Whether it’s a leather jacket or a two door sports car, worn and used things are better in terms of storytelling.
I don’t make this statement lightly, I, like most people, love new things. I love to get new things on holidays and birthdays or simply buying them myself (though I usually don’t, it’s a conflict between myself now and my inner 5 year-old. Sometimes he wins and I get the Lego set).
Something that I’ve noticed is that the shiny, the nice things that you have in your life do not stick around well in a story. Sure, your character could use that new phone throughout a story, but by the end it will be seen as worn to the audience; and that’s great.
What brought about this blog was my insane driving today on my way to work. I was driving my truck and was bobbing and weaving in and out of traffic the best a humpback whale moving at 85 could do, and as it flew up on a box truck I narrowly weaved in front of a semi-truck before I was pierced by Ahab Moving Company. I then slowed down and took account of my life and my mind in that moment hurled to the chase scene in Bullitt, a scene that was ingrained in me because my Dad had the 68′ Dodge Charger that explodes at the end of that scene.
He continues to remind me how that car could easily outrun the Mustang, as he had done so in real life many times. Fireballs excluded.
And it was then that I thought about how we have had hundreds, if not thousands of car chases in film since Bullitt and yet, everyone looks back on that film and The French Connection as being the best out there. I would chalk it up to the fact that they were the first films to really do the modern car chase, but I think there is something else to those films that keep them up on the pedestal; they feel real.
When you finish seeing those two movies, you think you could be Steve McQueen or Gene Hackman and barrel through the streets like it’s Black Friday at Wal-Mart.
I blame the cars from these two films. Starting from the beginning to the end they are dented, beaten, and obviously used daily. Today, you see the car from a movie and that thing is so shiny you can see the Meguiars product placement billboard in the paint’s reflection. Dodge would shit itself if they saw their car being beaten and cast as the villainous bastard that it was in Bullitt.
When you watch a movie these days you see the shiny and nice car that the production was provided by whoever threw them the most amount of money. I eye roll at the amount of camera swishes and dollies that accompany the car’s entrance on screen. We get it! This is the bad-ass car that will drive around the closed course by a professional driver so you can double down for both the film and the commercials for the car.
This beaten bond is not strictly tied to cars. Objects, clothes, almost anything a character uses in a film should have some sort of worn texture to it. Props from Alien, Blade Runner, Mad Max, Dredd, Harry Potter are lovingly re-created by fans or bought for massive sums of money. Sometimes a shiny thing might slip through, but really, nothing a character uses will ever be alien or new.
The human touch makes an object something more; we love touching stuff, I mean why do you think clothing stores are setup the way they are? Because they love putting that shirt back where it is supposed to be after you carried it across the store and dropped it? Hell no, they do it because by touching something you create a connection to it, you create a sense of ownership with the item.
Reading about that lucky rabbits foot that’s been rubbed to bare skin, seeing the comic panels erupt from the lightning guns, experiencing the magic of the untuck/tucked thermal of Nathan Drake are all things that tell us about the character we are following. They show us their tendencies, their ticks, and their humanity.
We can extend this to the world they inhabit, but that’s another blog for another day, maybe even Thursday. To end this blog, the things that are used, beaten, and loved will stick with your audience a lot longer than the complex and cold thingy that just sits around and looks pretty. You might think this is a rather obvious observation, but there is such a thing as trying to make something cooler than it really is, but that’s, again, another blog for another day.