#8 Short Film on a Shoe String: The Subtext

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Leave something for the actors to play. Don’t have your characters speak everything out. When a character speaks about things that happened in the past, it puts the present scene on hold. It also puts the audience to sleep. Don’t do it.

Here is a sample of subtext from “The Mystery Girl” Clara and Danny have a little moment early on in the story. Clara is fixing Danny’s hair which is in a mess. Notice that she only speaks six words, the story is in the subtext.

What I want the audience to think in this scene is this; Maybe it’s Clara who is the mystery girl, there is no-doubt that they are attracted to each other, but it’s only a teaser, or a red herring as we say here.

Don’t worry I’ll get some hairspray.

They sit down — Clara — Flattens his hair — and uses the spray to keep it down — she looks at him — gives him a kiss on the cheek.  They look — at each other.  Clara — stands up — looking embarrassed.

The mistake I made at first was to write the story as if it were a  novel, I always seem to learn things the hard way.

Here is the introduction from my favourite novel, “Persuasion” by Jane Austin.

“SIR WALTER ELLIOT, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never looked up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless. He could read his own history with an interest which never failed.”

The Novels of Jane Austin is a lesson in the English language and are as popular today as when she first wrote them. You can now make a very simple comparison of the two art forms.

1…The subtext for a screenplay is abbreviated, to allow scope for the actors to apply
their acting skills.
2…The novel paints pictures with words, and invites the reader into their world, in the
introduction, we get the idea that Sir Walter Elliot is a very pompous and shallow
The Image of an iceberg is a metaphor for subtext, the part we see above the water is like the dialogue, and the part we don’t see below the water, is the subtext, which is much larger.

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