Withholding information is a crucial tool in screenwriting. While the viewer doesn’t like to feel as if the main character is hiding a major secret ( look at the actual box office figures for ‘Memento’ if you don’t believe me!), a little suspense is a major selling point. Abrams quotes the date scene in the graduate. The couple are in a car and we look on from outside, unaware what is said yet somehow feeling the scene is all the more romantic for this.
Abrams is a fan of mystery in its many forms. He is an accomplished screenwriter of shows and films such as ‘Lost’, ‘Alias’, ‘Super 8’ and ‘Armageddon’. He is currently working on post production for ‘Star Trek into Darkness.’ In this talk, he credits his love of mystery to his grandfather and spins a web of stories about the tool of the mystery box.
Abrams brings a large magic box onto stage with him,which he tells us represents his grandfather. He has never opened this box; it sits in his office daily; yet for him it is symbolic of many aspects of the writing process. Everybody has a mystery box now; the ease of access to computers, software, media, means all of us have the tools to make a film. Abrams shows us a scene from Mission Impossible 3 with a description of just how easily it can be done. The blank page becomes a magic box as any story written can be transformed into reality with modern technology. Within that box, the character should be foremost. A good character and that personal journey is everything.
This is a simple talk to follow. Watch it if you love JJ Abrams, if you need to be reminded of the importance of mystery, if you’re a screenwriter. And look within yourself for the mystery box. It will reward you.