Case Study In Structure River Of Things

River of Things, a short film by Katharine and Mick Hurbis-Cherrier, is based on four poems by Pablo Neruda. The filmmakers present four odes based on the poems an Ode to Things, an Ode to the Spoon, an Ode to a Bar of Soap, and an Ode to the Table. The film is formally structured by these four odes. Not all are similar in length or tone. Ode to Things, for example, the most naturalistic of the four, is the only one to focus on a relation-ship of a married couple. It is also linear in its...

Case Study in Time

Phil Bertelson's Around the Time is an interview of a black father by his son. What Bertelson is exploring is actually the circumstances of his own birth. This encounter of young adult and middle-aged man is a meeting of two strangers. The conversation triggers the narration by the father of a time a generation earlier, of his relationship with a white woman, and of the racism of the times and the consequent impermanence of interracial relationships. The relationship fails, but the narrator...

Distinct Style

A style is effective when it helps the narrative it is trying to tell. A style is notable when there is an innovative, as opposed to derivative, feel to the energy it injects into the story. The consequence of the latter point is that experimental narrative works best for those who are innovative with their stories. Borrowed styles are obvious, and because the narrative content is often modest, the borrowed style fails to capture the audience it seeks. The consequence is that the shelf life of...

Few Words On The Writing Exercises In This Book

They are intended (1) as aids to freeing perception and imagination, (2) as explorations to be embarked upon without thought of evaluating results in the ordinary way, and (3) as finger exercises, to be used as warm-up for future scriptwriting. In doing them, don't concern yourself with grammar, spelling, or punctuation. To do so may inhibit the flow of images, associations, and vague, floating ideas that are the raw material from which good stories are made. If the work is being done in a...

First Assignment

Write brief descriptions, using the present tense, of two quite different main characters as they go about their lives. Be sure to choose characters that engage you and situations you know something about. End each description with an encounter or incident that would make for a change in the character's situation. Set up one synopsis as if for a short script in which you employ the journey structure, and the other for a screenplay in which you use the ritual occasion. At this point, don't...

Adapting A Myth Or Fairy Tale A First Example

One of the interesting things that becomes apparent on reading a number of myths whatever tribe or culture they come from is how soon after relating the birth of the cosmos storytellers found it necessary to introduce conflict. And no wonder Generation after generation, people looked about them and tried to make sense of what they had observed, what they knew from their own experience that human beings have needs and that these needs bring them into conflict with one another, as well as with...

And

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Another Story

THE BACKYARD OF A COUNTRY COTTAGE DAY THROUGH THE LIGHT WE SEE THE FRAME OF BRANCHES A SMALL COTTAGE WITH A LARGE PICTURE WINDOW. WE CAN SEE TWO LITTLE GIRLS PERCHED IN THE LOWER CORNER OF THE WINDOW. (whispering, after a long pause) I hate rain . . . 2. INT. LIVING ROOM OF COTTAGE DAY The rain is creating a HYPNOTIC RHYTHM on the roof. Two little girls are sitting on a cushion-padded bench with their elbows on the window sill. The taller girl is about seven years old with long blond hair...

Case Study in Character

Matt Mailer's The Money Shot chronicles a particular film project. The filmmaker is the central character. He is following two street kids, both teenagers in trouble. The film opens with the male subject confessing to killing people. He is charming but brutal and very candid about what he does. The female subject also lives a marginalized life alienated from her mother, she supports herself by prostitution, and she is a drug user. The filmmaker also interviews the young woman's mother and the...

Case Study in the Role of the Antagonist

Dead Letters Don't Die, by Anais Granofsky and Michael Swanhaus, is a modern fable about hope and hopelessness. The main character, a postal worker, is always hopeful. His boss, the woman he loves from her letters, and the Santa Claus character all represent urban cynicism. They fulfill the role of antagonist, not in the sense that the main character hates them, but rather in terms of the social and psychological attitude they represent. They have given up hope. The plot, the effort to save the...

Cast Study in Plot

Ethan Spigland's Strange Case of Balthazar Hyppolite tells the story of a film archivist who finds some rare film footage by the filmmaker Balthazar Hyppolite. The film predates the numerous technological discoveries that helped create the film industry. Consequently, it is footage of considerable historical importance. The balance of the film is devoted to searching and reconstructing the footage. In the second part of the film, the main character's love interest in a fellow archivist is...

Character Is the Vehicle

In melodrama, the main character provides the direct means to identify with the outcome of the narrative. In hyperdrama, identification with the main character is less important. The main character is only the means or vehicle for the narrative. Consequently, we experience the character more as an observer rather than the stronger role of participant. We view the main character's alienation and depression in Frankenheimer's Seconds, but do we feel deeply about his fate In a melodrama we would...

Dialogue And Character

It is in the specific details of dialogue that the writer develops credibility in his characters. Everyone is a member of a family, a community, a country. Speech patterns and phrases are often associated with particular communities. It's not simply a matter of dialect it's also the slang and the level of formality or informality that differs from one community to the next. The writer who has done research will know that. The members of the audience who know people who speak that way will...

Dialogue As Transition

Dialogue can be very useful in providing transitions between scenes. One of the problems the writer faces is the task of collapsing a story that may take place over a long time and in a number of geographical locations into a script less than 30 minutes long. Even the story of one day or one moment, as in the case of Enrico's Incident at Owl Creek, requires transitions to convince us of the dramatic use of time and place in the script. Changes of time and place occur in the original story, An...

Exercise Using Visual Images

X is your character, whoever he or she may turn out to be. Write down the following paragraph Dusk. Sound of soft rain. Fully dressed, X lies on the bed, gazing up at the ceiling. After a moment, X gets up slowly and crosses to the dresser against the opposite wall. Begin writing, stopping at the end of 10 minutes. Put the page aside without reading it. Take a couple of deep breaths and have a good stretch before going on to the next exercise. The writer director Ingmar Bergman has said in a...

Fifteenth Assignment Writing A First Draft

Consult our examples or the short screenplays in Appendix B for the appropriate format. Then, keeping your portfolio of exercises and assignments nearby and your outline at your elbow, begin writing. Remember that the first draft of any screenplay is an exploration the main thing is to get the story on paper so that you have something to revise. If you find it difficult to work at home, go to a caf if you find the word processor wearisome, go to pen or pencil if you find any or all of the...

Finding A Characters Voice

Here is part of another scene from Chinatown. Two characters talk in the scene, each with a very different way of speaking. If you haven't seen the film or read any of the drafts of the script, you won't know the context but you should be able to hear two very individual voices and to follow what is going on in a general way. (Note that Evelyn is called YOUNG WOMAN until she identifies herself this is a subterfuge used to make sure that the reader, like Gittes himself, doesn't anticipate the...

Format

The format that you use can emphasize the importance of the visual in your script. As discussed earlier, we suggest the widely used master scene format, an example of which follows 1. It is raining, a thunderstorm. A young man, Brad, walks to his mailbox. He opens the box with much anticipation. He opens it. The rain is falling like a sheet. He can barely read, but he notices the words pleased to offer you. He stuffs the letter into his pocket and begins to run. Mom Dad I'm in I'm in He runs...

Introduction

This book is primarily intended for film and video students or independent video- and filmmakers who are faced with the necessity of writing a short narrative script. For our purposes, we consider a short film to be one of 30 minutes or less, as films longer than that usually need a secondary, or minor, plot-line to sustain audience interest and, in addition, are much less likely to be eligible for festivals or suitable to be shown as portfolio work. Although our main focus is on the short...

Melodrama Is Adaptable to the Issues of the

One of the most notable qualities about melodrama is how the form can be used to embrace the key social, economic, and political issues of the day. When the downturn of coal mining was a central concern of British society, films such as John Ford's How Green Was My Valley and Carol Reed's The Stars Look Down were produced. Today, sexual abuse and incest, particularly concerning children, is a powerful issue. Films like John Smith's The Boys of St. Vincent, Angelica Huston's Bastard Out of...

