Throwing Out the Script
"I've outlined a ten-point plan, representing a new bilateral effort... I can't do this. If there is a War on Drugs then our own families have become the enemy. How can you wage war on your own family?"You're about to give a speech. An important one. You've worked on this speech. Maybe your staff has slaved away, writing this speech. Maybe this speech has been vetted by lawyers and other important officials. And then, you get started, and you realize that, despite all the work that has gone into this speech, those aren't the words you need to say. Those aren't the words your audience needs to hear. You push away — or maybe crumple, or tear — your notes. And you speak from the heart. Sometimes you contradict the words in the speech, or piss off someone you promised not to. Other times, you might address yourself to someone in the audience, using a public platform for a private matter. Any which way, you are off message, big time. See also Cue Card, and compare Unaccustomed as I Am to Public Speaking.... Not to be confused with Throw It In, when an actor figuratively throws out the script and improvises a line or action.
— Robert Wakefield, Traffic
open/close all folders
- In Daredevil, Matt was prepared to present the eulogy at his ex-girlfriend Karen Page's funeral. As he stood at the podium, he suddenly realized that there was nothing he could say to capture what he was feeling. Matt merely touched Karen's casket and left without a word.
- In Identity Crisis, Ralph Dibny is prepared to eulogize his late wife Sue. He's so heartbroken that he can't stick to his prepared speech. Ralph falls apart emotionally and physically as his friends escort him away.
- In Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty, the Avengers have been threatened with being shut down by the government unless they abide by a new set of strict regulations - including the expulsion of all mutants, former criminals, and foreign citizens. After a long debate over whether it is more important for the Avengers to dissolve to preserve their ideals or accept the new conditions because the team is too important to the world, Cap with a heavy heart casts the deciding vote to accept the government's demands. Most of the heroes leave in disgust and Cap is told to make a speech, showing off the few remaining Avengers to assure the public. Instead, Cap tells all about the government's strong-arm tactics, blasting the regulations over Henry Gyrich's protests. Rather than declaring a new golden age for the Avengers, Cap instead announces his resignation and leaves.
- In Traffic, drug czar Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) interrupts himself in the middle of a carefully prepared, approved speech to make an emotional (though vague) reference to his drug-addicted daughter.
- Michael Douglas does this again as the president in The American President, holding an impromptu press conference right before his State of the Union address that both destroys huge parts of the prepared speech and serves as a Crowning Moment of Awesome. Part of it can be seen here. In 2012, lines were lifted by an Australian politician.
- In Bulworth, the title character gets visibly bored of his speech, then gives a very candid answer to an audience question and never stops.
- In Reality Bites, Lelaina pretends to do this — actually, she's lost her notes and is just reciting platitudes.
- In Intolerable Cruelty, Miles does this with his keynote speech at the NOMAN divorce lawyer conference.
- Frank Capra has variations on this in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Meet John Doe and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
- In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance the pro-rancher candidate claims to do this. However, When the "notes" he so dramatically screwed up and threw away are examined they turn out to be blank paper. The "words from his heart" was the speech he had memorised all along.
- The end of Iron Man. In this case, Tony Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D. had earlier come up with a cover story that Tony was supposed to give at the press conference. After a few questions from a skeptical press, Tony decides to just tell the truth: "I am Iron Man."
- DEBS. Amy is given a speech to read at End Game which tells a false story of how Lucy Diamond kidnapped her and held her hostage. She starts reading it to the crowd, but halfway through she stops reading it and tells the truth: that the time she spent with Lucy were the happiest days of her life and that she's leaving to be with Lucy.
- In a Made-for-TV Movie based on the lives of Abbott and Costello, A&B are on a radio show and just before they go on they toss away the prepared scripts and adlib their segment.
- In X2: X-Men United, the President discusses his speech as he walks down a hall with some staffers, then his speech is in the teleprompter, and he's going live when Professor X and the rest of the X-Men pay him a visit and provide him with documents from Col. Stryker's office. The X-Men leave, time resumes for the staffers, and the President touches the file on his desk and begins to improvise...
- In The Majestic, Peter has a prepared statement for the House of Unamerican Activities committee that was prepared by his lawyer and specifically tailored to get him off the Hollywood blacklist. However, when he starts to read it his throat goes dry and he realizes how wrong all of this is. He proceeds to chew out the committee and tell them what America is truly founded on.
- Head Office: Jack Issel goes off script while doing PR for I.N.C. in order to impress a girl. While initially fired for saying the company is only after profit and doesn't care about people, he ends up promoted after it goes down well with the press.
