Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Scanner Darkly (and a thought about scene structure)


Linklater's film has all the strengths and weaknesses of the book.

We didn't get totally inside Bob Arctor's headspace. Only occasionally did I feel what his personality breakdown (due to the drugs and having to surveil himself) must be like - and these peaks of paranoia and disorientation weren't frequent enough to satisfy me (because I pretty much feel they're the point of the story).

However, it has a scene about 20 minutes before the end which is simply incredibly - it totally justifies the use of the (seemingly gimmicky) scramble suits as Keanu's interview with his boss gradually becomes a experience of drawn-out and mounting horror. That was where the film peaked, and then introduced a plot point (that I think is new to Linklater's script) which I believe is a necessary step towards someone someday finally cracking how to tell a kick-arse version of this story.

The film's visually brilliant, and I cried at PKD's dedication to his friends, lost to drugs in the '70s. Go read Jenni's review for another POV.

A lot of the time, I was watching the film going "Where's the conflict in this scene?" And I realise that my recent experiences with Primetime Adventures have been subtly educating me in this screen-writing tool. Creating conflicts and having to decide which ones are meaningful up to 15 times a game is a really effective way of building up your chops.
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Jenni said...

I haven't read the book, so I didn't know what to expect or have anything to compare it to. Maybe that's why I enjoyed it more? I dunno.

mashugenah said...

I think Conan's got a point that not all scenes need to be conflict oriented in order to be either pointful or satisfying.

hix said...

Jenni - the difference is probably that I have an extremely personal response to That Hook - the agent who has to spy on himself. I interpret that as the key to the story and filled with lots of possibilities to riff off that neither the book or the movie take advantage of as much as I want to.

But in order to fully explain, I'd probably have to adapt the novel myself - because it's all at a very intuitive level at the moment. I'd have to dig in and try and flesh out the possibilities for myself (something I don't have time for at the moment).

I will read Charlie Kaufmann's version of the script though, and see what his take was.

hix said...

Mash - Absolutely. In fact, part of what triggered the conversation with Svend that triggered the comment, was recognising that very often in PTA you get scenes that don't have conflict and that that feels 'right'.

What I have yet to even start to figure out is what the starting conditions of a non-conflictual PTA scene are.

Anyway, I think I have a Creative Screenwriter column around here somewhere that extolls the virtues of scenes without conflict (in moderation): creating mood, insight into character, a pause to build tension, ... you can probably think of more.

I guess what I find is that movies/stories set up an overall tension that needs to be resolved, and that conflicts within scenes are the links that both keep us on track (understanding what that tension is) and keep us interested in the tension (having the stakes amped up; spinning the story towards different possible resolutions).

In the case of ASD, given that *I* am so interested in the Hook, I didn't see enough conflicts that achieved either of the above goals to keep me fully engaged in the story.

Luke said...

That's one interesting thing I have learned from the Grand Experiment. Mash, you are absolutely right in that not every scene needs a conflict/divergence.

However, many scenes do benefit from them, even when it is not immediately apparent. I have found that if players are thinking in these terms then they can often did the scene for much greater value. If not then many scene are essentially wasted.

With more experience with WGP and PTA, I have come to realise that it takes real skill to see where a conflict is needed and where it is not. As such, these games are excellent training tools in having players qucikly process a scene and getting more out of it.

mashugenah said...

I have found that if players are thinking in these terms then they can often did the scene for much greater value. If not then many scene are essentially wasted.

The more general point might be made that you should always be alert to a range of possibilities.

I still construct scenes in a largely intuitive way. I think that you need to have some idea what you want to get out of a scene, but I don't think you need to be focused on how. Either way, the absolute rule is to be flexible about changing your goals as determined by the scene.