The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

But what happened to the dog?

with 22 comments

Joseph Gordon-Levitt closed the door to his house. He was about to go to the hospital for a crucial surgery. If it succeeded he’d be saved from his cancer. If not, he’d be dead in a near future.

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.

Meeting arrangements
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.

A plead
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!

Cheers!

Written by Jessica

February 10, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

22 Responses

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  1. I’ve found that people in movies have shockingly flexible schedules and no real sense of time. Ergo there is never a time conflict unless there is a good plot reason for there to be and “tomorrow” is a specific enough time. That said, I don’t recall a ton of instances of meeting arranging in film but that could just be me not noticing it because this hasn’t bothered me (though now that you’ve put it into my head I probably will always notice it :-(). I can’t say I gave one thought to the dog in 50/50 either.

    Bondo

    February 10, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    • I bet you’ll start thinking about it now that I’ve mentioned it. It’s particularly bad in TV series tbh, where they make the most appointments. But it’s there in movies as well.

      Jessica

      February 12, 2012 at 9:13 pm

  2. OMG I had the exact same thought about the dog! WHO IS LOOKING AFTER THE DOG? Poor Skeletor 😦

    martinteller

    February 10, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    • My daughter thought just the same! I think he must have missed something there…

      Jessica

      February 12, 2012 at 9:29 pm

  3. 🙂 Thanks for the laugh! That kind of stuff drives me nuts too.

    Sandy

    February 10, 2012 at 5:23 pm

  4. In regards to the meetings, I can’t say I’ve noticed it much either, but my assumption is usually that people have established regular meeting times, especially if they work together.

    martinteller

    February 10, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    • Well… but often meetings are like dates in a restaurant? It’s so weird to me that they never say the time.

      Jessica

      February 12, 2012 at 9:30 pm

  5. Jess,

    Well, the devil’s in the details, they always say. I’m sure I’ll be asking myself the same question when I see 50/50.

    I do think that little details like this are important to the believability of works, and that leaving something unfinished, especially in regards to a potentially sympathetic element such as a pet, is going to be noticed and diminishes the completeness of the work, slightly.

    It’s not like the Trekkies going out there and spotting every inconsistency in episodes of ST: TNG, but it does say that some care needs to be given to how every element in your story plays out from start to finish.

    Thanks for this little boggler, Jess. It really gave me a smile.

    My 2 yen,

    Akiosama

    Akiosama

    February 10, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    • Thanks Akiosama! I actually think the spotting that Trekkies do is kind of entertaining, as long as it’s done with a lot of fan love.

      Jessica

      February 12, 2012 at 9:33 pm

  6. I agree with all of this! Although I definitely didn’t think about Skeletor 😦 I feel bad now actually. I feel like the meeting time-thing might happen more on tv along with another thing I hate: not saying goodbye at the end of a phone conversation. No one does that! You don’t just hang up when you’re done saying your piece unless you’re seriously mad or have a bad connection. Fun write-up!

    Jess

    February 10, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    • Yes! Not saying good bye bugs me too! It’s as if there’s a silent deal that people behave differently in the movies and on TV just to save a few seconds.

      Jessica

      February 12, 2012 at 9:39 pm

  7. Up is sad, there are balloons, grr.

    There, now that my new comment standard is out of the way (even though it had nothing to do with this comment!) I shall attempt to give my two cents, because this is the internet and throwing two completely untrained and unqualified cents is every person’s bandwidth given right, consequences be damned!

    Annnnyyyyway, now that I have slightly more or less sanity again.

    I actually think this little bit of stuff can apply to a topic I’ve seen hotspotting a lot of video game forums lately: the uncanny valley. If you don’t know the uncanny valley problem, here is an excellent video on it: http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/the-uncanny-valley but the watered down version is that there’s an interesting point where adding human characteristics to something and it getting ‘close’ makes it more uncomfortable than anything until it gets past that awkwardness. It started with robots, and has hit games pretty hard with their psuedo realistic responses.

    While obviously the people in movies are generally real people, but when scenes are really just unbelievable and there isn’t enough to get immersed in the fantasy, the issues are glaring. Small required details for the scene to ‘work’ can break immersion.

    Nailing down what is needed to keep immersion I think is a science most media is hitting, and one that too many aren’t throwing enough people at. Or perhaps they are and it takes a while to show? Too many details and you lose people due to boredom or unnecessarily fluff and raise expenses of having to add all ofi t. Not enough and you lose enjoyment.

    Perhaps if all mediums were to throw people at these problems, we could tackle all sorts of different aspects of it, and a smart person could compile it, thoughts, words (literature), what scenes and what -in- scenes are most important (cinema), what reactions (video games), feelings (all), looks (art!), movements (dance), etc. . . make for a truly ‘human’ experience.

    And perhaps once we can create a believable human experience, we can finally nail down that philosophical question, what does it mean to be human?

    • Thanks for linking to that video! I hadn’t seen it and it was really interesting and made me understand why I’m so uncomfortable about some human replicas (such as love dolls) while I adore a creature like the bot in Short Circuit. Or why the animated figures in Tintin just didn’t work for me. Lovely watcing!

      I think the parallel you’re making is interesting too regarding the immersion thing. Not that the people who don’t make proper appointments are like unhuman robots but still….

      The question of what it means to be human is one that never grows old and why I’m such a fan of sci-fi, which often puts those questions. But you know that already.

      Jessica

      February 12, 2012 at 9:47 pm

  8. […] odd and velvet cafe where they serve movie posts instead of food did a post that I’ll link right here  about how some missing details in movies can break immersion, cause stress, or take away from […]

  9. Brilliantly stated, and further definitive proof that Cosmo of “Beginners” was far and away the most humane and most terrifically written dog at the movies in 2011.

    Nick

    February 12, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    • Yes! Cosmo for the Best Dog Performance Award for 2011!

      (even though you can’t really blame poor Skeletor from being left alone. It wasn’t his fault!)

      Jessica

      February 12, 2012 at 10:00 pm

  10. Aw I forgot all about the dog, he is so ugly, yet super cute!!

    🙂 Lovely heart warming write up matey

    Scott Lawlor

    February 13, 2012 at 11:00 am

  11. The not-arranging-a-time thing reminds me of another weird thing in movies (and on TV shows too) where people never seem to say “Goodbye” at the end of a phonecall. They just… hang up. There’s a video about it:

    Andy

    February 13, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    • I’ve never thought about the habit of hanging up the phone until now but after watching this video I certainly will!

      Jessica

      February 14, 2012 at 10:45 pm

  12. Right! I was so obsessed about the dog, I googled 50/50 Skeletor and ended up to your blog. Nice to know there are other too who worries about what’s not being said. Even one line, just one line I’m asking for to get peace.

    vakava

    February 26, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    • How disappointing though that I couldn’t provide you with a good answer! I’m still glad that you took the time to read my post. It’s nice to see new faces around this little place of mine. Cheers!

      Jessica

      February 26, 2012 at 6:20 pm


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