storyboarding p2

Storyboarding

Once you’ve written your script, and you’ve finalised everything. You can then use storyboards to help establish key shots in your film. It’s just a set of illustrations from key points in your story. You shouldn’t disregard this procedure, as it’s used by even major Hollywood features use storyboards as seen below with a storyboard sequence taken from the Matrix.

Storyboards although are mostly just drawings, which don’t necessarily have to be done by a professional illustrator. The technological advancements now have provided software that enables us to create storyboards on our computer.

Hitchcock Demo from cinemek / Hitchcock on Vimeo.

http://www.powerproduction.com/

http://www.toonboom.com/products/storyboardpro/

The Syndicate (1st Draft)

THE SYNDICATE

This is the first draft of my script. As I had said in an earlier post, it’s only a first draft so it’s not the finished article. Far from it.

‘The first draft of anything is shit’ — Ernest Hemingway – taken from STORY by Robert McKee pg315

I found this video on YouTube, which is quite good. It has some interesting points about some of the topics I’ve already mentioned in earlier posts.

SCRIPT INDEX CARDS

“he confines himself to a few stacks of cards for months on end for this critical reason: He wants to destroy his work. Taste and experience tell him that 90% of everything he writes, regardless of genius, is mediocre at best. In his patient search for quality , he must create far more material than he can use, then destroy it. He may sketch a scene a dozen different ways before finally throwing the idea of the scene out of the outline. He may destroy sequences, whole acts. A writer secure in his talent knows there’s no limit to what he can create, and so he trashes everything less than his best on a quest for a gem-quality story” — page 413 — STORY, Substance. Structure, Style and the principles of screenwriting

A lot of people rush to writing a script once they have loosely touched up on their ideas.

Robert McKee had taught us to get three pages, and spend some time working on all three acts. 90% of work we all do is going to be crap. It’s all about the re-writes and the refinement, where we find the 10% of excellence. Most professional writers spend up to four to six months working on these three pages. This is because if you can’t make it work, then at least you can throw away these pages.

I know a friend of mine who has a first in English Literature. Whenever he attempts to write something, he always quits because he never plans his acts, characters or scenes.

Once you’ve got your three acts to make sense. Then you use index cards. Index cards utilize the practice that is employed by a lot of professional writers.

Two of my previous screenwriting tutors, Robert McKee and John Costello both mention this method in their respective books.

Index cards are those small cards, which we all perhaps used during exam revision times.

Each scene should be allocated an index card. On this card you should be including a few vital points.

*) Where the scene takes place? The best way is to write the scene header. For example INT. CLASSROOM – DAY

*) What happens in the scene? Visually – For example:

The teacher walks into the classroom, and throws his bags onto the desk

*) Lastly, you should include the scene objective. The objective means why you’ve included this scene.

For example – the students find out that the teacher knows they cheated.

Every scene should always be included to progress the story.  And these cards are a great way to help you make your story more coherent.

This is also a good way to avoid being re-written by someone else.

Lastly, another criticism that McKee and Costello both have of writers is how protective they are about their scenes. They decide to keep their favourite scenes, in re-writes without taking into consideration the context and meaning of the scene.

I have adopted this method for my own writing. Here is an example of it:

Although I use this method on actual writing card, the software we mentioned like Final Draft etc. usually incorporate these cards within their software.

http://www.mindola.com/snc/index.html

POWDER KEG – A short film by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu

ARISTOTLE’S POETICS

Aristotle’s poetics are some of the very first works that explain dramatic theory. He listed in order importance:

1] STORY

2] CHARACTER

3] IDEA

4] DIALOGUE

5] MUSIC

6] SPECTACLE

Robert McKee made an interesting observation in his seminar, where he asked his students to see how many movies do this today? And you’ll notice that most of them actually do it in reverse.

I feel this is true. Take most films that have been branded, as ‘Hollywood’ and it’s exactly this ‘style over substance’ mentality.

STRUCTURE

I would say that a lot of screenwriting has to do with structure. Below is a diagram which helps you structure your screenplay.

As you can see this timeline, shows you when certain events should occur on your script for a typical screenplay that is 90 minutes. However, we need to place this into a smaller context as we’re making short films. For example in a feature length film, if the inciting incident occurs ten minutes (or 20 minutes) into the film, on ours it would need to arrive about 1 minute or two minutes into the film. When you truncate this timeline you can make the narrative a lot stronger, and more engaging.

An example of the Inciting Incident can be seen in almost every Hollwyood film, which occurs a good example is in the film TERMINATOR – Sarah Connor, whilst working in a restaurant notices a TV report which states a few women have been murdered, each with the name Sarah Connor. She immediately checks the phone directory, which shows she’s next.

There is an example of what happens during each plot point on this timeline in a video I posted earlier titled SCRIPT STRUCTURE IN A NUTSHELL.

Influential Film-makers

I just want to share some of my favourite writers and directors, and how some of their work has influenced me. I also feel by watching their films and studying them, we can improve our own work.

ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ INARRITU

Shot to fame with his film Amores Perros, and  has won numerous awards. He has become renown with tackling fractured narratives, and some of his other works include 21 grams and more recently Babel. His work deals a lot with characters and drama within realism, and it’s a change from most of the usual mainstream films that are released. I like the real problems that he gives his characters, and captures and explores this with the realism. Whether it’s the couple in Babel that are grieving over the death of their child, or whether it’s the Benicio Del Toro character in 21 grams who struggles to overcome the horrific accident in which two children lost their lives. The impact and reaction that is evoked from his characters certainly makes it gripping, and memorable long after you’ve left the cinema. Incidentally, Alejandro has also made some short films which include POWDER KEG, and participated in a series of short films called 9/11

WHAT WE CAN LEARN: writing characters with realism

CHARLIE KAUFMAN

Charlie Kaufman is influential for a lot of screenwriters, because he’s so imaginative. ‘Being John Malkovich’ was a script that remained in the studios for years, but once it got made and received critical acclaim it paved the way for so many screenwriters to be imaginative. Charlie Kaufman’s other films include  Adaptation, in which he writes himself into the screenplay, and uses an imaginary twin brother to represent everything he dislikes within mainstream films. One of my favourites is ‘Eternal Sunshine of the spotless mind’ which won the Oscar for best screenplay, is inventive but manages to have a voice that says so much. For those of you who haven’t seen the film, it’s about Joel (Jim Carey) who finds out his girlfriend has erased all memories of him. So in return he decides to have the same procedure done to himself, however as each memory is being erased he decides he wants to keep some of the more personal memories. I liked the way it says you have to embrace your partner’s flaws. It’s a brilliant screenplay, and is available in most book-shops.

WHAT WE CAN LEARN: being inventive with concepts

CHRISTOPHER NOLAN

Christopher Nolan has a background in Literature, which has served him well in films. He has become one of the most sought after directors with films like  Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige and the Batman films. His films, despite being big budget studio productions are just brilliant, because they have great stories and great characters. One of my favourite films is The Prestige, because both the excellent characterisation. Alfred (Christian Bale) and Robert (Hugh Jackman) have the goal of being the best magician.

Alfred is an excellent magician, and his strength is that he’s a perfect craftsman. However, his flaw and weakness is that he’s a not a good showman, he can’t dress up his tricks and excite the audience.

Robert’s strength is that he’s an incredible showman, but he lacks being a craftsman and magician.

Also the way the plot is constructed beautifully flashing back and forth, giving point of view from both of the main characters perspective is excellent screenwriting.

An interesting point is that The Prestige is based on a novel by Christopher Priest, and therefore it’s an adaptation. I think in recent times it’s one of the only books where the author is happy with the film. Otherwise how many authors and writers do you see who are unhappy with the film.

WHAT WE CAN LEARN: big budget films often neglect stories and characters, but Christopher Nolan has recognised it as the fundamental element in all his films.

MY IDEAS / PREMISES

Some of the premises that I came up with included:

*) What happens when a dedicated hardworking graduate desperately searches for a job BUT has to overcome the global recession?

I wanted to try and draw on some of my own experiences, subjects and topics which I felt passionate about. I felt that this idea was a small subject which, was suitable for a short film and one that I could tackle with a lot of humour. It’s a serious issue for most young people, and I wanted to have small comedy moments throughout with interviews, cv’s, covering letters, ‘not having enough experience’ etc. I also felt that people would be able to relate to it.

*) What happens when a group of individuals stuck in a dead end job, win the lottery BUT each try to conn each other out of the winnings?

This idea came to me when I was working at an internet bank, where a group of people would collectively enter the weekly lottery. They would always dream about what they would do if they won, and it’s a question we all pose to each other. What would you do if you won the lottery? I felt that this would have been a good opportunity to explore characters that are going through financial difficulties but then win the lottery. However, that wouldn’t be a story, the drama would occur when they are friends but their greed overwhelms them. This premise excited me as a writer, and I felt it would be great to tackle this not only as a short film, but I could also just show the first act.

*) What happens when a struggling actor coincidentally shares a cab with a big director BUT only has ten minutes to sell himself?

I felt this idea would settle well within the context of a short film. This is why I highlighted the 10 minutes. Some screenwriters are often introduced with famous actors, directors and producers and therefore you will have to sell yourself.

However, this idea is placed a Chinese context, as I wanted to work with some of the Chinese students. I had thought of placing the director as the famous Wong Kar Wai. But I’ll see how I would tackle it.

*) What happens when a couple move into a new house BUT find it’s haunted?

This isn’t really an original idea, but I felt as a short film it would have been quite interesting to explore.

Act Structure

Act Structure is all about beginning, middle and end. To help summarise the act structure I want to take an example from John Costello’s book WRITING A SCREENPLAY. I have referenced this book before, and I’ll continue to do so as it’s so helpful for beginners.

The example says:

Act one is about getting your hero up a tree, act two is about throwing stones at him and act three is about bringing him down.

Of course this is not the limit, as all screenwriters should know. It’s hard enough to have major reversal’s in a story in three acts, but you get some talented writers like the late great Shakespeare who would have about five acts. Another talented writer who I studied was Lawrence Kasdan, who has become a iconic figure to most screenwriters. He has written films like Raiders of the lost ark, Body Heat and the Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back, where the reversals are done brilliantly.

1ST Act – is the setup. Get your hero up a tree

2ND Act – this is the conflict. Throw stones at your hero, make it difficult for him / her to achieve their goals

3RD Act – this is the climax and resolution. Get your hero to a happy ending, bring him down from the tree.