Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Rulebook Casefile: Two Final Rules from Selma

We’ll move on after this, but I wanted to pause to point out that Selma has excellent examples of two more of our old rules:
Have One Touch in Each Dialogue Scene: The opening scene between MLK and LBJ begins with a handshake and aggressive shoulder grab, at which point they sit down and begin their meeting. After they really start their conversation, there is one more touch, and it’s a classic example of how the one-touch rule works.

This is a classically constructed scene: two fully humanized characters with justifiable points of view both want something, and they’re each confronting the other determined to get it immediately. In this case, each is the idol of millions and used to getting his way.

King sits down to make his case, and Johnson sits to listen for a while, then gets up when he makes his counterproposal, goes over to get his War on Poverty proposal from his desk and tries to hand it to King. When King refuses to take it, Johnson instead leans over and touches King once on the back as he says, “I want you to help. Help me with this.” King instead stands up to make his point more emphatically as Johnson backs off to listen. Things end there, with them both standing, at an impasse.

Obviously, in film, the blocking is more up to the director than the screenwriter, but it’s still good to indicate one touch in your write-up of each scene. In prose, you don’t want to spend too much time on blocking, which is up to how your reader pictures the scene, but again, it’s good to indicate that one touch, which is a simple way to show the crux of the scene.

The Hero Should Have Three Rules He Lives By: All heroes need special skills, so that they’re not just reacting the way an “everyman” would react. They need to have their unique volatility: Only this hero would have reacted this way to this challenge. That’s why we root for them.

King doesn’t know karate, and he never uses a blowtorch to build himself a tank. In his case, his specials skills overlap with another thing it’s good for every hero to have, three rules he lives by: “We negotiate, we demonstrate, we resist.” He has learned these rules slowly and painfully, over the course of some campaigns that failed and others that succeeded. They are pithy and definitively stated. He will brook no counterproposals.

Obviously, not every great hero has a list of three they enumerate, but many do, and most heroes have a list like this implied if not stated. This fits into another thing most heroes have, a default argument tactic. Heroes should be specific, both so that we believe in their reality and so that we can invest our hopes in them alone: Specific language, specific tactics, specific ethos.


Patrick said...

I haven't seen this movie yet, but this is the best example of 3 rules to live by. How do these rules work with false/true philosophies?

Matt Bird said...

A comment!

Good question! I'll devote a whole post to it on Thursday.