The American film producer Peter Gruber describes a lesson in drama he received from Michael Jackson: "Michael had proven he knew everything there was to know about pop music, but movies were a different animal. He wanted to produce as well as act. That meant telling stories. Could he do it?
I didn't even have to ask the question. "In both films and music,” Michael said, “you have to know where the drama is and how to present it.” He gave me a long, intense stare and abruptly stood up. “Let me show you.”
He led me upstairs to the hallway outside his bedroom, where we stopped in front of a huge glass terrarium. “This,” he said, “is Muscles.”
Inside, a massive snake was coiled around a tree branch. His head was tracking something in the opposite corner of the terrarium.
Michael pointed with his finger at the object of Muscles’ obsession. A little white mouse was trying to hide behind a pile of wood shavings.
I said hopefully, “Are they friends?”
“Do they look it?”
“No. The mouse is trembling.”
Michael said, “We have to feed Muscles live mice, otherwise he won’t eat. Dead ones don’t get his attention.”
“So why doesn’t he just go ahead and eat it?”
He said, “Because he enjoys the game. First he uses fear to get the mouse’s attention, then he waits, building tension. Finally, when the mouse is so terrified it can’t move, Muscles will close in.”
That snake had the attention of that mouse, and that mouse had the attention of that snake -- and Michael Jackson had my attention.
“That’s drama,” he said.
“It sure is!” I said. “This story has everything -- stakes, suspense, power, death, good and evil, innocence and danger. I can’t stand it. And I can’t stop watching.”
“Exactly,” he said. “What’s going to happen next? Even if you know what it is, you don’t know how or when.”
“Maybe the mouse will escape.”
Michael let out one of his high, strange laughs. “Maybe.”"
- Peter Gruber, extract from Tell to Win