But what happened to the dog?
I should worry about him, but I didn’t. I was busy worrying about his dog Skeletor. The Screenplay Minimalizer had hit once again.
Ever since he gave the dog that one last meal, I had been waiting for him to say something about his plans. “Mum will look after you”. “Be kind to my buddie when he comes to take you for a walk”. Something like that would have been enough to sooth my mind. I would know that Skeletor was taken care of and I could focus on Joseph’s sufferings. But that line never came and even as he was taking a gripping farewell of his mother in the hospital, I couldn’t keep the voice inside me completely silent. “The dog! Tell your mother to take care of the Skeletor!”
But the decision of the screenwriter of 50/50, wasn’t up for negotiation.
One option was to imagine that the cancer patient arrived back at his house days or weeks after his surgery (provided that he survived it), meeting a starved version of his dog and a house full of dog poo. Another option was to assume that he had taken measures in this matter somehow, but that it wasn’t shown on the screen.
Not Big Brother
Without knowing anything about the craft of screenwriting I assume that it’s the kind of things they have to do to keep the movie nicely paced and interesting: cut out things and expect people to fill in the gaps with their imagination if they need to.
They don’t show every toilet visit, every piece of food the characters eat, every nap they take unless they have a special reason for it. And I support this. If I wanted to see every detail, how people eat and pee, I could as well watch Big Brother. As a movie watcher I expect scenes to be meaningful and juicy.
It’s just that sometimes the eagerness to trim down the movie goes a little bit too far. In this case I would have preferred to know what happened to the dog, so I could get it out of my mind. I would attribute the case of the abandoned dog to carelessness.
However there’s another shortcut that screenwriters take regularly which bugs me much more. This particular shortcut is not a mistake. It’s the standard way of writing this kind of scenes. But this doesn’t prevent me from getting annoyed every time I see it (and that is often, believe me).
I’m thinking of the meeting arrangements. Regardless if it’s a TV series or it’s a movie, it barely ever happens that people agree on a time when they decide to meet later. They always name a meeting point, but they never say anything about what time they’ll meet. At the most it’s a vague “tonight” or “tomorrow”. In my world that’s not how people book meetings. They pick up their smart phone and start negotiating until they finally can find a slot that fits both. Or if they’ve got a good memory, they rely on the calendar in their head. But they always, always set a time. They don’t turn up at a restaurant randomly at six, hoping that the other person would turn up within the next four hours.
I suppose you could argue that maybe they decide for the exact time later on, confirming it to each other by text messages. But it’s an excuse I don’t buy. It’s just as easy to decide the time at once, saving you the trouble of getting in touch again just for the scheduling.
I guess you could say this is a pet peeve of mine. So if any aspiring screenwriter reads this could you please either a) give me a good reason why you don’t include the meeting time or b) stop taking that particular shortcut?
I understand the need for cutting down the script and leaving out redundancies which risk devouring precious run time without adding any content. I’m cool with that.
What I ask for is discretion. If you minimalize the screenplay you need to do it with finesse, so that the viewers don’t even notice. If I worry more about the whereabouts of a dog than about the protagonist who is on the verge of death, something must be wrong, no?
I’d better add that for the little issue I had I really liked 50/50 quite a bit and the screenwriter Will Reiser, who based this script on his own experiences from a cancer disease, has my fullest respect.
I love the screenwriting aspect of movie making and I think we give the writers far too little attention compared to how much we talk about the directors. So the toast of the week goes to all screenwriters out there, either you remembered to take care of the dog or not.
This one is for you!