Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Thoughts on the first scene of Proof

Remember that movie Proof starring Gweneth Paltrow? It's about a math whiz whose dad dies and leaves some unfinished mathy business behind that she has to tend to. Well I always thought the premise looked interesting so when it popped up on some cable channel the other day I recorded it. Last night I tried to watch it.

I got about 8 minutes in before I pulled the plug.

It opens with her having a dream. Then she wakes up and her dad is there, played by Anthony Hopkins. They talk. And talk. And talk. She's lonely. I got that she was lonely pretty early. Not from something she did, mind you, but from stuff she said. Then they kept talking about how lonely she was, just in case I didn't get the idea. Then they said some other stuff I need to know about and ended with him saying something like "But I'm not really here, am I? I'm dead."

And she goes "Yes, you died three weeks ago."

And that's when I turned the thing off, because if the writing in the opening scene is this lazy then I don't want to waste my time with the rest.

I would have shown her explaining to him how to program his DVR. Super expert math whiz and you can't even program your DVR, Dad? I know, I know. I'm a dummy. Shouldn't you be out with your friends, not helping your dumb old man? Dad, you are my friend. Then dad goes off to take a nap because he's mentally exhausted and he doesn't wake up.

Better, yes?

I don't believe in long expository scenes with two people sitting in a living room telling me all the things I need to know. A couple of minutes, cool. But when you're entire opening scene is one long boring dream sequence that tells me nothing but facts I need to know, your movie is not good. I always make a policy to keep my living room exposition scenes to two minutes, and I try to give the characters something interesting to do that adds subtlety to the scene. Rule #1: don't be boring.


  1. Proof is a stage play, I dont know if you knew that. I loved the play but I didn't care for the film. I hate Gwyneth Paltrow, she ruined it for me, but also, I hated the screenplay.

    Sometimes stage plays just don't work onscreen.

  2. EB:
    I wouldn't see the film, but I managed to catch Mary-Louise Parker perform the play in NYC (a while ago), and it sounds like how the play begins (except it starts with the two actors just having a scene on a darkened stage; the reveal that the father is dead is a surprise).

    But that's a play for the theater, and not a screenplay. Meaning that even if you're adapting a play into a screenplay, you still have to do your job as a screenwriter. Like not letting the scene get boring.

    Edward Albee used to gripe about Ernest Lehman's getting an Oscar nom for "retyping" his play, but it's not that simple.

    Keep up the good work!

  3. I did not know it was a play. That just highlights the need to remember that something that works on stage does not necessarily work on screen.

  4. Anonymous12:14 PM

    But the film picks up when Jake enters the pic ;) Maybe if you just fast forward the other stuff...?

  5. I really don't mind exposition through dialogue in a script - so long as it's good dialogue - and by good dialogue I mean damn good, like the ghost scene in Hamlet good.

    Otherwise show, don't tell.

  6. When I finally got around to watching "Closer" I felt restless throughout the movie because it seemed like every seen was just two talking heads.

    It wasn't until I read the IMDB page later that I found out it was a play.

    Not sure if it's the story or the writer that is not translating well to the screen.

    Or is it our expectations of a movie versus a play?


  7. Maybe it's an issue of live performance vs recording. When something's on stage you get to see all of it, choose what to look at, and people move around, and there's an audience. Something about seeing something live makes it easier to sit still and listen to talking. But when it's two dimensions and we only get to see what the director chooses to let us see. It's boring. There's only one thing to look at and it's flat and needs to move to make up for its limitations.


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