This could be one of those good news, bad news, good news (etc. etc.) kind of posts, depending on your perspective. First, this is going to be a (really) short post. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that’s good news or bad. Second, it comes with homework (again, depending on your perspective…).
Somewhere near the actual point… I’ve always been a big movie junkie, and particularly love a good DVD commentary. Although many of them turn out to be either a love fest (“Oh, he was just the best actor in the world,” “My god, what would I do without such an awesome set designer,” blah blah blah) or a director’s tutorial (“Now, in this shot we went with a wide lens and really pushed the color toward the reds and purples”), or a giggle-fest between a bunch of actors and crew who are all trying to prove how terribly clever they are, once in a while I find a hidden treasure that makes the search worthwhile: someone who’s really interested in the art of telling a story.
Two of the best of these treasures I’ve found have been the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and the early seasons of BattleStar Galactica. The Pirates movie has several DVD commentary tracks, most of which are equally fluffy, but the commentary by the writers is a first-rate study of the art of story-telling and one that I’ve watched numerous times.They talk about everything from character’s names to foreshadowing to the importance of knowing when to meet the audience’s expectations, even if those expectations are cliched and historically inaccurate.
The BattleStar Galactica commentaries include a running series of episode-by-episode breakdowns by producer Ronald Moore. Like the writers of Pirates, Moore focuses on the details that make for good storytelling, with one recurring theme quickly becoming obvious: “subverting audience expectations.” It’s a phrase he uses repeatedly, and I agree with him 100% that one of the ways to tell stories well is to understand what the audience (in our case, our readers) want, and then finding a way to turn those expectations on their head in a way that is both plausible and entertaining.
So the ‘homework’ that I was referring to earlier is this: go find copies of the aforementioned DVDs and study the writer/story commentaries. They are very much worth the time (which is offset by the fact that you didn’t spend a long time reading my post just now). They are also old enough at this point that if you decide to buy them (eBay or other), the cost should be minimal. We have a used book and DVD store here where I live and I recently saw the first Pirates movie for $3, and I expect you should be able to find similar bargains where you live (assuming you don’t already have any of these items, or can’t find a friend who owns them that you can borrow from).
So, anybody else have any DVD commentaries they found particularly useful for studying/understanding the art of storytelling?