Jane Espenson, Battlestar Galactica and Buffy writer, on a joke she once wrote that failed:
Sometimes you think you’re being perfectly clear, and you’re not. I once wrote a line for an episode of Buffy: Xander, using whimsical phrasing to convey that he thought someone was crazy:
Spike may have gone to the land of the twirly hand gesture next to the temple, but he was right…
No, really. I thought it was clear… And then we were on stage, shooting the scene, and it suddenly became clear to me that no one had the slightest clue what I was going for.
In the end, they made the joke work in a different way:
…in the moment we ended up playing the incomprehensibility of the line. Xander says it, everyone stares at him, and he makes the gesture. It’s not exactly the joke I intended, which was supposed to be swift and smooth, but it works fine.
The point of the story is that moment of realization: I’d written a joke that was totally opaque, and no one pointed it out because they had no reason to even think there was a disconnect.
I cannot get enough of John C. Reilly in this video. Most versions of it have vanished, but it’s still online a few places, like here.
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, this is Derren Brown, and welcome to the Palisades Mall. We hope that your shopping experience is an uplifting arm, and I’d like to bring to your pay attention some very special offers today. Details of our special offers can be found handily by the elevators. So why not come right arm up and see for yourselves. Our special offers will only be available for a very short time, so all those customers wishing to reach up and grab this exciting opportunity should do so… now.
(No spoilers.) Batman: Dark Knight is great; exciting and well-constructed. Here’s a trailer, but frankly it’s good to go into this one cold.
I’m on board with all the buzz that Heath Ledger will likely get a posthumous Oscar nomination for his deeply disturbed Joker, and probably even win. His sardonic, unpredictable performance is at once terrifying and endearing, and couldn’t be more different than his also excellent work in Brokeback Mountain. He was insanely talented, and the fact that we’ll never see what else he had in him makes me sad.
I spent all day today in an audio studio, so watching B:DK tonight, I noticed something that ordinarily probably wouldn’t have stood out to me. Usually the sounds of breathing and mouth noises (spit smacks) are de-emphasized or removed in post-audio; the volume of actual words are raised, and the volume of breaths and biological mouth noise are signifigcantly lowered. Plus, in a movie (as opposed, to, say, an animation studio), the microphones are usually either hidden in the performers’ shirts, around their chest area- or boomed from above (a boom is a big microphone on a stick). In either case, the mic isn’t usually that close to the actor’s mouth on-set, so you don’t hear their mouth noise.
But in B:DK, Ledger’s spit-smacks and breathing are really prominent- I’d say even accentuated- and that’s part of what makes him so scary. There’s an intimacy to his voice that makes him feel as though his chapped lips are brushing right up against your individual ear.
Actually, now that I think about it, there are many Oscar-nominated performances where the actor badly needed a chapstick. Charlize Theron in Monster, Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby, Tom Cruise in Born on the Fourth of July, Emily Watson in Hilary and Jackie, Tom Hanks in Castaway. Forget the Stanislavsky method, just dry your lips with some paper towel and then use your fingers to stretch them til they bleed. You can thank me from the podium.