By Brad Johnson
Repetition. When used in relation to the movies, most people think of that word in a negative light. From sequel-itis, to constant rebooting, to formulaic summer tent pole films that all feel like their trying to hit the same beats, film is an industry where everyone tends to carry around a stick just in case they come across a dead horse in need of beating.
But there’s another role, a positive role, that repetition of exposition plays in a narrative sense within a film. Telling a story within a 90-120 minute framework can be extremely challenging, and sometimes you need to draw some extra attention to an aspect of your script. Repetition can be a powerful tool, when used properly, to call attention to story elements or specific scenes that you feel are significant; kind of like your own personal cinematic highlighter.
It’s an easy technique to use incorrectly, bogging down your story rather than adding clarity to your story. Luckily, it’s easy to point out how to do it right, because one of the best recent examples of this technique also happens to be one of the most successful films ever made.
Let’s take a look at…
Repetition and ‘The Avengers’
You may have heard of Marvels little billion dollar film about a group of superheroes coming together to defend the Earth against a foe that none of them could defeat on their own. Throughout the story, it’s suggested numerous times that Dr. Banner (aka, the Hulk) isn’t in control of his alter ego. Banner is portrayed as a man on the edge, a danger to himself and others, and he’s asked how he manages to control the monster that lives inside him by multiple other characters. Each time the mild-mannered doctor deflects the question, but it’s a source of constant tension among the group.
Then, as we’re in the midst of the third act slugfest to stave off the alien invasion, this exchange happens:
IRON MAN SWOOPS down the street. The CHITAURI LEVIATHAN also swoops down, BARRELING down the street like a FREIGHT TRAIN that keeps building and building its intensity. Banner looks behind. Cap looks at him. Banner begins to walk towards the monster.
Dr. Banner. Now might be a really good time for you to get angry.
That's my secret, Captain. I'm always angry.
Banner’s body starts to swell and stretch and harden. GREENSHOOTS THROUGH HIS BODY. THE HULK.
And with that, we see the secret to effective use of repetition; the payoff. If you simply repeat some aspect of your script time after time, it’s ultimately a pointless endeavor. But if there’s a payoff, some sort of twist that takes the repetition and gives it an eventual impact on the story, then it can be an effective way to highlight an important aspect of your script.
In the case of The Avengers, the payoff is three-fold. First, we finally get an answer to the question everyone has been asking, and an unexpected answer at that. Second, it reveals a new aspect of Banner’s character; that he’s more in control of The Hulk than anyone thought possible. And third, by tying the payoff of this repetition to this scene, the audience is reminded of how intimidated everyone is of The Hulk and of how powerful and potentially deadly he is (everything that was mentioned in the earlier scenes), right before he transforms and heads into battle with a seemingly superior foe.
It’s a great moment in the movie, and it’s made all the more impactful by also being the culmination of the repetition that was built in throughout the script.
Until next time, let’s all go get some shawarma, and keep writing.
- More Specs & The City articles by Brad Johnson
- How to Reveal Your Character's Backstory Wound
- Writers on the Verge: How to Succeed in Screenwriting - The DON'T List
- Write, Direct, Repeat: Hosting a Table Read of Your Script
Tools to Help:
- Writing Strong Crisis and Climax Scenes: The Two Keys to Screenplays That Connect with Audiences (and Hollywood) Webinar by Martha Alderson
- 500 Ways to Beat the Hollywood Script Reader
- Writing a Spec Script that Launches Your Career On Demand Webinar by Corey Mandell
- How Professional Writers Structure Their Scripts On Demand Webinar by Corey Mandell