BONES AND MUSCLES
I'm a huge fan of David Cronenberg's work. And I know I'm not alone, he is generally considered to be one of the best horror filmmakers of the 80s and beyond. But I'm always surprised that he's not celebrated for being one of the best screenwriters... period. Ever.
He is THAT amazing!
I've been obsessed with his 1986 remake of The Fly since I was a kid. (It's a whole another story why this movie became my favorite. One day I might bore you with it.) In short, it encapsulates everything I love about horror: it's scary, it has great creature effects, it's intelligent, it has a heart and yes, as cliché as it sounds, it deals -in a very deep way- with the human condition.
So if you are a writer, you could do worse than to study it! This movie is so masterfully made and so tightly done that there is no fat, no fluff in it. It's all bones and muscles. It's as lean as it gets.
Let me just talk about the first three minutes of the movie.
The opening scene is a conversation between Seth and Veronica. She's a journalist, and he's a scientist. They're at some sort of science gala where she's trying to find an interesting story.
These are the opening lines:
What am I working on? I'm working on
something that will change the world and
human life as we know it.
Change it a lot or just a bit? You have to
be more specific.
You want me to be specific here in this room,
with half the scientific community in North
Is there another way?
You could come back to my lab?
Now, I don't know if this scene was written like this in the script, or if it got so tight in editing. But it doesn't matter.
What I do know is that any lesser writer (including me, of course) would've started this conversation way earlier. We would've used it as a chance to learn the characters' names -by having them introduce themselves. We would've seen them get a drink. Maybe start with Veronica interviewing some boring scientists about their unimportant work, just to show how desperate she might be to get a good story.
Fluff. Filler. Fat.
But not Cronenberg. By minute four we're in a car, heading back to Seth's lab, and we even learn that he gets motion sickness and hates vehicles! By minute six, we're looking at the telepods.
You don't notice it when you watch it, because it works so well! This movie gets going and keeps building and it's one of the smartest films ever made.
I know people remember the “space bug” at the end, and “Brundle-fly”, and the ear falling off. Some even remember the love story, and the baboon turning inside out. But if you have ANY interest in writing, I urge you to revisit this movie with a writer's eye.
Trust me, it's worth another look. It's THAT good.