That thing you’ve spent years on, in 30 seconds or less

by Larry Brenner
Spalding MFA Faculty, PlaywritingScreenwriting

“Oh, you’re writing something new? What’s it about?”

I HATE that question.

Do I really have to summarize my work? Can’t I just pull out my draft and spend the next few hours reading it to you? No?

The other day, I found myself saying “It’s about this quantum physicist.” No, it’s not. That’s not true to me; I’m not a quantum physicist. I majored in Theatre and Playwriting. So I don’t write anything about quantum physicists. Not really.

There IS a quantum physicist in my screenplay. And it’s an important plot point. It’s just the movie isn’t ABOUT that.

“A group of scientists discover a forest filled with unicorns.” Ok, well that sounds moronic. Plot always sounds moronic. Plot is complicated, full of twists and turns. And when you summarize it, you bring it down to something small, trivial, and insignificant.

You’ll notice when a new movie is announced, the internet largely rejects it. That sounds SO STUPID. A young boy goes to a secret school for wizards. Give me a break. That sounds SO LAME. A man dresses up like a bat in his war on crime. UGH. SO STUPID. No one would go see that.

And the reason is… PLOT isn’t EXECUTION. You can’t get a handle on it from a summary. But I don’t want to end up saying something apologetic like “My script is about Franklin Delano Roosevelt secretly being a merman from Atlantis. I know it sounds stupid, but it’s actually the good version of that.”

I think a good summary is more about theme than anything else. Harry Potter isn’t about a boy who goes to wizard school, it’s about a lonely kid who finds a community where he belongs. Batman isn’t about a guy with weird fashion sense and priorities, it’s about a man who suffered a trauma in his childhood that affected him so profoundly that he swore no one would ever hurt anyone again.

It’s not about Jesus and George Washington teaming up to stop Judas and Benedict Arnold; it’s about two men coming to terms with profound betrayals, and learning to trust again. That’s from my new screenplay, Crossing the Delaware. No, it’s not. But you get my point, right?

It’s about the human experience. It’s not about plot.


larry-brennerLarry Brenner is a graduate of Spalding’s MFA program and is currently earning his PhD in Educational Theatre at NYU. In Fall 2010, Larry’s screenplay, Bethlehem, was one of the winners in the Final Draft Big Break Screenplay Competition, and is now being produced by Joe Roth Productions. It subsequently placed on the 2011 Hollywood Black List, Hit List, and Blood List. He has also written Labyrinth for Walt Disney Pictures and Angelology for SONY/Columbia Pictures. Saving Throw Versus Love was produced at part of the 2010 New York International Fringe Festival. It was then selected for the Fringe Encore Series and is currently in contract with producers for an upcoming Off-Broadway run. Larry is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild of America and WGAEast.

 

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2 thoughts on “That thing you’ve spent years on, in 30 seconds or less

  1. Love this, Larry! I was about to write something myself (poem, blog, essay?) on “The efficacy of a quotation over summary.” But you’ve already done it so well…

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  2. Great post. The worst part for me is the blank stare I get when I fumble around trying to tell non-reading friends what I’ve been writing. It never sounds interesting when I try to boil it down. So I’ve just started avoiding the question, which, of course, makes people question whether I’m even writing. Can’t win. I’ll have to try answering with some theme-talk next time. See how it goes.

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