Every screenwriter should keep the exposition in their screenwriting to a minimum. Those long, drawn out chunks of dialogue that explain stuff. Too much information bogs down your screenplay and annoys the reader.
What happens when you need to set up a complex world in your film script? You can’t leave out vital information nor can you slowly drip feed the world into your story. You need to do it all in one tranche.
Sometimes, you just need to call it for what it is and write an information dump. That’s right. You refuse to let the story move forward unless the audience has all the information it needs. They need otherwise the film won’t make sense or leave your audience confused.
This is especially relevant in science fiction films where you need to explain the story world, high concept grounded movies such as Looper, origin stories where you need to rapidly get through large amounts of backstory, crime films where many details need to be given and epic movies which cover large time periods.
So how might you do it?
IN THE MIDST OF HIGH ACTION
One way to do this is during high octane action such as a battle, a high speed care chase, in extreme danger or an exhilarating, heart-poounding experience such as sky-diving.
Your audience will stay engaged and process the information because of the background action. Just don’t change the nature of the action too much during the exposition dump. If one of characters gets speared during a battle or crashes into another car during a car chase, the audience’s focus is immediately shifted to the consequences of the action trajectory.
You might even want to consider inappropriate action such as during sex, during a dance-athon, while being stuck in an elevator, during a Brazilian wax or during a funeral.
IN A LAVISH SETTING
If an edge of your seat action isn’t on the cards in your movie script, you can write your exposition dump in a lavish setting. Think about the most obvious place an exchange of information might take place; say when two spies are updating each other on a case.
This might be a phone call, on a secluded park bench, in a bar, restaurant or library. Think about where else this dry exchange can take place. In a costume store, during a drag show, during the 4th Of July fireworks, a high fashion parade or an exclusive members’ only club. Be creative.
BY INTRIGUING DIALOGUE
I often use the midpoint in The Matrix to illustrate this point. Morpheus is explaining The Matrix to Neo. He offers a red pill and a blue bill. Think about analogies you may use in your screenwriting to deliver large chunks of information intriguingly.
HIGH TECH GADGETS
This is a technique often used in futuristic movies such as Minority Report. The entire concept of the Pre-Cogs needs to be explained at once. The filmmakers use stunning visual effects, holographic charts and fancy wizardry to achieve this.
MONTAGES. FLASHBACKS & VOICE-OVERS
These are more stylistic than literary devices, but they still work. I’ve deliberately put them at the bottom of the list, because they are often used too quickly to tell the story rather than show it.
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