Thursday, August 16, 2007

Exposition with Joshua James

Hey guys,

Next up, we have an article from our very good friend - the playwright and
dialogue master, Joshua James.

The good verbal exposition brought back memories of those articles we wrote about The Godfather for the
blog-a-thon. Ahh, good times, good times...

But I loved your bad example. Man, I thought the EXACT same thing.


Good job. Thanks so much



Exposition gets a BAD rap . . .

Below is simply my humble opinion . . .

There's the idea that if a character in a film is talking rather than doing, that's exposition and it's
unwanted in the film world . . . which is besides the point, because talking is a form of doing, speaking IS an action . . . now whether or not it's the CORRECT action for one's story, that's another thing.

But I would make the argument that everything, EVERYTHING that happens in movies is exposition, be it two people sitting at a cafe speaking or robot monsters tearing off the head of the Statue of Liberty . . . everything in storying is, in one way or another, exposition.

That's my view.

But let's accept for the moment, for the sake of argument, the idea that exposition is one character
giving another information, background or contextual information, which can be good.

What's one example of GOOD verbal exposition?


Micheal and Kay at Connie's wedding, the opening sequence.

Johnny Fontane arrives.

Micheal tells Kay the story of how his father saved Johnny Fontane's career. That his father offered to buy out Johnny's contract and the band leader refused. His father put a gun to the man's head and assured him either his signature or his brains would be on that contract in one minute.

Because his father is Johnny's Godfather, and for Sicilian's it's a special role, or something to that
effect. I believe this is also where we hear that Italians believe the world is so harsh, that's why
they need two fathers, on birth father and a godfather.

Fantastic story, and chilling, too . . . because we haven't met the Don yet, and in a way we're happy he saved Johnny and yet, we're frightened of him, too.

The movie would be less without it, and I'm of the view that today's current trends would not allow that much "exposition" in a studio picture in the beginning . . . but that's me.

BAD example of verbal exposition.

Wow. So much to choose from. How about the whole of SPIDERMAN 3. Just kidding. Nah, I'm not. No really, I'm kidding. No, I'm not, that movie blows, even the non-verbal parts.

Okay, let's be serious. Bad example of verbal exposition.

Let's take a film I just saw LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD.

Not a bad picture. A lot of fun in parts. Good actors, well shot. Cool action sequences. RIDICULOUS
story. Really ridiculous. I mean, almost insulting, filled with bad exposition.

Here's an example: (minor spoilers)

The setup - the FBI has sent out a bunch of cops to pick up hackers because someone hacked into their database. They have a list and they send for everyone. Note: all this happens not in McClane's
presence, but in ours, we the audience are part of the FBI's efforts to figure out, what the fuck is going on, are you with me?

So McClane picks one up and a bunch of acrobatic thugs try and fail to kill them. That's the first act that starts the movie. Okay.


McClane finally has his face to face with the main villian (Timothy Olyphant, or however you spell it) - but it's not face to face, it's actually computer screen to computer screen.

Justin Long, the computer geek along for the ride, saves Timothy's image (notice how I just saw this
yesterday but can't remember anyone else's name, but I'll never forget Alan Rickman's character was called HANS in the original?) on his computer.

They email the picture to the main guy at the FBI (cool bad guy from TRAINING DAY and ONCE WERE WARRIORS) and the FBI guy goes "Holy shit, that's Thomas Gabriel (I had to look the villian's name up on imdb), we know him, he used to work for us!"

McClane goes "He used to WORK FOR YOU?"

The FBI guy goes, "Yeah, he was head of blah blah blah"

And proceeds to tell us that this guy was the one who told the government their systems could be hacked, walked into a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and proved it by hacking their system from his laptop, was fired for it and left in a huff and no one has heard anything from him since.

So I'm in the audience, listening to FBI GUY tell McClane this and I'm going "What the fuck? Your whole system has been hacked, you made a list of these geek hackers who could do this, and not ONCE HAS THE NAME OF THE GUY WHO TOLD YOU IT COULD BE DONE, PROVED IT COULD BE DONE AND WAS FIRED FOR PROVING IT COULD BE DONE, NOT ONCE HAS THAT NAME COME UP?!! WHAT KIND OF FUCKING FBI GUY ARE YOU?"

Of course, with this administration, it's somewhat believable, but for an audience member it smelled of bad exposition. The filmmakers didn't want to tell us this until later, so they didn't, which would have been fine if they hadn't have spent so much time showing us how the FBI was trying to figure out who hacked the system in the beginning and not once does this fucking guy's name get mentioned, not once.

