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Shtumi in the Spotlight: How to Turn an Info-Heavy Story into Riveting Drama

Shtumi in the Spotlight: How to Turn an Info-Heavy Story into Riveting Drama

MM Guide 2016

Here’s what we did to this scene in the middle of shooting, after one of those late night conversations. I’ve highlighted the parts we’ve changed:

INT. GLOBE, ROBBY’S OFFICE – MOMENTS LATER

Robby’s looking over some of the clips Matt pulled. 

MIKE

Hey. Shouldn’t you be golfing?

Robby looks up. Mike’s in the door, towel around his neck.

ROBBY

Golfing’s not a verb. And I couldn’t get a tee time today. 

MIKE

Is that what they call it? A tee time?

ROBBY

Yeah, they also call it a leisure activity. You should try it, Mike.

MIKE

I run.  

ROBBY

You run to work. 

Mike shrugs, true. He eyes the clips on Robby’s desk.

MIKE

So what are you doing here today?

ROBBY

Looking at clips. On Saviano.

MIKE

Ben and Steve think he’s a dead end. They gave me a lot of crap at the game.

ROBBY

Yeah, Ben sent me an email.

MIKE

He did?

ROBBY

Yeah.

MIKE

What do you wanna do?

ROBBY

Bring him in.

MIKE

So just ignore those guys?

ROBBY

I think we have to start ignoring everybody on this one.

MIKE

I’m good with that.

(then)

You think Baron has any idea what’s coming down the Pike?

ROBBY

No. But I don’t think he cares either.

MIKE

That’s refreshing.

ROBBY

Unless he’s wrong. 

Mike registers this.

Same information. But look at how we use it differently.

(L-R) Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy and the real-life Robby Robinson on set

(L-R) Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy and the real-life Robby Robinson on set

First, the characters have more to play. When Robby tells Mike that Ben sent him an email, Mike is surprised. So there’s more for Ruffalo to do. This also tells us something about Mike. Finally, Mike’s reaction gives more power to Ben’s objection.

Second, the transaction of the scene, the fundamental plot movement, is much clearer. “What are we going to do? We’re going to bring in Saviano. We’re going to ignore everybody.” Mike and Robby are making the same decision, but by spelling it out, it’s somehow bolder. It feels like a stronger character move for both men because it’s explicit.

Finally, we say more with less. Instead of restating information we already know about Marty being an outsider and the power of the church (talky talky talky), this information is just alluded to en route to a larger statement about Marty’s character. Instead of telling you that the team needs to get this right, we show you how important it is that they get it right by having Mike react to the notion that they might be wrong. Of course, it helps when you have an actor as good as Ruffalo to land the scene.

The second scene is clearer, tighter and deeper on character. It’s shorter, yet it conveys a lot more. Just look at the emotional arc: In the first version of the scene, both Mike and Robby have pretty linear arcs. They enter and exit the scene in pretty much the same emotional place; maybe they’re slightly more certain of themselves, but they basically end the scene the way they begin it—knowing they want to push ahead with the investigation.

In the final version, however, Mike’s emotional arc is a lot more interesting. Mike enters with less certainty. He’s been affected emotionally by the push back, more so when he finds out that Ben’s emailed Robby. He’s not sure what they should do. And while he’s excited when Robby suggests they push ahead, his excitement is tempered when he considers (for perhaps the first time in the movie) that his instinct about the story might be wrong. There’s a real emotional transaction here. We found the shtumi.

This was probably our 21st draft of the scene. You have to be relentless about this. Managing information, figuring out how to use it to accentuate rather than overpower a scene—it’s a process, just like every other creative endeavor. No one gets it right on the first draft. But with time, helpful friends and collaborators, and great, great effort, you can get there… as long as you don’t focus on the facts, but focus on the shtumi. MM

This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Complete Guide to Making Movies 2016. Spotlight opens in theaters November 6, 2015, courtesy of Open Road Films.

 

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