Rian Johnson Breaks Down Writing Knives Out

This is Behind the Curtain. Today we’re
learning how Rian Johnson combines the whodunit and thriller genre, what the
Walter White test the Ryan gives the protagonist is, and the only advice Rian
Johnson thinks is worth the damn well as I started thinking about the genre I
mean it’s interesting Hitchcock hated whodunits famously and
his whole thing about whodunits was it’s a big build-up to one big surprise at
the end which was a very cheap coin for him narratively and that’s why he was
all about suspense he’s like, “give them the information early and make them lean
forward in their chair” and I love whodunit and I fundamentally agree with
Hitchcock so the idea approaching this was to kind of put the engine of a
Hitchcock thriller in the middle of a whodunit so hopefully we get all the
great stuff we still love about whodunit so we get the questioning we get kind of
the old mansion and the eccentric family all the suspects and we get the great
scene at the end where the detective does the Dana MA in the library and lays
it all out but in the middle of it we kind of have this more suspense driven
Hitchcock thriller story that centers on and the Dharma’s character and so with
this we do you know you can recognize we do the Columbo thing we did we basically
with a couple of very crucial differences the Columbo starts with the
scene where the killer does the murder and you see who it is and then it that
makes it suspense not surprised that means there is no surprise you know it
and you’re waiting to see how Columbo is going to catch them and so we kind of do
that in this movie you gotta do something that starts as whodunit turns
into a Hitchcock thriller then turns back into a whodunit at the end then
hopefully the feeling is that this whodunit has been hiding underneath this
thriller the entire time and the thriller itself was just a bit of
misdirection why the really interesting things to me was okay what if he did the
Columbo thing but the audience was genuinely on the side of the
quote-unquote killer if you’re rooting for her to actually
get away with the fact that we know you know how these things work and we know
that balanc the detective always figures it out at the end and catches the the
killer the very mechanics of the genre were all familiar with become the
antagonist of the movie even if the detective himself is a sympathetic
character that’s why I have Blanc say that line to her this machine that’s
what it does as well I love genre you know it gives you a it gives you a game
board to play on and then even just you know before I even start collaborating
even for writing for myself having the boundary isn’t having kind of knowing
okay we’re I love this kind of genre so I’m gonna try and do something that
gives the audience the pure pleasure of what I love about it having bad is like
the goal that then gives you yeah it gives you it gives you a field to play
that gives you a chessboard to work on you know you know what I want is to
eventually get to a place where we become nervous in terms of how far
Martha’s willing to go how to cover her tracks and is she willing to is she
going to hit a place where she’s willing to do things just as bad as what the
family is doing in order to win at the end of the day I basically had to gave
her the Walter White choice of like you know watching Jesse’s girlfriend
watching Jane like dying and he can do the right thing and save her or he can
just be passive and do nothing and and that felt like interesting also
in that moment with Martha where she’s watching Fran die and she she’s a nurse
and she has a medical bag and she can save her but Fran has just told her I
know it was you I’m gonna make you pay I mean the way that I write is I you know
I write very structurally I start just kind of mapping it out and I do think in
I’ve trained myself to think in sequences and so I draw a time line I
write in the smaller moleskin notebooks and I draw a time line on one page it’s
just an arc line and then I split out with little you know little vertical
lines and that kind of create my sequence of sequences and and split into
acts basically so I do like the structure thing but those sequence I’m
not at that point even thinking in terms of plot um I’m thinking in terms of
story I guess we did like it’s a weird how to exactly ascribe it’s basically
I’m thinking in terms of the audience’s experience and what’s drawing an
audience through sequence by sequence from before each sequence what are they
worried about whether they lean forward about what’s the big change that happens
at the end of the sequence and how does that change catapult us into the next
thing that so it really is thinking as basic and fundamental as that and then
plot comes next and yeah the big plot thing to figure out we’re just it’s
stuff like the mechanics of of the morphine switch-up like how do you play
that in such a way where it fits their requirements which is she
has to believe she did it we have to believe she did it and I also need to be
able to kind of undo it at the end in a way that makes sense
the trick is to have that slight bit of silliness but at the same time you don’t
want it to tip over into oh come on yeah you don’t you don’t want to break in
basically it has something in common with time travel I think in movies where
it’s something that doesn’t really make it I mean it makes sense in terms of
like the interior rules of it doesn’t really make sense that someone would do
this in order to you know in their the bump their grandfather off but at the
same time within the telling of the story it makes perfect sense and
