You might know David Lynch as the director behind such odd works as "Eraserhead,” "Twin Peaks," or "Mulholland Drive." David Lynch has also been known for encouraging and educating new filmmakers. He has his own MasterClass on creativity and film.
One piece of David Lynch's filmmaking advice has stuck with me, and I wanted to delve more into it. Have you heard the phrase "the eye of the duck"? What does it mean, and what does it have to do with filmmaking or screenwriting?
A duck scene is a scene that connects various aspects of a film and its characters. It isn't necessarily the climax or even essential to the storyline, but rather it's a perfectly placed scene that helps affirm the film's theme.
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Keep reading as I explain a duck scene and how we can all learn from the famed avant-garde director David Lynch.
Where Did David Lynch's Idea for the Eye of the Duck Scene Come From?
David Lynch explained his comparison of a duck and a film in this excerpt below.
So, you might ask yourself, "what the heck is he talking about?" If you know David Lynch, then you know his work can sometimes be challenging in its surreal nature. Explaining his concept of "the eye of the duck" is no different, so bear with me as I break down the elements!
A Film is Like the Body of a Duck
David Lynch compares a film in its entirety to the body of a duck. He expresses that the key to the duck is within its eye, both the beauty of it and its placement. He says that when you look at a duck, its eye is in the perfect place in relation to its body. A duck's eye cannot occur anywhere else on the body without seeming absurd or incorrect; without it, a duck would look strange. The location of a duck's eye just feels correct and completes the duck's appearance.
Turn the Duck Into a Film
This thinking can then be transferred to the body of a film. There should be one scene, "the eye of the duck" or "the duck scene," that feels perfectly placed and expresses something utterly true about the film and its characters.
Ducks Can Survive Without an Eye
Just like a duck, a film can live without its eye. A duck scene can't be boiled down to a climax or important narrative moment. A duck scene doesn't need to move the narrative forward. A duck scene might not even be central to the story, but something about it asserts, settles, or connects aspects of the film.
It's Not an Exact Science
It's not an exact science to be able to pick out a duck scene in a film. David Lynch has a hard time remembering or picking out the duck scene in his films! A duck scene is not necessarily about narrative structure but feeling and understanding. It's a moment where everything comes together in the right place and acts as both connective tissue for the whole film and a scene representative of the truth of the film. I interpret a duck scene as getting to the film's heart.
I would define a duck scene as not a narrative or structural aspect but as a scene that achieves a unique and perfect mixture of factors (theme, characters, actions, etc.) that represents and connects the film in its totality.
It can be fascinating to examine other filmmakers' approaches to the craft of filmmaking. Next time you watch a David Lynch movie, see if you can pick out the duck scene. Or try identifying the duck scene in your own scripts and films! If you find that you can't do it, don't sweat it. A duck scene isn't a concrete moment but more of a feeling.
I hope that talking about the eye of the duck has helped you think more about how your scenes feel and come together for your audience. Happy writing!