What A Few Good Men Teaches Us About Preparation And Aftermath

Here’s one of the most iconic scenes in contemporary cinema.

As it stands alone, it’s still a great scene, not least because it has two characters with opposing points of view, both of whom passionately believe they are on the right side of the argument.

Placed in the wider context of the film, it’s the culmination of the story, and the pay off for an earlier scene that was just as compelling.

Kaffee has developed as a character, and comparing these two scenes demonstrates that perfectly.

There’s something else that makes the courtroom scene so good though, and that’s that the movie takes time either side of it. Scenes of preparation and aftermath are often overlooked for their importance, and if your big finale is falling flat, it might be because it doesn’t have these bookends.

Before the final day of the trial, when we have seen Kaffee’s transformation, and his excitement at the plan, Jo pulls him aside and takes a moment to calm him down, and remind him of the stakes, as well as giving him the choice of ducking the fight. This is important, because it bursts his bubble somewhat, and brings an extra level of tension to proceedings. There’s another moment of preparation after this too, when it all seems to have gone wrong, and the Colonel has won.

This is a nice reversal and speaks to the impeccable structure of this pivotal scene. For the first time, we see Danny rattled, literally rattling his glass, even after he has reversed the ‘ask me nicely’ moment, with his own ‘I didn’t dismiss you’. But it’s that glass of water that really brings it home. Without that, would this scene have been so iconic?

And what about the aftermath?

The movie could have ended on the Colonel’s admission of guilt. But we’re given time to let it all sink in, to see the consequences of the moment, and to revel in the victory.

Preparation and aftermath will make your big moments better. Think Rocky in a training montage, and Rocky calling for Adrian, if you need a shorthand.

[They] are unnecessary in the development of the plot of a story, but they are effective tools for heightening the audience’s experience of a story. A scene of preparation is one in which the audience and often the character or characters, braces for an upcoming dramatic scene … A scene of aftermath is one in which the character and audience are allowed to ‘digest’ a dramatic scene immediately afterwards. (Howard & Mabley, The Tools Of Screenwriting)

You can of course eschew these things, subverting the idea to make a different dramatic point. Take the ending of Seven for example. That gives us hardly any time to reset after the ‘what’s in the box?’ scene, as it’s designed exactly to make us as uncomfortable as possible.

That said, Fincher was aware of what he was doing, and on preview screenings, he explicitly asked that the house lights not be raised for a few minutes as the credits rolled. The moment of aftermath he wanted was there, in the audience’s own head, he didn’t want them dragged back into the real world until they had time to process it all. Inevitably, his instructions were ignored, the feedback cards were handed out immediately, and the preview audiences gave a ton of negative feedback.

House: From Idea To Pilot

As always, the Archive Of American Television is an amazing resource for anyone interested in making TV. Here are a few short videos of David Shore, taking us from the germ of the idea of House, through to the pilot.

From that germ, he bought a lot of his own interests and obsessions into the mix, fleshing out a good idea into a much better idea.

Recognising that House was the driving force of the show, he spent a lot of time working on that character.

Until they found this moment in the pilot that really captures the whole idea of the series, and lifts it above other procedural shows.

Leaving any writer with some sage advice.

5 Great Blogs About Writing And More

I still have a feed reader, and I still subscribe to all manner of sites and blogs, all of which give great content, great insight, and make for great reading. Here are five you might like too.

The Sitcom Geek

James Carey is a brilliant writer of radio shows like Hut 33, and the TV sitcom Bluestone 42. His blog is a lovely insight into the process of writing, and the current state of sitcom on British television.

By Ken Levine

Ken Levine has a list of credits as long as your arm, and probably wrote your favourite episode of any given US sitcom. He blogs daily, and every day he is well worth the time to read. His podcast is also great listening.

Curious British Telly

I’ve only just found this one, and I am currently trawling through the archive with glee. The title tells you all you need to know about the content.

Mark Evanier – News From Me

Comic book and cartoon writer, and so much more, Mark is a prolific blogger, covering politics, industry, craft, and even musicals. Beware of Mushroom Soup though.


Lucy V Hay is a writer and script reader, and has a daily blog which is as much a resource for writers as you may ever need. Subjects include script reading, submission, genre, characterisation, pitching and writing research, among many more.