A toddler looks at a man pulling funny faces, moving his limbs in crazy spasms. He falls on the ground, he hits his head. The toddler jumps with excitement.
A female bystander watches the scene, her face contorted, fighting back tears.
The introduction of the woman suddenly gives us a reliable POV. Although we still don’t know exactly what is happening, we are instantly trapped inside her mind, whether we like it or not. Is she the man’s wife? Is he having an epileptic fit? It doesn’t matter: the scene is emotionally disturbing because it is for her.
In a scene with a madman, actions and dialogue can be absolutely hysterical. But put us in the POV of one if his victims and the scene turns pitch black.
It happens, often in cross-genre films, that a scenes tone is not clear. Should we be scared or laugh? Dark comedies have this problem, but extremely suspenseful thrillers and horror movies may struggle in this field, too.
Sometimes audiences just can’t bear the suspense and resort to laughter as a pressure-valve. I’m not talking about the latter instance, as the intention of the scene is mostly clear: extreme suspense or fear.
If however the problem of a confusing interpretation occurs in a script or film more frequently, it may have an effect on the overall genre. Is it a horror or a spoof? A thriller or a dark comedy? By advertising a film in a specific genre, the audience is gently guided as to how to interpret ambiguous scenes. Cross-genre pictures are often unsuccessful because they are called this just because of the ambiguity of tone.
The problem: there shouldn’t be ambiguity as to the emotional content of a scene. You can be open about certain information, about your moral standpoint until the end of the film. But the emotional content should be clear or else empathy may be diluted and your statement at the end won’t work.
As in the example above, POV is an excellent tool to streamline the tone of a scene, sequence, film. Once an action or event is seen through the eyes of a character who has an emotional commitment, it will become clear how we are supposed to experience the scene and its impact will be much stronger.
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.