Write the Big Moment Big
[In honor of The Godfather’s 50th anniversary, here’s one of my favorite Top Ten posts of the past.]
I have a friend who runs a very 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.”
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 I think 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?”
And 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.