Can’t remember why now, but this popped up on my news feed somewhere this morning.
Just when I thought I was safe (geddit?!) in the knowledge that I knew all there was to know about Jaws, this deleted scene I had no idea existed emerges out of the blue (nice!)
Now for those of you who haven’t seen the film, or for those who may have seen it and didn’t like it, don’t worry–there’s no shame in being wrong. The story is fairly simple. Here’s a quick synopsis:
“it’s a shark”,
“no it isn’t”,
“ok, it’s a shark”,
“let’s kill it”,
“smile you son of a…”
You’d never guess it from my description, but it had the potential to be awful. The source novel wasn’t the best and the special effects were bad even for the 70’s.
However, woven into it are some of the most brilliant characters in popular film. And the stand out performance is Quint, the traumatised sea captain played by Robert Shaw.
Shaw, like Quint, was a complicated man. By turns, the warmest and most generous person you could meet, yet also capable of being a complete arse–often all in the time it took to drive to the set.
He brought those dubious qualities into his performance–torturing Richard Dreyfuss’s character throughout (and Dreyfuss himself if the stories are to be believed) but demonstrating an incredible depth, particularly during the Indianapolis speech. It’s a wonderful piece of acting and turns what could have been a one-dimensional caricature into a completely rounded portrait of a damaged man.
This deleted scene is an interesting one and its purpose could only have been to demonstrate Quint’s layers of personality. He’s by turns charming, intimidating and bullying–all wrapped up in supreme self-confidence. But I’d never seen it before and I still knew all that about Quint, therefore the scene is unnecessary and it was cut.
It can’t be an easy decision for a director to discard something like that. Having spent some time on film sets, I know the amount of work that goes into even the simplest shots. That scene would’ve taken at least one full day to shoot and involved dozens of people. The effort and expense would’ve been terrific and all of it ended up on the cutting room floor.
But had it been included, I can imagine it jarring with the pace of the film, slowing it and throwing it out of balance. A less accomplished storyteller than Spielberg may have left it in, beating us over the head with Quint’s persona to make sure we ‘got it’, but he didn’t.
As much as it may have hurt, Spielberg ‘killed his darling’, that phrase Faulkner, and later Stephen King, uses to encourage all writers to edit with cruel ruthlessness.
Every scene in Jaws has one purpose–to move the story along. Anything that strays from that is worthless.
The same is true about the best writing. No matter how pleased you are with a particular turn of phrase or elegant metaphor, if it doesn’t help the story you’re trying to tell, you have to question its place in the narrative.
It’s even more important in copywriting. Your prose style is not going to match the tone of voice of every client who’s been good enough to engage your services, and it can take a lot of discipline to reign yourself in. Fortunately, I get my discipline from my mortgage provider once a month and from my habit of eating every day.
While it may seem as if having to stick to a third-party’s rigid structure would suck a lot of the fun out of writing (the reason we all started in the first place) it’s actually a great opportunity to flex your scribbler’s muscles and develop an economy of style. If there were no rules there would be the constant danger of flouncing off into the land of the loquacious, where you’d fall prey to over-elucidation and the use of poncey words. Like loquacious. And elucidation.
Your client’s customers have limited attention spans, especially online. If you haven’t captured attention within the first minute, chances are you’re not going to, meaning any point that you’re trying to get across better be gotten across quickly.
Killing your darlings and paring down the message to the essentials, as painful and heart wrenching as it can be, is vital to the success of your commercial writing.
If you really must prattle on endlessly, save it for your personal blog.
Like I do.