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Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Breaking The Fourth Wall In Movies

Some people call it “Zack Morris-ing,” or “pulling a Ferris.” Perhaps those from an earlier generation prefer “the full Mel Brooks.” In any case, any avid movie fan should be familiar with characters breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to them. A new video essay explores just about every style of doing so and offers advice for aspiring filmmakers who might want to initiate “Kevin Spacey protocol.”

Here’s what Mel Brooks had to say on the topic in his interview with Co.Create from a couple years ago: “I decided, ‘We all know it’s a movie, let’s drop our pants and tell the truth. No pretense, no lying.’ And it worked. It was refreshing. People liked it. My respect for the great writers who broke the fourth wall made me want to do it in movies. Nobody had done it in movies before, as far as I know. Nobody looked at the camera and winked. That was my style—that’s why satire was perfect.”

Although “How to Break the Fourth Wall” shows that artists like Groucho Marx and Charlie Chaplin had actually gotten there ahead of Brooks, the video definitely gives the pioneering filmmaker his due for contributing to the canon and testing its limits. Created by YouTuber Now You See It, the video describes everything a strong fourth wall-break can do (satirize cinematic seriousness, explicitly show the character’s motivations, unsettle viewers with confrontation,) and it also explains its problems (without the proper set-up, a fourth wall joke can feel lazy.)

It’s enough to make you wonder how Co.Create is going to end this post without breaking the fourth wall ourselves…

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