Sometimes you just need to take a dump.
Storytelling is all about information. You're telling the audience stuff and choosing when and where they get it. These can be complex emotions, details on how things work, or just explaining where the characters are and what's going on. This all requites exposition.
Every movie and TV show has it, and when it's bad, it's really bad.
It can sound on the nose or just be frustrating and boring.
Check out Tyler Mowery's video essay, in which he takes a look at some of the different ways you should and should not use expositional tools found in screenplays. While his last video took a look at exposition as a whole, this video takes a look at exposition specifically found in screenplays.
Let's watch and talk after the jump.
How to Write an Exposition Dump (Without Putting the Audience to Sleep)
One of my favorite movies is Michael Bay's The Rock with Nic Cage and Sean Connery. It's a movie about ex-patriots who take over Alcatraz with a dirty bomb and threaten San Francisco with it, asking for military benefits. The only man to successfully break out of Alcatraz teams up with an FBI gas expert to break into the prison and take out the bomb and the guys.
This is a movie that requires a whole lot of exposition.
So, how does this movie accomplish all that and remain a taunt action-thriller?
The answer is complicated, but I think it really encapsulates Mowery's points. When they need to do an exposition dump, they disguise it both visually and personally. We're given information in chunks as it relates to the characters. Our bad guys give their demands while we talk about the kinds of awards he's received.
Check it out, it's really well done.
There are lots of great examples within that movie. but suffice it to say, they keep the exposition in line with their tone. If it's a light and fun movie, make your exposition light and fun. For a horror film or TV show, things might be different.
Take a show like The Leftovers. That's a heavy program about the loss everyone felt after an unknown event caused part of the population to disappear. There's a lot they have to say, so they dump exposition in dramatic fashion. Exposition is treated as a reveal about characters and their situations.
We all know the worst way to get exposition is just a character saying something out loud without motivation or anything interesting going on in the background, so I don't want to pull any examples there. One I will show you is from Oceans 11. It's one of the more simple ways to show exposition. All you do is cross-cut between places and give people a funny or interesting scene. Then add voiceover over the top to get out everything you need to know.
The way we learn about the characters actually develops them without ever being boring.
So, the next time you need to dump a ton of exposition at once, think about couching it with other things. Whether it's done by juxtaposing information with other information, so the audience has to keep up, or done as a voiceover while we're watching entertaining scenes, the key comes in tricking the audience into listening.
Got some tips or tricks for this? Let's all jam together in the comments to talk about this subject.
I can't wait to see what we all come up with!