Do you know, why a long timeframe or many leaps in time can cause story problems for a movie?

Imagine the following fairy tale: once upon a time there was a poor farmer. Though he had to work a lot he also was bored with life. One day he therefore walked into a dark forest full of ghosts and gremlins going after each living soul in their reach. After a long walk he sat down on a tree. Four days later he was killed by one of them.

As you can see, the leap in time might on the first look be a way of storytelling, but on second thought it only causes big problems. Not only tension-wise but also logically.

A great and recent example for this problem is the movie 30 Days of Night.

30 Days of Night – a premise and a problem

“30 days of Night” is about a young sheriff, played by Josh Hartnett, who has to deal with a bunch of hungry (russian?) vampires, who attack a small town in Alaska during the longest night in that region – which lasts 30 days.

Of course you cannot tell the whole 30 days in one movie. Even the action series “24″ would have some problems filling 30 seasons for one attack. The only way out of it was to cut through time in the story telling.

Why a leap in time is not a good idea

If you remember the fairy tale at the beginning of this post I bet you immediately asked yourself one question after you read it: what the heck happened in these days? Didn’t the gremlins attack him? How did he eat, sleep?

As soon as the writer or director cuts forward in time, he bursts open a big black hole of storytelling. Or worse: of logic. Or worst: of craftsmanship. Since the author doesn’t seem to want to fill the blanks with some information.

As soon as there is a blank, we, the audience, will fill it with our experience and expectations. And most of the time it doesn’t happen in favor of a movie. Since “30 days of Night” is a horror movie we imagine some nasty things that COULD have happened. (Side Note: I know the horror genre is not the best example for logic, but at least we expect that to some degree and therefore suspend our disbelief)

Each time 30 Days of Night cut forward, many questions popped into my head: Why didn’t the vampires find them, why didn’t they burn the whole village to ashes, why didn’t they search each house, why did they seemingly do nothing?

Since this was not be best experience in favor of the time I rather quickly came to the conclusion that flash forwards are a very risky business and should be avoided at any moment. But how could 3 Days of Night have escaped this trap?

How to escape leap of time problems

I think the best way to overcome the problem of time leaps is to simply ignore them, i.e. finding a way around them. If it is not possible since a certain time leap is important to the movie, the writer or director has to fill at least the most important questions the audience might ask.

In the case of 30 Days of Night, it would have helped a lot to let one character state after the first seven days, that the food is going out and that the vampires are closing in with their search. Bang. A ton of questions asked and story problems solved.

On the other hand, I think 30 Days of Night easily could have simply ignored the time leaps or flash forward cuts. Although the ending would have to be rewritten imagine the tension in the air.

No hiding for a week without any action but only one hour or perhaps only ten minutes. It not only would have increased the quality dramatically but also solved the logic problem: no time leap, no questions by the audience at all.

I believe that they even could have let the title the same. Imagine that the movie shows only ONE day of fighting, shattered hopes, and blood filled action. At the end of the movie they manage to kill one other vampire with a sophisticated trap or something else. The heroes stand in the middle of the house, the city on the other hand is filled with vampires. The sheriff sits down, tired and finished. He gazes on his watch and mutters “Still 29 days…”. Fade out.

An open end as big as a bus, but still a powerful ending. Because now we safely can turn our imagination on and the movie looses no credibility.

In the case of my fairy tale, I add an amulet to the telling that keeps its bearer from harm – for four days. Which the peassant apparently didn’t know.

Or should I kill him the moment he enters the forest?

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