Case Study In Place Empire Of The Moon

Empire of the Moon, a short film by John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson (1991), is about Paris. The point of view is that of the tourist the tourist coming to Paris, the tourist discovering the mysterious beauty of Paris, its inscrutable quality. In order to capture the mystery of that beauty, the filmmakers use a mixture of documentary images and abstracted images parts of buildings, the light of the moon moving across tree-lined residential areas, the artificial lights of the tourist boats...

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...

Case Study in Tone

Geoffrey Mandel's Kill the Director is a mockumentary about film production, specifically student production. It uses interview techniques focusing on the director and his crew. The tale is one of continual failure. Crew members leave. The director feigns optimism, and artistic integrity above all is his goal, even in the nude scenes. Eventually, all the crew members and actors leave, and the director undresses and films himself as stand-in for the actor. A lamp falls on him and kills him. His...

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...

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...

Calling The Shots

The two most familiar types of camera shots in film are close-ups or long shots. Films are made up of disparate fragments of film, of which close-ups and long shots are but two types. Another would be the extreme long shot (or a camera motion shot dolly, tracking, trucking, stedicam, tilt, or pan). Having mentioned the visual variety of images in film, we must also state that determining shots is the prerogative of the film's director. What creative decisions, then, does this leave to the...

Case Studies in Tone

The tone of the short melodrama is usually realistic. Christian Taylor's The Lady in Waiting and Graham Justice's A Children's Story are each presented realistically. This means recognizable characters in recognizable situations. The result is a dramatic arc for the main character that does not veer from the expected. Having confirmed the expected tone of the genre, it's important to reaffirm that tone in the short film has a wider latitude than does tone in the long-form melodrama. Two...

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...

Characterization

The full range of physical and behavioral characteristics should be employed to develop your story. The physical looks of character can help. Height, weight, age, gender, together with cultural and professional characteristics, flesh out the look of a character. The more specific you can be about the character, the more likely those qualities can be helpful in your story. If your story concerns peer relationships, the emphasis on appearance becomes very important. Recall the young...

Characterization Strategies

Who is your story about Why have you chosen this person The answers to these key questions will go far toward helping you write your short script. The first impulse of writers of short films is not to spend much time on the characters. The thinking is that because you have less time, you therefore need less characterization. This is totally wrong. In fact, your short film relies principally on character. Unlike in the long film, there is little time to deal with the complexity of relationships,...

Concluding Remarks

In this chapter, we have suggested a variety of strategies regarding the uses of dialogue in the short film. Dialogue can be a highly charged expression of emotion, or it can be a vehicle for moderation in the story. But when in doubt about the use of dialogue, the writer can always rely less on it. If you set up the visual action and the interplay of characters, the drama will unfold with or without words. Many people are intimidated by writing words they think of Shakespeare and freeze when...

Conflict And Polarities

The central role of conflict in the development of your story cannot be overemphasized. Throughout your story, the struggle of character against character, character against setting, character against community, and character against society mines the dramatic possibilities. You should maximize those dramatic possibilities in order to tell your story. This may seem synthetic, mechanical, and forced, but it must be that way. Unlike real life, dramatic life relies on coincidence, intensification,...

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 And Plot

Dialogue marries character and plot, by demonstrating the emotional motivation of the characters, whether directly or indirectly. The writer articulates the characters' feelings through the particular goal in a scene. Once the writer determines that the scene's purpose is to suggest that the characters want to climb to the peak of a mountain, for example, or that they will wait endlessly for the Long Island commuter train, the central issue for the dialogue becomes clear how does the character...

Dialogue And Realism

Dialogue as sound is the most immediate device with which the writer creates a tone for the film. The writer can choose to use dialogue to convince viewers that what they are experiencing is real, or to undermine deliberately the film's sense of reality. In either case, dialogue is the most immediate vehicle to achieve these ends, but the writer has only a brief time to capitalize on that first impression. In order to deepen the impression of realism, the writer must flesh out and capitalize on...

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...

Dialogue To Intensify Tension

Just as dialogue is the expression of the emotions of the character in terms of arcing toward a goal, it is also the barometer of that arc as the character moves through a scene. Perhaps the best way to understand this notion is to consider that every scene has an arc from the point where we understand the character's goal to the point where the character either succeeds or fails in achieving that goal. In either case, the scene should be shaped by a growing anticipation of achieving the goal,...