Bad verbal exposition.

Now for my example of GOOD NON-VERBAL EXPOSITION.


Easy because the movie is non-verbal throughout . . . tho the characters have their own language, we don't speak it and it matters little because we know what their plight is . . . fire gives them warmth and light and they've lost their fire.

Hero gives a speech on how he will travel with his buds to find fire and bring it home. But the words
matter little, because by that time, we know . . . we see the people shivering and dying, we know that now that fire has gone, they are all doomed unless fire is returned, we know all through single shots.

And as a bonus track, later in the movie, in a form of non-verbal exposition . . . Rae Dong Chong
demonstrates to the Hero the difference between making love like an animal and making love like people do . . .

Not that I think there's anything wrong with making love like an animal . . . but it's good to know
there's a lot of variety to the act . . .

Joshua James


crossword said...

All great picks! Thx Joshua.

PS. The SP for Quest is only 64 pages... it just so happens I was reading it a month or so ago.

GimmeABreak said...

Re: the sex scene in Quest for Fire - how is it "plot dumping" rather than part of the regular action? Maybe I'm unclear on the exposition concept. Other examples - terrific!

Anonymous said...

Thanks MM, you da MAN!


My point, above, was that everything in a movie is a form of exposition, all of it is part of plot.

That being said, the sex thing ain't really part of the main action . . .

the lovemaking part of Quest is actually a subplot . . . there's a motif hit on in two other spots which highlights the doggystyle thing and neanderthal aspect of the tribe (the sneak up and rape in the beginning), and it's considered very funny by Rae's tribe, when the hero doesn't know how to do it any other way.

It's a great subplot, however, as it underlines the "evolution" of the tribe - and it's good exposition, non-verbal.

They learn that and they also learn humor, (Rae laughs at them in the beginning, and they don't know what she's doing, later on, they get it, heh) which is again part of the subplot which makes the Quest for Fire even more important, because not only do they bring back fire, they bring back experiences from their quest that will change the whole of the tribe.

That's my take, anyway.

Mim said...

Yes, but I thought we're supposed to be studying what the term exposition tradionally means: the plot dump. According to the Wikipedia entry, which MM is referencing as a hyperlink in our articles, exposition is a, "literary technique by which information is conveyed about events that have occurred prior to the beginning of a novel, play, movie or other work of fiction."

By that definition, not every scene in a movie is exposition. It would probably be called something else.

Mim said...

Just realized that last comment might sound a little pedantic.

Josh, you are an example of somebody who has succeeded as a story-teller by instinct. We are all trying to master a bunch of techniques and apply them creatively to hopefully improve our chances of success.

Your way worked. We hope our way will work for us. I know you have expressed interest in learning "our ways," so I was trying to explain exactly what I understand about this exercise.

Anonymous said...

That's cool, Mim . . .

I did acknowledge my view of exposition was different than the accepted view, so I was aware of our philosophical differences (for lack of a better word) with our approach - I explained my take on exposition is varied, but that doesn't make my points regarding the scenes less, does it?

And that's only Wikipedia's definition, it's not a final word, it's just one group view.

I don't know that I am any different than you in terms of what I seek . . . I want the same thing you do . . . be able to master storytelling . . .

And I guess while it may seem that I come off firing as per instinct, in reality I think a lot about what I value in terms of storytelling . . . it's not all off-the-cuff. I do put a lot of thought into it (not on every post comment, of course) . . . I wrote about it here:

I have two shelves of screenwriting books (though not among them is Trotter's, as MM would tell ya - LOL!) and before that, a boatload of theatre books that I got rid of (save Aristotle's Poetics) and I just finished Jeff Kitchen's book.

And I participate with MM and Unk and all the rest because I learn cool stuff from all this . . . I learn from everything . . .

I wonder sometimes if some of storytelling value gets lost in the dissection (like that screne in DEAD POETS SOCIETY, where the prof shows a graph to chart a poems value) but that's all, I just wonder . . . Sometimes a thing is only thing, even if it doesn't look the norm, if that makes sense . . .

I'm not an expert, it's just impressions I have from my experiences and observations, that's all, it's all open for dissection.

Mim said...

That's exactly what I don't want to happen: losing the story by analyzing it. Good point.

Andrew Bellware said...

I think that the idea of everything is exposition is a good one. That makes a lot of sense to me. Especially with the robots and the Statue of Liberty.

Mystery Man said...

Josh, what did you think of Jeff Kitchen's book? I might read that.


Anonymous said...

I'm still digesting it, but I'll email you this weekend . . . it's worth a read . . .