ALLIGATORS IN A HELICOPTER

a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I'm a Logic-Fascist, and Proud Of It

So I was reading a post on another writing blog the other day, where a blogger was giving advice to screenwriters on how to get their scripts good coverage from readers.

One of the pieces of advice was to make sure the script had no logic holes. It's good advice, though the way the blogger couched it wasn't; she made it sound like the only reason that one should do it is that many readers are "logic-fascists" who put undue importance on logic in screenplays, and so one needs to remove the logic holes, even if it "upsets the delicate dramatic balance you've crafted".

I'm not entirely sure she was completely serious, but it's not going to stop me from making this point --

Most people who go to the movies are logic-fascists.

The most common comment I heard from people who saw The Departed -- from those who liked it, and those who didn't -- were complaints about one particular scene, in which a cell phone rings at a time when it just feels illogical.

Generally-solid movies like Minority Report and War of the Worlds lost big points with a lot of people because of the logic flaws in them.

And there's a good reason for this. Logic flaws take you out of the movie, and make you think about something that you shouldn't be thinking about at that moment. If your brain is stubbing its toe on something that makes no sense, that's major. That needs to be addressed.

Not because readers are anal about it, but because it bothers everyone.

Movies can survive small logic holes, but why should they have to? There's no reason why you shouldn't craft your script to make absolute sense, simply because it's going to make for a much, much better movie.

And a much better read. And yeah, the last thing you want to do is to give a reader anything to latch onto that doesn't work in your script, because it'll just taint the things that does.

Audiences are logic-fascists, and writers need to be too.

Because if anything is going to upset delicate dramatic balance, it's that logic hole.

31 Comments:

At 10:19 AM, Anonymous Joe Unidos said...

Just wanted to offer a quick counterpoint:

Many of the logic holes we see in finished films are the result of "small" things being changed up to and during production with no consideration about how they affect the underlying story as a whole. That being said, you're dead right of course --there's no excuse at all for this in a spec.

 
At 10:35 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I'm not blaming the screenwriters for the logic holes in those movies -- I have no idea where they came from.

I'm just saying that logic holes tend to loom large in people's minds, no matter what the source.

 
At 10:55 AM, Blogger Webs said...

Thanks, Scott. I'll stop feeling petty when I point out logic holes in my critiques of scripts that writers give me to read.

 
At 10:58 AM, Anonymous Jay Simpson said...

Most people who go to the movies are logic-fascists.

I have to disagree with you Scott. If this were true, most people would have hated Hitchcock films.

The "logiticians" as Hitch called them were in the small minority whose need to impose their own logic prevented them from accepting the logic created by the story.

Some of the greatest stories of all time are full of logic holes.

In Romeo and Juliet, why does the letter go astray?

In the God Father, why didn't they kill the God Father on the street and make sure he was dead? Why did they send cops to get rid of the body Guards at the hospital and then wait for different cops to come to kill the God Father?

 
At 11:02 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Well, there are logic holes and there are logic holes.

If they don't take you out of the story, they don't really qualify as much.

I never stubbed my mind over any of the things you just mentioned about The Godfather.

Even logical holes can be subjective, and only matter to a small slice of the audience.

 
At 11:07 AM, Anonymous Joe Unidos said...

Scott's right: there's dramatic conveniences and then there's "that didn't make any fucking sense."

 
At 11:49 AM, Blogger deepstructure said...

absolutely. the lack of logic in the majority of filmed entertainment is astounding.

my girlfriend hated me walking in the room while she was watching alias...

 
At 12:23 PM, Blogger Milehimama said...

I drive my husband crazy doing this all the time. Last night we were watching LOST, and I was wondering - ok, on day 44 Sawyer got shot in the shoulder. Day 69, he doesn't even have a scar?
It's the little stuff like that that pulls me out of the story.
I don't think the letter not making it in enough time is a logic hole. Letters get lost even today -let alone back then! A bigger logic hole is people text messaging each other on screen, then reading aloud the response - wouldn't they just call the person to begin with?

 
At 1:25 PM, Anonymous Joe Valdez said...

