Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Biggest Difference Between Reality And Screenplays Is... (part one)

Conflict.

Or more specifically, the way conflict is handled.

In real life, especially in Western society, conflict is avoided as much as possible in everyday life. Those people who do constantly seek out conflict, are considered
a) criminals
b) insufferable busybodies
c) bullies
d) mentally unstable

... I'm sure you can come up with a few words yourself to add to the list.

However, in screenplays, conflict is the main source of audience identification and entertainment on the emotional level. No conflict equals boredom.

And we see this in so many unrealistic ways, every single day. Someone has a problem with a colleague, a friend, a family member, and they confront them about it. Sure, we always advocate the use of subtext and subtlety, but the fact remains, the way conflict is presented to us in our audiovisual fictions is far removed from how such situations would be handled in real life. And from how we would feel in real life if we ever were on the receiving end on such confrontations on a regular basis.

The alternative, to avoid all conflicts, or to downplay any conflict but have the characters talk about them at length (in Mumblecore films, for instance) only has limited appeal.

The question is whether it would be possible to add more true-to-life conflict situations in scripts, certainly when we're attempting to do realistic drama. Can we make scenes in which conflicts are avoided but the underlying subtext makes them clearly felt work as well as the 'traditional' non-realistic approach?

(As a side note, novels don't have this problem, as they can go inside the characters' heads at any time, even when 'nothing' is ostensibly happening.)

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