Dialogue To Relieve Tension

Dialogue can be used equally effectively to relieve tension. The writer must keep in mind the arc of the tension as it builds throughout the scene. In order to reduce tension, the writer can employ humor at strategic points. Humor should not be as direct as a character suddenly stopping to tell a joke. Although this approach might work, it tends to take the viewer out of the scene. Relief of tension should keep us in the scene but simply drop the stress level of its characters. Humor is useful...

Drawing Out the Character

Writers may use several other devices to make a character more vivid for an audience. The quality most often used to engage us with the character is humor. Whether the character uses humor to deal with his or her situation or whether the humor arises from the character's response in a situation, humor plays a critical role. A second device is to allow the character to step out of his or her public self in an opportunity for private revelation. While the audience primarily sees the character in...

Eighteenth Assignment Cutting The Inessential

Raymond Chandler, in writing on screenwriting, said that the challenge . is to say much in a little and then take half of that little out and still preserve an effect of leisure and natural movement. Such a technique requires experiment and elimination. To do that, we suggest that you go through your script carefully and ruthlessly cut minor details, fancy writing, and anything that readers can figure out for themselves anything that doesn't seem essential. Be concise. Give us only the...

Exercise An Interview

You are going to conduct a friendly, imaginary interview with someone you know, or have known, well enough to have a good idea of how the person usually spends a day off. For obvious reasons, don't choose anyone you live with or are involved with, or anyone who would be uncomfortable being interviewed by you. Close your eyes and imagine this person in the room in which he or she would be most at ease talking to you. In your mind, explain that the interview is just a writing exercise in which...

Exercise Finding Characters

Go to a public place caf , park, train station, supermarket wherever you can watch someone who might engage you as a possible character without being noticed doing so. (Don't choose anyone you know.) Try to memorize quickly the person's appearance and general style then find a place where you can scribble down a list of items that seem characteristic or revealing about this person. Be as specific as you can where it seems important for instance, not glasses but big tortoise-shell glasses not...

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...

Exercise Writing A Letter

First, letting your mind run free, try to call up two or three painful incidents from your past, incidents in which you were essentially the protagonist. Take a few moments to reflect on each of these, dismissing any memories that still seem in process occasions that you can't recall without feelings of discomfort. Then choose a recollection to write about, even if you have to do so arbitrarily. Second, imagine that you are about to write a letter describing, and perhaps explaining, the...

Exterior Narration

An external or distant voice is useful when the writer wants to distance us from, or present an alternate view to, the visual drama. Many approaches can distance the viewer, but most often the writer will borrow from journalism and use an on-the-air narrator or offscreen voice. The purpose is not only to distance the viewer but also to lend an air of objectivity and credibility to the proceedings. If the drama is presented as reportage rather than fiction, the audience will develop a different...

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 Structure Ii

In long narrative films, there is time to develop plot as well as subplots, but in most short narratives, there is time only for a fairly simple story line, however complete the characters or experimental the approach. In order to care about what happens to the main character, we need to be engaged as early as possible. We need to see that character in the midst of life, however briefly, before the catalyst occurs, introducing or stimulating the main dramatic action. Basically, developing this...

For Your Script

First, reread the suggestions for writing story outlines in the previous chapter. Then, using both the results of the last few exercises and your marked-up copy of the original letter, make a bare-bones outline for the screenplay, no more than a page long. Put this away for a day or two while you reflect on the feeling the tone you want the material to express. When you are ready, look over the outline to see if you've taken a step toward introducing the character in his or her situation...

Framing The Story

The writer has a number of shapes or forms available to him or her to frame the story. Since this is the first important decision you make in directing the presentation of your idea, you should deliberate carefully about the frame. In the longer film, these shapes are referred to as genres the framing devices of the gangster film, melodrama, film noir or the horror film, and so forth. This device isn't as useful in the short film because many of these story forms are more attuned with a larger...

