I watched Back to the Future last night. No surprise, I’m sure since probably a million other people did too. As usual, the movie didn’t disappoint in its Michael J. Fox wonderful-ness, the great look back on the 50s, and the line “I can’t go back in that…that zoot suit.”
That line always makes me smile. Maybe it’s because I find humor in the fact that the boy has his fashion timeline skewed. But probably it’s because I know the definition of the term “zoot suit” and I know that Michael’s character is making a mistake when he says. –A scripted mistake, but one nonetheless. And yes, I call him Michael…oh; you didn’t know we’re on a first name basis? We are. I use his first name and he doesn’t know mine.
As I watched the movie, sans notebook (I think I need to go back to carrying one with me. Not having one attached to my hands is a serious writer failure), I focused on watching it as a writer.
If you haven’t done this, it’s fun, but not as fun as watching the movie in writer oblivion. Watching it as a movie goer means you can swoon over MJF, dislike his movie girlfriend for getting to kiss him, and basically repeat all the lines because you’ve watched the movie so many times you can recite it verbatim even if the mute button was on.
Not the same thing if you’re watching it as a writer.
As a writer, you watch it for writing related nuances. You focus on character development or setting. In my case, I was drawn to the inventory items used and the conflict/tension.
Anybody who’s ever worked in retail or the restaurant business or even in nursing knows there’s inventory to be tracked. How many green shirts do we have? How many have been sold? Are there enough eggs to get through the breakfast rush this week? Does the nurse unit have enough…nursing things (I’ve never been a nurse!) for all the patients on the floor?
It turns out movies and books and plays all have inventory too. There’s a line that goes “If you have a gun on the mantle in act one, it needs to go off by act three.” Basically, you use everything you have at the outset of the storyline by the time the story ends.
And #BacktotheFuture does that well.
Did you notice the can of Pepsi Free on the bed when his phone rang the night the Doc got shot? It showed up later when Marty was at the diner in 1955 and Lou, the owner, asked him if he was going to order anything.
What about the pick-up truck Marty and his girlfriend saw after school? He was telling her that “someday” he’d be driving one. And bam! End of the movie, there it was in the garage.
And the flyer about the clock tower? That one really caught my attention. It’s a flyer Marty didn’t even care about when it was handed to him, but it was so relevant to the storyline. It showed up in history for the sole purpose of getting him back home. That’s good writing.
I don’t mean sword fighting conflict or arguments between characters. I mean the conflict that shows up as the characters try to get what they want. The makers of this movie did this well too.
Marty wants his band to be picked to play at the dance –the school administration says he’s too loud. (This was also an excellent inventory item if you didn’t notice. Who played at the dance in 1955?)
The Libyans want to kill Marty after they see him in the parking log –can’t. The gun jams and Marty gets away.
After Darth Vader tells George to ask Lorraine out to the dance (nobody wants their brain melted), he can’t get it to happen. Biff gets in the way, Lorraine crushes hard on Calvin/Marty.
When George does get the nerve (and the script) to ask her out, Biff shows up in the diner. In that scene, Biff wants to punch George, right? He shows up with a goal. Does he get it? Nope. Rocks are thrown at him in the form of Marty tripping him and punching him. Then you’ve got the car chase scene –which ends with Biff not getting George and George not getting the girl.
As the credits were rolling, I was not a happy movie goer. I was a writer, more frustrated after my movie/writing lesson than I had been before it started. Not cool, MJF. Not cool.
How does a writer get all those inventory items identified before using them all up again?
Seriously, I’m asking you how.
Laying there in bed, I kept imagining a puzzle box.
I like puzzles. It’s been ages since I’ve put one together, though I’m thinking about ordering one and putting it together to see if this image helps me somehow.
In a puzzle box, you’ve got a number of pieces and if you’re missing one, the whole picture is useless. The time spent putting it together is pretty much wasted. People spend hours (I know I have) searching for the missing piece to a puzzle.
With #BacktotheFuture, I imagine the Pepsi Free can was a puzzle piece. Without even that small detail, the story would have derailed. The scene at the diner, when Marty first walks in wearing his vest, would have been an epic fail if the writer hadn’t dug around in the box and pulled out that can of sugar free soda.
Speaking of that soda –did anyone ever drink Pepsi Free? I don’t remember drinking it. I’m not much of a soda fan anyway. And I think my family of origin was more of a Dr. Pepper kind of family.
So I’m going to take last night’s lesson and see what I can do with it. I also want to get a puzzle. With seventeen days before my next writing assignment is due, I’m going to try drawing up a list of inventory items to see what I have to work with. I’ll throw some rocks at my characters after they tell me what they want. And maybe I’ll find a puzzle to put together just to see if I can drive home this lesson.
And maybe, when it’s all said and done, all these things will propel my writing forward. So that publication can be in my future.