1. soujiroseta
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    soujiroseta Senior Member Contributor

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    Breaking the Fourth Wall

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by soujiroseta, Feb 17, 2010.

    I am currently working on a script/play that uses this convention known as breaking the fourth wall i.e. the imaginary wall that separates the audience from the work of fiction. While i'm enjoying trying this new style out i find it difficult to keep the "wall" from being broken too frequently otherwise it just doesn't work.

    I've looked around for many examples of this and found that movies like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was pretty good with this and even Fight Club, even if it was just for a second. The most exciting example i came across was a short play written by Stephen fry in which the main character is a teacher and his students are literally the crowd. He ushers in the late comers and scolds slouches, very entertaining. I was wondering if anyone else has tried this and how their experiences with it went or has any other examples of this.
     
  2. DvnMrtn
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    DvnMrtn Contributing Member

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    To be honest I'm still confused on what this 'fourth wall' thing really is. Could you show how they used it in Fight Club? That is the only example that I will be able to relate to I think.
     
  3. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    The Fourth Wall is the imaginary wall that seperates the audience from the audience. The wall is missing to allow the audience to watch. If you notice on many shows, especially Sitcoms you only see Three Walls. The back, the right, and the left. The wall you are 'looking through' is not there. Thats basicly the Fourth Wall.


    Breaking the Fourth wall is basicly when the characters acknowledge and often address the audience. Saved By The Bell did this quite a bit in the begining. He would freeze time and talk to the audience and then unfreeze it. In Ferris Buellers Day Off at th end of the credits there is a scene where he sorta walks up towards the camera and telling you that the movie is over and there is nothing else and that you should go home.

    If you are familiar with the Deadpool character from X-Men, not only does he break the fourth wall he knows he is in a comic book.

    Not sure how it was used in Fight Club. Haven't seen the movie lately.

    oh and in the movie Wanted at the very end the main character asks the audience 'What have you done lately?' or something along those lines.

    Its just when a character actually speaks to the audience.

    uh...

    was I any help? I tried to explain it the best I could.
     
  4. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    This has been common in plays for decades, and is a lot more prevalent there than it is in novels or film. Contemporary drama is very, very experimental (compared with other media), and there's certainly no shortage of plays that break the fourth wall, so to speak. If you're interested in reading some, start with Beckett and work your way forward.

    EDIT: "breaking the fourth wall" is a type of metafiction, one of the characteristics of Postmodernism. Basically, metafiction describes a "self-aware" text; if a character knows he is a character, if he refers to the reader/audience at all, if he is aware of his existence as text, it can be described as metafiction. Metafiction also describes "texts within texts", where a writer calls attention to the act of the writer writing by depicting a writing writer. Confused yet? :p
     
  5. soujiroseta
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    soujiroseta Senior Member Contributor

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    In fight club if you remember the Brad Pitt dude would splice children's flicks with pieces from porno movies and then there's a moment when the actual movie is spliced the same way. The Deadpool example is a very good one.
     
  6. DvnMrtn
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    DvnMrtn Contributing Member

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    Oh, I get it! So like in Malcom in the Middle when everything freezes and Malcom has some kind of pathetic dialogue that addresses the audience and then everything un-freezes and the story continues, that's breaking the fourth wall?
     
  7. soujiroseta
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    soujiroseta Senior Member Contributor

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    exacta! Thats another example i can add to my list.

    I have a situation to address though. I have a scene in my play where there are four friends who are discussing events of the previous night. it starts off with two of them and the other two sit in the audience and comment here and there. when their turn to step into the memory arises they walk on stage. Would this be breaking the fourth wall?
     
  8. DvnMrtn
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    DvnMrtn Contributing Member

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    The question that comes to my mind is why? Why do they walk in from the audience and not from behind set? Why are they a part of the audience?

    I just learnt what breaking the wall was so I could be wrong but I don't think it is breaking it. They aren't really addressing the two people...only talking about them. So wouldn't that mean they are most certainly not addressing the audience as a whole?

    If anything I think this is just a different way for characters to get on stage. I'm not saying its good or bad. But WHY do it that way? I guess whether it's a good or bad choice would depend on why and what you're trying to achieve by doing this.
     
  9. soujiroseta
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    soujiroseta Senior Member Contributor

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    Why? i would have to say that to add an extra sense of engagement with the audience. If you refer to my first post in the example of Stephen Fry's play, whose name i forget, The MC is a teacher and the audience his pupils. He hands out exercise books and everything. I feel it's really quite an interesting way to try and give the audience a sense of being at the scene and experiencing things as they happen, the same way you'd see a couple arguing in the street and then look away when they catch you staring. I don't know if i'm explaining it right but it supposed to be something like that.
     
  10. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I don't see the point either. It's wrong to try to include the audience for the sake of including them. Unless shifting them from spectators to participants serves to enhance the text in some way, there's no need to draw them in like that (in fact, in many cases, especially in modern and postmodern drama, playwrights go out of their way to keep them out, to stop them being immersed in the story).
     
  11. Humour Whiffet
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    Humour Whiffet Banned

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    Another example is Annie Hall by Woody Allen.

    One of my favourite Seinfeld moments was when Jerry, after an on-road race, looked the camera and winked.
     
  12. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    The best example from Fight Club is when he points to the corner of the screen and there's a "cigarette burn" appearing. The splicing isn't genuinly breaking the forth wall because the characters aren't necessarily aware of it happening.
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    This is exactly why it is mostly out of favor. Sure, you bring in the audience, but at the cost of reminding them that they ARE the audience, not actually immersed in the scene.
     
