Welcome to my blog!
This week, has been a busy one, with a lot of concepts to read about and attempt to apply (possibly incompetently) to do with screenplay structure.
Basically, life has moved on from the simplistic "Hero's Journey" where we follow one person on their voyage of self discovery, on their Mythic Quest, over 3 Acts. Nowadays, we need to apply a "19 point story map" to our scriptwriting.
I know, right?
Just when I thought I was making progress and taking things in my stride, this bombshell hits!
I am still recovering from my 'lie down' after I learnt about this.
Anyway, shock over, I now have to apply this 19 point story map to a short film that isn't even 19 minutes long!!!! I could emit choice expletives, but instead the phrase "What the Dickens?" is making itself heard.
I have plotted the physical journey and the emotional voyage of self discovery for my main protagonist in adjacent columns. Now I will have to rewrite it with timing in mind.
Yes, I know: 19 point story map and a specific time line too: No pressure!
So, Act 1 is half the length of Act 2 and equal to Act 3. No, that's not a riddle, it's my next task:
For example, if a piece is 40 minutes long, Act 1 is 10 mins, Act 2 20mins and Act 3 10 mins. With a short film of 15 minutes, we are looking at Act 1 3.75 mins, Act 2 7 mins, Act 3 3.75 mins.
So, that's my next piece of homework.
On a lighter note, I have received and given feedback and had lovely discussions with my supportive peer group. It has been a real highlight and I think we are helping each other to improve or explain our narratives really well. Thank you group 2! At least we are not alone in this mathematical moment...
This week has taken me back into an historical look at the structure of filming from the early 1900s all the way to modern day. The over-riding theme is that technological developments seem to enable new ways not only of creating films but also for sharing scripts. If a production had to operate according to a business model and make money, there was less ability to use improvisation in the conception, filming or sharing of the film. If a project was being made financially independently, then creatives could experiment with improvisation as much as they wished. Steven Price's "A History of the Screenplay" really brought this home with all its examples of how people have tried to step outside the Hollywood scriptwriting formula (the 3 Act arc of a film), but have had to operate with independent financial backing in order to make these more experimental pieces. Some of the films that have broken with the narrative standard structures (like Reservoir Dogs and Memento) managed to cross to mainstream popularity and enable more flexibility in the mainstream craft. for example, time shifts away from chronological order, are now commonplace in films.
James Cameron created hardware technology (The Simulcam) that enabled on-the-spot green screen editing whilst the actors were performing scenes in Avatar. This has revolutionised the way that special effects are integrated and edited in films, enabling 'on the spot' script revisions and seriously reducing costs of production time.
Treatment and tutorial
So, I had worked on the premise, outline and treatment for my short film and felt that I had quite a good overview on both characters and plot... following the 3 Act arc to a 'T'... and then... I had a fantastic tutorial with Mat that made me realise that what I had written may well be good for a long film or even a series but definitely wasn't the right angle for a short film.
Rather than trying to create a well-rounded 2-hander, giving equal credit and time to both the protagonist and antagonist, I needed to choose one person and show their own personal awareness develop through the unfolding action.
Back to the drawing board... reducing to a third of the previous action, now all from one perspective. I am re-writing it and it feels great to learn this development. Having a theatrical background, I think I naturally write from a very objective, action aware, plot-driven viewpoint, attempting to give depth and substance to more than just a single protagonist. But a short film needs to happen as a tiny transformative moment in a character's life- showing the conflict between what they want and what they actually need. What do they stand to lose if they cannot get what they want? What are the obstacles to them getting what they want and what happens if they fail to overcome them?
So, I shall be busy for a few days, rewriting my structural basics.
We also started our peer review group this week. I have to be honest, until I truly understand how to write the short film format successfully myself, I do not think I can offer good criticism to other people. I don't want to mislead them by imaging that I know more than I do. Once I feel a bit more confident, I will be really happy to offer what I hope will be helpful commentaries for others. We also have to use yet another new software application for the group. It will be really useful, but I always feel anxious that I might post something that has autocorrected itself into nonsense and then not be able to edit/delete it when using new software... If online wasn't permanent and unable to be erased, I would be a lot happier with interacting freely...
This has been another week of in-depth education as to structural necessities in preparation for a script.
Reading an excerpt from Robin Mukherjee's "The Art of Screenplays: A Writer's Guide" was so insightful. As a writer for high turnover episodes that are shot at speed, he takes numerous storylines, characters and themes to interviews and may only get hired to write a couple of them. He lets all the unworkable ideas go and develops what the Director chooses. He is not precious about his creations because he recognizes that all the characters must be woven together carefully to enable an episode to keep the audience’s interest and to flow well.
Also, he really researches his story lines by being in the location for the drama. He sees the things that happen there, soaks up the atmosphere, notices minutiae and realises the effect of the location upon the people who work, stay or reside there. For example, he has written a lot of hospital narratives and is contracted to develop short stories that characters are experiencing each week (some just for one episode, others who are regular characters) that can all be woven together into an overarching theme. Writing at speed, under pressure really means that research on the spot gets you immersed in the atmosphere that you want to recreate. Then the essential thing is to use all the writing structures for writing episodes to get them out quickly and effectively.
It is a real eye opener to see how being in situ can create atmosphere and authenticity. Also, a large ‘take home’ from Robin’s work is that you need to have a lot of ideas and not be stuck on any of them, because they are serving an overall theme and collective narrative arching over many episodes. Sometimes a character and their story will be re-invented so many times that it will not resemble the starting idea by the end of its transformation. And that’s fine. In fact, that’s great. It’s the art of ‘letting go’ applied to greater overall effect.
Looking into how to write a treatment and then applying that to the narrative that I have been developing for a short film was extremely helpful. The premise, outline and treatment all highlight areas that really need attention before I even start the dialogue. They give me the opportunity to amend or delete any scenes that are unnecessary and help me to check the continuity of storylines for each character and the overall arc of the film. It's like suddenly being given a wardrobe with shelves and hangars to house my clothing where before I only had a single line of string and pegs to arrange everything on. Suddenly I can be clear in my overview and adhere to succinct and effective structural practices.
Once the structures are used, the depth comes from the dialogue and the choices that the characters take.
We have also taken a deep dive into how to give not only the whole film A and B stories, but also each significant character. Change is the most essential part of the character’s journey- what they do with the opportunity to change will decide whether their story becomes a tragedy or a success.
The A story of either the film or a character is more to do with action and scenatic development, driving the theme to its conclusion.
But the B story is all about the characters, their family interactions, what they care about, stand for and draw motivation from. The B story can surprise us, by showing a character’s complexity and depth. Think of the sentient robots in “Blade Runner”, whose care for each other is just as strong as their A story desire to keep living. They come across as having more humanity than most of the people in the narrative.
The A story for the film and the characters is the skeleton, the bones, and the B stories are the flesh.
From 1900 to now... this week has been a wake-up call as to the place a screen writer takes, both historically and nowadays. We might provide the blueprint narrative, but the director will stamp their own creative personality on our work and the producer will always be looking for product placement opportunities.
Above: Al Cabone - Movie Producer extraordinaire.
Starting a blog as I navigate an MA is all new to me. I am generally a really private person with an 'under-the-radar' online presence, so please delight in spotting my awkwardness at sharing all the tricky moments my course will put me through! As all irritating restauranteurs say nowadays: