A Great Example of ‘Show, Don’t Tell’

Or “How The Faculty Tells You All About Its Main Protagonists in Under Four Minutes”

(This post is mostly spoiler-free about the 1998 film The Faculty, but you should’ve seen it by now, anyway. It’s awesome. I don’t care what any sci-fi fans say against it. It’s one of my top ten favourite movies, so get over it and get into it.)

For those who haven’t had the privilege of seeing it, The Faculty is a sci-fi/horror movie about a small town school that gets taken over by aliens, and a group of six teens form an unlikely alliance in order to save the school…and the world!

The Faculty has an ensemble cast, and the film has a very limited time in which to tell us all about its main characters. The way it does this is to have one scene that spans the introductions of everyone in a “blink and you’d miss it” kind of job. It’s a great demonstration of streamlining information to ensure that everything you need to know about a situation/character is covered in the briefest time possible.

Here’s the clip:

And here’s how this all breaks down:

We open with an establishing shot of the school itself. Seems relatively calm, relatively unspectacular, and we also get the name, Herrington High. The more observant will also notice the sign says “Home of the Hornets”, suggesting that this is a football-centric school, and indeed town.

Cut that in with the introduction of…

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Trust me, man. I’m brilliant.

Zeke’s a cool guy, and we know this because he listens to D Generation and rolls up to school in a Pontiac GTO. He drives recklessly, almost causing a student driver to crash, and he doesn’t park in the lines! He’s also something of a delinquent, as we can see from the shifty way he stuffs mysterious “pens” into his pocket.

We then get treated to a car crash and two girls brawling over it. Notice I said “brawling”. This is no sissy fight. These two are ripping into each other like animals. We see immediately what Herrington High is like, since no one else in the area really shows much concern at the fight, suggesting this kind of thing the norm.

The school bus pulls up and we meet…

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Sorry. My fault.

Notice how sheepishly Casey gets off the bus, while casting awkward glances to a girl who doesn’t notice him at all? Not only does Casey get elbowed in the face within seconds of appearing on screen, but he actually apologises for it, making out that getting an elbow in the face was somehow his fault. We immediately “get” Casey: he’s weak, a target for bullies, and generally pathetic. We pity Casey. The incident is noticed by…

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Crash and burn, Casey.

Now, if her dark clothes and smeared eyeliner don’t spell it out for us, Stokely is “alternative”. The way she acknowledges Casey’s predicament with a scornful remark tells us she’s something of a bitch, but it also tells us that she’s noticed Casey in distress (the rest of the students ignore him completely), showing she’s observant. Distracted by the girls still dogfighting over the crash, Stokely walks straight into…

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You ran into me, beast.

Despite the letterman jacket suggesting he’s the stereotypical meat-headed jock, Stan’s actually quite considerate in the first instance. See how he asks Stokely if she’s OK, and how gently he’s really reaching for her, before she rants at him and he defaults to a childish comeback. After the encounter, Stan approaches…

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These are Estée Lauder lips, take seventy-two minutes to apply!

Delilah, the girl Casey was making googly eyes at. She’s superficial and self-obsessed, interested only in looks and status. As a brief sidenote, who the FUCK wears lipstick that takes OVER AN HOUR just to put on? Anyway. She and Stan are in a relationship, but from the looks of it, not a particularly happy one. Notice how she pushes Stan away and how little she listens to anything he has to say, while being generally condescending and treading all over Stan’s attempts at giving her a headline for the school paper? Yeah, she’s a bitch. Delilah heads off to deal with editor business, and other jocks catch up with Stan, clearing the way for Casey to take another quick beating. This time he’s noticed by…

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I like what you’ve done with your nose ring, really brings out the colour in your eyes.

Marybeth Louise Hutchinson is a country girl, naive, sickeningly sweet. She doesn’t really understand Herrington High’s social etiquette. It’s blatantly obvious she doesn’t belong here, and we feel a little pity for her, too.

Inside the school itself, we get to very briefly see a random couple arguing in the halls. This is important later, because it shows the changes the aliens make to the people they inhabit. At this point in time, it just gives us another example of how little the people around care about these kind of incidents.

Zeke heads into the men’s room, after briefly noticing Marybeth for the first time**. He provides two students with fake IDs, and throws in some home-made drugs to sweeten the deal. He’s a total badass and a self-professed genius (read: egotistical), even though he’s repeating his senior year***.

Finally, we close the scene on Casey again, who is recovering from his multiple injuries in the nearby stall.

It mirrors the differences between these two characters, how one is the winner and the other is the loser.

This single scene tells you everything you need to know about the characters at this point. Their time for change, for development, is coming, but at this stage, absolutely everything you need to know is right here.

The Faculty is a very fast-paced film, and every scene, every action, every line had something to do with the plot. If I had the time, I could probably do a similar analysis for every scene. It takes no time off to meandre; nothing happens in The Faculty without a reason.

As a writer, the important thing to take away is this:

Everything you write, every chapter, every scene, every sentence, has to have a reason to be there, has to help progress the story.

 

** With the way the relationships end out by the end of the movie, the three briefly hinted pairings in this opening (Casey and Delilah, Stokely and Stan, Zeke and Marybeth) are really interesting.

*** We later discover Zeke’s repeating his senior year, because he doesn’t apply himself, though I’ve always suspected the other reason he’s repeating his senior year is because it creates slightly less of an issue that he’s sleeping with one of the teachers, as insinuated by the end of the film, if he’s definitely over the age of consent.

Buy The Faculty from Amazon.com

So Where Do You Get Your Inspiration?

Right-click, Open in New Tab/Window, if the picture is too small ūüôā

Brace yourself. This is a big one (that’s what she said, hahaha – sorry). Also, some major spoilers might be included in any of the items listed on the influence map. You have been warned.

The thing about inspiration is that it strikes at really weird–and usually inopportune–moments. A certain music track can send the creative side of your brain into overdrive, or you see a film and realise that the amazing idea you had last week was already done in 1990. Best yet are in the minutes before you’re about to drift away into dreamland, your brain jerks you awake to the chimes of “Hey, bitch! I just figured out how to sort out that plot hole you’ve been crying about for a month. Don’t go back to sleep or you’ll forget it!”

That’s why I’m so thankful for my iPhone. I keep the Notes app on the home page, and at the minute there are easily twenty or so notes, ideas that I’ve had at 3AM, woken from a dream or just while sitting on the toilet (and don’t act all high and mighty like you don’t use your phone on the toilet, alright? Everybody does.).

They’re not all amazing ideas, of course. But the thing about ideas as opposed to finished goods is that you’re allowed to have bad ones. Besides, Muse works hard as a net to catch the shit ideas, so any new ones I get don’t tend to be developed until I’ve had the green light from her.

Anyway, the point I’m skirting around is this nifty little influence map thing I came across quite a long time ago on Deviant Art, which I’ve just now got around to filling in. Having a reminder of the things that inspire you can come in super handy when you’re having a difficult day, a reminder why you love the things you do.

Really long and overblown explanations for my choices are below.¬†Despite the guidance at the bottom of the map, the size of the images doesn’t really¬†correlate¬†with the amount of influence these things have: it’s just that certain ones looked cooler in difference shapes and sizes.

Also, after completing the map, I then got a bit carried away and made a video about some of them. So now that exists.

Continue reading So Where Do You Get Your Inspiration?