Logic proofing your script is as much fun as cleaning your room when you were a kid, and you see a lot of successful filmmakers - from Hitchcock to M. Night Shyamalan - doing everything they can to get out of it, particuarly the more successful they become in their careers.

I thought Signs was terrific, but every negative comment I read seemed to address the idiocy of aliens who were vulnerable to water landing on a planet that was 3/4s water. It took people who might have otherwise enjoyed the movie right out of it.

Yet the film was a blockbuster and aspiring screenwriters probably take that as a sign that if Shyamalan didn't have to clean his room, they don't need to either. Great post, Scott.

 
At 5:03 PM, Blogger Spanish Prisoner said...

It's not a question of logic, it's a question of working. If you feel cheated by some events in the script, it doesn't matter of logic or whatelse, it just feels wrong. A cellphone ringing right at that moment means it is "duh, yeah right!".

You just have to outsmart the viewer. By doing so, you just have to write if as so the characters wanted it to be like that. It's not just they just thought of it as "hey, woha, never thought of it!".

 
At 5:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally agree with spanish prisoner's fist sentence...If it works, it works.

- Allen

 
At 6:56 PM, Blogger Milehimama said...

I think some illogic is okay - it's when it becomes a too convenient solution or creator of conflict that it becomes a problem.
I could accept the fact that aliens landed on a world with water. I couldn't accept it if they had submarines and were the lost inhabitants of Atlantis, and then suddenly water killed them.
Just like the cell phone thing. I could accept if he had a cutesy ring; but when the ONLY time it rings is when it positively shouldn't ring - boo.

 
At 7:53 PM, Blogger Ryan said...

"Last night we were watching LOST, and I was wondering - ok, on day 44 Sawyer got shot in the shoulder. Day 69, he doesn't even have a scar?"

This is an example of what I find interesting about many logic holes that take people out of shows/movies. This is a pretty small issue (and one that may not even be a mistake. There have certainly been some hints that the island has healing properties of some sort) that a lot of people wouldn't think twice about, but it (and things like it) stand out to a significant percentage of viewers.

Yet, the same people are often more than willing to accept larger logic holes and big mistakes (or not even notice them).

 
At 7:58 PM, Anonymous Steverino said...

I don't know whether to agree with you or not. My experience with recent movies that contain a mystery to be solved has been frustrating. That is, I can guess the killer or the identity of a masked man very early on, after which all the complications seem merely "like Hollywood." I pick up on visceral logic, not the mechanical logic or its flaws.

For instance, in V for Vendetta, I figured out who V was just after Natalie Portman's first encounter with him. In Dogville, I knew who Nicole Kidman was trying to escape and I could even guess the actor playing that person the first time the car shows up on the set. Even a movie that seemed to hold all of its cards too close (the Swimming Pool) was disappointing.

It's interesting that you mentioned War of the Worlds. I liked the movie but I had trouble with the character arc that seemed to be too trite; it suggested that billions died in order for Tom Cruise to become a better Dad.

I don't know whether this is the logical hole you mention because this problem seems to be more essential than that. Didn't ruin the movie for me though.

I didn't catch the hole in Minority Report either, but I thought that the identity of the killer was easily telegraphed. (See backwards written spoiler below.) Knowing the outcome in this case did make Tom's running around a waste of time.

Btw, I was expecting that the Matrix sequels would have it revealed that Neo was a machine, specifically created to terminate Zion. I was surprised by Matrix Reloaded, but not in a good way.


reliops
(?tsom eht tsurt retcarahc s'esiurC moT did ohW).

 
At 8:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Movies are not meant to be an accurate recreation of real life. They're meant to be entertaining. An audience will generally allow the filmmaker a great deal of leeway in the believability department.

If people really cared that much about the beeper in The Departed then the movie wouldn't be in the top 100 on imdb.

 
At 9:40 PM, Blogger The Film Diva said...

Great post, Scott. I wish you'd crosslinked, but what the hey. I'm a logic-fascist myself but only when the script really isn't working. Otherwise I just jump on for the "ride" and consider any bumps in the road part of it.

 
At 10:21 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Diva, clearly that's because I suck.

Though I urge everyone to visit Film Diva's blog, it's on my sideboard now.

 
At 10:41 PM, Blogger The Film Diva said...

I'm batting my eyelashes at you right now... :-)

 
At 8:37 AM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

Because Jay, it has to be logical for the reality that exists in the film, not the reality that exists in your own neighborhood.

 
At 9:54 AM, Anonymous Jay Simpson said...

"Because Jay, it has to be logical for the reality that exists in the film, not the reality that exists in your own neighborhood."

That's what I said.

 
At 11:11 AM, Blogger deepstructure said...

i believe mary's point is that the internal logic needs to be true to itself, and when it isn't, that's what people notice.

it's not so much that they're applying subjective "real" world logic, its that the logic portrayed in the film seems inconsistent.

as for the godfather (why do you make that two words?), i don't believe the cops are there to kill the godfather. they're there to provide cover for the killers.

the police make the guards leave (the hospital security and the family-hired guards), so the assassins who show up in the black car later would have easy access to the godfather.

that's who michael and enzo the baker fool by convincing them they have guns in their pockets instead of just their fingers.

 
At 11:37 AM, Anonymous Joe Unidos said...

Without wading in too deep, I just want to make the observation that Jay had made the point:

"The "logiticians" as Hitch called them were in the small minority whose need to impose their own logic prevented them from accepting the logic created by the story."

when Mary corrected him by saying:

"Because Jay, it has to be logical for the reality that exists in the film, not the reality that exists in your own neighborhood."

 
At 4:30 PM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

Sorry, Jay. I may not be reading your post the way you intended. Probably a case of me imposing my logic on yours...:)

I do agree with Scott that viewers demand logic...i.e. why would a marathon runner get winded after chasing a crook one block? Can't defend that unless the guy has a sudden attack of an afore-undiagnosed lung condition or some such explanation.

But I also think readers often impose their own reality on the film's reality and create a logic hole that isn't. I know a reader whose notes to a screenwriter said something like "what American parent would give a loaded weapon to an eight year old child and send him to war? That's not logical or realistic and the viewer won't buy it." Well, I seem to recall that very thing happening in the Patriot after the father watched redcoats murder his other son before his eyes. It was perfectly logical for the time, place, and circumstances established by the reality in that film.

 
At 12:36 AM, Anonymous Lucy said...

What Mary is describing is what Roland Barthes calls NARRATIVE LOGIC: it doesn't have to make sense in the context of the real world, just within the world of the film - ie. if a character starts out doing/being one thing, his or her actions have to be a result of that starting point, NOT what random people *think* is logical or not in "real life".

 
At 8:48 AM, Blogger Milehimama said...

Yes, if the movie does a good job of creating a specific world, people will go along for the ride. But if they are not 100% convinced of that "world", they'll notice all manner of things.

 
At 10:24 AM, Anonymous Reagan said...

I have to disagree with Scott as well, but on slightly different grounds than Jay.

Yes, people point out logic holes, but I don't think that's necessarily because it's the most important thing to them. People love to point out logic holes in movies for the same reason people love to point out spelling and grammar errors in screenplays -- it's easy, at least easier than realizing the character arc lacked depth or the climax wasn't as breath-taking as it could be. Logic holes are easy to point out and provide an easy catalyst for post-movie coffee shop conversation.

Take Saw. Yes, it didn't make perfect sense for the killer to be lying in the room the whole time. Yes, the movie didn't give a fully adequate explanation for the killer's motives, but...

If you look at the final scenes, from false ending to twist to climax to revelation to resolution, it has, as far as I'm concerned, flawless pacing -- it was a quick succession of one hard cinematic punch after another. If the killer had been somewhere else, if the filmmakers had tried to insert some long-winded last minute explanation as to his motives, the ending would have clunked. I believe the same people who nitpicked the logic of the movie would have still found the "logical" version much less agreeable -- even if they couldn't articulate exactly why.

Logic holes are certainly fair game for criticism, but screenwriters and readers should be aware that the most logical story decisions are not always the best story decisions. Audiences want a good movie above all else, and we should know better than them what the most important elements of a good movie are.

 
At 7:35 PM, Anonymous Leif Smart said...

