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It has been a tense week... a tense couple of weeks, in fact, because it has been time to write, collate and submit the reflective essay and portfolio for module 1. Whilst I really enjoyed putting the portfolio together, the essay proved less inspiring.
The portfolio was a showcase of preparatory documents coupled with the short film script that I have been working on over the module. It was fun to create, write and even to precis down until it fitted in the word count- I love a challenge.
However, the essay was unlike any other essay I have written before. Normally, anything self-reflective that I have to write will be jovial and often self-deprecating. If I need to write an academic essay, it would be in the 3rd person and from an objective standpoint, using references as needed. But... the reflective essay wants you to write about yourself (see- I am avoiding that now, even when I describe it!!!), but in an academic way and whilst using references.
Hmmmm... that was new. It was uncomfortable to write in the first person for me. I am used to hiding... especially since I became disabled and could no longer work in the 2 industries that I loved so much... I often do not feel comfortable in being visible now, because there is the expectation that I need to explain myself / my illnesses / my orthotics, etc, etc and, to be honest, I just want to keep my mind focused on the positive and creative things in my life... not fussing about other people's nosiness and discomfort. So, I am 'sooooo over' general self-reflection because I have had to do so much. I am 'soooooo over' having surgeries- 94 in 5 years is enough already- and I am 'soooooooo over' being a moaning Minnie (or 'Myrtle' for Potter fans)!!!!!!!!!
So... I dug in, corrected every sneaky 3rd person into 1st person and told myself to just get on with it. So I did. And it's done- phew!
And now, I get to go back and do the 2 study block case studies that I had to put on hold because I needed to complete the assignments- YAYYYYY!!!!!
Back to life, back to creativity...
Showrunners and Head Writers lead the creation of TV shows, seasons and series and manage the writers and research, whilst liaising with directors and producers- they are at the epicentre of screen productions...
To be honest, the more I read about leading collaborations as a writer, the more it looks like being a really good Mum: organising the home, homework, work, out-of-school activities, whilst providing equal attention to each person's needs, diplomatically dispersing arguments and difficulties, problem-solving, event-producing, and cooking really good nourishing meals. I used to refer to myself as a 'professional Mum', because I put so much effort into doing all these things concurrently, respecting the individual needs of each person in order to create as harmonious whole as possible within the limitations of differing personalities.
To be a top Mum, you have to squash your own ego and work towards the good of all, not the desires of one. (Long live the musketeers: "All for one and one for all!")
Still under the paw!
To be honest, it's no surprise that I have only started this course once my Mum duties have reverted to holidays only... because I need my mind for me, not for organising everyone else and putting them first. I am not quite equal to the pets yet, but I am no longer at the bottom of my own mental agenda!
Next I have to start working on the final assessments for this module. I feel at home in the creative writing, but the academic referencing in essay writing is not exactly a natural skill and my days of having time to read, read and read a bit more, undisturbed, disappeared a long time ago- in fact, once I became a Mum! Which makes the reflective essay the hardest part of the module for me. Still, it is time to dig in and get on with it. See you on the other side...
This week it’s all about the writer’s statement…
At first, reading the statement from David Simons, who wrote “The Wire”, I felt unconfident about how to present the underlying themes for my own short film. Because it’s a short and has a limited length, I cannot interweave too many themes or have both A & B stories for anyone other than the protagonist- not even for the antagonist, let alone any other characters can get a role beyond moving the narrative forward. So, that made me feel that I had not done a good enough job with my short at first and then I remembered how many hours of footage each series of “The Wire” covered and I suddenly didn’t feel so intimidated! Of course, I didn’t have time to tackle “national existentialism”, unlike David Simons!
And so, I started to write away with ease until I realised thatthe statement has a word count to stick to… Oh dear… I now have an editing job on my hands to cut back down to the 500 I am allowed!
We also looked at Kickstarter projects this week and I really enjoyed noticing the factors that drew me to a project and alsoremarked what did not work for me. It’s tricky to pitch the project in a way that will excite a viewer and inspire them to join in and support the creative process to its fulfilment.
