Sunday, November 23, 2014

Making it Quotable

My wife and I were talking about the Star Wars movies the other night, and I made the off-hand comment that no one has ever quoted episodes I, II, or III.

And my next thought was, why?

Well, it might have something to do with Jar-Jar Binks.  It also might have something to do with the fact that all three stories were forgettable.  Do you even remember what the main plot was in Episode I?  (Hint, it had nothing to do with pod-races or Darth Maul)  What about Episode II?  I remember that Episode II had lots of light-saber fights.

So, what is it that makes a book or a movie quotable?

I don’t know the answer, but I’ve noticed that all the quotable story lines have four strong elements.

Quotes are always tied to a character with a strong personality and charisma.  When the quote is re-used, it is usually (but not always) delivered with a specific speech inflection as well as an accent (if there is one), and can also be accompanied by a pantomimed action.  Who remembers Ben Stein's deadpan: "Bueller?  Bueller?  Bueller?"  I've used that one in meetings when a question is met with a lengthy silence.  For another example remember The Princess Bride: "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya.  You keeeeeeled my father.  Prepare to die!" 

Iconic moments:
Scenes that are heavy with emotional tension such as irony, fear, anger, frustration, love, etc.  These are moments that capture the essence of life.  Who remembers the first time they accidentally swore in front of their parents?  Anyone who remembers the scene where Ralphy spills the lugnuts while helping his father change the flat tire will instantly identify.

All quotable stories have a strong sense of time and place.  If a story is set in the real world will be stuffed to the gills with contemporary culture-references, like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, or A Christmas Story.  If it’s set in another time or place it will have a rich sense of presence, like The Princess Bride, Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings.

Pithy lines. 
They’re all sound-bites.  They’re very short and to the point, and they’re oddly metaphorical / applicable in other areas of life.  How often have you heard someone get a bump or a scratch and say, “It’s just a flesh-wound!”  Once, when my computer was giving me fits, a co-worker leaned out of his cube and asked, "Having trouble with your droid?"

It is very common for lines to get shortened, or to become mis-quoted.  For instance, Dirty Harry never said, “Are you feeling lucky, punk?”  But that’s what everyone quotes.  The actual line of dialog was much, much, much longer:

Uh uh. I know what you're thinking. "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well to tell you the truth in all this excitement I kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow you head clean off, you've gotta ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?

Exercise for the reader

Ok, so here’s some famous movies that are highly quotable.  As you read through these, ask yourself three questions:

  1. who is speaking? What is noteworthy about that character's personality?
  2. What is the setting for this story?
  3. What is the moment / scene where this quote was spoken?  What was going on, and what was the focus of conflict in that very moment?
  4. What about this situation and this line was metaphorical for life?  HINT: Think about how you’ve heard people apply this quote.

Monty Python

  1. “What is the average air-speed of an un-laden swallow?”
  2. “It’s just a flesh wound!”
  3. “We are the Knights who say “Ni!””
  4. “This is an ex-parrot!”
  5. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!
  6. Spam, spam, spam, spam…

A Christmas Story

  1. You’ll shoot your eye out!
  2. Oh, fuuuuuudge!
  3. “Fra Geee Lay!  That must be Italian!  I think that says Fragile, honey.
  4. I double-dog dare ya!

The Princess Bride

  1. Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die
  2. Inconceivable!!  You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
  3. Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I'll most likely kill you in the morning.
  4. As…you…wish!

William Shakespeare

  1. To be or not to be, that is the question!
  2. O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
  3. Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears

Star Wars

  1. May the Force be with you.
  2. Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi.  You’re my only hope.
  3. These are not the droids you’re looking for.
  4. Use the Force, Luke!
  5. No, I am your father.  That’s not true!  That’s impossible!

Lord of the Rings

  1. One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them.  One ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.
  2. You shall not pass!
  3. One does not simply walk into Mordor
  4. My precioussss!
  5. All that is gold does not glitter

Sherlock Holmes

  1. Elementary
  2. The game is afoot!

Ferris Beuler’s Day Off

  1. Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
  2. The question isn't what are we going to do. The question is what aren't we going to do.
  3. Cameron is so tight, that is you stuck a lump of coal up his ass, and twisted, you'd have a diamond.
  4. Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

Gone with the Wind

  1. Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!
  2. As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again.
  3. After all, tomorrow is another day!

The Ten Commandments

  1. So let it be written.  So let it be done.
  2. Let my people go!

Star Trek

  1. Set phasers on stun.
  2. He’s dead, Jim.
  3. I’m a doctor, not a ___
  4. I'm giving her all she's got, Captain! 

Star Trek TNG

  1. Engage!
  2. Make it so!
  3. Resistance is Futile
  4. Belay that order!

Napoleon Dynamyte

  1. Sweet!  Lucky!  Yessss!
  2. Tina, you fat lard, come get some dinner!
  3. Napoleon, don't be jealous that I've been chatting online with babes all day. Besides, we both know that I'm training to be a cage fighter.
  4. I see you’re drinking 1%.  Is that ‘cause you think you’re fat?  ‘Cause you’re not.  You could be drinking whole, if you wanted to.