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Newspaper Backstory

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A quick, easy way to give the backstory of a character is through a Flashback, but perhaps you don't want that. Takes too long and inserting a scene suddenly ruins the vibe. Expospeak, then? No, perhaps not. The dialogue sounds very unnatural. So instead, have the camera pan over and briefly pause over a board or a box where there's a bunch of newspaper clippings about what happened before your work takes place. Non-obstructive and quickly establishes the background of your story.

Closely related to Spinning Paper. See also Viewer-Friendly Interface and Scrapbook Story.



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     Films — Animated  

  • Cars: McQueen discovers that Doc Hudson used to be famous racer the Hudson Hornet when he finds Doc's garage full of newspaper clippings, including one for the big crash that led to his retirement.
  • The Incredibles: Mr. Incredible keeps a bulletin board full of clippings from his superhero days.

     Films — Live-Action  

  • The opening scene of Back to the Future (the first one) pans over a bunch of clocks and a corkboard. Pinned onto the board are two news articles, which hint at Doc Brown's life before the film takes place.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory shows the titular character's backstory near the end of the movie, where his father had pinned up newspapers on a cork board, while also showing that the elder Wonka was still proud of his son despite what happened.
  • Don't Breathe has a particularly absurd example. When the protagonists find a woman held hostage in the blind man's basement, she's very conveniently holding a newspaper clipping explaining to them and the audience that she accidentally killed the blind man's daughter.
  • In the documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, headlines from when Apocalypse Now was in production are used to show public perception of the Troubled Production. Two of them read "Apocalypse When?" and "Apocalypse Forever", respectively, referring to the constant delays.
  • Misery: Paul realizes just what kind of messed up piece of work he's dealing with in Annie Wilkes when he finds a scrapbook filled with clippings showing that she had been charged numerous times for infanticide while she was a nurse.
  • Dirk Pitt's backstory as a Navy SEAL-turned-archaeologist is given this way early in Sahara. Several headlines allude to the plots of other books in the series, most prominently Raise the Titanic!... which ended up being Hilarious in Hindsight, because it had taken over twenty-five years to talk Clive Cussler into letting anyone else adapt his works for the screen due to his dissatisfaction with the resulting film, and he ended up being about as happy with this adaptation.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: As Eddie Valiant mourns his late brother Teddy, the camera pans over Teddy's scrapbook, which contains newspaper clippings of their cases involving Toons.
  • In A Quiet Place, the father has his basement converted into something of a command center dissecting what the monsters are and how to beat them, including newspapers on the subject and white boards organizing the information. One headline proclaiming that "[A] meteor hits Mexico with the force of a nuke", potentially alluding to how the creatures got to Earth. In any other movie this would be Room Full of Crazy, but it serves to explain a lot about the premise in a movie with only a dozen lines of dialogue.
  • The first big exploration of Bruce Wayne's backstory from Batman (1989) is an old news clipping tracked down by Vicki Vale and her partner Knox, which has the headline of "Thomas Wayne Murdered" and shows the face of young Bruce Wayne, the only survivor of what happened to his parents. Knox then asks: "What do you suppose something like this does to a kid?" The big Flashback of the murder, which shows young Jack Napier as the killer in this continuity, comes in a later scene.

     Live-Action TV  
  • The opening of Doogie Howser, M.D. has four of these in the first 20 seconds, detailing how Doogie got perfect scores on his SATs at age 6, breezed through high school in nine weeks, graduated from Princeton at age 10 and passed the medical board at age 14.

  • Brown Girl in the Ring: Mr. Reed provides. One example:
    He'd cut headlines from newspapers that were twelve, thirteen years old and pinned them up in chronological order.

    Ti-Jeanne had read the headlines:

     Western Animation  

  • Family Guy: The episode "Three Kings" parodied the Misery example by having Brian look through a series of clippings indicating Stewie being a serial killer, followed by a Marmaduke comic.