The other day I happened upon a movie called Primer from 2004. It's well regarded for how original it is and also for being made for only 7,000. That's a shockingly low price, even for low budget films.
I enjoyed it, though I found it a tough slog for the first 20 minutes - and it's also an incredibly short film, less than 90 minutes. This thing is an amazing achievement for such a low budget - it never looks cheap or shoddy. Another interesting thing is the style of dialogue and acting - it strikes me as very real, with people speaking over each other and never seeming to be delivering exposition to help the audience understand what's going on.
And apparently that was deliberate; the creator wanted the movie to not explain things to the audience. He wanted them to have to catch up with what was going on, and even have to watch the film multiple times in order to understand everything that happens.
For my part, I won't spoil anything in case anyone wants to see it fresh, but I was keeping up (or eventually catching up) until maybe the halfway point. For anyone who's seen it, it was the scene where the two main characters are being followed in the car by someone. From then on I was completely lost. But still interested enough to finish it.
Anyway, it struck me as a very different approach to writing and filmmaking. This creator wants his movies to be puzzles to some degree, it seems. It got me thinking about how much explanation I choose to give in my own comics and stories. I'm definitely toward the opposite side of that spectrum from the Primer guy.
Although I've tried in more recent comics to pare down the dialogue to a minimum to make it easily digestible, I still try to make what's going on understandable to as many readers as possible, even if the current page is the first one they've read. Of course, I don't explain the whole story on every page (all the other pages are right there to click back to if someone chooses) but a LOT of my effort goes to having the story make sense on first reading. I remind readers of earlier events when I can, before they pay off, and even explain them after the payoff sometimes.
I'm not sure overexplaining (even with very few words) is the best way to go. My favorite show, Better Call Saul (please come back soon!) lies somewhere in the middle. It requires viewers to have a memory of what's happened in previous episodes and seasons and some insight into what the characters might be going through psychologically, not to mention remembering the previous series Breaking Bad and what happened there. Not remembering certain things about these shows will leave some audiences in the dark about what's going on and why it matters.
Personally, I find it pretty natural to remember the broad strokes of both these series, and the show compels me to think about the possible psychology behind the characters' actions, In a well written show, it's quite satisfying. I enjoy thinking about it as deeply as I can later and trying to figure out what might be making these characters tick.
But I haven't had the guts to take that approach in my comics - too afraid people will tune out. I know how easily bored I can get!
As for Primer, I didn't want to work that hard by watching over and over (although I did enjoy the movie). I went to YouTube and watched an explanation video where a fan took a shot at explaining everything. It all rang true to me - really cool way to enjoy a complex story! I did the same after David Lynch's Mulholland Drive and it helped as well.
Do you feel compelled to ‘fill in the blanks’ for your readers, in dialogue, narration or author notes?
How much do you expect your readers to catch up to your story and what's going on in it?
Have a good one!
Banes at 12:00AM, June 17, 2021
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