When trying to understand what makes us support a project, I felt that, whilst these factors would modify in content slightly for everyone, the basics will remain the same:
1. An engaging image
2. A succinct description that has an incomplete sentence so that my curiosity is piqued, and I end up clicking on the project to read more.
3. A different angle starting the description if it is a current event / popular theme being explored.
4. For big budgets: it needs celebrity endorsement or involvement to raise those funds and get the social media advertising out there.
5. For mid-range budgets, if there is no celebrity endorsement… split the project into stages that get unlocked as the previous one’s pledge and reward scheme is fulfilled.
6. Have social media campaigns on the way to the final month of pledging to drum up interest and financial support.
7. Choose subject matter that is popular / universal/ topical /revealing.
8. Be original, but not too peculiar! Unless your budget is really low and you don’t need many pledges, make sure it’s not too unusual to drum up any interest. (Once people know your work, you can experiment more).
9. Make a professional promotional advert to describe the process your project will undergo on the road to completion. It needs to be heavy on short clips and graphics, with only short text.
10. Ask for sharing on social media.
11. Have a ladder of rewards that fit the donation and create excitement in the project.
12. If you have worked in a professional industry relevant to the project, make sure that is shared- it instils confidence in the potential supporter.
Screenwriters can benefit from drumming up interest in their projects early, to show that they will be successful when finished. They can use it as a marketing tool, promoting it via people’s interest and their social media contacts. Also, if they don’t attract any support, the writer will know that they need change the way they are promoting the subject- change the poster and the blurb and see if that makes a difference and gains more interest. A screenwriter can also prove to producers that this is going to be a successful film and that it is worth backing because it already has an audience.
Interesting, isn’t it? It makes me feel like there is an algorithm for success in Kickstarter… and that we are all simply a bundle of algorithms, just waiting to light up connections when the right project hits our minds!
The challenges over these two weeks have mostly been with writing drafts of short films and posting them for feedback.
At first, having to post anything online for feedback has felt nerve-wracking. Questions keep rattling around my head such as : will anyone enjoy it? Is it badly written? Am I being foolish imagining I can do this? I know so little about the craft as yet, that I surely am making a right mess of everything...
So, all sorts of self-doubt has bubbled up for me to ignore and "JUST DO IT ANYWAY!"
I am not the most patient with myself. Self doubt wracks me daily, not that anyone would know because I am a mistress at masking it... and of masking most things, to be fair.
Whenever I feel overwhelmed by self doubt, I remember my youngest child, aged about 2, stood on an elevated bridge connecting 2 railway platforms, above the train tracks. He was desperate to watch the trains, but as they came near, screeching and belching smoke, he suddenly felt frightened and held the bannister hard and said, "Be brave, be brave" to himself... if a toddler can do that, so can I. So, with the words "be brave, be brave" in my head, I forced myself to post a one-page short swiftly, without allowing myself too much time to criticise the narrative and twist. Sometimes it's good not to over-think and to be more instinctive.
Then, the first feedback came in and it was so helpful and practical. Phew! So, I learnt, "don't fear the feedback". In fact, just welcome it.
So, in week 7, we had to post a draft of our 15 minute short, which I have done and again, received some really useful feedback (especially from armchair detective, Kat). Again, reinforcing the message, "don't fear the feedback". Feedback shows us the gaps in our narrative, any errors we have made (and these might just be typos) and makes us communicate the picture in a fuller way to the audience. It is useful, helpful and non-judgemental.
I am trying to give useful feedback for other people's work as well, but do feel that my skillset is not currently in how to write in Final Draft, more on how to write a paced storyline and characterisations... how helpful I might be, I am not sure, but I hope I am pointing out any discrepancies with kindness. A writer is very vulnerable posting fresh ideas, so it's important for me to feel that I am helping to build their confidence, not take it away. We are all different and will appeal to differing audiences: no narratives are irrelevant.
With that in mind, I have some more feedback to give, before I return to my own rough daft to work on before my tutoral.
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: