It doesn’t matter what the MacGuffin is

The theft of secret documents was the original MacGuffin. So the “MacGuffin” is the term we use to cover all that sort of thing: to steal plans or documents, or discover a secret, it doesn’t matter what it is. And the logicians are wrong in trying to figure out the truth of a MacGuffin, since it’s beside the point. The only thing that really matters is that in the picture the plans, documents, or secrets must seem to be of vital importance to the characters. To me, the narrator, they’re of no importance whatever.

– Hitchcock in Hitchcock/Truffaut

I was relieved to read this the other day because I’m working on a script has an object of desire that sets off the action of the entire story, but I was worried that the object was too… unbelievable. Part of that unbelievability drives the humor, but I don’t want people reading/watching the movie and thinking “yeah, that was illogical.”

It reminds me of something an improv teacher (I can’t remember who) told me a long time ago about plausibility vs. believability: that plausibility, in the storytelling context, means “would this actually happen?” Believability means “given these circumstances, are things unfolding in a believable way.”

That’s why you can watch True Blood and be interested or entertained without tossing the whole thing out on the premise that vampires could never exist. Given that they do exist in this world, are things playing out in a believable way? OK, maybe True Blood isn’t the best example1 but the point remains.

Reading this book has made me realize how much I need to watch more Hitchcock.

  1. One reason I stopped watching that show was that the world kept changing–just one you thought you knew what the rules were, they changed, often at the precise moment that the protagonist needed them to change 

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