Friday, February 20, 2009

i'll be back

This week our movie was The Terminator. While we can all agree it's no masterpiece there's a good bit to be learned from the film. Particularly taking notice of how James Cameron handles secondary characters and the revelation of exposition.

Secondary Characters
The film is populated by secondary characters who are pretty memorable. This is no accident and serves to make them stand out on the screen, but also on the page. When reading a script you've probably run into a character on page 60 and had to ask yourself, "who is this again?" If you give them a big characteristic, even if it's just one note, we'll always remember who they are and not be confused by a reappearance after vanishing for twenty pages or so. There are many examples but Sarah's roomate is a good one. We call her walkman-girl because she is never seen without her walkman (pictured above sharing an intimate moment with her boyfriend and a Tones on Tail cassingle.)

The other thing about these secondary characters is that they serve to reinforce the theme of the movie. It's all about a world gone mad. Most of the secondary characters are in support of that idea. The Terminator could steal clothes from anyone when he arrives nude at Griffith Observatory in act 1. But instead, he steals them from a group of new-waver punks. The aformentioned walkman girl with her giant 80's hair and narcisistic need for constant musical entertainment. The freaky overall wearing hillbilly in the phone booth (remember those?) Even the soon-to-be-dead detectives chain smoke with nihilistic abandon.

Exposition largely occurs during moments of intense action. It's a great way to get a lot of information across without it suddenly turning into My Diner With Andre. Sarah Conner is brought up to speed about time travel, terminators, the coming machine revolution and her role as the rebellion leader all while fleeing the Terminator. It's a ten minute car chase sequence that by itself might be boring. It occurs so early in the movie we know our heros will get away. So what to do? Combine the obligitory action sequence with the obligitory exposition sequence and suddenly you have something that grips your attention. It's always a good idea to have your scenes do double duty, but this one works particularly well. It happens right at the start of act two (around the 36 minute mark) and is worth checking out. Action combined with exposition works in more than just this particular genre. In a romantic comedy you could combine the first date exposition with a comedy set piece to achieve the same effect.

Next week we'll examine the voice of the writer with Harold & Maude.

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