While I was up in Vermont visiting Alex and”freelaxing” as he used to say when he was a kid, we decided to take in a movie. So we went to see Argo, the new film by Ben Affleck (freelax, no spoiler alerts here!). Whatever medium we’re writing in, there’s so much we can learn from how other creatives handle their challenges. In thinking about Argo, there are a few things that made it a riveting film in my view that we might find helpful in our own work:
A strong focus on story: There was something about the way the film unrolled itself that really worked well for me. The focus wasn’t on exploiting a dramatic situation, it was on letting the drama emerge from the story. This isn’t easy to do, but it can be very effective. There was something low-key about the film: it wasn’t flashy or melodramatic; instead, it seemed gritty and real. Letting a story tell itself — this is so challenging, isn’t it?
A clever back-story treatment: In order to make the film’s events understandable, it had to provide viewers with some background. The movie managed to do this quickly and efficiently, so we understood exactly what was happening. We knew the who, what, where, and when right away, so we were oriented and ready to take in the action. Delivering back story information without being heavy-handed can be so tricky! Argo used an approach perfectly in synch with the film’s story — simple, but very clever.
An intense opening: After bringing us up to speed about the trigger event, Argo plunged us right into the action, which made it very absorbing. We were right there with the characters in the moment.
Believable dialogue: The dialogue was crisp, intelligent, sometimes funny, but always believable. I felt as if I was seeing real people talking, not just a bunch of actors pretending to be real people talking. Getting this right isn’t easy. I know, because I’m struggling with it in my YA novel.
Good pacing: Something about the pacing of this film really worked for me. The pace was fast, yet there were enough scenes where the action slowed down and focused on personal stories, so that I didn’t feel run over by a crisis-a-minute truck. I think that fast-slow-fast-slow pacing can be very powerful in conveying drama: it gives viewers time to catch their breath, which makes the next dramatic moment more intense.