- Matthew Kidman appears to do this in The Girl Next Door, but it's a subversion. While it appears this way to the audience (who think he's incredibly sweet), he actually has nothing written down. He'd been too busy slacking off (and, in fairness, falling in love and learning life lessons) to write the speech.
- In H2O, Tom McLaughlin (Paul Gross) establishes himself as a potential successor to his father, the late Prime Minister of Canada, when he throws out the prepared speech and shares an emotional memory at his father's state funeral. Later it's hinted that his words were actually planned to look like a spontaneous ad lib.
- In The Adjustment Bureau, main character David Norris, a senatorial candidate, is preparing his concession speech in the men's room when he has a Meet Cute with a free spirited dancer. He is then inspired by the meeting to ditch his prepared speech and instead gives a brutally honest account of how his entire "common man" image, right down to the color of his ties and the scuff on his shoes, is the result of the work of highly paid consultants and spin doctors trying to reach the largest possible audience. This ends up further cementing Norris' reputation as the "people's candidate", which is just what the Bureau wanted.
- In the beginning of Air Force One, President Marshall ditches his previously written self congratulatory speech about the successful capture of a Kazakh dictator by Russian and American special forces in favor of a frank confession on how his capture was too little too late since said dictator's regime had killed hundreds of thousands of innocents and the United States did nothing besides token trade sanctions until their own national security was threatened. He then vows that the United States will launch a new policy against terrorism unbounded by self interest.
- In The Dark Knight Rises, Commissioner Gordon ditches his prepared speech revealing that Harvey Dent was Two-Face in favor of yet more praise of Dent. The script becomes a major Chekhov's Gun.
- Not only that, but the prepared speech is one he has apparently kept in his pocket for three years!
- In Election, the three candidates for running for high school student body president are all supposed to speak at an assembly detailing why their school should vote for them. After the staff listens approvingly to the first two formulaic speeches (one of which was actually written by a teacher), they're shocked when the third candidate begins her speech with an angry "Who cares about this stupid election?", proceeding to excoriate high school elections and vow to dismantle the student government if she's elected. Her classmates greet her speech with thunderous applause.
- At the end of Kate and Leopold, Kate declines to follow her time-travelling boyfriend Leopold back to the 19th century, and begins a speech accepting a promotion at her stressful and amoral (but well-paying) advertising agency. She eventually loses her train of thought, begins rambling about going after what one wants, and then runs away to pursue Leopold. This was less a moral revelation, more because during her speech she saw a photograph proving that she'd already gone back to pursue him.
- Before Katniss and Peeta arrive at their first stop of the Victory Tour in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Effie hands them the speeches she has written for them. Peeta stops looking at his after reading the first sentence.
Effie: [Gasp!] He put down the cards. Why do I bother?
- A Time to Kill: When it comes time for Jake Brigance (played by Matthew McConaughey) to give his closing argument, he decides to throw out his well-reasoned points of law and instead appeal directly to the humanity of the jurors will an emotional, tearful speech. It works.
- In The Fault in Our Stars characters Augustus, Hazel and Isaac holds a "pre-funeral" for one another, where they've written quite unconventional eulogies that they, to each others appreciation, read aloud. However, at Augustus actual funeral, Hazel gives Augustus parents a glance before she's about to read that same eulogy she wrote for his pre-funeral again and changes her mind (even though she doesn't actually believe in any of the things she ends up saying instead) since, she states in the voice-over, "Funerals are not for the dead. They're for the living".
- The Isaac Asimov short story "Ignition Point!" is about a politician whose handlers have developed a technique of writing content-free speeches that will get audiences fired up. In the first test, the speaker stops in the middle, throws away the speech, and starts improvising — the speech worked on him, too.
- From Tom Clancy's Executive Orders:
- Towards the beginning of the novel, President Ryan is giving a speech at a presidential funeral. Instead of reading the speech written for him, he speaks off the cuff to the children of the deceased president. At a later press conference, Ryan jokes to the members of the press that he will be sticking to the script this time.
- For his last time on the air before retiring from television, a news anchor stops reading what's on the teleprompter and starts saying what he believes needs to be said instead. (It's not exactly off-the-cuff: he has his alternate speech memorized, but didn't hand it in to be put on the teleprompter because he knew he wouldn't be allowed to say it. It is from the heart.)
- The Miles Vorkosigan novel Cryoburn has an important character development moment where Miles doesn't do this, to the surprise of the point of view character, who could see he was tempted and expected him from past experience to do it.
