Flashback Tips

Q&A Notes Webinar: “SETTING UP CHARACTER AND STORY, PART II”

From the Webinar Archives of Syd Field The Art of Visual Storytelling.

Q: So Casey asks, “If an entire story is being told in flashback, is there a bad way to set up the flashback or a best way?”

A: Well, you know, what’s interesting, Casey, in terms of flashbacks — I call it a “flash present,” meaning that the flashback will usually occur as your character is in a moment in present time. So it is a flashback, yes. I just call it a “flash present” because it’s happening in present time.
Now, the bad way to do that, if I can say that, is simply to know that we try not to show what we are seeing. Go to the voiceover narration of “American Beauty.” Look at that in terms of the flashback of “Juno.” Look at that in terms of the inciting incident of “The Lookout,” and you can see the circle-of-being event of “Sea Biscuit” even. So that we try not to find a bad way, I mean, what we don’t want to do is show what we are saying unless there’s something unique and interesting about it. But usually the rule is don’t show what you’re talking about. That’s the dynamic of film we have to follow. So bad or good, you know, becomes a relative term in terms of the storyline that you’re telling, just know that whatever works effectively for you and don’t show what you are saying, that’s kind of a general rule to follow. And then the real rule that you follow is if it works, it works; and if it don’t, it don’t!

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