Harry Wolff

You can't escape my laugh.

Learning About MacGuffins

June 20, 2010
Read time 2 minutes

Every day that I learn something new I consider a success. Sometimes these new-found pieces of knowledge are nothing more than old thoughts and ideas repackaged. Or sometimes they’re displayed from a different perspective. Or sometimes they are truly new to my knowledge-base. Whatever the case I take such immense joy from learning.

Last Friday I was at a shoot for the movie Charlie Christ: The Gospel According to Fools, a feature-length film that I’m helping my friends complete. I’ve talked about my involvement with the film before but in case you didn’t see that post here’s a mini-recap: When I was first brought on to help I was only doing web-work. During that time I overhauled their website and redid it to its current state. You can see how it has looked for the past few months at NientePeaches.com.

As time progressed I’ve been stepping up my involvement. Currently I’m fulfilling the role of Line Producer - a job that consists primarily of logistic and systemic work so as to keep the structure of the movie’s production consistent and stable. We’re making great use of many of Google’s free cloud-based software offerings - namely Google Docs and Google Wave. Google Wave has come a long way since it was first introduced to the public. It used to be barely usable due to limited features, slow performance, and frequent crashes. However it is now extremely stable and feature-packed. Right now we’re using Google Wave as our virtual whiteboard in the sky, a task it performs gracefully.

But really the main point of this post was about learning new things. On Friday, at the shoot, I was introduced to the term MacGuffin. When I first heard my friend say that word I was convinced he was making it up. It sounded fanciful and full of farce. It wasn’t until he pointed me to its Wikipedia page with a definition that I was convinced.

According to its Wikipedia page a MacGuffin is:

A MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin or maguffin) is "a plot element that catches the viewers' attention or drives the plot of a work of fiction". The defining aspect of a MacGuffin is that the major players in the story are (at least initially) willing to do and sacrifice almost anything to obtain it, regardless of what the MacGuffin actually is. In fact, the specific nature of the MacGuffin may be ambiguous, undefined, generic, left open to interpretation or otherwise completely unimportant to the plot.

One example sited on the Wikipedia page is the “briefcase with glowing contents in Pulp Fiction” or the island in Lost. It’s the element of the story that pulls together all of its tangents creating a way for the plot to move forward. Neat huh? Can you think of any other examples of MacGuffins?