More On Behavior Defining Character

In his treatise known as the Poetics, Aristotle defines dramatic action as the movement of spirit or psyche that produces a character's behavior. Film and theatre director Elia Kazan, in his notebook for A Streetcar Named Desire, remarks that finally directing consists of turning psychology into behavior. Substitute the word screenwriting for the word directing, and Kazan's statement would still hold true. A character's desires or needs, that movement of the psyche to which both Aristotle and...

More On Dialogue Strategies

Like every other dimension of the short film, dialogue has to be exercised with economy and purposefulness. There is no time for lengthy speeches or excessive exposition. Perhaps the most useful strategy with dialogue is to view it as another opportunity to further the emotional drive of your screen story. In this sense, dialogue should be as animated, intentional, and active as the visual dimension of your story. Consider dialogue as much a part of the action of the script as the visualized...

Nineteenth Assignment Getting Feedback

As the saying goes, discretion is often the better part of valor. It is wise not to use family or friends as your first readers unless they are screenwriters or filmmakers themselves. Most people are unfamiliar with screenplays, and do not know how to respond to such bare-bones writing. In some cases, friends and family may be taken aback by what your writing self has come up with. And they are (understandably) often more interested in you than in your script. It makes sense to show them a...

Ninth Assignment Finding A Myth Or Fairy Tale To Adapt

Find yourself at least two good collections of myths or fairy tales, and pick a tale you'd like to work on. After you've located it, make at least two photocopies of several versions of the story one to keep as a clean copy, the other to mark up as you work on your outline. In addition, photocopy any other material that interests you, such as illustrations or observations by the book's editor. At this point it is better to have too much material rather than too little, as you can't tell which...

Notes

Callie Khouri, symposium on Thelma and Louise, Writers Guild of America West, November 1991, unpublished. 2. Aristotle, Poetics, ed. Francis Fergusson, trans. and introduction by S. H. Butcher (New York Hill and Wang, 1961). 3. Callie Khouri, Thelma and Louise, unpublished screenplay. 4. Robert Towne, Chinatown, unpublished screenplay. 5. Christian Taylor, Lady in Waiting, unpublished screenplay. 6. Lisa Wood Shapiro, Another Story, unpublished screenplay. 7. Karyn Kusuma, Sleeping Beauties,...

Plot Is Critical

Consider the plot in hyperdrama as a lengthy journey wherein the main character will encounter many obstacles. The characters may succeed, or they may fail, but in one way or another, they will be transformed by the journey. In the Star Wars trilogy, the galaxy is the path that will take a son into a confrontation with his father. In Excalibur, the journey for Arthur is from a warring, barbaric origin (his birth) to an attempt to establish a just society (Camelot), where nobility and honor will...

Positioning The Character

In most forms of storytelling, there is a variety of options available to the storyteller as to the position of the main character in the story. A third-person position makes the character an observer a second-person position places the character in the role of guide throughout the story finally, the first-person position places the character in the middle of the narrative the story is happening to the character. In prose, poetry, the short story, long pieces of fiction, and plays, all of these...

Ritualized Tone

Just as hyperdrama uses ritualization of the action to create metaphor, experimental narrative uses the organization of the details, aural and visual, to develop a tone that creates metaphor. The tone may be poetic, as in Satyricon it may be beautifully mysterious and menacing, as in The Passenger it may be hallucinatory, as in The Double Life of Veronique it may be epic and inhumane, as in The Round-up. Whichever tone the filmmaker chooses, that tone will tend to have a formal quality that...

Sixteenth Assignment Toward A Second Draft

First of all, you will want to make several copies of your script. While it is possible to do the following work directly on the computer, using hard copy at this point could help distance you from your raw material. Find a time and place where you can read the script aloud to yourself, alone and without interruption. This should be done at a conversational pace and volume mumbling would defeat the purpose of the exercise. It is important, when reading, that you keep from judging or evaluating,...

Sixth Assignment More On Describing A Character

Read in their entirety the first three student scripts in Appendix B Another Story, Lady In Waiting, and Sleeping Beauties.7 Pay special attention to the way in which characters are described the first time you meet them. After you have read each script, go back to evaluate these descriptions. How well do they function, in light of what you now know of the character's behavior Is there particular information you weren't given about a character that would have been helpful If there is change or...

Sources For Storytelling

Whether your goal is a contemporary story, a story specific to a culture, or a more universal story, there are many sources of inspiration, information, or insight for you to draw from. Many writers and teachers of writing believe that the best source is your own experience. Our feeling is that your experience is only one of many sources. Should you choose your own experience for a story, the detailing of the story is clearly less problematic. The problem writers face with their own experience...

Storytelling In The Context Of Film

As we have established, film stories come from many sources. Anthony Green's Pigeon (included in Appendix A) is based on true World War II events. Looking at a number of films, we find stories such as George Miller's Lorenzo's Oil, based on newspaper accounts of real-life events (a parent's search for a scientific cure for her child's illness in spite of the medical establishment's pronouncement that her son is incurable). Other films are based on national figures such as James Hoffa (David...

Telling A Story In Images

The cinema is still a form of graphic art. Through its mediation, I write in pictures. . . . I show what others tell. In Orph e, for example, I do not narrate the passing through mirrors I show it, and in some manner, I prove it. Perhaps no aspect of film and video is more powerful in terms of narrative than the appearance of reality. Images on the screen have a validity, a weight of their own, in a way that words do not. What follows is an excerpt from the scene in Orpheus to which Cocteau...

The Comedy

The mockumentary is one particular comedic story frame the writer has other options to choose from, as well. Comedy runs the gamut from farce, which is principally visual, to more sophisticated forms, where character and dialogue are more important. If the idea is character oriented, what are the characteristics that lend themselves to comic opportunity If they are physical, the comedy is aimed at the character to put it another way, we laugh at the character. If the characteristics are more...

The Comic Character

The comic character and the tragic character are essentially mirror versions of one another. The comic character is, however, more flexible, in that the writer can employ irony through the character. The comic character will also allow you a range of feeling much broader than the tragic character will allow. For example, you can present the comic character as a clown who reflects on his or her behavior, or as a fool who can reflect on the behavior of those around him or her as well. Although...

The Current Situation

In North America, the short film continues to be an apprenticeship form. This means that it is predominantly viewed as a portfolio piece. Although festivals, cable television sales, and increasingly commercially sponsored competitions offer the young short filmmaker the opportunity to recoup some of his or her costs. Purely from an economic viewpoint, the short film is best viewed as an investment in the 'filmmaker's professional development. The lack of commercial potential remains the...

The Digital Video Movement

The technology advance of digital video offers a new opportunity for makers of the short film. Essentially, the technology will not contribute directly to the writing of a short film, but it will enable the writer-filmmaker to view the writing process as more malleable. To be specific, the fact that the writer can use digital video an inexpensive recording format to work with actors and to try out scenes, implies that such work, whether improvisational or scripted, can enhance the actual...

The Dramatic Arc

The journey that Oscar travels spans the 20-year history following World War I. It is a political history wherein Danzig is made a free state, neither German nor Polish. It is an uneasy state, because each minority identifies with its ethnic parent, whether it be Germany or Poland. As events shift and German nationalism becomes a force, brownshirts and swastikas begin to proliferate, and brutality toward Jews grows. War comes on September 1, 1939 the battle for the post office becomes the...

The Evolution Of The Short Film

At the outset of film being created as an art, all films were short. Indeed, until 1913, all films were 15 minutes long or less. Only after the Italian film epics had influenced D. W. Griffith to produce Judith of Bethulia did the longer form come to be the norm. Although feature film eventually became the predominant form, comedy shorts, from Mack Sennett to the Bowery Boys, were produced until the success of television in the 1950s. Serialized films were also essentially shorts, characterized...

The Experimental Narrative

Experimental narrative should not be confused with the more specifically non-narrative experimental film or video. The experimental film or video is often entirely taken up with an issue of style. In the extreme (in more than one Norman McLaren film, for example), the film can concern itself with the variations of movements of abstract lines or shapes. In McLaren's films, line or shape give a visual dimension to an abstract musical piece. The narrative intention is at best remote more often in...

The Fable

Fable, a term most used in the sense of a short story devised to convey some useful moral lesson, but often carrying with it associations of the marvelous or the mythical, and frequently employing animals as characters. Famous examples include Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels and George Orwell's Animal Farm.1 If your idea is best presented with the elements of moral lessons, the mythical, and animal characters, the fable can transport your idea from the realistic to the fantastic. Although...

The Importance of Research

It should be clear by this point that the writer not only must have a clear understanding of the craft of writing, but also should be a student of human behavior. To understand behavior is to be able to use action purposefully in a story. We are not suggesting that you rush off and do a Ph.D. in psychology. We are, however, suggesting that you become curious about human behavior. We recommend that you make notes and observations of behavior. When you observe a young child pinching a dog,...

The Importance Of Seeking Creative Solutions

It is very easy for writers to rely on mechanical solutions to narrative problems. Transforming an idea into a script means attending to dramatic principles and forms however, too often the writer unwittingly falls into the trap of taking the path of least resistance the mechanically correct rather than the creatively desirable dramatic solution. In essence, avoiding mechanical solutions means keeping your awareness of, excitement about, and commitment to the original idea in the forefront....

The Lady In Waiting

EARLY MORNING All is quiet as the first rays of sunlight hit FORTLEY MANOR. At the front gate is a large sign which reads Bartle and Johnson of London announce the sale of Fortley Manor, an extensive country estate. Across the bottom is plastered SOLD. Large rooms lie empty of furniture, everything is spartan and clean, and nothing moves save the morning light that gradually increases throughout the building. A distant RUSTLING is heard. A pair of woman's hands sifts through...

The Main Character and His Goal

Oscar is a young boy born at the end of World War I in the contested Baltic area of Danzig. Part German and part Polish, the zone is neither and both. These national tensions are represented in Oscar's paternity. His mother loves two men, one Polish and the other German. One of the two is his real father, but Oscar doesn't know which. Growing up in this confused familial and national environment, Oscar decides at age three to stop growing. He only gives up this goal after the end of World War...

The Mockumentary

Ever since This Is Spinal Tap, student films about performance, filmmaking, writing, and music have relied on the hybrid form loosely called the mock-umentary. This is a form that both evokes realism and pokes fun at it. Not quite as intense as the satire, the mockumentary criticizes gently the subject of the film, which is often the media as it interacts with, and often creates, a star. In this sense, the mockumentary is a self-reflexive and self-critical form, as the mock in the word...

The Morality Tale

The morality tale is an allegorical story whose intention, like that of the fable, is to take a position on an issue. The goal of the morality tale is to offer a life lesson to those who would veer in another direction. The key difference between the morality tale and the fable is the use of human beings rather than animals in the story. If your idea lends itself to allegory and seems to serve as a life lesson for a particular group adolescents, young women, elderly men the morality tale could...

The Parallels In Documentary

The documentary shares with the short film its noncommercial history. Consequently, each uses a broader band of actual and potential material. In part it also characterizes each as a less expensive and thus more available form of expression. The two forms also share an important goal the deep desire to say something, to affect their audience. That conviction to affect the audience is enabled by the relationship each form has to voice. As mentioned earlier, the link of the short film to metaphor...

The Relationship Of Long To Short Film

The usual long-form, or feature-length film, has a definite set of qualities beyond its physical length. There are particular expectations of character, complexity of plot, presence of a subplot or secondary story line, and a particular structure (generally called a three-act structure). There are numerous secondary characters, and often particular genre forms are used, such as the gangster film or film noir. Are the characteristics of the short film variations of those of the long film In most...

The Shape Of This Book

We have structured this book into four sections, the first dealing with the underlying fundamental characteristics of the short screenplay the second moving the writer from the fundamentals to strategies for storytelling, visualization, dramatization, character, and dialogue the third dealing with forming the story and the last pointing out future directions. Since the process of writing the short film should be an organic one, we begin with the idea and move the writer through the various...

The Short Short Filmthe Commercial

The obvious characteristic about the commercial is how little time there is to tell a story. Nevertheless, there is character and plot in many 30-, 60-, or 90-second commercials. Several characteristics of these have had considerable influence on the short film. Foremost of these characteristics is that the commercial needs to find a visual solution to character and to plot. In addition, the style must be strong but simple, and it has to observe the economy of the narrative. Another influence...

The Structure of the Plot Is Rife with Ritual

Plot in hyperdrama tends to differ from the deployment of plot in the war film, which is typically realistic. Indeed, the plot in hyperdrama has a very different rhythm from plot in other genres it is ritualistic and formal rather than realistic or familiar. Some examples will illustrate the point. Battles between good and evil, whether in Star Wars or Excalibur, tend to be for-mal in Excalibur, they are orchestrated to the music of Wagner. Those battles, in their details, veer from realism...

The Wounding

A girl's hand comes in and out of frame. They have to set up the table for dinner. His parents are going to come home after they come back from the movies. Well, what are we having for dinner tonight Chicken, ham. No, put the chicken over here. Dad likes the chicken. Dessert of course. And a beer. Oh tomorrow's his birthday. He's going to have a birthday present. Oh look, the kitty cat the kitty's obviously going to try and eat it. Chicken yeah. It doesn't look like he's eating it though. Well,...

Thirteenth Assignment Getting Started Again

In this assignment, you will be following procedures outlined earlier for adapting material gathered about a folktale or myth into the dramatic structure of a script outline first, making several photocopies of your letter, then marking off in different colors on one of these (1) the events, images, and remarks on characters or settings that seem essential, including descriptions of the main character's thoughts or feelings, where important (2) any other material that you are likely to use and,...

Three Visual Openings

What follows are detailed accounts of the openings of three short films regarded as classics. Each uses little or no dialogue and no voice-over, although their sound tracks play important roles in establishing mood and tone. Note that these are not excerpts from the screenplays but simply descriptions of scenes from the finished films. In Incident at Owl Creek (Robert Enrico, 1962), the following sign is prominently placed on a burnt tree trunk CAUGHT INTERFERING WITH THE RAILROAD BRIDGES...

Tone Is Formal and Fantastic

The tone of hyperdrama has to embrace both the ritualistic and the fantastic the opposite of realism. Even the poetic tone of the Western is insufficient to capture the tone in hyperdrama. Hyperdrama is a form that simulates the children's fairy tale, and as such it has to be filled with an excess (without the pejorative connotations of the word) that embraces the fantastic. Operatic is a description that comes to mind florid is another. The key is essentially an over-the-top tone that allows a...

Tone

Fantastic is the first observation one makes about the tone of this film. Events are extreme. A woman hides a man from the police beneath her expansive four skirts. While she is being questioned by the police in the middle of a potato field, he impregnates her. Later a birth canal is observed by the child who is to be born. Three years later, the main character decides to grow no longer. All these events are fantastic, beyond belief, and yet together they set the moral parameters of this story....

Twelfth Assignment Revising Your Dialogue

Read your answers to the seven questions from Exercise 2 about your dialogue sequence and then the scene itself. Try to figure out what is going on between the characters and what each of their inner (or dramatic) actions is, or seems to be. If this is unclear, come to a determination of what actions would make the scene work as you would like it to. (The initial four lines given were intended to suggest conflict.) If you want to extend the scene, do so now. Think about any other changes you...

