Pure

• Necessary for promotion

• Immense costs

• Waste of taxpayer's money

• Used by the military

• Research one field, open up another

In trying to figure out what's in a film, I work on the premise that there are no bad ideas. So I brain storm; I pour all and everything out on paper. Your task after that is to winnow out your ideas, concentrating only on those you deem of major importance. In the process, some great ideas will be thrown out, but that can't be helped. From the list above, perhaps only three ideas will find their way into the script. But ideas are never considered in the abstract. You should also be considering "characters" for your film. These are people whose lives, actions, and behavior illustrate the affect of ideas on human action. Thus, in The Berkeley Rebels, the university is portrayed as a center of political activity, illustrated in the film through the story of Mike.

At this point, it is useful to keep your audience in mind. Will they be interested in or able to understand all the issues you want to deal with? How much detail should you provide on each idea? Should you go into depth? Many executives in the American networks tend to believe their audiences are idiots who are capable of understanding only a few ideas, and those only if they are presented in the most superficial way. I disagree. I think most audiences can quickly grasp a great number of ideas, even complex ones, provided the film is attractively made.

It is also useful to remind yourself at this stage that no matter how many ideas you have, there must be one binding thread running through the film. Often this idea will be framed in the form of a question that the film will attempt to answer. Are universities good or bad for the country? Has Clinton been misjudged by history? Was the Gulf War necessary? Was Irving Berlin the greatest popular composer of the century? Who was the real Hemingway? Does this sound familiar? It should: This statement of the main idea was the first thing you did when you wrote out your proposal all those months ago.

Having decided on the main ideas, the next task is to arrange them into logical blocks or sequences that lead easily and naturally from one to the other. By sequence we mean a series of shots joined by some common elements — a series of ideas, a visual setting, a series of actions, a musical motif—that make one or more specific points. The shots in a sequence may be unified by the following:

• A central idea: We see children playing football in a park; a woman throwing a javelin; a professional baseball game; a wrestling match. The sports motif is the obvious unifying element, but the central idea that the writer wants to make might be that sport originates from war.

• Setting: We see the Rocky Mountains; tremendous mountains; waterfalls and streams; immense forests; impenetrable jungles. Here, the common element is the setting and the grandeur of nature.

• Action: A student leaves her house, goes to the university, greets her friends, has coffee, then finally enters class. All the actions up to the class entry have a certain unity; a classroom shot would probably begin a different sequence

• Mood: War has begun. Tanks are advancing. Women are weeping. Destroyed buildings are seen in silhouette. Men are talking in groups. A small boy wanders forlornly along a street. Here, the binding element is not just the start of war (idea) but also the gray, bleak mood of the people and the setting.

Obviously, there are more categories, and they overlap considerably. Ideas, actions, setting, central characters, mood — all these things may join together to unify a sequence. Another way of looking at it is to think of groups of ideas, images, character actions, and information that suggest a totality, a unified block. This will give you the sequence, and later you can see where the sequence fits into the whole. You must continually ask yourself these questions:

• What is the point I want to make in this sequence?

• What are my characters or participants doing?

• How will sound—whether music, dialogue, effects, or commentary—help make the sequence more effective?

In practice, in an essay or historical film, you will probably be using your narration to unify the sequences and show the viewer where you want to put your emphasis. In a cinema verite or observational dialogue-guided film, ordering sequences can be much harder (those problems are discussed later in the book).

When you start thinking about putting your sequences in some kind of order, keep two points in mind. First, remember that there is a tremendous difference between film logic and mathematical logic. The former is much more elusive, emotional, and insubstantial. It is a logic that is often felt through the gut rather than through the head. I recently saw a film about the world-famous cellist Jacqueline du Pré, who died very young. The writer director might have started the picture with du Pré triumphant in concert and then gone back to her childhood. Instead, the film opens with Elgar's cello concerto being heard over soft, warm shots of autumn, with views of the sun sparkling through red and orange leaves. The director had opted for a gentle, poetic opening, and it worked, even though the real entry into the subject was somewhat delayed. The second point to keep in mind is that the progressive logic of the ideas has to parallel the visual and emotional development of the film. Emphasis on one at the expense of the others can ruin the film.

The simplest and most natural ordering of ideas is chronological, but one might also want to consider a spatial development. The main thing is to find an order that gives a sense of growth. In his excellent book Film Scriptwriting, Dwight Swain suggests thinking about movement from the simple to the complex, from the specific to the general, from the familiar to the unfamiliar, from problem to solution, or from cause to effect. The important thing is the suggestion or illusion of inevitability, of natural movement.

The chronological progression is the oldest form of storytelling. It is the most frequently used method because it satisfies our natural curiosity to see what happens next. If we are introduced to a gifted child, we want to know what becomes of that child in adulthood, or what becomes of Philly when he goes out on his own in Best Boy. We want to know what happens when the sheltered girl who has been confined to her family circle takes her first room alone. We want to see the nun in the cloister, then follow her progress when she gives up her vows and returns to the secular world. Jon Else's Academy Award-winning film, The Day after Trinity, tells the story of Robert Oppenheimer and the events leading to the creation of the atomic bomb. The basis is the simple chronological story of Oppenheimer's life from childhood to maturity to the supervision of the Los Alamos atomic project. Similarly, Don Pennebaker's Jane starts with Jane Fonda arriving for her first Broadway rehearsal and concludes with the arrival of the reviews after the disastrous opening night.

In Tongues Untied, one of the most moving films ever made to deal with racism and personal identity, Marlon Riggs digs deep into himself to chart his gradual discovery of his own homosexuality. This progression is confronted by hostility on all sides, till a young white boy shows him that love and feeling can overcome racial barriers. The film is about evolution, both political and sexual, and is quite simply a superb human document.

Another progression is the crisis, conflict, and resolution structure discussed earlier in reference to The Chair. At first glance, this progression looks similar to the chronological structure, hut there are quite a few differences. For example, one of the familiar strategies of the chronological film is to show the development of character or the growth of a career in politics, business, or the arts, such as that of Oppenheimer in The Day after Trinity. The same may happen in a conflict documentary, but in the latter case, we are generally more interested in the conflict resolution than in the character change.

The action in The Chair takes place over five days; time passes, but there is no character change. Instead, the tension concerning Paul's fate propels the film forward. Will he live or die? We are waiting for the answer. In Mooney versus Fowler, by James Lipscomb, we follow the lives of two extrovert football coaches and the struggle between their two teams for the local championship. Once the game is over and the conflict resolved, the film ends.

A good example of another film based on the progression of a fight is the BBC film Whose House Is It Anyway? In England, most people cherish the myth that their home is their castle, sacred and inviolable. But evidently it isn't. If the local council has a good reason for wanting a house, it's theirs. Billy and Gordon Howard had owned and lived in Rose Cottage for years, but one day, the local council placed a compulsory purchase order on the house and assumed ownership. The eccentric bachelor brothers, aged sixty-five and seventy-three, refused to recognize the validity of the purchase order, saying that they would not surrender their house to the bailiffs but would shoot them rather than give up their birthright. The conflict is established in the first few seconds of the film, and the next hour shows us the stages and progress of the fight. It is a subject that touches all of us, and we are immediately drawn into the film, curious to see how the conflict will be resolved.

The chronological progression and the conflict progression are the two most common documentary threads, followed closely by the search motif, or the hunt for the solution of the mystery. Hence the popularity of the Discovery series, which investigated everything from the origins of the Dracula story to archaeologist Schliemann's search for Troy.

James Burke's series, Connections (mentioned previously), is really a variation on the search theme. Instead of filming a deliberate search, his aim is to show us how technological discovery is often achieved in the most unexpected ways. His films progress from surprise A to surprise B and so on. Watching the series is like watching a magician astonish an audience, pulling wonders out of a hat. Burke's secret is to stimulate our curiosity into following a strange series of technological changes. For amusement, I charted the progress of ideas in Burke's film about the invention of rocket propulsion:

1. The film opens. Burke stands in a modern factory and talks about the many uses of plastic.

2. This leads him to talk about plastic credit cards replacing money.

3. We now slip into a discussion of financial credit.

4. That subject takes us back to the fourteenth century. While the film shows us knights and ladies playing around in castle grounds, Burke tells us how the new idea of credit in those days helped finance the small army of the Duke of Burgundy.

5. Because of credit, the army can grow from a few thousand to sixty thousand—that is, credit allows bigger armies.

6. As armies grow, new weapons come into fashion. The pike is used in a new way, but then it gives way to the blunderbuss, which gives way to the musket. Then the pike joins the musket in the form of the bayonet.

7. We return to the idea of the ever-growing army, now two to three hundred thousand soldiers strong. But armies need food.

8. Armies like that of Napoleon grow so large that they cannot live off the countryside. They need food that can be eaten even if not fresh. This leads to the development of canning.

9. This in turn leads to ice-making machines, which in turn inspire the invention of chemical and gas refrigeration and refrigerators.

10. The growing emphasis on food preservation leads to the invention of the vacuum flask.

11. The principle of the vacuum flask allows gases to explode in a vacuum. Do this on a large scale and you have the invention of the German V-2 rocket by Werner von Braun.

One is a little staggered at the end of the film to find that food for armies has led to rocket propulsion. You wonder how the trick was done. The answer is the fascinating but "logical" thread of ideas that Burke has woven for the viewers.

The approximately eleven sections of Burke's film seem to lead inevitably from one to the other. I use the word seem because on close examination we can detect a terrific sleight of hand. But what do you do when the film has no superficial logic? The answer is to build up blocks of associated ideas, then segue smoothly, with the help of visuals and commentary, from one distinct section to another.

When I did a film about automobile accidents, I knew I wanted to concentrate on four things: the accidents as they happen, the reactions of the victims, the causes of accidents, and road engineering. There seemed to be no compelling arguments for placing one topic before another. So what were the reasons behind the final arrangement of the script?

I put road engineering first because it raised some interesting issues but lacked the emotional interests for a film climax. On the other hand, I thought I could get some highly moving and dramatic material on drivers that would work well toward the end. The section on cars would then slip into the middle. The script was written that way until I turned up some fascinating material on cars of the future that I thought would lead easily into the question of where we will go in the twenty-first century. That seemed a good way to end the film, so I reversed the sections on cars and drivers. The first and very rough draft of ideas and sequences was as follows:

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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