  14. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with Dave (Cogito). Fiction asks a reader to suspend reality and become immersed in the story. "Breaking the fourth wall" would momentarily place the reader back in the real world, a disruption that could destroy the reader-story bond.
     
  15. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    As I mentioned in my post before, in Modern drama since about the 1950's, playwrights have sought to deliberately remind their audience that they are watching a play, not wanting them to be immersed. For writers like Beckett and Pinter and the countless contemporary writers who have followed them, the absolute worst thing you could do was allow your audience to become so immersed in something as insignificant as a story that they forget to pay attention to the more important things. This is where metafiction comes in; it constantly reminds the audience that they are watching a play, and that they need to pay attention to what is being said, how it is being said, and what the author means, rather than simply sit back and enjoy the story.

    It's also common in European cinema, in an almost direct contrast to Hollywood cinema, which encourages the audience to be almost entirely passive.
     
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  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you have a good reason for doing that and you can write brilliantly, it could be very effective and succeed... but if you don't and/or can't, it'll be more annoyance than anything beneficial...
     
  17. gabriellockhart
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    gabriellockhart Member

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    I agree with both NaCl and Cogito, personally i would never break the fourth wall.
     
  18. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh alright I remember that scene. :p
     
  19. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    And there's the earlier bit where the Narrator introduces Tyler to the audience- "Don't watch, I can't go when you watch." He directly tells the audience about Tyler. It's quick enough, and the movie is wierd enough, that it works.

    My own example: House of Leaves- I just keep mentioning that book- does this extraordinarily well. First page:

    "This is not for you." That's it. Five words on a blank page.

    The book starts out by breaking the fourth wall and never even tries to rebuild it. This works, mostly because it's a metafictional mess of one author editing another, insane author, while slowly losing his mind. The book is meant to be an edited version of a non-fiction critique of a documentary of what was meant to just be a family moving into a house.

    Yeah. It's that kind of book.

    Removing the fourth wall keeps the book from being just a ridiculously pretentious book on the table- it makes it feel like the house actually exists. The second author starts out by warning the reader against reading the book, describing the vast number of tape measures he's nailed all over his home, to try to convince himself that nothing's changing. He explains that it's his own fault and that the reader should put the book down right now and walk away unless they want to end up the same way. He then admits that he knows they won't do it, and proceeds with the actual book.

    There's a chapter called Labyrinth that features footnotes that burrow through the page and then double back and go the other way. There's a chapter called SOS that's arranged in patterns of three short paragraphs, three long paragraphs, and then three short paragraphs. One chapter has been systematically and erratically burned, which means certain words- including a couple of full paragraphs, and the end of the chapter- are impossible to read. There's a chapter, which is meant to tell us what the house is made of, where the entire main text has been erased, leaving only the footnotes (mostly a series of increasingly bizarre definitions of technical terms like "pre-cambrian" and an extended explanation of the calculated age of the universe, and several points where it notes that the lab results are impossible or at least highly unlikely).
     
  20. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    As a theater major in college, I encountered this device on many occasions. Bear in mind, you don't necessarily have to freeze the action during these asides (the proper name for this type of action). Imagine if you will, a group of people arguing. Everybody's voices lower into background as one person looks to the audience and says something like, "Family. You can't argue with them and you can't shoot 'em ... unless you know where to hide the bodies."

    soujiroseta, just how much you can use this device depends almost entirely on its context within your script. As you have seen in your research, some scripts use it very sparsely while others are quite free with it. The trick is to find the temperament of your script. Does it feel like you've departed from the flow of the story? Is the breaking down of that fourth wall part of the story overall and should be a prominent part of the theatrical presentation? Or is it just a device to allow a character to develop a particular bond with the audience? Or is it somewhere in between? Only you can determine how much is too much -- or not enough.
     
  21. Jonesy
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    Jonesy Member

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    Brechtian/Epic theater does this a lot. It's used to remind the audience that they are watching a play, to make them uncomfortable, but, ultimately to make them think about the ideas the director is trying to portray. You really need to know why you are using it.

    Boston Legal used it as a comedic tool, and it worked. Just breaking the fourth wall for no reason won't work well.
     
  22. DvnMrtn
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    DvnMrtn Contributing Member

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    Really? I like that show :) Where did they use it? I'll keep my eyes open for it next time I watch it.
     
  23. soujiroseta
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    soujiroseta Senior Member Contributor

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    I really appreciate everyones comments on the topic. It's given me a much broader view of what this was all about. The general consensus seems to be that it must be avoided unless you are of brilliant mind and have a reason for doing so. This made me think about my script for a few days and i came to realize that the main reason i was doing it was for comedic effect and the fact that the audience will be acting as a type of witness to a crime which most of the characters in the play did not see or remember. Some are even confronted by the investigating policeman about it. Whether that is good reason and whether the end result works will remain to be seen when it's performed.

    I feel and hope that breaking the wall will provide a different experience for my audience and hopefully a memorable one. As far as suspension of disbelief (Mentioned by NaCi) goes i am still trying to get round that. I am not trying to remind the audience that they are watching something, i would hope they would just treat it as if they were seeing a scene unfolding in the middle of the street.

    You never know if you don't try right:)
     
  24. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    true!

    as for BL, i've seen nearly all the episodes and don't recall it ever being done there, jonesy... what did i miss?...
     
  25. Jonesy
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