Monday, August 06, 2007

Exposition with Bob Thielke

Hey guys,

Next up -- our very good friend,
Bob Thielke. He's a great writer. He's contributed to a number of studies and script reviews on this blog. He's also a past Reviewer of the Month on TriggerStreet, and his scripts are frequently seen in the Top Ten.

Thanks so much, Bob.



I’m horrible at remembering little details about movies, so this exposition exercise was very difficult to me.


This one will probably make me have to go into the witness protection program and cause people, to in the words of Jimmy Burke: “whack me for what I done”. But, I rewatched Goodfellas last night, and I was surprised how my opinion of the movie has changed since I’ve started writing. It’s still an engrossing story, but the incessant voice over by Henry Hill seemed disappointing to me. I felt like I was getting it just from the scenes, and the VO seemed like overkill to me. It was almost like Scorcese didn’t trust himself to tell a great story. I think the moral of the story for me is that you don’t need to beat someone over the head with exposition. Get it out there as subtle as possible and don’t linger over it. Do it visually if at all possible. As my example, I’ll give an early scene where Henry is about 10 and he admires the gangsters with the big pinky rings and intimidating glares at the cabstand, he’s practically attached to their hip. He has a big smile when he’s with them. Then there’s voice over that says he’s always admired gangsters and has always wanted to be one. I could tell that from the scene. It was clear these were gangsters, and that the young henry hill was drawn to them and admired them (especially in combination with other scenes in which he shows disdain for his father who actually worked for a living).


As Good As it Gets is a flick that I love because I’ve been in love with Helen Hunt for 15 years at least and because I am a big Nicholson fan. Plus it’s a pretty damn good story.

This scene introduces Carol and defines the state of the relationship between her and Melvin. In this one scene we learn everything we need to know about Carol and it all seems to come across natural. We find out she’s a bit neurotic, that she repeats herself, that she’s had bad luck with men, and that she has a sick child at home. We also find out that she is probably the only person in the world that tolerates Melvin, which innately tells us a lot about her soul and her capacity to love others (even those that may not deserve it).



CAROL CONNELLY talks with another MOTHER -- a customer. You would not guess it, but her working hours tend to be the most carefree time of the day. She is telling a story about her son for the umpteenth time.

(to the Mother's
little girl)
Look at you, you're all better.

It's that new medication.

You know all my son's stuff,

The Mother nods too sympathetically that she does, but Carol interrupts her.

No, no, no, I got a date tonight.
I'm walking out the door this
morning and he says to me, 'Mom,
I promise not to get one of my
fevers or coughs during your

Isn't that sweet.

Little blonde angle.
(to child,
Eat everything.

Melvin enters and moves past several empty tables to a table towards the back and is obviously surprised to find a MAN and WOMAN sitting at the table.

It just came out of me. I said
you love me the way a remote
control loves a TV. As long as I
switch every time...


People who talk in metaphors can
shampoo my crotch.
(on their look)
Eat up.

They turn away -- Melvin walks a few paces to the waitress station where two waitresses, LISA and CAROL, are talking.

Pay me back next week.

I owe you. I told you today...
them's the rules. Oh, excuse me,

She puts two hands lightly on his waist to move him out of the way. He gulps at the contact (since no one else ever touches him) but covers his self-consciousness.

I'm starving.

(firmly to Lisa)
Will you please take it?

Melvin intentionally moves a step in her path, with stealth, so that she must touch him again to get him out of the way...

This way you take a cab home so
you have time to get ready for the

"Ready" is not my problem.

She barks a mirthless though hearty laugh. If we could read Melvin which we can't, we'd see him unsettled by the date talk. To Carol he is as harmless as furniture.

(to Melvin)
Go sit down. You know you're not
allowed back here... Spencer's
more excited about it than I am...
He says, "Mom, I promise not to
get a fever or couch during your date."

The other WAITRESSES and the SHORT ORDER COOK all go "awww."

I know. He's just the best.

I've got Jews at my table.

It's not your table. It's the
place's table. Behave. This
once, you can sit at someone
else's station.

The two waitresses signal their protests.

Or you can just wait your turn...

Melvin walks back into the restaurant proper... he hangs near their table... his discomfort builds in this limbo... then:

How much more you got to eat?
Your appetite isn't as big as
your noses, is it?


(to Woman)
Let's go --

The Woman starts to protest.

Let's leave. We're going.

Melvin sits down at the table -- and takes from his pocket a plastic eating utensil set wrapped and sealed. As he opens his utensils.

Bryan says he doesn't care how
long you've been coming you ever
act like this again you're barred
for life. I'm gonna miss the
excitement, but I'll handle it.

There is in Carol's attitude toward Melvin some ingredient of self-satisfaction -- that she is the only one in the place who can handle him. She starts to clear the table.

The table's fine if it had some
cholesterol on it. Two sausages,
six bacon strips, fries, three
eggs over easy and coffee.

You're gonna die soon with that
diet, you know that?

We're all gonna die soon. I will.
You will. It sure sounds like
your son will.


Stunned. Some crazy street-freak has slipped under her
perfect guard and momentarily devastated her. Melvin
senses that he's gone way too far. He wipes his knife.

If you ever mention my son again,
you will never be able to eat here
again. Do you understand? Give me
some sign you understand or leave
now. Do you understand me...
(adds truthful label)
you crazy freak? Do you?!?

A beat and then Melvin nods, hardly breathing -- backing down.

Okay. I'll get your order.

She walks away. Melvin watches her, biting his lower lip. He takes some napkins and cleans the table himself.


Godfather II is very likely my favorite movie of all time. I am fascinated by the depth of Michael Corleone’s fall from his status as the one who was going to break away from the sorrow and sickly allure of the mob. And you watch his total immersion into evil that culminates in the murder of his brother, Fredo. He will have Neri carry out the hit because he wants to maintain some illusion that he is above such a horrid act. He of course could tell Neri to his face that he wants Fredo killed, but watch this scene as Michael makes his intentions clear to Neri without saying a word. The concept of betraying with a kiss goes back to Judas’s kiss and Michaels hugging Fredo is another great non verbal example of betrayal!


Friends, relatives; Francesca and her new husband, Gardner
and their baby; Sandra Corleone; Teresa, her children; all
the familiar faces of the family are present, quietly paying
their respects to Mama.

Some of the men can be seen in the kitchen, drinking wine,
and talking in low voices.

Fredo is there, broken-hearted over the loss of his Mother;
like some lost child with no friends.


Michael enters the room, followed by Connie, who tends
little Mary and Anthony.

He approaches his brother, and then embraces. Fredo breaks
into tears.

Christ, Mike. Jesus Christ, Mike.


embracing his brother, he glances up.


quiet, and deadly.


GimmeABreak said...

Very nice, Mr. Bob.

Jason said...

Excellent contribution Bob!

Mim said...

Carlito's Way is another good movie ruined by voice over narration.

Thanks for the scene from As Good As It Gets. I love that movie too.

Joshua James said...

Could NOT disagree more regarding Goodfellas . . . just more blatant hate for the voice-over, where it adds a layer of time and context that we don't get from the action of the scene alone . . .

When used well, Voice-over adds depth . . . I just watched LITTLE CHILDREN and it's an excellent example of that, as is goodfellas . . .

Christian M. Howell said...

Good examples. I can agree about voice over. The only movie I appreciated it in was Shawshank. But in that case it adds a little to a rather "meandering" movie.

It wasn't terrible in Casino but it didn't reflect the action as much.

Thinking about it GoodFellas was rather redundant in its use of it.

Michael's look to Neri was very well-done though it was foreshadowed by Michael's statement that nothing can happen to Fredo while his mother was alive.

Mystery Man said...

I love that Godfather II moment! That's the best moment in the film. No exposition. All visual. Incredibly powerful. Few words used in the script.

It really doesn't get much better than that.

Thanks so much, Bob.


bob said...

It's interesting how so many of the most highly regarded movies do use voice over. I would agree that there are places in Goodfellas where the voice over adds something to what's on Henry Hill's mind. I also think that the spots where it was used well in that movie is where it was used to quickly summarize why certain events happened and you didn't want to bloat the running time. I'm thinking about explaining why Tommie was whacked on the day he was "made".

By the way, thanks MM for letting me contribute. Having to really think about this is a great exercise because it makes you be critical of your own writing as well.

Mickey Lee said...

I'm going to have to disagree with you, Bob.

I've noticed that most films with VO narration have been based on novels. There's really no other way to bring out the internal voice that is the POV of most books.

The book "Wiseguy" really stood out for other true crime stories of the time because of Henry Hill's ironic, acerbic, self-aware narration -- "GoodFellas" would be an entirely different story without it, and not necessarily better.

"Shawshank Redemption" -- again, based on a book. "Casino", "Little Children" -- same thing. It's gotten to the point where if I hear VO narration in a movie, I assume the movie was based on a book.

They didn't use VO in "Godfather", although that was based on a book -- and probably for good reason 1) the book isn't really that good 2) it doesn't really have one central protagonist.

Christian M. Howell said...

Good points Mickey. All of those were books. I just sometimes think that VO is "over-expository."

Funny thing is that I just started a story with VO, though it's mostly just for back story.

I doubt if it will continue throughout the movie.

Joshua James said...

Usual Suspects is mostly voice-over and not based on a book.

What was that Robert Downey Jr detective movie, with Val Kilmer? Great job of it there, too. An original.

I suspect more script would use it better if allowed . . . but it's still got baggage . . . with a book, those paying for it can see how it solves problems, with an original, it's simply assumed it's not needed, whether it's a true or assumption or not, we don't know . . . but too many folks just don't like it.

Which is too bad, because I think when it's used well, it can really enhance material.

Mickey Lee said...

"Usual Suspects" is all told in flashback, so the voice over is kind of a necessity.

"Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang" is a neo-noir, and voice over is a convention of film noir. Since a lot of early film noir were based on books, this just reinforces what I said above.

But more to the point, the VO in "GoodFellas" gives the film a certain attitude found in the book that would be difficult to recreate in the movie without it.

crossword said...

Thanks Bob. Very nice indeed.

PS. I've always liked V.O. because it's so intimate. Like Mickey said... an attitude. I recently read "300" again and felt the same thing.

Regarding Goodfellas, I'm actually going the other way. When it first came out I really disliked it. A lot. I like it fine now though.

Thx too for the reminder about Godfather. How could I have forgotten that? A real dichotomy for Michael... if he doesn't "order" Fredo's hit, he has to put up with betrayal from within... but the moment he orders it, he can't plausibly deny it to Connie later on.


Mim said...

Two movies with VO that were not based on books (as far as I know): Carlito's Way and The Opposite of Sex.

In Carlito's Way, as I said before, the VO was embarassingly bad. In the scene where his cousin or brother was killed, he said in VO something like if he hadn't gone in there, he wouldn't have been killed, and it really hurt me. This repeats what we have seen; he told the kid to stay outside and the kid went in anyway. Al Pacino's face when the kid dies says it all.

In The Opposite of Sex, the VO is used magnificently. VO is very effective when the narration says one thing and you see another. There's a lot of that in The Opposite of Sex. It's also used to allow Deedee to make scathing remarks about the other characters, which is very funny.

I agree that VO can be effective when used correctly. But apparently not everybody can, even accomplished directors like Brian DePalma.

Mystery Man said...

Those were great points, Mickey. All very true.

Kubrick's "Napoleon" was filled with narration out of necessity because you're flying through his life from birth to death, but he always made a point of creating visuals that undercut the meaning of what we were hearing. Like, the narration would talk about Napoleon's triumph in Italy while we are watching French soldiers rob and kill poor farmers in Italy.

With respect to Goodfellas, there may have been occasions in which information was unnecessarily repeated, but overall, I loved the voice overs. I can't imagine watching that movie without hearing voice over.

Generally, I'm okay with voice overs if they fall under these categories:

1) To help with exposition and/or the passage of a lot of time.

2) Provides insight into something we're not seeing. Or it's a contradiction to what we're seeing, like a scene of people hugging while narration tells us how they're secretly betraying each other.

3) If the voice over expresses internal thoughts or attitudes or wickedly entertaining / funny commentary that couldn't be conveyed through dialogue and/or visuals.

4) When someone's ID is talking to them. Hehehe...

5) Used to break up a long monologue. Like a character starts a speech and we cut away to other visuals to keep the audience from falling asleep.

6) Voice over used in transitions. We first hear a voice talking and then we cut to the next scene.

Those were just a few thougths that came to mind. Can anyone else give good reasons for voice overs?


Anonymous said...

I generally try to avoid VO if I can, but I don't believe there should ever be a hard and fast rule for or against ANY technique. The bottom line is whether it serves the story. If you're using VO because you are too lazy to communicate visually, then you should rethink it, but if the VO actually adds to the visuals (rather than just echoing them), I'm all for it.


Mickey Lee said...

I'm not for or against Voice Overs (esp. where Ids are concerned, lol). I was just making an observation that VO is employed a lot when transitioning a novel to screen, because it really is the most effective way to get the internal thoughts of the protagonist communicated to the audience. I suppose a lot of this "internal monologue" could be done with dreams, flashbacks, flash forwards, etc., but at the expense of linear storytelling.

I agree, though. VO works best when it offers an ironic commentary on what we're seeing.

Oh Mim, "Carlito's Way" -- based on a book. Not "Opposite of Sex", though, hahaha.

bob said...

exactly, if the VO provides some ironic or contrarian position to what we're seeing it can be magnificent.

It's when VO reiterates stuff that we are seeing without adding anything else then it's overkill.

I was hoping that would be the point I was trying to get across.

Mystery Man said...

Ross - Nice to hear from you! Hope you're well.

I agree with ya, Mickey.

I'm dying to use voice overs in the same manner as Kubrick's "Napoleon" like that sequence where we hear Napoleon recite love letters while we're watching Josephine have an affair. OH BABY... That is too sumptuous for words.


Mystery Man said...

"It's when VO reiterates stuff that we are seeing without adding anything else then it's overkill."

I agree with ya, Bob!


Joshua James said...

Regarding Bob's point about VO repeating info . . . Unless the repetition adds another layer (we saw this in Forest Gump, which has its problems as a film, but the problems don't lie with the VO)

Royal Tenenbaums uses VO well . . .

Mickey Lee said...

"I was hoping that would be the point I was trying to get across."

Oh, you absolutely did, Bob. That was loud and clear, I just don't know if I 100% agree that "GoodFellas" is a good representation of bad V.O.

Admittedly, I haven't watched the film recently, nor with that much of a critical eye.

I wonder if any of our favorite movies could survive the scrutiny we put them through!

crossword said...

I wonder if any of our favorite movies could survive the scrutiny we put them through!

Exactly - I don't think so, Mickey. Like music, movies are billboards found on the journey through our road of life... as such, they all speak to you somehow.

Can I defend listening to ABBA or watching "Animal House" (1978)... ? Probably not but I would hope I wouldn't have to. lol