I love to hear people laugh. Sometimes at the expense of other experiences. But I’m looking at the ways I ask the audience to witness conflict. Laughter is a such a great release/exclamation of surprise/recognition of a conflict. It can also blow out the rising tension to a simmer.
Charles Kaufman (American screenwriter, producer, and director: Being John Malkovich, Human Nature, Adaptation., Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Synecdoche, New York. ) gave a wonderful speech to BAFTA a while ago, and it’s quite wordy, but I wanted to share it:
This is the bit that really resonated with me from that speech:
“This is a little thing that I wrote, that’s just a personal thing for me, and it’s very… I don’t know, but you’ll see. But I hate this, so I’m just going to share with you that I hate it. ‘Do not write jokes to your readers in your stage directions.’ You know what I mean by that? People do that. Don’t do that. Your job is to create an atmosphere. You’re trying to establish a mood. You’re writing a story and what you’re trying to do is to help this large group of people who are going to come together to understand the tone and the spirit and the feeling of this movie so that they can come together and make it. That’s what you should spend your time on, not with winks and stuff. Not winking at people.”
I’m reminded of this when I recently saw “To Have and Have Not” and watched Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart. I love their incredible chemisty – the kind of winking and nodding that they had with one another, a real shorthand of reaching out in their characters (and in real life). The audience gets to enjoy their connection with one another because its with one another – not with the audience.
I was in a Commedia d’elle Arte show many years ago and the character Arlecchino would go out in the audence to do his lazzi (improve/tricks) and he would engage in the most overdone winking/poking/nodding gambits to get the audience to play with him. It was awful. You could see the audience cringing to get away from his aggressive asides.
And then, there was a day when I was in a business meeting, and a very attractive woman who was leading the agenda said something that just didn’t sound – true. And she turned to me, looked at my bug eyed reaction and with a pointed slyness, gave me a sultry wink. It thrilled me to have a secret between us. I nodded my head as if I was listening to her but I felt like I had been given a slight electrical shock. Later on, I found out that she winked at a lot of people in meetings. But I’ve never forgotten that moment.