Thursday, June 02, 2011


J.J. Abrams gave a talk at the TED Conferences a few years ago that is worth revisiting today.

Abrams, the Hollywood writer/director/producer, talks about how as a child his grandfather took him to a magic store in New York City. He purchased a "mystery magic box" for $15 but it promised $50 worth of magic inside. J.J. Abrams never opened the box to this day. He keeps it in his office in Hollywood as a reminder of his beloved grandfather, who bought him his first Super 8 movie camera, and to always remember to chase the mystery in story.

Abrams points out that in many of the best movies what works are not the explosions and the special effects, but the mystery inside the characters or villains.

What we remember about Rocky is not the fight scenes, but the heart of Rocky Balboa not wanting to end up a bum in life... or Die Hard not just the thrilling aspects of a cop battling terrorists in a skyscraper, but of John McClane trying to win back his wife as she contemplates divorcing him.

Quentin Tarantino used the mystery box in Pulp Fiction. When John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson open the trunk of their car and something mysteriously glows in their faces. What was that thing in the brief case?

Or Jaws, when we hardly see the shark in the water but we know it's there... looming... stalking its next victim in the ocean. That mystery hooks us as moviegoers, as readers of a script or story, and pull us in. It hooks our emotions.

Think of movies that you love and there is probably some mystery involved.

Check out J.J. Abrams TED talk... it's a treat. Who knew he was so funny too?

And remember when writing -- to keep the mystery in every scene, every act and on every page of your next story.

Side note, The NY Screenwriting Life is on Facebook. And also available on Kindle as a monthly subscription for .99 cents!! We're like the Lady Gaga of blogs!! .99 cents... check us out.

Until next time.

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