Archive for October, 2012

It’s not about the kasha

When I was headwriting “Poor Anastasia” in Russia, I created a scene for an episode in which the core characters (the show’s anti-hero Korf, his best friend Repnin, and Anna, the beautiful serf both men were in love with) were eating breakfast.  I told the writer of the episode that the scene needed to be about the tension between Korf and Repnin, with Anna in the middle of their tension.  Repnin, who was in love with Anna, didn’t know she was a serf.  His best friend Korf did, and Anna was plotzing with anxiety as she wondered when and if Korf would reveal to Repnin the truth about who she really was.  (In 1862 St. Petersburg, it was not only illegal to fall in love with a serf but it could shatter Repnin’s love for her.)

Instead of the tension, subtext and anxiety, I got kasha.

My writer wrote the entire scene about Korf offering Repnin kasha, explaining it was excellent kasha.  Anna, who was eating the kasha, agreed, so Repnin helped himself and also agreed that the kasha was excellent.

That was the scene.

Now, maybe, the subtext got lost in translation, although to her credit, when I told the writer what I found missing from the scene, she went on to write other episodes with the subtext and tension and stakes I found missing in the “kasha” scene.

In counterpoint, when I was teaching at UCLA, one of my students, Mary, wrote a spec “Six Feet Under.”  In her script, two of the characters were in the middle of a fraught relationship that was going south fast.   Mary chose to illustrate the tension in their relationship by setting a scene in a restaurant with a table that rocked.  All one character could focus on was the rocking table, which was annoying the hell out of her, while the other character was trying to get her to focus on what was wrong in their relationship.  By the end of the scene, the character obsessed with the rocking table was shouting for the waiter to come and put a matchbook cover under the table leg in an explosion of anger that was way bigger than the rocking table warranted.  But the message was clear.  The scene wasn’t about the rocking table.  The rocking table was a way of showing how the character couldn’t deal with the end of her relationship, and the anger and upset she felt as a result.

Kasha and rocking tables are great when they are used to highlight what a character is thinking and feeling without the character having to actually say what he or she is thinking or feeling.  Just make sure the kasha doesn’t become the star of the show.