Small Plot, Big Story
From Episode 2: "Make Your Protagonist Their Own Worst Enemy with Kat Boyd"
JIM: I just finished rewatching Normal People on Hulu, which is this beautiful little — it’s a half-hour drama, which is kind of interesting in itself — but it’s a beautiful little story about two young people in Ireland, it follows them across just a few years of their relationship, how they affect each other, how they change each other’s lives, this little love story.
SAM: And you’re not watching ‘cause there’s naked people in it?
JIM: Well, there’s a lot of naked people in it.
SAM: But that’s not why you’re watching it?
JIM: That’s not why I’m watching it. I’m sure that’s why a lot of people are watching it, but that’s not why I’m watching it. As a writer, it accomplishes a bunch of things that I think are really, really interesting, and it all kind of falls under the umbrella of, “Don’t forget that every scene is really about your characters.” The story is this small.
SAM: You mean the plot is that small?
JIM: Yeah, the plot. It’s not big, but every scene, every episode is just about these people discovering some little thing about themselves, or about each other, or just discovering that they’re not doing a good job of discovering what they need or want, or whatever that is. It’s really, it’s brilliant.
SAM: And it’s so simple, the way they shoot it, too. I mean, it’s just — there’s nothing fancy about it.
JIM: No, it’s all in close, and they don’t — I actually went out and found a couple articles about the making of the show, ‘cause I was so interested from a production standpoint, right? Like, they don’t give you those cinematic vistas of Ireland that you so often get. They wanted to keep it in the people’s lives. They made a point of — for instance, both the male and female lead, they’re about equally nude, it’s not the “male gaze” thing, right, where it’s all about the woman being naked, no, it’s both of them in this case. And that felt really real. They had an intimacy coordinator, they shot ten days’ of sex scenes, right? But it was all fully choreographed, and you can’t see of course what’s off camera, and they both felt very comfortable with each other, and all that kinda stuff, and it comes out on screen. But the thing I found most interesting in that with them was that, even in the many, many lovemaking scenes in the show, it was, it wasn’t about — it wasn’t that normal thing of “it’s a sex scene,” right? “We’re gonna do cuts of people rolling around,” and you know — where it’s sort of an addendum to the plot — “Oh! These two people just went off and had sex.” They rejected that idea of a sex scene, and instead it’s a scene between the two people, and they’re communicating very intensely with each other while they’re having sex. So you’re actually gaining insight into the characters. It’s not a throwaway scene where you’re just doing your gratuitous, you know, premium cable “we’re gonna see some T and A” kind of thing.
SAM: That’s cool. And you’re right that sex scenes, they’re just, yeah, it’s like, “Oh look, we got to the sex scene, and now we’re signaling the relationship is escalating — ” and then we move on. Can I tell you who was really uncomfortable during those sex scenes? The writer sitting at the monitor.
JIM: So. True.