probably more important within the genre that the audience knows the story is
taking place in it makes sense this is the sort of thing people do in murder
mysteries and so we buy it the only advice that I think is actually
worth the dam is is to not get your head wrapped up in how do I break in how do I
make a career how do i what do I do to get an agent what do I do to get into
the industry that that really is putting the cart before the horse I really I
really believe that your only job is to work on your voice and to work on just
make as many movies as you can don’t get precious don’t worry about making them
look professional don’t worry about shooting with great equipment don’t
worry about any of that shoot with your phone use your friends as actors
anything you do just make them make them make them make a make them and develop
get better and better at telling a story with a camera and I really believe that
like if you develop that and you get to the point where you’re making
interesting stuff and putting it out there that’s the stuff that then
attracts the industry to you in some shape or form the story for me was about
using each one of these characters is a different facet to explore honestly kind
of you know in myself more than anything else
both privilege and also the more fundamental thing than that which is
kind of just that basic human thing of when something you believe is yours is
threaded what how do you react to it and that kind of giving a very clear
spotlight as to the moral compass of every one of us and there’s something
about the murder mystery genre that is uniquely suited to looking at class I
think because the murder mystery by its very nature it creates a little
microcosm of society this contained group and then through all the suspects
you’re getting a cross-section of that society from the high to the low and
then investigating the relationship with the top of the power pyramid and so
because of that is something that by its very structure in nature is ideally
suited to investigating class now what’s interesting to me is the whodunit is
usually done in the context of a a period piece because it’s usually an
Agatha Christie thing so it’s usually diskin
from our present time and be it’s usually in Britain because again it’s
usually an Agatha Christie adaptation and so the idea of taking this thing
that was a great x-ray machine of that stuff and applying it to America and
2018 seemed like that could in addition to be very being very entertaining also
kind of yield some interesting things because I grew up reading anger the
Christie because I’m just a whodunit junkie also I didn’t have to go and do
any real specific research for this it was more about just kind of
investigating my own lifetime love with a genre and trying to kind of boil that
down to its essence I guess there’s a lot of math that goes into figuring out
like all the connections and all the plotting and everything but I mean the
analogy I always make is you know the work really goes into making sure that
for the audience it feels like a roller coaster ride not a math problem and so
making it feel simple even if it’s complex and making a feel like one thing
flows into another and you’re having this ride that that that’s it’s where
most of the work goes into even if your wall looks like you know the serial
killers wall you have to make sure the audience actually can stay oriented
throughout the whole thing really what’s satisfying is not the
sense that you could solve it although I guess technically you could but what’s
satisfying is that at the ends every single payoff is something that you
recognize it’s almost like a recognition game and so in that big explanation at
the ends every single thing he lays out is something we can flashback to and
show that we did set up and there’s something very satisfying about that so
I was thinking more about that and less about how do I build this thing where
the audience you know has a chance of like solving it you know a much more
useful place to write is not thinking in some other way of where the audience’s
head is going to be but really entirely thinking through the eyes of the
characters that we’re seeing the story through so I think I would go a little
crazy if I started doing all the math of what is the audience gonna be thinking
it’s much more okay what does martha thinking
I got a couple like trusted friends that I’d show it to every time my producer is
someone I show it to and then just right there friends really you know people
that you can like get that will really be honest with you because you want
brutality in that fit you don’t want brutality but you need brutality in that
phase you know and then it’s just working it over and over and over again
and just trying to you know just simplify simplify and just but you know
it sounds like you’re ready you know it’s it’s like it the tough balance is
always you get notes from people and you realize trying to parse out with a very
small sample size what what notes you want to what notes you need to you need
to get in there and do changes for and what notes are you know either personal
preferences or quirks or how the person was feeling that that that’s the part
that like I feel like you never quite figure out you always kind of just got
to do your best dinner hey this is Nehemiah Jordan the creator
of behind the curtain if you’d like to stay up to date with the channel as well
as see extra screenwriting related content go ahead and follow me on
twitter the link will be in the description thanks so much for watching
and I’ll see you guys then you