Twentieth Assignment Toward A Third Draft

After you've mulled over the comments and suggestions of your readers and decided which of them make sense to you, it's time to go on to your third draft, using some of the techniques for revising you have learned, or just plunging in. When you have completed this draft, it probably would prove helpful to hear your script read by others either in a workshop or in an invited reading for a small informed audience. In such a reading, your actors sit up front at a table facing the audience, while...

Use Structure to Meet the Needs of the Story

Structure is the servant of story, although much that has been written about screenwriting these past two decades might lead you to believe otherwise. The key to story is character its nature, its dilemma, and above all its goal. If you know these, the structural options become clearer. In melodrama, the key structural layer is the character layer, the background story. If you use this layer and triangulate the key relationships quite early in the story, you will have used structure well. Act I...

What The Images Tell Us About The Main Characters Situations

In Incident at Owl Creek, we read the sign and hear the roll of drums, the hoot of an owl, and a bugle call before we glimpse the main character. Each of these sounds acts as a powerful stimulus to the forming of mental images. Together, they provide us with important information and set a tone of foreboding that will quickly be justified. We hear the owl and realize that although there is faint light and it is growing brighter, it is still (technically) night and executions traditionally take...

Who Is the Protagonist

Before considering this question, it is important to note once more that most short films or tapes work best with a single protagonist there simply is not enough time for an audience to identify with more than one. The exception is with certain kinds of comedy slapstick, parody, or satire, for example where a writer may not want the audience to identify with the main character but to maintain a psychological distance from all the characters. (Think of how one views W. C. Fields, the Marx...

Short Short Screenplays

New to this edition we have included three short screenplays that are 8 minutes long or less. A great deal of feedback prompted us to pose the question, How long is a short film Our point in including these three screenplays is to suggest a wider view of the short screenplay. In fact, screenplays in this category can run as short as 90, 60, or even 30 seconds. However, since we wanted to focus on the apprentice-early filmmaker categories, we excluded the commercial. Of the three screenplays,...

The Opportunity For Renewal

Who would have thought that Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee, who began their careers as student filmmakers, would return to the short film mid-career BMW hired each filmmaker to make a short film about his car that would be shown on its website. The films have been so successful that at least one has been released in select cinemas and the series is available for purchase on DVD. Scorsese had returned earlier to the short form to make the Michael Jackson music video Bad for the album 'Thriller....

The Catalytic Event

Oscar's birth is the catalytic event of the narrative. In the birth canal, he appears already fully formed, with knowing eyes, the same size he will be when he makes his fateful decision to stop growing. He is thus presented at birth with a sense of seeing and knowing that one does not associate with a newborn child. This presentation makes credible the act of will that marks the end of his growth. It also positions Oscar as the perennial observer rather than participant in the events that...

Case Study In Tone Eclipse

Jason Ruscio's Eclipse 1995 is a short film that provides a powerful experience in tone. Set in an unspecified time and place, the only live character is a young boy, age 12 or 13. Through the course of the narrative, there are a series of flashbacks that tell us he is the sole survivor of a massacre. His mother was killed by soldiers. Now, as he surveys the farm where he lived, he sits by the pit where his mother died and finds a dead soldier. Holding the soldier's gun, he fantasizes about...

Another Example Of Screenplay Shorthand

Screenwriter Robert Towne has a distinctive, ironic, and rather leisurely descriptive style. Nonetheless, he condenses a great deal of information into a few lines on this first page of a late draft of Chinatown. The script opens with close-ups of a series of snapshots of a man and woman making love. These visuals are accompanied by the sound of anguished moans and a male voice crying out, Oh, no At this point, we cut to the following scene CURLY drops the photos on Gittes' desk. Curly towers...

Using Sound As Metaphor

The sound of a ticking clock in a scene may be simply part of ambient sound, or, as in High Noon, serve as a metaphor for the passage of time, bringing the hero inexorably closer to a showdown he does not want. Sometimes the long wail of a locomotive reminds us that our character lives near railroad tracks sometimes it serves as a metaphor for a character's yearnings to escape the confines of his or her life. Sound used as metaphor can create a whole dimension of meaning not immediately...