I'm not sure you can use Hitchcock's quote in this day and age. I believe audiences have grown and matured since Hitchcock's day. I think what might have been a minority back then, is far more likely to be a majority now. Especially if you factor in people who might not foam at the mouth about plot holes, but who just don't enjoy movies that have logic flaws.

 
At 7:56 PM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

Ah, MHM, very good point.

 
At 9:48 PM, Anonymous DAWG said...

I agree with Reagan, 100%. And Jay, too. Hitchcock used what he called "refrigerator logic." The idea being movie patrons didn't notice the mesh in a movie's logic until they went home and opened the refrigerator to get a midnight snack ("hey, wait a minute...") By then it was too late if they enjoyed the movie while they were watching it.
ARF!

 
At 1:41 AM, Blogger Mac said...

I can't believe that most of the Audience truly are logic-Fascists. If so, then many movies just wouldn't survive with those audiences.

I have the most problem with movies that give the audience (and the hero) a puzzle and invite them to solve it. (eg: Why would Jody Foster's child disappear in packed passenger aircraft?)

Once I'm given a puzzle, then the answer had better make sense.

(Spoilers ahead)







(Spoilers ahead)

Giving an answer like 'Someone had a plan to make millions of dollars that hinged on dozens of unrelated conspirators and the good luck of being able to walk off with the child in front of hundreds of witnesses and hope that not a single one noticed - or the entire plan is ruined' is not satisfactory.

But surely this isn't true either: "There's no reason why you shouldn't craft your script to make absolute sense, simply because it's going to make for a much, much better movie." Surely some level of 'accepting movie-logic' instead of 'real-world logic' has to exist.

The scene in 'Terminator 2' where John Conner gets the PIN [number] off a bank key card makes ZERO sense to anyone who knows how things work.

The scene in 'The Italian Job' after the heroes get the security van by blowing a hole in the road underneath is also equally bizarre - the guards in the van should have been incapacitated with permanent, debilitating spinal injuries after a huge fall onto a solid surface .. yet they were fine. Even if they weren't .. how the hell did the heroes open the doors of the security van? Just because it dropped out of sight wouldn't make the doors magically be openable from the outside.

If things made absolute sense, then there would be no drama. Our hero would simply call the police and fills out insurance forms after a robbery - instead of bucking the system and deciding to solve the crime themselves.

This means that all modern dramas must make up a reason for cell phones not to work ... otherwise the scared blond victim would simply call for help at the start of the movie.

Mac

 
At 6:50 PM, Blogger deepstructure said...

"Surely some level of 'accepting movie-logic' instead of 'real-world logic' has to exist."

i agree. but as has been said before, i think when scott said "absolute sense," he meant within the universe of the story. i don't think that was equated to "real-world" logic (although i believe it's certainly possible to write a story that conforms to real-world logic).

and frankly, folks will go a long way to help you. the audience wants to be entertained. they're on the writers side - they want to love your stuff. but they can't help you if you don't do the work.

for example, take the t2 scene. i think we buy it because although it might not work exactly that way (which most people wouldn't know), we do know it's possible. we've heard untold stories of hackers getting into secure systems. and it's reverse-engineered information. we know he's the one that eventually reprograms terminators in the future.

and the security van? i have no idea how much upward force one can absorb in an armored car, but i agree - it might have made more sense to have the occupants injured. i disagree about the doors - in fact it wouldn't have surprised me if the doors had blown open on impact. overall, i agree that this scene could have been written smarter - but i'd hardly call it a logic problem.

once you drop a security truck through a sink hole - well, the least of the problems should be the crew and getting inside it!
if we're going to believe you can pull that off, you don't even need to show me the rest. just cut to driving away with the money - the mechanics of taking the money out of the truck are immaterial. the only reason for me to worry about any of that is if you're going to do a reversal. if the truck turned out to be empty or the money irretrievable because of something unexpected that happened as a result of the fall (but potentially forseeable in hindsight), then that would be interesting.

"If things made absolute sense, then there would be no drama."

real-life is full of drama; of murder and intrigue and revenge and plans that go awry - even with computers, security cameras and cellphones. sure, life has gotten more complex and perhaps that makes it more difficult to construct good dramatic stories, but it doesn't mean scripts have to make dumb choices if they're set in a basically real-world.

 

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