  1. Mark Moughamian

    February 28, 2020 at 6:31 pm

    Never been first before, so first!

  2. Aryak Chatterjee

    February 28, 2020 at 6:33 pm

    It's a pretty self explanatory movie not gonna lie!

  3. Limon Espinosa

    February 28, 2020 at 6:35 pm

    Have you considered doing more animated films like "the breadwinner" or any masterpiece by studio Ghibli (also house m.d please")

  4. Celtic Bird

    February 28, 2020 at 6:35 pm

    I don't get why they blew the mystery in the first half hour.

  5. Evan Pangaribuan

    February 28, 2020 at 6:36 pm

    Do you plan to watch a movie called Her Blue Sky?

  6. Blindman AI

    February 28, 2020 at 6:37 pm

    Just leavings some love BtC! Your content is always appreciated and well put together. Cheers!

  7. Jonathan D'Haiti

    February 28, 2020 at 6:37 pm

    Not that I didn't absolutely love this movie, but I can't wait to see CinemaSins tear it apart 🔪🎥

  8. waywardwatchdog1

    February 28, 2020 at 6:38 pm

    Boring film. Poorly written.

  9. Emilio Alvear

    February 28, 2020 at 6:40 pm

    Really good movie. I wish it won original screenplay because I like how every piece of information comes into play in the movie

  10. John Cozen

    February 28, 2020 at 6:47 pm

    awesome video as always Nehemiah.

  11. batgurrl

    February 28, 2020 at 6:47 pm

    Great work again.
    I agree about recognizing payoffs in the end

  12. Behind the Curtain

    February 28, 2020 at 6:48 pm

    Hey! I just tweeted BTS photos that writer/director Rian Johnson took himself on the set of Knives Out.
    If you want to see them, go to my twitter at: https://twitter.com/ntjrdn

  13. Kyle Waltman

    February 28, 2020 at 6:52 pm

    Behind The Curtain…you are so close to 100k! You deserve so much more for how amazing and insightful your videos have ALWAYS been. When I have some disposable income I am going to make you the first channel I support on Patreon. Thank you for the high quality content, and know that I can’t click your videos fast enough.

  14. LikeToWatch77

    February 28, 2020 at 6:56 pm

    Down-voted without watching because Rian Johnson. Sorry but I just really hate that guy.

  15. icecream hero

    February 28, 2020 at 7:37 pm

    Please do Spongebob its one of my favorate cartoons of all time.

  16. Meedo Taha

    February 28, 2020 at 8:36 pm

    Great medley. I’ve heard all these interviews before, but it’s wonderful how you synthesize them into a masterclass. Thanks for this.

  17. Star LORD

    February 28, 2020 at 9:00 pm


  18. Wat

    February 28, 2020 at 10:12 pm

    Take away the last three words from the title of this video. I would watch that.

  19. chiguazo

    February 28, 2020 at 10:34 pm

    What does martha represent? We don't know her ethnicity, they refer to her as Ecuadorian, Uruguayan, Paraguayan, Brazilian…, (and her mom is an illegal immigrant) against a group of entitled rich white men and women (and a "nazi kid") She finally gets the will but because of her kind heart we don't know if she is going to help the family which doesn't deserve it but are entitled to it due to the family bond and fraternity. Is this the unconscious fear of americans against immigrants that will take over and inherit the riches of the country and the peril of losing the power against a culture that is not money and power obsessed but do want to do better for themselves and benefit from a land that is not theirs but will gladly work hard to belong to it and prosper from it?

