Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The tyranny of short.

If you're a copywriter--any kind of writer, I assume, though I am only a copywriter--you hear about 10 or a dozen times an hour that you need to make your copy shorter.

"There's too much copy."

"It looks like a lot of copy."

"Can you cut the copy."

When I write a piece of copy, I always throw a couple of jokes in. Little risible bits just to keep things moving along, just to make sure things don't get as serious as a tomb.

It's my way of keeping the reader or the viewer on her toes. Keeping her awake. Giving her something, hopefully amusing or entertaining or educational for the time she's giving to me.

Last night I re-watched the first 20 minutes of the great Frank Capra movie, "Meet John Doe," written by one of the best screenwriters ever, Robert Riskin. It was all I could do to tear my way away from the set, but I was as tired as the Bataan Death March and needed my sleep.

In any event, Walter Brennan makes his damning "Helot" speech in it about the state of our fucked up world. In it he says, "I know the world's been shaved by a drunken barber."

It occurred to me how easy it would have been to cut that line from the script, or edit it out of the scene. It added nothing to the plot, and little extra to Brennan's character.

But what a line, what a perfect line. Full of wisdom, cynicism, pain, sadness and humor.

Sometimes good writing, good copy has to have room to breathe. Sometimes, it pays to give talented people the space to show off a bit, like Michael Jordan pump-faking on a breakaway dunk. You don't always have to go straight for the basket.

But, as always, I am vox clamatis in deserto.

A voice crying in the desert.

Shaved by a drunken barber.

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