Exercise Dialogue As Action

Write down the following dialogue, in format or not, as you choose. As soon as you have the lines on paper, begin writing further lines, or even physical actions of the characters, as fast as you can, without worrying about exposition or concerning yourself as to whether or not any of it makes sense. Write for 10 minutes and stop. Immediately afterward, ask your characters the questions from Exercise 2 see page 29 and write down the answers. The answers will establish the context for your...

Examples Of The Journey Structure

Two award-winning student shorts from New York University that use this structure to very different ends are Going to Work in the Morning from Brooklyn, written and directed by Phillip Messina, and Champion, written and directed by Jeffrey D. Brown. Going to Work in the Morning from Brooklyn tells the story of a man who absolutely does not want to go to work, although he knows he must. We follow him in his anguished, comical struggle to get out of bed, into a suit and tie, out the door, and...

Examples From Student Scripts

Here is a description of the protagonist of Christian Taylor's Lady in Waiting, a ritual occasion script, the first time we see her INT. A sticker is placed on the box which reads AUCTION. There is a sigh from the owner of the hands, MISS PEACH. Miss Peach is a grey-haired, formal-looking woman in her late fifties. She sits awkwardly on a suitcase in the middle of the dining room, which is bare of furniture Miss Peach is conservatively dressed in a drab woolen coat and unassuming hat.5 Beyond...

The Nonlinear Film

Another directional influence on the short film is the nonlinear film. The nonlinear feature film that I refer to takes two forms the structural nonlinear film, such as Anderson's Magnolia and Egoyan's Exotica or the pseudo nonlinear film, such as Stone's Natural Born Killers. The latter is in fact a loose narrative that employs the MTV style to shape individual scenes. The latter also has a more clearly linear shape in that there is a resolution of sorts. The nonlinear film is marked by a...

The Ritual Occasion

The ritual occasion is another general shaping form, but it is less open-ended than the journey. Using this shape emphasizes a particular happening. It also has implications, particularly for the character either the character will achieve greatly or fail greatly in the course of the event. One of the benefits of using the ritual occasion as a shaping device is that it concentrates the drama of the story, creating a useful intensity and a natural rise to the story. Once you determine how you...

Finding a Structure

One observable aspect of the experimental narrative is that no two structures are alike. We can say the story tends to be nonlinear, but beyond that, few structures resemble one another. There are shaping devices A tourist from Japan comes to Hong Kong. What will he find Can he relate to the Chinese He finds a Chinese girl, and they strike up a relationship. That relationship is unpredictable. They must use English to communicate rather than their own language. In the above example, the...

Case Study In Character Sleeping Beauties

In Karyn Kusama's Sleeping Beauties reprinted in Appendix B , two adolescent sisters prepare for bed. They smoke a cigarette and share a fantasy about a young man on a motorbike who will come and take them away. They go to sleep. They hold hands, thereby acknowledging the love between them. Such a motorcycle rider actually does appear, and the dominant sister decides that the more modest sister should join him. She does so. The one who is left behind feels abandoned. Her sister returns. They...

The Process Of Visualization

The first step in visualization is to consider the way you tell your story. We suggest that telling a story in the present is more effective than a retrospective approach. Presenting a story so that it seems to be occurring as we are watching it, gives the story immediacy and energy and puts the writer in the strongest position to direct the way the story will take place. Telling the story retrospectively means telling it in the past tense, therefore making it more distant. Telling the story in...

Dialogue As Dramatic Action Text Subtext And Context

In art, as in life, gesture and speech have to be seen or heard in context in order to be fully understood. Someone may say, Come in, and close the door after you, in a manner that implies a request for privacy, suggests wonderful things to follow, or threatens your physical well-being. In order to grasp the subtext of a particular line or gesture in any script the text that is, in order to grasp its underlying or implicit meaning we need to place it in proper context, to examine that line or...