Cause and Effect: Rube Goldberg on Jimmy Kimmel


Screenplays are Rube Goldberg machines text mechanized.

The fun starts at 2:04.


Cause and Effect

Cause and Effect

Like the hands of a malevolent clock, the flying wing begins to turn.

Up to now we’ve been looking at Cause and Effect in purely linear terms – dominoes falling and the one-to-one causalities of a Rube Goldberg machine.

But in screenwriting there will often be many such causal devices concurrent and nested together – some physical, some emotional, some moral – so the better metaphor is that of a clockworks whose many gears, all of different scales, conspire in their rotations to accurately arrive at midnight, or noon, or 4:20.


In the Flying Wing sequence from Raiders of the Lost Ark, there are some fourteen different gears, or arcs (!) at work, most of them overlapped and nested, all culminating in the destruction of the Nazi aircraft and the continuation of Indy’s adventure – next on horseback.

George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have done us the service of providing a visually clock-like mise-en-scene (look how many differently ‘geared’ circles there are: the landing area, the rotors, the wheels, the machine gun’s scope, the spinning aircraft itself, all turning in circles and counter-circles), but even in linear sequences one can think of the compounded arcs of action as varyingly scaled gears working toward high noon.

And, of course, the notion isn’t limited to action – think of any of Woody Allen’s or Bergman’s dinner parties – each conversation, each relationship is geared slightly differently, each has a singular pace that combined support the full emotional weight of the dominant relationship in the scene.

The even broader metaphor, naturally, is for the whole story – scenes are all small gears working beneath sequences whose gears are slightly larger, building up the arcs of acts and all together arriving at the full expression of the story.

Screen shot 2013-02-05 at 3.00.51 PM

Cause and Effect

Cause and Effect

Everything must follow…

Simple way to attract a waiter’s attention: Light Skyrocket (A), with Cigarette (B) – when skyrocket goes off, String (C) opens Jack-in-the-Box (D) which scares Porcupine (E) – Porcupine raises Quills which puncture Hot Water Bag (F), letting out water and diminishing weight so that Hands (G) drop at sides of Waiter’s Face (H) – you quickly jerk string (I) which revolves disc (J) and turns waiter’s head so that he can see you before you starve. (Rube Goldberg – and don’t you wish he’d written screenplays!)