Editing a scene is like leaving a party; after you’ve said what you had to say, it’s time to go.
An Amazing Show
A few weeks ago, I saw the most amazing improv show in some time. Every choice was supported and agreed to; ideas were allowed to take shape at their own pace; nothing was judged or mitigated; five dudes took the audience on an adventure nobody expected to go on. I’m talking about Pictures of Spaghetti.
A Spectacles Improv Engine house team, they perform the Usual Suspects format, which is like a montage with a manual transmission. Instead of swiping to edit scenes, they clap to close a scene and get a suggestion to start a new one. Although I’m not the biggest fan of this form, they pull it off and make it look easy.
I think the reason they pull it off (one among many) is because their edits feel like perfect endings to their scenes. When they clap, it’s because a scene has said what it has to say. A joke is never exhausted or overplayed. Nor is a premise gutted before its chance to become something.
They let scenes breathe at the top, and they give them time to develop. Consequently, as an audience member, you relax and get comfortable; if they accept the unfolding reality, so will the audience. Once an audience trusts you, you can take them anywhere.
For example, they had a scene where one player came out as a rat working out at the gym, doing push-ups, benching, curling. Another player came out and became his gym buddy. A third player came out and started throwing weights at them for them to lift. The more they worked out, the more the audience bought in and laughed.
Edits: Judging vs. Agreeing
A strong initiation to an absurd premise—literal gym rats pumping iron—would’ve been edited by a more insecure, unsure-of-themselves team. (Pictures of Spaghetti are confident bad-asses). Too often, edits function as vetoes. Some one does not agree with the scene, so they swipe to be done with it and move on to something else.
Having your idea denied is very demoralizing, especially when it comes from your team mate. And yes, swiping a scene too early because you think it’s stupid, lacking, or whatever, is a form of denial. Instead of supporting and living in that awkward moment of discovering what a scene can be, some one swipes to bring it all to an end.
Hey, don’t get me wrong; it’s tense to be in an awkward scene that feels like it’s going wrong. It sucks to feel lost and like you have no idea what you’re doing. However, awkward moments of liquid darkness are part of the contract. There is no guarantee that every scene will be amazing.
Therefore, instead of judging by editing, support by agreeing. Be like Pictures of Spaghetti and support the Hell out of each other; support without questioning what’s going on; support by accepting your partner’s choices and being in response to what has been established.
If you do these things—if you give your scenes a chance to become something by agreeing to and building on your partner’s choices—you might create something great; something that when you do edit, everybody involved, players and audience, can agree is the best point to end a scene.
And when everybody is in agreement, you can move on to the next thing with no hangups or regrets about what just occurred; you can move on with full confidence that you did justice to the scene, your team, and the audience—and that’s the best any of us can hope for with our scene edits.
Pictures of Spaghetti, thank you for inspiring this blog post and evangelizing the Usual Suspects format; I wish you guys a glorious 2017.