  20. Kishan Baijnath

    February 28, 2020 at 10:35 pm

    A lot of sour people need to grow up and accept that Rian Johnson is more than just The Last Jedi screenwriter.

    He did an outstanding job on many films before TLJ, as well as Knvies Out. Regardless of how anyone feels about ep8.

    I'm glad he's getting the love he deserves for this film. 🙂

  21. Red Raven Spirit

    February 28, 2020 at 10:49 pm

    This was both fascinating and illuminating regarding the writers process. Thank you! 🙏

  22. Dallyn Schlosser

    February 28, 2020 at 11:29 pm

    Adding that cover of knives out under the final point of the video was a nice touch. Great video as usual keep it up!

  23. Rheniah

    February 29, 2020 at 2:56 am

    This is my favorite movie and I like a lot of movies.

  24. 4inchesofpleasure

    February 29, 2020 at 3:55 am

    Your channel is AMAZING! Thanks for all the work you do 👍

  25. Koveanthan Pon

    February 29, 2020 at 5:48 am

    Thanks for making it!

  26. Ahmed Shaharyar Ejaz

    February 29, 2020 at 8:27 am

    I wish he had done the same for Starwars .

  27. David Amrine

    February 29, 2020 at 8:44 am

    What is the song that starts at @10:22?

  28. Rave

    February 29, 2020 at 11:05 am

    Why is this man so good at writing ANYTHING BUT STAR WARS

  29. Bliss Clair

    February 29, 2020 at 12:48 pm

    I'm so sorry for saying this but the background music in this video was so loud, I kept getting distracted by it!

  30. Rapper Riders

    February 29, 2020 at 5:44 pm

    Fun fact: This movie was shot entirely in digital, but they made it look like film by adding the grain and color grating in post.

  31. Hidden America

    February 29, 2020 at 6:26 pm

    This is GREAT STUFF for a screenwriter, director, or storyteller, in general… just fabulous.

    Did he mean to say a “conspiracy theorists wall” instead of a serial killers wall?

  32. The Barksman

    February 29, 2020 at 6:26 pm

    The movie was good but i don't think this was rian johnson's best work. I prefer looper and brick over this one tbh.

  33. Maxwell Van den Eijnden

    February 29, 2020 at 6:34 pm

    I really don't think this captures any feel of either a thriller or a whodunit. They are almost polar opposites in there structure so Rian trying merge both is a terrible idea. Personally I didn't enjoy this movie. Rian relies on "cheep surprises" too much in this movie and there isn't a greater suspense held when this movie is largely a comedy. The stakes seemed to be false. Rian is really over hyped.

  34. 3girlrhumba

    February 29, 2020 at 6:34 pm

    this movie was awful

  35. Louise X

    February 29, 2020 at 6:54 pm

    I love these videos. Any chance you could do 1917 one day?

  36. Loïc Blasetti

    February 29, 2020 at 7:18 pm

    RJ made my 2 favorites movies > the last jedi and knives out

  37. muddi900

    February 29, 2020 at 8:53 pm

    This was a great job. The comment section does make me think your audience is full of morons, though.

    I am subscribing so you have less morons watching you.

  38. OmegaRejectz

    February 29, 2020 at 9:51 pm

    Just watched the movie last night. Pretty fantastic.

  39. Fiction with Franxosi

    February 29, 2020 at 11:32 pm

    6:06 I needed that. Thanks for sharing.

  40. Rusty Shackleford

    March 1, 2020 at 12:31 am

    No one should be patronising this hack of a film maker!

    Let his unoriginal, pathetic style of filmmaking, and insulting his customers die with extreme prejudice!

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