General Characteristics Nonlinearity

The key to experimental narrative is the desire to avoid conventional narrative. Conventional narrative is essentially a character-driven or plot-driven story with a beginning, middle, and end. In conventional narrative, the main character may or may not achieve his or her goal, but the drive to achieve the goal carries us through the story to a resolution. A nonlinear story may eschew a single main character, or a plot, or a resolution, or all of the above. In the experimental narrative, the...

How to Use Character

Since plot is not a factor in the experimental narrative, the use of character becomes very important. On one level, the writer must keep a playful attitude toward character. The man in Autumn Moon is depressed, and yet the way the writer-director works with him produces an appealing side to him. It is important that the female character is different from him in the story the larger the contrast, the better. In Autumn Moon, that character is a girl, 15 years old, as unspoiled as the man is...

Interior Narration

Interior narration is a private monologue on the events of the story. Perhaps it's easiest to think of it as a confession by the narrator to the viewer. Writers resort to interior dialogue to foster intimacy, deepen emotion, or offer revelations in the narrative. Some writers believe that a counterpoint of visual and voice strengthens both. For example, objective visuals can be undermined by a subjective narrator, or the interior voice can whisper an interpretation that clashes with the visuals...

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...

Issues of the

Because of the serious intent of the writer in hyperdrama, issues of the day have to be used in a particular way. An effective treatment is Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946). Heaven and angels seemed out of place in the immediate postwar period. But today, after 50 years, the Capra film is shown continually and celebrated. What the film suggests is that hyperdrama has to treat issues of the day in a more urgent manner than does melodrama. The treatment implies that meaning would be...

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...

Narration

Narration occurs more frequently in the short film than in the longer dramatic form. The most obvious reason is the best one there is too little time available to the writer to allow the action to develop on its own. Whether to frame the story or to establish the point of view toward the narrative events, writers of short films often will resort to a narrator. The narrator may be onscreen, like the grandmother in Lisa Shapiro's Another Story (the script is reprinted in Appendix B). Or the...

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...

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,...

On Revision Substance And Style

First drafts are for learning what your story or book is about. Revision is working with that knowledge to enlarge or enhance an idea, to re-form it. The first draft is the most uncertain where you need the guts, the ability to accept the unperfect until it is better.1 What is a draft For our purposes, a draft is a major rewrite of your script. In working on early drafts, try to avoid simply polishing, other than cutting long speeches or monologues. We will consider ways to hone your dialogue...

Or Her Goal

Plot in the melodrama is used in opposition to the main character and his or her goal. Since the role (that is, view) of the writer-director is the dominant presence in the docudrama, a parallel process goes on in the deployment of plot. Plot serves to illustrate, and make the case for, the views of the writer-director. In Culloden, Peter Watkins has particular views on the imperialism of England vis- -vis Scotland, and Scotland's 18th-century venture into nationalism. The plot, the Battle of...

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...

Realism Versus Fantasy

A general decision made by every storyteller, one that will affect how powerfully the audience engages the story, is the choice of realism or fantasy as the storytelling mode. Good stories can be realistic or fantastic, but the choice will affect how the storyteller utilizes character and plot, among other things. If a story is realistic, the detailing of the plot and of character has to be convincing and recognizable. If, on the other hand, the choice is fantasy, the characterizations will be...

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...

Second Assignment Rewriting In Format

Throughout the book, the assignments, as opposed to the exercises, will benefit from reading and discussion in class or, again, if you are working on your own, with friends who have some idea of the writing process. You should now have more than enough material for this assignment, which will require somewhat more time and thought than the previous exercises. It consists of two parts. The first is to rewrite your scene from Exercise 1, using whatever information you find useful or provocative...

Singular Qualities of Character

The behavioral and physical qualities of characters are important dimensions. However, they do not necessarily link character to goal. Here a sense of purpose is necessary. It is critical that writers link the character to a goal powerfully, in order to animate the plot. Different writers will speak of intentional or energized characters. It doesn't matter which term you use. What is important is that there be a palpable internal quality that pushes your character in a particular direction....

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...

Some Basic Definitions

What follow are some of the important and widely used terms that we will be using throughout this book Protagonist, meaning main character, is a word that comes from the Greek words for first (protos) and struggler or combatant (agonistes). So the protagonist is the main struggler in the story. The word antagonist comes from the Greek words for against (anti) and, once more, struggler or combatant (agonistes). The antagonist, whether human, man-made, or a force of nature such as a mountain,...

