location scouting on a feature film is similar to being a member of an indie rock band, but instead of riding in a van to a gig, the band is looking at real estate they don't intend to buy. conversations in the van sound like "are there any power bars left," then when you exit the van and enter your destinations the dialogue shifts to, "what a lovely home you have, i love your furniture."
scouting can be a good time. you bond as a unit, and lots of bizarre conversations come up. one subject that has been endlessly discussed (mostly by me) is an idea i've been exploring since film school. of course the stubborn directors i am currently working with disagree with me on this, so i will put it to writing and make them (and the world) realize I'm right. spite and jealously are the ultimate motivators in life. the idea is the following:
two people with no current knowledge of each other formally introducing themselves in a scene, is not interesting for the audience to watch.
"hello, i'm jack jones. nice to meet you." "hello jack, i'm debbie, nice to meet you too." this is by far the least interesting way to set up a protagonist with another character. here are all the other options i could think of for two people to meet in a film. in general i am referring to a protagonist meeting another featured character.
person A knows person B and everyone else in the film.
in rob siegel's brilliant script "the wrestler" our protagonist (ram) literally knows everyone he comes into contact within the film. he already knows the love interest and it's unclear how long they go back. even when he is interacting with strangers, he calls them "buddy" or "spring chicken," which makes ram likable. we walk out of the theater in love with this animal of a man and wanting to be more like him.
person A introduces themselves to person B, person B knows person A, unbeknown to person A.
in vertigo, madeleine (kim novak) wakes up in scottie's (jimmy stuart) bed room. the two of them are meeting for the first time but we have watched scottie following madeline around town for 10 minutes of screen time. this is one of the most complex meetings ever, scottie is pretending he doesn't know madeleine, but madeleine is pretending she is someone completely different. meanwhile, they both are pretending that she didn't try to purposely throw herself into the river. all this while she is trying to figure out how she ended up naked in his bed. this gives the audience much to chew on and enjoy.
person A and B simply know each other in an informal context.
billy wilder's the apartment comes to mind. bud (jack lemmon) knows fran (sheila maclaine) as the firecracker elevator operator. bud has an arrangement with his boss that allows the boss to bed women outside of his marriage in bud's apartment. one day bud comes home at the agreed time and is shocked to find the elevator girl passed out on his bed in a suicide attempt.... and some how hilarity ensues.
person A and B knew each other from the past.
indiana jones goes to nepal to get something from marion (karen allen). this is one of the strangest and unique meet-ups i can think of. the audience knows nothing about these two people's history together, and they learn very little thought the film. regardless, we enjoy watching their love / hate relationship, which is completely built on their history, which we never learn about.
person A does not know person B but person be insists that they know person A.
this set up is so fun and complex that the idea has been used for an entire film, last year at marienbad. at first the audience will naturally feel that there is a misunderstanding between the two characters, but eventually the audience will suspect someone is lying.
person A does not know person B but person B knows person A by reputation.
indiana jones uses this constantly. every time indiana jones introduces himself to anyone, the other person says "the famous dr. jones, what an honor". even before indiana jones can say anything to a new character, that person will say "dr. jones, i presume." so much great info comes out of these introductions. we know he is admired by his friends, colleagues and foes.
- person A and person B have never met but know of each other through reputation.
unfortunately (or fortunately), the only example i can think of off the top of my head is "tango and cash". it's a silly film starring sylvester "stallion" stallone and kurt russel. they are the two best cops in L.A. and they are blindly jealous of each other, even though they have never met. when they finally get paired together, with all the buildup, their introduction scene is so much fun.
person A and person B no nothing about each other and meet for the first time.
this is the version that started the conversation off. it's commonly used and not very interesting to watch. i can only think of one director who has really used it well..... jim jarmusch.
the set up it this: the two characters know nothing about each other and the audience knows nothing about the characters. it can be used well, but it often becomes the story itself, i.e. many of jim jarmusch's films. jarmusch loves the strangeness of two people meeting for the first time and what happens immediately after, and after that, and after that. of course, in a career as long as his, he will have a film or two where the protagonist meets a main character and they have a history but more often not. down by law, night on earth, and dead man are all clear examples of two people meeting for the first time. that pretty much is the plot, two people getting to know each other, they have nothing to hide and the audience knows nothing more about them then the other character does.
wow, that took a long time.