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Everything Must Go – Movies For Lawyers – The Act Of Communication Point Of View


Will Ferrell is best known as a funny man who makes funny movies. The woman in front of me in the popcorn and diet coke line said, “I love his movies because they are so stupid.” When I told her my son loves Will Ferrell movies she said, “What is he – like 9?” I said, “No, he’s 32 and he is a lawyer.” She was amazed.  I don’t see why.  Lawyers have such high levels of stress and do such serious work that it doesn’t surprise me that so many of them are Will Ferrell fans. The need to laugh at something “stupid” is a great escape.

However, Will has been making the rounds of talk shows with his “unfunny” movie, EVERYTHING MUST GO.  He kept warning his fans that this movie was “different”. As the lights dimmed in the theater this evening I thought, “I wonder what is to be learned from creating something different from what is expected.”

As I watched the film, I was struck by the elements that allowed us to know that this film was “different” – not funny.  I kept thinking how many of the scenes could have been funny if first time feature director, Dan Rush, had handled them differently.  And the way he used the elements of film making undermine expectation! For example, the musical score was a sometimes plaintive, often times simple, acoustic guitar that underscored what Will’s character, Nick, was feeling. Sharper sounds would have made those scenes funny.  Also, the camera was soft – soft focus, soft light – sharper visuals would have made things funny.  The editing was drawn out.  No punches – again, working against funny. Finally, every scene was long, drawn out, very slowly paced. The acting was very real and each moment of realization was drawn out. Again, this is the opposite of comedy.

Over and over again in my mind I thought about the stories that we tell in court.  About how jurors, judges, arbitrators, mediators and opposing counsel “expect” things and are “steeled” for them.  I don’t know about you, but I want people who are deciding the cases I work on to be surprised by their own response to the trial.  I want them to “buy into” the scene they are a part of. What needs to be changed up?  Instead of frowning and getting pompous and serious when talking about a patent, how about laughing and getting excited about it – as excited as your client was the day he discovered his invention? Instead of almost crying when talking about the little girl the jurors are going to meet – the one in the wheelchair – why not smile in expectation of how great she is and how much they are going to fall in love with her? In a case that is about a contract, why go with fulfilling the expectation that this is going to be as dull as a dishwater and impossible to understand?  Why not challenge yourself to make this a light and breezy “no brainer”?

Okay, so you won’t be “perfect”. That’s okay. Trust me, EVERYTHING MUST GO isn’t perfect, either.  But is it worth the ride to see how your expectations are turned upside down every step of the way? I think so!

TIP:  Where are you turning expectations upside down in the case on which you are working?

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