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...

Stepping Back To Move Forward

Assignments and exercises in the first part of this book have been set up to encourage the kind of messages from the unconscious that produce specific and authentic story material, rather than the lifeless copies of copies that make for hackwork. To write an original short screenplay, you will be utilizing all the skills you've learned so far, so it makes good sense at this point to take a quiet half-hour to look over your completed assignments in the order in which they were written. Note the...

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...

Structure

There are numerous differences between the long and short film in terms of structure. Most obviously, the proportion of Acts I, II, and III, generally held to be 1 2 1 (30 minutes to 60 minutes to 30 minutes), simply does not apply. Act I is more likely to be 5 minutes in a short film. There will be no middle act there will be Act II or III, depending on the writer's choice of a resolution or an open ending. If the option for resolution is taken, the structure is Act I-Act III, in feature-film...

Style in the Short Film

In the short film, the notion that you are watching a documentary is even more critical than in the long film. Consequently, the deployment of journalistic techniques, from camera style to on or off-air narration, is critical. In fact, the first narrative responsibility of the writer is to create at least the illusion that what we are watching are real people at real work or leisure. A candid quality, even the sense of eavesdropping, should inform the writing and the style of performance. This...

The Abstraction of Character

Character is often less important in experimental narrative than in any other genre. As in hyperdrama, the character is a vehicle for the ideas of the writer-director. Whereas in hyperdrama the character has a goal, however, in experimental narrative the character has no apparent goal. Consequently, he or she is clearly present in the narrative for the purposes of the writer rather than of the narrative. Identification is not at all likely we follow characters in Antonioni's The Passenger...

The Authorial Voice

The authorial voice is quite muted in melodrama and overarching in docudrama, but in hyperdrama it is powerful and passionate. After all, the goal of hyperdrama is the moral lesson, with the main character the vehicle for that lesson. In fact, the goal of the writer in hyperdrama is to convey that voice despite the viewer's involvement with the story. That is not to say we do not care for Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Rather we are much more aware of the writer's views on childhood, play, and...

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 Dominance of Place and Time Over Character

In the melodrama, the character and his or her goal seem to transcend time and place. The reason is that at its heart, melodrama is about psychology, behavior, and interior issues in a sense, the dramatic arc of the main character is an inner journey. Consequently, the externalities of time and place are subsidiary to the internal dynamics of character. Mike Van Diem's Character, discussed in the previous chapter, is an excellent benchmark. The main character's family life, his ambition, and...

The Dramatic Arc

Beyond the course of the relationship, there is no clear dramatic arc. The young girl also explores a relationship with a male classmate. They are attracted to one another and arrange a tryst but are reprimanded by an adult. He may be a policeman, but he seems more like a truant officer. Neither the young girl nor the classmate is in any case capable of moving the relationship away from the link of school work to a future. The Japanese tourist, who calls himself Tokyo, also progresses along 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 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 Importance Of The Short Film

The short film is crucial, not simply as a format suitable for portfolio development. It is important for three enduring reasons its proximity to other arts, its cost, and its enhanced capacity for the voice of the writer and the director. First, we will address the proximity of the short film to the other arts. Unlike the feature film, in the United States the short film has strong linkages to noncommercial arts the short story, the poem, the painting, the photograph. Consequently, in both...

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 Level Of Realism

Many short film genres do not rely on an absolute sense of realism. Perhaps only the mockumentary requires a sense of believability that lasts until the very end of the story. The other genres (the fable, for example) require some realism, but not so much that it crowds out the fantastic, the supernatural, from the screen story. Dialogue can be useful here. In an animated film where the donkey speaks of going to Harvard and the frog speaks of going to MIT, we see visually how absurd the notion...

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 Main Character and Secondary Characters

The main character's position in the story is only one issue of positioning you will have to consider. The second concern has to do with the positioning of the secondary characters in relation to the main character. This is crucial because only through interaction with the other characters does the main character move through the plot. The rungs of the dramatic ladder are, in a sense, built with the secondary characters. The issue for the writer, then, is how to deploy the secondary characters...

