If you're a first time visitor to the iQuantum Blog, please refer to the "Foundations of Quantum Improv" to give you an appropriate background to the philosophies and strategies discussed here. #1 What is Quantum Improv #2 More Quantum Background #3 Newton's Second Law of Motion

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ReV Up Your Improv Scenes
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Friday, September 26, 2014

A Horrifying Example, Science Fictionally Speaking...

PART 5 of the Series: ReV up Your Improv Scenes
If you missed Part 1 - Click Here     If you missed Part 2 - Click Here
If you missed Part 3 - Click Here     If you missed Part 3.5 - Click Here
If you missed Part 4 - Click Here

Let's take a look at a movie example - Act 1, the set up. I'll dissect one movie here but this can be done for pretty much any movie you have seen or will see. One great things about movies - you can be certain that anything and everything you see or is revealed in Act 1 is important and integral to the story in some way or other. Nothing is wasted. Everything you see in every frame has a purpose. The entire set is built and decorated only with stuff relevant to the story. Why? Because there's no time to waste and no point in paying for something on the set that isn't integrally important. Okay, let's take a look at one of my favorite action and sci-fi movies, "Alien." This list is not exhaustive, but look at all the details that are revealed in Act 1.

Got to see the movie again (or for the first time?) CLICK HERE

Revealed - The silence of space. [remember the marketing slogan: "In space, no one can hear you scream?"]
Revealed - The Nostromo - bigass utility ship - returning home.
Revealed - long, industrial looking dark corridors, ship seems empty, lifeless
Revealed - electronics onboard come to life, systems kicking in.
Revealed - ship has humans aboard, in suspended animation, everybody wakes up.
Revealed - Group having breakfast scene: Interaction of crew members, diversity of crew (women, ethnic, etc.), Harry Dean Stanton [something bad is gonna happen there, you just know it. I mean come on, it's Harry Dean Stanton], futuristic plastic storage containers for food, etc. STANDOUT; 70's "dippy birds" on the table. Cat on the table next to Ripley.
Revealed - 2 crew member's displeasure with the pay/bonus situation.
Revealed - Captain [Tom Skerritt] is diplomatic, calm, level headed.
Revealed - Nostromo is not where crew thought they would be. They are in a different star system.
Revealed - status interchange between crew member [Yaphet Koto] and Ian Holm. Ash [Holm] easily gives up his seat for the larger and more intimidating Parker.
Revealed - automated control system has redirected Nostromo to check out a possible distress call form an unknown source.
Revealed - Upon Parker and Brett's [Stanton] challenge of appropriateness of the new objective, Ash reveals that their contract states that they must comply with mission change. Failure to comply results in forfeiture of all compensation. (They back down)
Revealed - sound emanation is unusual and unrecognizable to crew when played on the bridge com.
Revealed - planet of source is landable and walkable.
Revealed - below deck, tension between Ripley and 2 engine room crew members (Parker and Brett).
Revealed - Investigating party (Captain Dallas [Skerritt], Lambert [Veronica Cartwright] and Kane [John Hurt]) see large object. Ship?
Revealed - fossilized non-human skeleton at a gun turret chair. "Looks like he exploded from the inside."
Revealed - cryptic message may not be S.O.S. It may be a warning. [dun dun dunnnnnnn!]
Revealed - Kane discovers a large area of 'eggs' or something.
Revealed - There appears to be something moving inside the egg. Looks like a large - eye, perhaps?

This is what I would consider to be the pivotal moment that crosses the bridge from Act 1 to Act 2. From this moment forward nothing in the "normal" world that was set up to this point will be the same; the alien life-form penetrating the portal to the "safe" world of the Nostromo (by Ash's decision to over-ride Ripley's order). From here all hell is about to break loose. This is the moment I will refer to as the "ReVolt" in our RV Method lexicon.

I just chronicled about 20 things that were revealed in quick succession. Remember when we talked about timing for the change into Act 2? Check the time on the movie. Alien on face and breach of protocol allowing alien life-form onto ship? Right about at the 30 minute mark or 25% mark. From here, we know who the characters are and we already relate to them in specific ways (just as the moviemakers wish us to).

