Tuesday, February 9, 2010

When Words Don’t Matter

As writers we form a symbiotic relationship with words. Sometimes we’re bricklayers, thumping adjectives onto nouns, adverbs onto verbs, joining them with the mortar of conjunctions. Sometimes we’re sailors, choosing a course through the waves of words in order to arrive where we need to be. It can even get to the point that we’re simply carried away in the deluge, dog-paddling to keep our nose above the surface, waiting for the flood to abate (or at least a floating log to clutch onto).

But what about writing pure visuals? I’m talking specifically about movie montages.

I’ve long been a fan of the Disney Pixar movies. For me, they are the pinnacle of the computer animated films, for many reasons. I enjoyed the “Toy Story” movies, but the real love affair began with “Monsters Inc”. Brilliant writing, meticulous attention to detail (in-jokes, body language, etc.) and the magnificent Billy Crystal. “The Incredibles”, too, was utterly fantastic, poking fun at its own genre and at the world we live in. With that movie, the writers also managed to introduce a darkness which, though realistic, was still palatable for the younger audience. Add to that the sexiness of Holly Hunter (ka-POW!) and another winner.

But what I feel this particular studio does better than anyone is their montages. Now obviously, with an animated movie, a montage needs to be written in some form. Since every scene is created from the pixels up, they can’t rely on actors improvising something which can be used, so for all I know every single frame is written out in longhand.

Recently I saw the movie “Up”, and it blew me away. The montage in the earlier part of the film was flawless. If you haven’t seen it I urge you to. There are enormous yet subtle revelations about the two characters involved (such as the reactions of the two different families at the wedding), through to the semi-fantasy cloud pictures scenes and the jarring move to the doctor’s office. I truly felt Ellie’s despair, and the animators captured her emotion, not just in her face but all over her body. A couple of weeks after I first saw it, the shop where I bought my Mac had it showing on their screens, and I was fighting back tears in the middle of the IT section.

For all that I’m a waffler in real life and in first drafts, all I’m ever trying to do is create conversational-style writing which is as sparse as possible. Thanks to those darn Pixar boffins I now know I have a long way to go.


Secretia said...

Someimes the words don't matter if the people and the scenery are overwhelming.


Willsin Rowe said...

Agreed, Secretia. With the "Up" montage it was an amazing how well thay made it work without any dialogue or subtitles. Possibly the "We Need A Montage" scene from Team America would rival it, though...