Thursday, November 13, 2014
Do logic problems ruin a good movie?
As a comedy writer, must of my time is spent working on story. Not jokes. Stories are what hold the audiences’ attention. And the backbone of storytelling is logic. Do the stories make sense? Would these characters really do that? Many times I’ll admit I come up with what I think would be a real cool story or scene and then think, “Okay, so how do I get to it? How do I justify it?” A cool scene is no good if the audience doesn’t buy it. And all too often it’s a bitch to find that justification that truly makes sense. Characters aren’t doing things just because we writers say they should.
Sometimes we’ll hit a point where there’s a small logic problem and we’ll try to determine if it’s small enough to be undetected. Going through four steps to justify it would detract from the narrative. So our choice is to either hope we get away with it or change it if we feel it’ll become apparent. Alfred Hitchcock had a great expression for these camouflaged logic lapses. “Ice box logic.” Someone sees a movie, enjoys it, and later that night goes down to the kitchen to get a snack and when he’s rummaging through the ice box (remember Hitchcock coined this many years ago when there were ice boxes) something occurs to him and he says, “Hey, wait a minute. Martha wasn’t at the train station. How could she know the train was going to be late?” But if it didn’t detract from his experience of watching the movie it’s livable. So there are times we’ll claim “ice box logic” when someone in the room points out a certain snag.
FAULKNER: Who killed Regan?
CHANDLER: That would be Geiger.
FAULKNER: But Geiger was already dead before Regan was killed.
CHANDLER: He was?
CHANDLER: Hmmm. Then I don’t know. You're on your own.
Even Raymond Chandler couldn’t follow his own story. But Howard Hawks directed it with such speed and flair and you enjoy the movie immensely even though you are (literally) in the dark.
That’s kind of how I am with ORPHAN BLACK the second season. I just now assume everyone is a bad guy and kick back.
Another movie where no one seemed to be bothered by a story hole was John Hughes’ brilliant FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF. Well… one person was bothered. My partner, David Isaacs. We were in the Fox commissary shortly after the movie was released having lunch with a producer. Matthew Broderick came into the room, spotted the producer, and came over to our table. He and the producer were friends. Matthew sat down to join us for a few minutes. David casually asked how he got on the float. Ferris, you’ll recall, somehow gets on a float during a big parade in Chicago and has an amazing production number lip-syncing “Twist & Shout.” Matthew got pissed. “What difference does it make?” he asked. David continued to dig a hole for himself by saying he didn’t understand how someone could just commandeer a float during a parade and get marching bands to fall in line, etc. This pissed off Matthew even more, who kept saying, “Who gives a shit? It worked.”
In this case, Matthew Broderick was right. I suppose you could justify it by saying his character was such an operator that he could pull off anything, but it didn’t matter. It was such an infectious feel-good sequence audiences were willing to overlook any logistical issues.
But as a writer, it’s a risky way to go. And my question is: As the actor, why didn’t Matthew Broderick ask that question? Or he did and got the same answer from John Hughes.