A Great Moment in Mad Men (Re)Writing

I've been out of the loop for the past couple of weeks working on a rewrite for Northbridge (a murder mystery set on Lake Superior). The biggest problem I was dealing with was how to connect the beginning of the script's climax--the point where the protagonist finally puts the pieces together--to fit the plot we have so intricately put together.

Our goal with the scene was to be able to tell it without overkill exposition ("You did it because you felt this way!"), and hopefully get the point across without any dialogue at all (the "ah ha!" where the lady next to you will say, "Oh, shit, didn't see that one coming.")

But I couldn't find a solution... until I re-read the script. A visual in one our first scenes is a metaphor for the secrets being kept in this small town, and I realized that this visual could be applied to the "ah-ha!" moment that leads us to the climax. It's a classic "call back" to what the audience has already seen, but adds another layer (hopefully) to the overall impact of the moment.

To get into specifics (which I've failed at so far), the first episode of Mad Men Season 4 does a brilliant job at this:

After her Sugarberry Ham PR stunt blows up, Peggy shows up at Don's door with her "finance" by her side. Peggy explains her predicament, Don scolds her, and then her "finance" interjects. Don puts him down, Peggy stands up for him, and Don says (paraphrasing), "You shouldn't have brought him if you didn't want to get him involved."

A great moment. A great Don Draper line.

Later in the episode, Don brings his kids back to Betty's (his) house and waits for her to come home with her new husband Henry. When she shows up an hour late, Don gives Betty the option of talking with him alone. She declines, and asks Henry to stay. And while none of the characters say it, this creates a corollary: Betty knows Don and knows she is getting Henry involved. Betty, like Peggy, will not take Don on by her lonesome.

My best guess is that this corollary came about during the Mad Men writers meetings. Matt Weiner is a great writer, but it is from my experience that these great moments (epiphanies!) are realized after the first draft is out there. Weiner has an excellent staff and I bet they helped fill in the beats-- connect as much as you can in your script-- what you have in the beginning will let you call back what you have already laid out.

But it could be he had everything planned out. Never underestimate a man with a contract.

Creating corollaries? Why is this good? Callbacks. Just like jokes, plot points that repeat themselves in different ways will hook your audience and remind them why they love your story.


Anonymous said...

Adam love, you will do great!!
Miss you a lot.
Mama Gill

Ahja Correll said...

So THAT's why I love Mad Men! I am such a typical audience member! You are brilliant!!!