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That Should Be In a Movie
by Patrick Storck

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Tonight I was at the bar, hanging out with some friends. We had a long run in with a very drunk patron who said some pretty non-pc things. The details are secondary and not really appropriate for the column, but go ahead and imagine. What was primarily an annoyance became much more interesting as he got drunker and more comfortable around us. The mood was not reciprocated.

He got up and wandered away for a cigarette. We started realigning our group to allow minimal room for him to rejoin our table, and leaned in to keep the conversation closed and intimate in appearance. We'd had several tables earlier, but condensed out of defense. Some of our stuff was still spread out, including food, jackets, and the like.

The drunk came back up, his jacket on, a take home box in hand. He hovered behind us for a moment, the blockade working. Then he opened his box and lifted an order of nachos, our nachos, loaded nachos, into his box. He has to work hard to squeeze it all in, but he got it. Then he made his way to the front door with his and our food in hand. The bouncer stopped him after a signal from the bartender. He hadn't paid for his drinks, nor our or his food. Pretty bold.

Afterwards we had a laugh at his boldness, at the absurdity of taking a total stranger's food right in front of them and packing it up to take home. Someone commented that that scene should be in a movie. But Should it?

This happens all the time in real life. Something very odd or interesting happens to us and we share the incident as an anecdote. It's a huge part of conversation. But then we think about how great the story would be as part of a movie, television show, or stand up comedy act. It's a good story to some degree. The problem is just that, though. It's its own story.

If you're making a movie, every scene moved the overall plot forward. There are arcs that need to be followed and developed. Stories like this on their own don't develop anything. They are purely anecdotal. Anecdotal tales are typically narrative death. They are the sort of things that wind up being deleted scenes pretty quickly as you try and get your running time down.

Some exceptions would be sketch films, of course, as the very nature is a string of shorts. Then you have other types of anthologies, such as THE CANTUBURY TALES more than a few Robert Altman films. These are pretty much entirely anecdotal, but each anecdote is part of an exploration of a greater theme. There is a big picture in mind.

When you make a movie, you are filling an hour and a half or so with material. It all needs to hang together. If you want to get a whole bunch of shorts made, just make a bunch of shorts. If you're committing the time and resources to a much bigger picture, make sure you're not padding it out with a bunch of disconnected whims.

This isn't to say you can't use stories from real life as inspiration for scenes, nor use these stories in your movie, book, or whatever. After all, we all write from our environment, experiences, and personal reflections. The difference is being able to translate it. Take those strange stories and file them all away. As you write just keep them in mind and plug them in accordingly.

In the case of our friend at the bar, perhaps there is a story about someone down on their luck. Everything goes wrong for them, including losing their dinner like this. Plenty of room for other true stories on the theme through the character's day. Alternately you can use something in the scene as a maguffin. The nachos have to be added or removed for reference later, or the hunger is an issue, or something is revealed from the experience. Perhaps the nachos were poisoned, and the drunk inadvertently foils a murder attempt.

There are lots of ways to tweak the story so it's useful. Just don't betray the big picture for a moment.

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Oct 28, 2010 2:07 PM
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Maybe one of the guys in the group later finds out that the drunk was his real father, and he wasn't always a drunk but was once a great scientist. Unfortunately, he was not able to come up with the right components to create a drug to stop Alzheimer's. When it was too late and his Mother, the main character's Grandmother, lost her mind, he lost his too. Now he lives in a shack near a junk yard with only a sofa, a computer, a desk, a toilet, and his chemistry lab. He has the early signs of Alzheimer's too. This is all unknown to the main character because he left them when he was a baby and his Mother would not speak of him. She was still heartbroken, because she and his baby were not as important as his job.
The son finds him, recognizes him from the bar, dismisses him, and later finds his home littered with unfinished equations and studies. He happens to be a scientist too, so now his life choices make sense, coming from a Mother who was an actress. He helps his Dad uncover the drug while at the same time building a relationship with him.
Nov 22, 2010 6:16 PM
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Interesting but a bit too complicated. Sounds like the start of a good synopsis though.

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Other Columns
Other columns by Patrick Storck:

2010: A Year We Could Make Contact

Bad Movie Christmas

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Thanks again!

The Need to Suffer

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Patrick Storck
Patrick hails from Baltimore, MD, where playing by the rules is frowned upon. Only average things come from playing it safe.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Patrick Storck by clicking here.

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