You know that feeling when you're in the theater, and you're amazed? You lean to your friend and say, "This is so cool..."
As we venture back to the theaters, I wanted to spend some time highlighting what I think brings the most butts to the big screen. The idea of scope and spectacle.
I love small movies. I love how intimate they are, the characters you meet, and the themes they explore, but even they have to make sure there's an element of amazement behind their work. There are lots of expensive movies that demand to be seen on the biggest screen possible, but no matter the size of your budget, you're going to need scope and spectacle.
Scope and spectacle should be written on a Post-It note above your desk. No matter what you're writing, you should look at those words and assess if you have them. These elements are why the film industry made it out of tents and was able to build brick-and-mortar locations across the world. They're traditionally fundamental in what we call the magic of movies. And they tie into every aspect of your writing or your direction.
So come with me as we dissect these two words and their impact on the creative process.
Questions About Scope and Spectacle Affect Every Job In Hollywood
From the very first movies made, like A Trip to the Moon and The Arrival of a Train, directors and writers were determined to master scope and spectacle. They wanted to tell stories that felt truly larger than life. They took us on adventures and challenged the notion of our place in the world. Directors like D.W. Griffith capitalized on these ideas and techniques, developing angles and perspectives that showed the breadth of what film could capture. Thousands of extras, humongous sets, and big budgets.
But as Hollywood evolved, they also understood the idea that scope and spectacle were not just about budget size. They had to do it with the "I have never seen that before" emotion that felt so cutting edge back then and is so elusive today.
Think about something like the car hail in It Happened One Night, when we see a woman bare her ankle. That was hot stuff back then, a precursor to the blockbuster 50 Shades movies of today, which understood spectacle could be softcore sex, and not just sweeping images.
Scope and spectacle influence every decision by everyone on set. Let's see how some major jobs within the industry handle scope and spectacle in their daily lives.
Scope and Spectacle in Producing
Guess what? When you're making a movie, the budget matters. A lot.
As a producer, it's your job to sell the idea to buyers, actors, and other talent. To do that, you need to know how to convey scope and spectacle. You also need to find a way to be realistic with what you can get.
Think about a movie like Get Out, which was revolutionary. To make this movie, Jordan Peele shot in Georgia and on a limited budget, but he never let it take away from the selling points of the film, which were the theme and sharp screenplay. This movie was sold to audiences as an audacious take that had the scope of the Black experience within the story and spectacle on screen.
Scope and Spectacle in Writing
When you sit down to write an idea, you have to world-build. This happens no matter the size of the feature. I love thinking about the scope and spectacle inside something like Meet the Parents.
That's a relatively expensive comedy that needs some elbow room to cover its gags. Think about it. The scope is the romantic feeling of getting together. The spectacle comes from the outrageous antics we witness. But you also can think about the scope of the antics. Take the famous dinner scene. We get four people at the table. One set. And the antics and spectacle come from Greg's prayer, Jack's poem, the milking conversation, the toast, and the aftermath.
The escalation here provides something we had never seen. All thanks to the scope of the scene.
Scope and Spectacle in Directing
We talked about smaller projects, but let's turn toward something larger. A director must understand the perspective and point of view of the scope, scale, and spectacle of a project. Of course, this applies to a monster movie like The Host, where director Bong Joon-Ho had to suss out not only how big our monster would be, but how it would interact with people and the environment.
These decisions inform the writing of scenes, the collaboration with the cinematographer, and how the movie gets put together in post. Here, a lot of these words have to do with perspective and how we see the world. A director needs to find a way to translate that spectacle to the screen for the viewer.
Scope and Spectacle in Cinematography
What is cinematography if not scope and spectacle persevering? Cinematographers have to find a way to communicate the story through images to the audience.
A movie I love that has some daring shots is the 1970 version of The Out of Towners. Andrew Laszlo shot that movie to perfection. He captures the breadth of New York City, as seen through the eyes of a Midwest couple trying to make it in the big city. Here, the scope is one couple's experience out in the world. The spectacle is in all the gags that happen. But you get an added layer of juxtaposing two people against the industrial jungle that is New York in the 1970s. It's not taken as an afterthought but layered in here.
So much is on screen, and even action off-screen makes sense and creates a voyeuristic quality that deepens the movie's extension of itself. Really powerful work.
Scope and Spectacle In Editing and Post
Of course, the last bastion of hope when it comes to providing scope and spectacle comes in the editing process. Frequently called the last rewrite of the movie, editing is where the collected sum of everyone else's work is seen and put together in a way that keeps the vision alive. It can help shape the scope and spectacle in ways even the director and cinematographer and writer never imagined.
You're dropping in VFX, deciding which establishing shots to use, and helping sculpt something you hope draws a huge crowd. You can take out shots to make things feel small, or add them to open up the world. Lots of techniques to help build an ethos of this kind of work.
Summing Up Scope and Spectacle
As you can see, these two items drive each decision made in writing, pre-production, production, and even in post. As studios try to figure out what movies should be sent to theaters now, working with all these in mind will give you a leg up on the competition.
What's your take on both these words? How do you incorporate them into your day-to-day life?
Let us know in the comments.