Focusing the Story

After you lay out your lists, try to focus your story. This means knowing what your story is about and where you are going with it. In most character stories, this is relatively easy, and you should be able to answer your question of story and focus in one or two sentences. For example:

Mountains of the Moon: This is about two men trying to find the sources of the Nile. Its focus is on their rivalry in the quest for fame.

Diana: Her True Story: This is about a young girl finding her inner strength as she battles both her husband and accepted social behavior in the British Royal Family.

The going gets rough in films dealing with issues, disasters, and public events. The story may have captured the headlines, but it can be murder trying to find out what the best story is for the TV or feature film. The only way out is to consider a number of possibilities and then focus on the most dramatic, interesting, and entertaining.

Let's look for example at the case of the Lockerbie air disaster. In 1988, a Pan American jumbo jet was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, resulting in the loss of more than 200 lives. The killers were thought to be Syrians or Libyans. As a result of Libya's refusal to hand over suspects, sanctions were imposed on the country by the United Nations. Millions of dollars were sought in compensation by the relatives of the victims.

Problem: What story would one pursue for television?

My writing students came up with various answers:

The lives of five victims before the tragedy

The assassins, the plot, and the getaway

The town of Lockerbie, before and after the disaster

The relatives versus Pan Am

The eventual film made on the bombing by HBO and Granada was called Why Lockerbie? Its scriptwriter, Michael Eaton, told me that at first he thought the film would be about the terror groups who made the bomb. As the research continued, he and his executive producer realized there was a second vital story, that of Pan Am and the increasing breakdown of its security measures. The film could then be shaped as two stories that eventually converge in the explosion and conflagration.

As Eaton put it:

It then became a story about two institutions — an international airline corporation and an international terrorist organisation.

And the way I wanted to tell the story was to look at those organi sations from the top to the bottom; from the boardroom top to the people who sit by the X-ray machines; from the people who go round the world looking for sponsorship for acts of terror down to the soldiers who carry the bags with the bombs.

So what the film would be was a juxtaposition between the way the two organisations work. And the chill of the story is that in many ways they are not too dissimilar. (Alan Rosenthal, Writing Docudrama, [Boston: Focal Press, 1994])

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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