Dramatic Structure

The chief fault of films dealing with family relations is they often wander aimlessly, with little progression, pacing, or conclusion. I've indicated above that you need a good opening to put your film into orbit. But you have to follow up on the promise by delivering the goods. This means a good story, conflict, scenes that touch us and move us, and a conclusion and closure. Again, you will probably not be able to define any of these things when you begin your film. Your job is to disinter these elements as you progress and see that they are in place by the time the film is finished.

The most common type of family film is that structured in the form of a search. This could be a search for the meaning of a person's life (which is difficult to bring off) or a search for facts about a life. The second is easier to film because it is more tangible and because often it allows action as well recollection to drive the film.

In Sue Friedrich's The Ties That Bind, Friedrich explores both her relationship with her German mother and her own ties to the past. The question that haunts her is whether she has any ties that bind her to the Third Reich. This is the search that must be carried out, whatever the conclusion.

In Gimme a Kiss, we learn fairly early in the film that Lilly Rivlin's father was a philanderer. All that is common family knowledge. Rivlin, however, takes the drama further by trying to find out whether it is true that the father had an African-American mistress, and whether, as a consequence of the liaison, she has an unknown half-brother. This quest adds a terrific drive to the second part of the film.

Dean Liem's quest in First Person Plural is more complex. In her search for identity, she discovers that her true identity has been concealed by fake adoption papers. Further efforts, all documented in the film, then lead her to her true Korean mother. But the final search is to discover whether her allegiance is to her birth mother or to her adopted American parents. This leads to a moving climax in which both families have a very emotional meeting in Korea, talk about their feelings, and help settle Liem's dilemma once and for all.

The quest for self-knowledge, the need for reflection, the searing darts that burn the soul with reverberations of Who am I? Why am I? What shaped me? may be the hardest search, but a number of filmmakers, for example, Marlon Riggs, Sue Friedrich, and Jan Krawitz, have managed to bring it off.

Jan Krawitz's film In Harm's Way opens with a startling image. A building is suddenly blown up; for thirty seconds, it shatters, crumbles, and slowly disintegrates before our eyes. Over this shot, which seems to last for eternity, we hear Krawitz's voice defining the pain of her self-discovery:

For some, there is an event in our lives after which nothing will ever be the same. The ground shifts beneath your feet and you find yourself adrift on an ice floe . . . gazing at that other part of your life as it recedes into the distance. You contemplate the wreckage and realize that the original blueprint is lost forever.

The film then recounts that in 1985, Krawitz was sexually assaulted and almost strangled to death. It is a difficult and tremendously painful recollection that invites us all to question the pillars of our beliefs and fundamental assumptions.

Film Making

Film Making

If you have ever wanted the secrets to making your own film, here it is: Indy Film Insider Tips And Basics To Film Making. Have you ever wanted to make your own film? Is there a story you want to tell? You might even think that this is impossible. Studios make films, not the little guy. This is probably what you tell yourself. Do you watch films with more than a casual eye? You probably want to know how they were able to get perfect lighting in your favorite scene, or how to write a professional screenplay.

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