Sidney Lumet: The “Rubber-Ducky” School of Drama

Excerpt from Making Movies:

Sidney Lumet:

In the early days of television, when the “kitchen sink” school of realism held sway, we always reached a point where we “explained” the character. Around two-thirds of the way through, someone articulated the psychological truth that made the character the person he was. [Paddy]
Chayefsky and I used to call this the “rubber-ducky” school of drama: “Someone once took his rubber ducky away from him, and that’s why he’s a deranged killer.” That was the fashion then, and with many producers and studios it still is.

I always try to eliminate the rubber-ducky explanations. A character should be clear from his present actions. And his behavior as the picture goes on should reveal the psychological motivations. If the writer has to state the reasons, something’s wrong in the way the character has been written.

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2 Responses to Sidney Lumet: The “Rubber-Ducky” School of Drama

  1. Bernard says:

    I agree with that dichotomy between “revealing” and “explaining”. Textbooks should be all about explaining, but storytelling entails a very different mode of discovery.

  2. peteb says:

    There’s also the point to made that the ‘rubber-ducky’ school encourages lazy writing, directing and acting.. if it can all be explained in one scene, what’s the point of the rest of the movie?

    I kinda get where the kitchen-sink school comes in.. a lot of those TV plays started, before a single word was committed to the page, with an agenda or theory to promote.. but it seems a little unfair when the best of the genre, albeit beyond the TV screen – films like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning – are great films.

    I guess what i’m trying to say is.. The writing, the writing, the writing.

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