As you can see from the reveals, some of the characters seem to be making a fuss, starting a fight, challenging authority. That's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it's a good thing. I'm asking you in this initial phase of learning to create story in this fashion to avoid any form of push-back, just to be sure you're able to break the habit. To introduce such dynamics is actually ideal. It seeds tension that will be played out later for maximum effect. You see they started down that road, but it didn't turn into a fight right there. It's just seeded, for later cultivation. In many improv scenes, the action or activity would have remained on that argument or the bickering, thereby taking up precious time and resources for the additional reveals. There will be time to play out the dynamic later. In fact, in true story fashion, look at what we get - we know who the trouble-makers are. A certain part of us knows they're going to get eaten (literally or figuratively), we just don't know when. The suspense is killing us. Later on, when the Captain gets it [SPOILER ALERT! Sorry, but it's a movie from the 90's for crying out loud. If it's spoiled it's your own fault anyway]. This actually now raises the tension even more. The leader is gone! What are they [we, if you're fully invested in the story] going to do now?

One additional thought on Revealing. You'll notice in Alien or any story for that matter, we're not done revealing just because Act 1 is finished. These are a different kind of reveals, we might call them "set-up reveals," or "story-starting reveals." In fact, a story needs reveals all the way through to keep us engaged, entertained, and especially in this genre, on the edge of our seats. Some of the reveals are pretty big in fact. That's just as it should be. Act 2 is rife with surprises, turn arounds, reversals, heretofore unknown challenges and obstacles. In addition, some of the positive things are as yet unrevealed. In movies, knowledge that will be useful and necessary for eventual victory may not yet be revealed - the weapon or tool that has powers, abilities, or other significance for the protagonist for example. We'll see them become proficient in the "training montage.," right? Chances are though, that element will have been seeded somehow in Act 1.

In fact one of the most brilliant forms of this is in the second installment of the franchise - "Aliens." As you recall in the final battle scene we see the Momma alien vs. a very strong and powerful Ripley in the Loader/Lifter hydraulic machine.
If we had seen the bay doors open in Act 2 of that movie and for the first time we see Ripley booming forth in that machine we would most likely have balked. 'Wait a minute, how does she know how to work that thing? That looks like a complicated piece of machinery." (This is a very creative and exciting version of 'Hey how does that protagonist know how to fly a helicopter?') If you remember in Act 1 of Aliens, when the awesome and massive firepower of the Marines is revealed, we see them moving equipment with the loaders. Ripley asks if there's anything she can do to help and they say "I don't know. IS there anything you can do?" She promptly mounts the loader machine and expertly moves a big-ass case of WMD's and they are impressed. She shows familiarity and even expertise with the equipment so we are not surprised when she shows up inside the loader for the big Human-Alien fight. In fact, we're extra stoked because we know she knows how to handle the thing so we excitedly cheer her on. And keep in mind, even before she showed her dexterity with the machine, the moviemakers seeded the knowledge with a line she delivers to Burke [Paul Riser] about working on the loading docks to keep busy.

Great! Now I've gotta see this one too. CLICK HERE

Remember what I said earlier about nothing is wasted? Let's do a quick inventory of some of those elements from Alien. Remember the first couple of times we saw the cat, Jones? The first introduction to Jones was just in passing. Later in the movie, Jones became the 'child' that Ripley would protect and serve as her only living companion for the long ride home.
What about the dipping birds? Remember them? What was the purpose of those? Well, when I first recorded it I thought, "oops, caught myself there, we never saw them again." Then I thought - they still served a great purpose in the revealing of Act 1, because it gave us [the movie watcher] an element of familiarity and comfort in this strange and unusual world of the future (inside the ship Nostromo). It humanizes the crew and their surroundings, which adds to our investment of sympathy towards them. [Also, it is a fabulous mix of toy/novelty and pure science, if you learn the mechanics of how it works, although the audience probably has no idea,]

Okay enough yakking for this post. All this is to reinforce the idea of populating Act 1 of your improv scene with stuff. And all the stuff will help you in various ways - setting the scene/story; giving you and your scene partners wonderful nuggets of stuff to incorporate and play with and inspire your scene and story.

Next we'll be talking about the ReVolt, and what that means. I'll also offer some more tips on the "How To" of adding "stuff" in Act 1 through reveals.