- Happens at the climax of the children's book The Enormous Egg. The young protagonist is given a speech to read presenting a bland factual argument about why his pet triceratops should be spared. It gets replaced at the last minute with a note from a friend of his reading "You know what to do, good luck!" and once he gets past the stage fright, he ends up giving a heartfelt, spontaneous, and far more effective speech.
- In the Left Behind book Apollyon, when Chaim Rosenzweig is asked to appear on TV to give his explanation for the sun giving out only one-third of its sunlight due to one of the Trumpet Judgments taking place (though Chaim isn't convinced that it is the hand of God at work), he is given a script by the Global Community that has him parrot the party line's explanation of some scientific cosmic disturbance causing the phenomenon that even Rosenzweig as a botanist can see through. He chooses to appear on TV but speaks his own mind instead, almost directing people to Dr. Tsion Ben-Judah's website before being pulled off the air.
- In Sex and the City, Samantha does this at a breast cancer charity dinner.
- In Modern Family Season 2 finale, a reversal — a sincere speech (Alex's mean-spirited valedictorian speech) gets thrown out in favor of a bunch of lies. To be fair, the tone of the scene seems to indicate that she genuinely changed her mind at the last second and didn't want to use the speech as a way to attack her classmates.
- In the TV mini-series/pilot of Battlestar Galactica (2003), Adama's retirement speech features this move.
- In Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, the first scene of the pilot.
- This happens a couple times in The West Wing.
- Subverted in one episode, where Toby Ziegler and Will Bailey are writing a speech for President Bartlett to introduce his new Vice President. The speech is supposed to be complimentary of the guy, but Toby and Will dislike him so much that they jokingly dash off an insulting (and well-written) one instead. Afterward they do write a real speech — and guess what winds up on the Tele Prompter instead while Bartlett is before the cameras? But when he sees that the speech he's reading is turning abusive, he literally doesn't skip a beat — he ignores the teleprompter and improvises a complimentary introduction for the VP.
- And in Denmark's very own West Wing, Borgen, the first episode sees Prime Ministerial candidate Birgitte throw out the script prepared by her Spin Doctor and start ad libbing. It works, because while she is genuinely speaking from the heart, it is also made clear that a career of politics enables her to be able to be so readily articulate and persuasive. Also, the success of her speech has a lot to do with lucky timing - the favourite candidate also deviates from his script but his ad libbing misfired and alienates voters, and Birgitte reaps the benefit. Finally, her spontaneous idealism in the early episodes serves to underline Birgitte's journey into calculating, alienated and divisive as the series draws to a close. IT remains to be seen how much of impassioned-speech-making Birgitte will be on evidence in series two...
- House: Dr House does this in an early season when asked to give a speech about a new drug the chairman of the hospital wants him to puff up. Played straight, as is usual on House, but he nearly gets fired for it.
- In the first episode of Crossing Jordan, Garrett Macy is supposed to do a presentation about coroners at a career day. So he starts off with a fairly dry presentation with no enthusiasm, and then ends up in a rant practically driving people away with the lucid descriptions of his work.
- Subverted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer when the Mayor keeps on reading his commencement address to the graduating high schoolers, even as the Ascension is turning him into a demonic snake.
Buffy: My god, he's actually going to read the whole thing...Willow: That sick bastard...
- When Monica and Chandler got married on Friends, Chandler threw out his pre-prepared vows at the last moment to give a more heartfelt, situation-appropriate (as Joey had just revealed to Monica that Chandler had gotten cold feet and almost ran out on the wedding) speech.
- Parodied in the second episode of Stella: "You know, I was going to come up here today, read this fancy speech I had written, then I was going to stop in the middle, crumple it up, throw it away, start speaking from the heart. But I'm not going to do that. I'm going to read from my prepared remarks instead."
- In an episode of Carnivāle, Brother Justin is given a Pre-Approved Sermon which he starts to read then rips apart in favor of his own words. Not quite a heartwarming moment, as Brother Justin isn't exactly the good guy. It is, however, a Crowning Moment of Awesome - the cinematography alone, not to mention the completely silent roar of approval given by his parishioners.
- In season 3 of Justified Dickie Bennett is about to be released from prison after making a deal with the Justice Department. None of the good guys are happy about this and the presiding judge is eager to find some justifiable reason why he should throw out the deal. All Raylan has to do is go in front of the judge and testify about Dickie's assault on him and how horrible an impact it had on him. Raylan starts his prepared speech but quickly realizes that he cannot go through with it since he will not pretend to be a victim just to keep Dickie in jail. Instead he talks about Dickie being a stupid criminal who will end up back in prison soon anyway so the judge should just let him go.
