Friday, January 13, 2006

Give It Up for Johnny on the Synths

Scott the Reader recently replied to Fun Joel's scribosphere questionnaire with another, a suggestion to list a favorite line of dialogue that you've written.

Here's one of mine:

(Holding up index finger) "I can count on one finger the number of conversations I've had with them since I moved out. And it's not this finger."

Clever, I think. I think it's clever enough that I'm starting to wonder if I may not have written it, but that I picked it up somewhere, unwittingly internalized it, and spat it back out again as my own.

It should be noted that I'm paranoid.

But I fear this because it's happened once before, in rehearsal for one of my plays.

DIRECTOR: You know that's a line from SIXTEEN CANDLES.

ME: What? Where?

The director describes the scene. I remember it.

ME: Well, shit.

Writers, especially screenwriters who are by their very nature media hounds, are all about synthesizing their experience of the world, absorbing and combining bits and pieces of what they see and hear and learn and feeding that into what they create.

From KING KONG to SHREK to SCRUBS, which recently contained a throwaway DEADWOOD reference, conscious quotations and homages both verbal and visual are on the rise. Also, too, are the unconscious ones, as the creators of these texts (Warning! Warning! Literary criticism term off the port bow!) exhibit through their work more and more of the media and information saturation that's part of our modern lives.

Is this a problem? Maybe. I don't think any of us look forward to the day when a TV show or movie is nothing but lazy quotes of stuff that came before.

Pause for laughter.

Yeah, that's already happened, lots of times. So let's buck the trend.

Examining your work with a critical eye helps. So does making sure you're feeding your brain with books and music and art and nature and current events and travel in addition to what can be TiVo'd. But synthesized observation is part and parcel of what it means to be a creative person.

Of course, there's a point at which "synthesized observation" becomes "plagiarism." Anyone, um, recognize that finger line?


Chris Soth said...

Yes, with you -- this "post-modernism" gets to be more and more watered down as we go along...someone writes 2001 (ok, Arthur C. Clarke), Cameron does terminator...Romero does his zombies, some video game guys love all three, so they combine them to make Resident Evil, the video game. Then THAT becomes a movie...and another movie...

...what will become of the young writer seeing that today as his FIRST frame of reference?

Movies and TV aren't ABOUT other movies and TV...they're about the human experience. And god help us if those becom synonymous...


Scott the Reader said...

I don't recognize the line. Though I worry about unconsciously swiping stuff all the time, given that I read about 700 things a year.

Dr. Gori said...

A slightly different, but related, issue: I'm totally guilty of skipping the plagiarism risk altogether and just mentioning a crappy movie (or show, book, actor, character, etc.) as the joke.

Depending on the demo you're aiming for, you can usually count on Zapped!, Operation Dumbo Drop, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, or Swimfan to get a good response. I'd guess that BloodRayne will do the trick about a year from now.

(For characters, it's hard to go wrong with Mannequin's Hollywood Montrose; Beverly Hills, 90210's abusive pumpkin salesman, Ray Pruit; or a safe bet like Topanga from Boy Meets World. And anything Jennifer Love Hewitt has done--especially Time of Your Life--was good fodder until she shocked the world and somehow became relevant again.)

Using the reference itself as the joke--now that's lazy. (But so long as it works, I'm not above continuing to do it.)