Which is the greater problem with a screenplay, reality or lack of it? Tim Crouch has a very interesting article in today’s Guardian about how much reality works on stage, and how much it doesn’t. Screen stories also have problems with reality (see below)Adler and Gibb Denise Gough Reality Screenplay. For many a fictional screenplay reality bites back.

Tim starts off talking about how reality can ruin a performance – the reality, say, of a child, an act of real violence or even a kiss. The reality of it shows up the falseness of the actor’s creation.

Reality bites back

How much more so, then, in film or TV, where the actors, dialogue and actions are constantly being set against the reality of the location, the weather, special effects (fire, flood, car crashes, etc).

Perhaps this is why some of the most powerful films are quite unreal. Black and white is often more powerful than colour, 2D stronger than 3D. Not only because the audience has to work hard, but also perhaps because there’s more suspension of disbelief.

Moments of magic

For the screenwriter, it’s worth bearing in mind that working hard to make the situation real may work against you at times, leading to rather flat, uninspiring “set-up” scenes. Imagination, sudden shifts, magical moments, can bring a story to life in a very special way. We don’t talk about such things very much, in our obsession with three acts and rounded characters, but the best cinema is often filled with such magical moments.

In the article, Crouch talks of the “danger when we attempt to annex the real… thinking it will be more authentic.” Losing the “sense of the game”. The sense of “pretend”.

Kiss of Death, by Tim Crouch

The old showbiz dictum of never working with children or animals is not because they’re uncontrollable. It’s because they’re too real. Not realistic, but real. And when you’re an actor giving your realistic all, there’s nothing more undermining than performing it next to something real. The set collapsing is real. Your fellow actor forgetting lines is real.
I would suggest that full nudity tips the scale of real. Actual sex is right over there, as is actual violence. Even a kiss. In a production of King Lear I did for young audiences, when Edmund kissed Goneril the play momentarily came to a halt because the audience could only see the real.
In his theatre book Great Reckonings in Little Rooms, Bert O States adds to this list a working clock, running water and fire – all things he describes as “happenings taking place within the aesthetic world”. Things that “resist being either signs or images”. With running water, he says, “something indisputably real leaks out of the illusion”. Theatre can’t do real…

Read the rest of the article here