Monday, October 03, 2005


I saw Serenity this weekend, and it surprised me how much I was able to consciously recognize storytelling elements. And yet, none of them really seemed forced; everything flowed smoothly and followed logically from what came before.


In the scene after the nightclub fight, when Our Heroes are all back on board Serenity, Mal confronts Simon and is furious that Simon had his crazy, violent sister on his ship for eight months. Things get fairly heated, and there's a shot, what I think is a great shot, from the point of view behind Zoe's hip, looking at Wash. Wash doesn't say anything, but the shot comes right after Mal threatens Simon with some serious hurt.

Two things happen in this shot: Wash starts looking really scared, like, "I've just realized I'm sitting very close to people who might suddenly become very violent," and Zoe's hand drops to her holster for a moment -- but then things calm down, and she pulls away. It's a very subtle shot, very precise in its intentions, and conveys a huge amount of information to us about the state of mind of characters who are not even participating in the conversation.

It was at that point that I began to realize exactly what kinds of things a good storyteller can create. And not just what, but how they can create it. At some point, Joss Whedon was writing that scene, visualizing it in his mind, and it occurred to him to take a split-second to show what the other characters were thinking. That's the kind of storytelling that makes a story persist and resonate, the kind of subtle work that makes people like your movie even if they don't know why.