scene, they chicken out.”

I asked her to elaborate.

“Think about the ‘She’s my sister, she’s my daughter’ scene in Chinatown. Or the moment in The Godfather when Michael says, ‘If Clemenza can figure a way to have a weapon planted for me … then I’ll kill them both.” Those are Big Moments. Both are central to their dramas. And in each one, the writers and directors held nothing back. They didn’t under-write. They didn’t underplay. And both those moments are immortal.”

The filmmakers didn’t underplay this moment in “Chinatown”

My friend said that her writers (and by extension, of course, all of us) tend to be risk-averse in their stories’ Big Moments. 

“Partly it’s because they’ve been told that subtext is more powerful than text. Or they’re afraid that if they go balls-out for emotion and the moment doesn’t work, they’ll look foolish. So they deliberately under-write. They back off from having Carmela scream at Tony, ‘I was in love with Furio!’ Or from Tony slamming his fist through the wall two inches from Carmela’s face.”

My friend said she routinely has to force her writers to revisit their Big Moments and be brave enough to take the risk of really going for it.

I confess when I heard that, my blood ran a little cold. 

I thought, “Am I doing that?”

Of course I am. And for the same reasons my friend cited.

Memo to self: Don’t chicken out next time.

Write the Big Moment Big.


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  1. Brian Nelson on August 11, 2021 at 6:58 am

    Don’t chicken out. Great advice. I know my own ‘half-stepping’ through life/big moments were an attempt to be cool, not sweat it. If I left something in the tank, then I could always say to myself, “If I had really given my all…” Also, I never wanted to look like a fool.

    Sunday was our 11th annual (if we count the virtual attempt during the lockdowns) Unleashed at Stadium Bowl. Registrations were about 2/3 of 2019–fear and uncertainty remain the primary feel up here. Registrations were so slow in the beginning we considered–in a moment of utter despair–to cancel the event. Glad we didn’t.

    Something I’ve learned while producing this race over the past decade. When we think we look our best (fully rested, nice tan, hair done just so…) we really don’t. We look made up. When we are bold enough to be vulnerable (one of the reasons I have used ‘collective suffering’as a team building method for so many years) we show the world who we really are.

    To witness another human being push all of the chips in… Rocky, Creed, Rudy…remember, Rocky lost. But who cares as we jump from our seats crying and clapping and screaming with delight. What is it that we see?

    I think we see the Divine Spark in others, and that is the most beautiful thing to see in the world. When we see that–well, we jump, applaud, clap, fist-bump, hug–in short, we love it. We love that person. We SEE that person. The beauty (and why the military and athletics work IMHO) is that we cannot UNSEE that person afterwards. Unless you’re a sociopath, you are connected with that person. You SEE them.

    I’m pretty sure the same is in Art. What we want to see (although we as audiences are even afraid to say it out loud even to ourselves) is who can we be. What can man become. When we witness this–we are able to hold our own shoulders back just a bit more. Confront life with a bit more courage. Have the guts to become just a little bit more of our own potential ourselves.

    • Joe on August 11, 2021 at 10:07 am

      Good one, B. Glad you were able to pull it off. You’re doing good work.

      • Brian Nelson on August 11, 2021 at 2:05 pm

        Thanks brother! Need to catch up in next week or two.

    • Kate Stanton on August 11, 2021 at 10:52 am

      My goodness this is beautiful, Brian! Congrats!!

      Be more courageous is my mantra this week.

      • Brian Nelson on August 11, 2021 at 2:06 pm

        Thanks Kate! We were so happy to do the event again. It inspires me for months. To witness others see themselves differently- that more was in them than the previously believed—that is soul nourishment for sure!

        • Kate Stanton on August 11, 2021 at 5:24 pm

          I asked my friend from Latvia for some help in this post (I promise I didn’t cheat with Google Translate)
          Мир не может не измениться к лучшему, когда в нем есть такие люди как вы – спасибо Вам за то благо и надежду, которые Вы несёте людям в это трудное время!

          • Brian Nelson on August 11, 2021 at 7:04 pm

            Damn Kate, you’re gonna make me cry! Thank you! So kind!!

      • Joe on August 11, 2021 at 4:05 pm

        Kate, I liked your most recent: https://youtu.be/C2EHNZCwbew

        • Kate Stanton on August 11, 2021 at 4:13 pm

          Thanks Joe!! I hope to finish that one soon! That means a lot that you listened to my song seed! I enjoyed reading your last blog post writing. I’m in awe by the talent from writers that congregate here.

  2. Joe on August 11, 2021 at 10:19 am

    Two big moments that come to mind: when Ned Stark got his head lopped off in Game of Thrones.

    In Gates of Fire when Dienekes played along with his wife’s ploy to save the life of Rooster’s infant son, and heard in response: “Now you may be chosen.”

    • Sam Luna on August 11, 2021 at 11:29 am

      And interesting to think how Ned’s beheading changed TV (beloved characters can be killed at any time), much the same way the Sopranos referenced in Coach’s post today did (the anti-hero craze, i.e. Breaking Bad, Mad Men, etc etc).

  3. EugenBaudeer on August 11, 2021 at 1:17 pm

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  4. Roger Wyatt on August 13, 2021 at 1:07 pm

    For me one of the best examples of going big in big moments was Alfred Hitchcock’s decision to kill off his star not only in the first third of the film but to do it in the most brutal and up close way. Then when one considers Janet Leigh was an A list star of the period that takes true grit.

  5. Roger Wyatt on August 13, 2021 at 1:08 pm

    I’m referring to Psycho of course.

  6. Tolis Alexopoulos on August 13, 2021 at 2:09 pm

    Thanks Steve, this is something I haven’t thought about although the fear of not giving the best to the Big Moment lurks or used to lurk inside me. If I’d guess, I’d say that we feel that scene so badly in our emotional centers, that they kind of block us because they demand immediate implementation of their power: how can someone put in paper energies so big but so elusive? My advice for anyone who wants to explode at the Big Moment but she/he doesn’t, would be to keep working on it until it does create the explosion bit by bit, accumulative. I don’t know if there’s a shortcut, an explosion that comes by it’s own automatically, at the moment of “inspiration”. My very few inspirational moments were very personal but not very readable. Could how we perceive the explosion (as something fast and furious that comes out at once) be the problem? I can’t be sure.

  7. paulsharry23 on August 14, 2021 at 3:33 am

    this is really good, article thank you for sharing with us

  8. vidmate on August 17, 2021 at 2:22 am

    thank you

  9. mobdro on August 17, 2021 at 2:23 am

    really good

  10. Morgan on September 1, 2021 at 6:53 am

    Go big…something I always feel like I’m doing I til I get bored

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