Monday, December 19, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: American Madness (1932) - Showing an Abstract Concept Like "Faith"

[Quick Summary: Three intertwined stories: A bank president fends off a merger; his bank manager faces a murder charge of the night watchman; and thieves steal $100k which starts a run on the bank.]

The original title of this script was "Faith," as in "faith in one's fellow man."

I really enjoyed the script because it is an excellent example of showing an abstract concept without talking about it.

Two helpful hints:

1) It's easier if the characters' problems are very personal and in close proximity.

ex. Matt is loyal to Mr. Dickson, who gave Matt a bank job.  Last night, Matt suspected Mrs. Dickson of getting in trouble and went to stop her.

Matt is now accused with of shooting the night guard. He can't tell the truth, otherwise Mr. Dickson will find out about Mrs. Dickson.

Mr. Dickson cannot understand why his loyal employee won't tell the truth.

2) Make sure the character earns the virtue. 

It may help to pinpoint the end concept and engineering backwards from that point.

Here, we want to show faith (Act 3), so we start the script with the opposite (Act 1 temptations to believe the worst), and test our characters (Act 2).

In this example, we will see a testing (Act 2) with very personal, immediate problems:

ex. "DICKSON: (to Inspector) Wait a minute. Wait a minute. (to Matt) Matt, do you realize you're up against something? You're being charged with murder. It's serious, son. Now com on. I know you didn't do it. (gestures toward Inspector) But we've got to make them believe it. Come on, tell the truth, where were you last night?

MATT: (doggedly) I can't tell you.

Matt maintains a determined silence.

DICKSON: (getting an idea) Listen, if I get them out of the room, will you tell me?

Matt looks at him. Dickson is the only person he cannot tell  his secret to.

MATT: No. I won't.

DICKSON: You're protecting somebody.

MATT: No. I'm not Mr. Dickson!

DICKSON: Yes, you are. You're protecting somebody Now listen, it doesn't make any difference who it is. It can't be as important as this. Now come on, tell me. Where were you last night? (a note of desperation) Come on, don't be a fool. Matt, you trust me, don't you?

No reply from Matt. Dickson is heartsick. He turns, helplessly, away from Matt and walks out of Sampson's office."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: "Show, don't tell" is especially true for abstract concepts.

The easiest way to lose an audience is to talk and talk about the concept.

American Madness (1932)
by Robert Riskin

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