Thursday, February 23, 2006

Secrets of the Silver Screen, 3

I posted on the importance of authenticity in storytelling a few days ago and promised a glimpse at one of the big screen’s biggest authentic successes: When Harry Met Sally. If you ever have the opportunity to listen to the movie notes with director/producer Rob Reiner, take it. (In fact, I highly recommend viewing director notes in general, with a notebook and some form of writing utensil in hand. The directorial revelations are almost always enlightening from a writer’s POV.) If you listen to the notes, you'll hear Reiner and screenwriter Nora Ephron tell the tale of the tale. They met one day to discuss a movie—not WHMS, either. Ephron didn't take to whatever Reiner's concept was, but while they were lunching, they got to talking about men and women, about loss in relationships, about friendships. Ephron was startled by some of what she learned about men, and Reiner was equally stunned by what he learned about women. Ephron began taking notes.

A high concept was born.

Here are just a few of the delicate truths that were revealed about the sexes during that fateful lunch:

1. Men pretty much always want to have sex. (Okay, that’s not really a revelation. Bear with me; it gets better.)
2. Men can't be friends with a woman without wanting to have sex with her. (See rule #1.)
3. However women believe they have many male friends who aren’t attracted to them “that way.” (Again, see rule #1.)
4. What single men are thinking post-coitus can be summarized in one simple phrase: how long do I have to stay here with her?
5. While single women are thinking about who will be making breakfast in the morning.
6. Women fake orgasms.
7. No man believes this has ever happened to him.
8. Women believe that if you dislike a man enough, it could mean you’re destined to marry him.
9. No married man is going to leave his wife for a mistress. (Even if the sex is good.)
10. Rigid mindsets about sex (and the opposite sex) bend over time.
Ephron decided early on that the story would be written in a very Woody-Allen-esque way, with all the characters’ obstacles revolving around the characters’ personal hang-ups instead of external problems. It’s a great choice, because the protagonist is also the antagonist of the story: self vs. self. Authentic? Oh-uh-huh.

There were other things Reiner and Ephron did very right, from choosing authentic costumes and hairstyles, to choosing the Big Apple for this neurotic love joining (two people blind to everything outside of themselves juxtaposed against all manner of gorgeous settings). Meg Ryan’s fake orgasm scene? Brilliant. But what When Harry Met Sally did best was in shining a spotlight on the granddaddy of romantic truths: men and women struggle to understand each other. A lot. This movie will remain one of Hollywood’s most beloved classics because people see themselves in Harry and Sally, and they can identify with the situations they find themselves in.

It sounds so simple, but keep it real and you’ll hook ‘em every time.


Blogger Elena Greene said...

Great post, Therese! Another insight that occurred to me as I read this that "keeping it real" also means one shouldn't be afraid to revisit timeless themes. Many writers including Shakespeare and Jane Austen have tackled the issue of men and women understanding one another. It's ever-fertile ground as long as you approach it with fresh, open eyes.

Elena :)

10:17 AM  

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