Create a ‘moment’ in your story or film to get people talking

Last night I caught Tarantino’s  ‘Inglorious Basterds’ on TV, the second time I have seen it. Whatever you think of Tarantino as a filmmaker and screenwriter, there is no denying he is a master of the individual dramatic ‘set piece’ – a single scene that in of its self-contained-self, is absolutely electrifying.

Like Hitchcock, he sets up a simple and terrifying problem – in the opening of ‘Basterds’ it’s ‘will the jews hiding under the floor be discovered by the Nazi commander Hans Landa?’ – and then he takes that setup stretches it out with mundane conversation, bombast, wit, menace, even utter silence… and of course explosive violence. I am not a huge fan of Tarantino films, but blimey Charlie, he sure can create ‘a moment’.

While editing 50 Kisses with Simon Reglar, we were discussing one specific film, about whether or not it should be included in the final feature film. For sure it had problems, but it was Simon who said ‘yes, but it has a moment at the end…’ And he was right, it did have a short sequence that powerfully connected the viewer to the story.

This is a secret weapon all indie filmmakers should use. Create a ‘moment’. Work on it in the script and put extra resources into that sequence on set.

For sure, as indie filmmakers we are always beset by lack of time money and light. Often we are forced to work with inexperienced crews and actors. Truth be told, we also over estimate our own abilities and experience. This can often lead to slow, plodding films that really do not best showcase you or your cast and crew.

Hollywood attempts to deliver these moments with spectacle – sometimes it works, more often it’s a tired cliché. And we don’t have the budget. So our moments must come from the characters and story.

And here is another truth, in the real world, agents, managers, executives – they rarely have time to watch an entire film. And if they do, they are used to sifting through the crap to find the diamonds. So give them a diamond. Make sure your film has at least one ‘moment’, a single scene that electrifies the screen, that connects the audience to the story and characters extremely powerfully – deliver just one scene that people talk about after seeing your film and you are in VERY good standing.

I have always tried to do this, and every film I have made has at least one stand out moment. The car crash from ‘Urban Ghost Story’ or the climax of the Fishing montage in ‘Gone Fishing’ for instance.

Of course, ideally you will deliver several ‘moments’, interconnected by powerful and well hewn storytelling and filmmaking. And in a perfect world, the killer scene is also the climax of your story too.

I saw another film over Xmas that also has a terrific and satisfying ‘moment’, and best of all, it was the end scene – ‘Jeff, who lives at home’ – check it out for a movie that anyone could make on a micro budget.

Onwards and upwards!

Chris Jones
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2 Responses to Create a ‘moment’ in your story or film to get people talking

  1. Mark Davies January 6, 2013 at 8:49 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    This is very true, this issue of “big moments”.
    Interestingly, these moments are, a bit like beauty, often in the eye of the beholder. I’m no fan of modern-language buzz words/phrases, but “water-cooler moment” is also a phrase that would apply. When I was in primary school and had watched a film either on its cinema release, or at home the previous night on TV, it was interesting hearing all the playground chatter, and how many of us would be remembering the same key moments. At eleven or twelve years of age I’m not going to claim they were at the level of appreciating the scenes as we would as adults, but they were the scenes and phrases that we would copy and repeat ad nauseam for a while.
    Talking of Tarantino (I’m no fan but have seen Pulp Fiction) the twist scene with Thurman and Travolta has become one of those moments, as it has been parodied and homaged-to so often. (Don’t think it’s quite the big moment you mean, but it is something that ends up sticking in one’s mind.)
    Best wishes,

  2. Baz January 10, 2013 at 2:33 am #

    Hi Chris

    The “moment” rings bells to our short film entered into 50 Kisses.

    Our selected script certainly originally had the Tarantino explosive ending, which despite the appeal I felt had to be curtailed in some way to produce a more subtle realism. By no means I don’t feel this retracts from the original intentions and outcome.

    Agree there are limitations to budget, time and lighting, but with promising actors deeply involved with character then it’s remarkable what can be achieved through the production process. However, you also have to give credit to all crew who often bring as much untapped talent to the production small or large.

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