Mozart in the Jungle – big print and poetry

I love Mozart in the Jungle. I adore it intensely. In fact, I love it enough that I have told a number of people that there exists no other series that speaks to my soul in the way that this show does. And funnily enough, I do say this with a sense of embarrassment… because as much as I do champion Mozart, I think I know in my heart of hearts it may not actually be that good. I love it despite the fact that it’s so seemingly completely all over the shop.

Maybe it’s just the music that does it for me. I’m very easily lost in it. Even when I know the whole show seems a little unformed. To have all this endearingly kooky and awkwardly random activity set amidst the soaring sounds of a symphony or two just takes it to the next level for me. It makes it all okay. More than okay, really. It gets it to the point where I’m dancing down the street yelling THIS SPEAKS TO MY SOUL.

You can have a read of the Mozart pilot script here.

Anyway, I was interested in looking at how those musical moments appear on the page. On screen, they are so transcending. They’ve been wonderfully executed. So the big print must be pretty spiffy, right? If the intent of the script was to make me all joyous and warm inside, then they were able to communicate that in big print. Unless the other collaborators were able to go above and beyond what’s in the script.

I do quite like big print. As much as I like dialogue. And I like the challenge of getting big print right. Particularly in Australian scripts, which tend to be far more sparse in big print than in other parts of the world. You know, there’s all those rules – no actionable action etc. And so you do your best to give the well deserved freedom your collaborators need to create but it can be sad when you see produced work where the intent has been lost in interpretation. You might be sitting there watching it going LIKE SERIOUSLY DUDES PACE IT DOWN HERE, THERE SHOULD BE A SOLID PIECE OF ‘ACTING’ BETWEEN THOSE TWO LINES OF DIALOGUE, THERE’S CLEARLY A EMOTIONAL TURN FOR THAT CHARACTER RIGHT AT THIS SECOND. It can be disappointing.

But that’s the nature of a script, right? It’s the blueprint and gets brought to life by others. And I feel like I hit on it well when I find this balance between not being a control freak and over explaining every microsecond of the vision of what should be on screen and communicating only a very general sense of atmosphere about the scene.

Sometimes it feels writing big print is kind of like playing a sneaky game – like you’re trying to fool everyone by appearing to not be too prescriptive, but in the small amount that you do give, you push your collaborators exactly where you want them to go. But nothing is ever as clear on paper as it is in your head. Words are hard. Everyone reads things differently. That’s why we have director’s meetings and table reads and the like. For the gap to be addressed.

But that’s why I like the creative process of writing big print. Trying to get the script in a form where the intent is clear. And to do that I try for my big print to be more than just instructive text which doesn’t really matter because, unlike dialogue, it’s never going to be heard on screen. I like a script to be a cohesive document that’s fun to read. Where big print bounces off and into the dialogue preceding and proceeding it to communicate tone. I try to work sentence structure and length variation to capture a rhythm, a pace. And I try to find creative and fun ways to frame big print that give actors room to work their magic.

I really like the idea that a screenplay is much more akin to poetry than it is to any other type of writing.


That’s what I try to aim for. Something that is a joy to read. And it’s a joy to read because it puts you in an emotional state. Rather than just tell you how a character is moving from A to B.

Anyway, I’ve gotten sidetracked. I was going to look at these examples of big print in Mozart when the music takes over. There’s this scene in the pilot when Hailey musically ‘duels’ this random party goer. They spin the bottle, get the style they are required to perform in, take their designated number of alcoholic shots, and then play. It’s tense. And the condensing of time is well handled. But it’s in a fairly light manner. Hailey’s engaging in the duel incisively, like she just wants to go back to bed. It’s fun.

Here’s some of it from the script:


The sentences are sharp, no doubt about it. But then you have these weirdly robotic sentences like ‘She is quite incredible and plays flawlessly’ and ‘Amazingly, she is able to play an very elaborate piece with precision.’ It’s all a bit distant. Like you’re reading a review of a performance rather than in the moment.

But then you’ve also got this ‘The flutist finishes with a flourish. Sneers.’ The first sentence, a dash of alliteration that perfectly conveys the professionalism and skill of a master musician. Followed by a sneer. Like some immature, primary school challenge. Two contrasting sentences which perfectly befit the incongruous elements that make up the scene. It communicates the tone with stark precision. And the actor doesn’t need to sneer, really. To me, it’s just language that is building the colour of the scene. You can take or leave the sneer. There could be other things that achieve the same result. But I like how the words bounce in this line. I’m there. I see it.

Yeah, but mostly… I don’t know if this is what I would aim for. We all write in different ways and that’s cool, but I want more of the scene’s personality in this. But, I saw the final product first, and no doubt that would colour my reading of it.

And then there’s the climax of the episode where Hailey takes to the stage with her oboe:


Again, it’s the sharp sentences. That’s what they’re like all throughout this script. But I like this so much more than the earlier. There’s a flow here that gives me a real emotional headspace for Gustavo (PS really glad they went with Rodrigo). He’s working away on Sharon, and her heavy breaths meet Hailey’s music. And Gustavo stops dead in his tracks. The sound of Hailey is better than the sexual activity he is partaking in. More powerful. Niceeee. And in a lyrical way, the tail end of the scene with the dimming of the light communicates how the music takes over the scene, takes over the visuals. And the final sentence sends me on a journey – ‘All we hear is the rapturous melody of the OBOE.’ I’m smiling even just thinking about it. Probably just like the musical supervisor did when they first read it and fist pumped the air going HELL YES.

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