This past weekend I perused and read a couple of memoirs picked up on a whim from the library. One was the third memoir from Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove, and a screenwriter, most recently for Brokeback Mountain for which he won an Oscar.
I was impressed with his memoir called Hollywood because one) he came off as a very likeable, balanced kind of guy, whose fame never went to his head. And two) he learned a lot about screenwriting that eventually influenced his novels. The book jacket said he was the author of thirty. He talked about the importance of an establishing shot, a quick pan that gives the reader an idea of location, a hint of the tension or conflict, and at least a cursory outline of the main characters. An establishing shot isn’t about backstory or setting up narrative, rather it is just that ESTABLISHING.
For example: The camera starts wide on a school yard, comes in closer so that we can see we’re at the E.L. Stanley High School and then shifts to the side of the building where 2 boys are sneaking a smoke and where we hear one talking to the other. Everybody’s acting funny lately. Yeah, it’s creeping me out. Like they’re under a spell or something.
WHOOSH. Establishing shot.
The other book I looked through, but eventually decided was a slog, slow and too full of minutia was at least good for a wiki. I looked up the author and found out she had been keeping a journal since like 1967. That’s it, she’d been keeping track of her life (she was a cancer survivor and single parent after her first husband walked out on her leaving her in the middle of Hodgkin’s disease with three kids and her second husband ran off after emptying her bank account after her first successful memoir came out—whew!) and had made a living off of her journals. Her approach to life’s problems was whimsical and somewhat simplistic, which I found a bit cloying at first, but came to appreciate as I considered the time period. She was a hippie, a free thinker, a true child of the times. Her journals totally encapsulated the 60s and the prevailing philosophy of that era. So in a way it was like going back and capturing the feel—or vibe! For that I’ll give Walking Through Fire by Laurel Lee a thumb’s up.