- In season 1, episode 8 of House of Cards Frank Underwood throws out his speech on the occasion of having a library named after himself in favor of a heartfelt thanks to his old friends.
- In The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Phil has to give a eulogy for his former mentor turned rival who just ran a dirty campaign against Phil before dying of a heart attack. He had a complimentary eulogy written ahead of time, but Vivian lost it on purpose. Forced to give the eulogy without a script, Phil admits to the mourners that he can't say anything good about the dead man and asks them to take his place. Turns out they all hated the man too and merely showed up to gloat.
- In Jeeves and Wooster Gussie Finke-Nottle does this. Unfortunately, he is extremely Unsuspectingly Soused (while he deliberately had a drink beforehand, he wasn't aware that both Jeeves and Wooster had spiked his orange juice), and his speech turns into an incoherent rant where he takes bizarre potshots at his friends, and selects one student he doesn't like the look of and spends much of the speech insulting him.
- In Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, when Walther starts singing his prize song at the contest (after Beckmesser made a travesty out of it), Kothner unconsciously drops the music sheet. Walther sees this and turns his song into a more elaborate one than what he had set down earlier.
- In The Ghosts of Versailles, this becomes a plot point when Figaro chooses to abandon Beaumarchais's libretto.
- Undyne does this in Undertale. Apparently it's customary to tell humans the tragic tale of monster society before you kill them, but she figures, why bother when she's just going to kill you? So she replaces it with a "Reason You Suck" Speech condemning you for every monster you've killed, if you have. Even on a Pacifist Run, she blames you for not giving yourself up so Asgore can use your SOUL to break the barrier. Though if you befriend her, you can get her to admit that she actually did all this because she forgot her speech.
- In Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Captain Hammer tosses away the notes for his speech and starts singing a song, "Everyone's a Hero", instead.
- An episode of Family Guy features Peter, as president of Chris' school board, about to give a speech that blames Lois for pornography that Chris found. Upon seeing Lois in the audience, Peter decides that he can't go through with it, throwing away multiple pages of notes and admitting that the entire thing was his fault.
- Invoked in Recess. Mikey starts overly structuring his life and loses his knack for poetry. So his friends write on his schedule to tear up the horrible bit he had written to be performed (though not in those words). And in his anxiety, he starts winging it, winning the competition.
- Played With in an episode of King of the Hill.
Bobby: (rehearsing) I rehearsed a speech on the way over here, but I'm throwing it out, because nothing says I'm sorry like "I'm sorry."
- Subverted/parodied in a The Simpsons episode, where Homer breaks his notes and tries to do this but can't come with anything, so he tries to put back together his notes.
- Double-subverted in another Simpsons episode: Lisa wants to tell the town the truth about Jebediah Springfield but ends up croaking out "...he was great!" She explains to the museum curator that the legend of Springfield had value of its own.
- One example comes from the life of the 19th century American minister Henry Ward Beecher, who is supposed to have torn up his carefully polished first sermon and preached without notes after his wife gently hinted that the prepared version was boring. He went on to become the most famous orator of his time.
- Robert Frost at the inauguration of JFK. Frost had written a new poem for the occasion but couldn't read his notes thanks to the glaring sunlight. Finally he gave up and instead recited "The Gift Outright" from memory.
- Martin Luther King was known to chuck a prepared speech and construct a new one on the spot. The famous "I have a dream" speech has a completely different ending than the one he planned, instead going on a tangent with numerous allusions to literature and poetry. He also began riffing towards the end of his "mountaintop" speech, made shortly before his death. Some question the academic integrity of the many lines he lifted from other sources, but the results are hard to argue with.
- Barack Obama did this after Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud at the 2010 Correspondents Dinner.
- He did so again briefly at the 2015 State Of The Union address, diverting from the script midspeech to address an audience reaction.
- Pope Francis does this all the time, most notably when he met with a group of Italian school children. He turned it into a Q&A session and ended up admitting that he didn't ever plan or want to be Pope.
- In news, this is also known as "throwing out the rundown" (i.e. the plan for that night's show), usually (but not always) in light of breaking news. Fox News anchor Shepard Smith has said that he and his team draw up a rundown every day with the hopes of throwing it out completely by five minutes into the show, because his favorite thing about the job is covering breaking news that takes everyone by surprise.