Father's Day is just around the corner. To all Father's reading this post let me be the first to say Happy Father's Day. This Sunday will be a bittersweet day for me. On the one hand, as the father of five year old twin girls (weep for me as the high school years approach) I am quite excited to see the spin put on my hand drawn cards this year. On the other hand, I know it will be a very emotional day as it will be the first Father's Day without my own father. He passed away suddenly last August at a too young of an age and each of these little reminders tend to serve as a milestone for how we are coping.
The last ten months have been an interesting journey to say the least. Not only has my world changed, but I have found that I have changed as well. I see things differently. My goals in life have changed. My family interactions have changed. The way I react to certain emotions and situations has changed. Oddly enough I was thinking about that last statement as I re-read an interview with Steven Spielberg in Entertainment Weekly (pay article, but I wanted to give you the source). What struck me most is what Mr. Spielberg had to say about audience manipulation.
If you were to Google "Steven Spielberg Manipulate Audience" you would receive page after page of articles that all reference him as THE master of manipulating audiences and tugging at their heart strings. But to hear him say it, that's not exactly what he is doing. Yes he admits that he manipulates audiences, but only to the extent that he can. As a director he knows he can manipulate an audience to have a reaction at a certain moment, but he can not dictate how each audience member will react. A director can tweak an atmosphere or perspective to make an audience jump when something goes bump in the night. That does not mean every audience member is going to go home and sleep with the lights on. A director can
This point has never been more clear to me as I have looked back upon the last year. I remember a few years back when one of my coworkers lost his father. I felt bad and I offered words of sympathy and condolence that were truly from the heart, but I did not have a basis point to compare his emotions to. Now that I have lost my own father I can feel his pain on a different level. I actually went up to him last fall and offered my condolences again based off that new perspective and feeling. I also think back to my days in uniform. I had the distinct displeasure of dealing with individuals who had committed crimes against children. I was extremely disgusted and felt an extra special sense of accomplishment when we put the cuffs on them, but it was still more of a clinical and professional disgust. Then I had children of my own and all of that changed. Fatherhood had given me an entirely new appreciation of the innocence we are entrusted with protecting in our children. What had been sense of disgust before had now turned into more of a sense of true primordial anger when I dealt with these... people.
One positive aspect of this personal self inspection is that it has made me a better screenwriter. Mr. Spielberg's interview was a catalyst to make me realize that I cannot be writing to try and produce a certain outcome. I cannot say "This is the scene where I will make everyone cry", because it just isn't going to happen. If the 25 year old version of myself and the 30 year old version of myself cannot agree on how to emotionally react to something how can I expect everyone else in the world to react the same? What I can do is say "This scene is going to be the emotional climax that we have been building to". Then, much like Mr. Spielberg did in Jaws, I am going to let the audience fill in their own emotions.
I'll leave you with a lesson I learned from Field of Dreams. Years ago a friend of mine was telling me how he had watched Field of Dreams for the first time after losing his father and how he had broken down when it got to THAT scene. You know the one, "Hey Dad... You wanna have a catch?". I have watched that movie countless times and I have always known that it's a great and emotional scene. In fact it is probably one of the best movie endings I have ever seen. But I never broke down into an emotional water works show over it. Then the inevitable day came after my father died. I was flipping through cable and not only was Field of Dreams on, but it was near the end. Suddenly I knew what my coworker was talking about. It was Tom Hanks (technically Jimmy Dugan) who said "There's no crying in baseball". Well I hate to prove him wrong, but there was plenty of crying that night.