So as we bid him farewell or au revoir, I want to share something that he brought to my attention many years ago. He called it the commit moment. I think the McGrath Point is catchier.
And, hey, my blog.
It’s the moment when you’re watching a TV show, and you sit up, and you think: I have never seen that before. The moment when you think, I’m in. I’m committed. I’m going to watch the rest of this now.
I work with people who read unsolicited scripts. A lot of unsolicited scripts. And, when asked what it is that makes a script stand out, makes it irresistible, makes them want to meet the writer and find out more about them and their craft, they all say the same thing:
Show me something I’ve never seen before.
Might be a character. Might be a world. Might be a moment. But always, it’s something new.
Which brings us to the McGrath Point.
In his original post on the matter, Denis talks about Walkabout, the fourth episode of Lost, and the moment at the end where we realise that Locke, in his previous life, was in a wheelchair.
The title itself hides the mystery in plain view. It’s a twist that not only puts an entirely new spin on every scene in the episode, it reveals new facts about the island, and the rules of the world.
One moment in the script that makes you think: I’ve never seen that before.
Joss Whedon does this magnificently in both of the pilots for Firefly.
Towards the end of the first episode, our heroes have been betrayed by their allies. Meanwhile on the ship, a hostage situation has developed. A bad guy has River at gunpoint. She’s dead unless the captain does what he says, gives him a ticket out.
And we know how this goes, we’ve seen it a dozen times before. The hero walks in. There’s a negotiation. Bad guy uses his hostage to get away, then does something foolish (usually breaking a promise) resulting in his downfall.
Not here. Mal walks in, shoots the bad guy in the face without breaking stride and the still-warm corpse is unceremoniously dumped out the back of the ship in a well-rehearsed manoeuvre.
Right there. Something I’d never seen before. Something that made me certain I was going to watch the rest of this series.
And he does absolutely the same in the next episode, The Train Job. Big Evil Henchman has been defeated, is captured. And Mal offers to set him free. And he does the Big Evil Henchman speech, the I-will-track-you-down-and-kill-you-all one.
So Mal kicks him into the (running) engine of the spaceship. The next henchman is much more reasonable.
It just takes one moment that you haven’t seen before to make a script great.