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 Narrative Style

The conventional descriptions of plot-driven or character-driven structures do not really apply to Calendar. There is a journey to photograph churches for a calendar, but the character's struggle is not so much with the pictures as it is with his resistance to being in Armenia. He is there physically, but emotionally he is consistently backing away. Back in Canada we see the actual calendar (the published calendar serves as a transition device between the visit to take the pictures and the...

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 Principle Of Visualization

Whether the writer imagines the film, conjures up a dream, or simply draws an image, the operating principle is that the writer should visualize rather than verbalize. The key to the success of that visualization is the meaning it gives to the story. Images can be neutral, moving, or overwhelming. The creativity of the writer and later of the director makes the difference between functional and fantastic. We propose to take you through a process of visualization that will help you aspire to the...

The Proximity of the Docudrama to the Documentary

Docudramas are organized dramatically in a manner closer to the documentary than to the melodrama. The melodrama is organized on a three-act structure. It deploys character in a particular way. It may or may not have plot. It may or may not have resolution. The documentary, on the other hand, is organized like a court case. An idea is put forward, then a number of points are argued that make the case. The idea is then restated in the light of the case established. The documentary tends to be a...

The Purposes Of Dialogue

Good dialogue, in the most general sense, gives the speaking characters credibility. Writers know this intuitively they wince every time they hear bad dialogue. The message registers I don't believe this character. Without this credibility all else fails, since disbelief in character quickly leads to disbelief in plot and in the other dramatic elements of the script. Consequently, the writer does not want to fail with dialogue. In addition, dialogue can characterize. When characters register...

The Reliance on Pattern

What is required when plot and character are downplayed is a style that invites involvement from the audience, that creates a pattern substituting for the functions of plot and character. In Exotica, we follow each of the five characters through a gradual revelation of their sexual confusion and the sources of their despair. In Sink or Swim, the pattern is literary chapters unfolding chronologically. In Natural Born Killers, the pattern is the frequent references to television. Pattern is the...

The Role Of Insight

When you and I discover something about a person, a place, a time, something we never knew or had forgotten, we experience an insight. Just as your main character should experience insight about him or herself through experiences in the script, so too should the audience members gain insight about themselves. All of us want to learn all the time. It's the great payoff from reading or viewing stories. When they are very good, they teach us, as all positive...

The Role of Plot

In the melodrama, plot (if deployed) is a primary barrier to the main character and his or her goal. If the main character and the goal are less important in the docudrama, how is plot used In Peter Watkin's Culloden, the battle itself, the last battle fought on British soil, dominates the narrative. Although there are many characters on both sides of the battle, their vividness does not dominate the story indeed, there is no single main character. The course of the event, which is the plot,...

The Satire

Satire is a very particular form of comedy. It is more savage than other forms, because the object of the satire, in the mind of the writer, deserves to be ridiculed. There is a long tradition of satire, from the Greeks through Kurt Vonnegut, Terry Southern, Luis Bu uel, Salvador Dal , Eric Rohmer, Michael Verhoeven, Errol Morris, and Lizzie Borden. The key decision for the writer considering satire is whether the target of derision merits the treatment. The form works best when the target is...

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 Tragic Character

The tragic character tends to be presented as a victim of the narrative. In fables, morality tales, and satire, as well as other types of stories, it is useful to have a tragic main character. The challenge for the writer, however, is to show the main character struggling to not be a victim. Without that struggle, the narrative is flattened. It is also useful to overdevelop the narrative, so that the odds against the main character seem overwhelming. When the plot proceeds like an avalanche, we...

The Use of Plot to Create a Superhero

Moral tales and fables function on a mythic level. In this respect, writers and teachers of scriptwriting who ascribe to Joseph Campbell's ideas about storytelling are right.1 A main character goes on a mythic journey. He or she faces many challenges and setbacks. The journey, once completed, makes him or her a hero. In hyperdrama, this heroic position is in the end a byproduct of the scale of the plot. Whether that plot is a war, a difficult journey, or other challenge, the ritualization of...

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

The second operating principle, tone, is an offshoot of voice. The choice of tone gives guidance about how we should feel about plot and people. If you are telling a love story from a cynical point of view, your tone will be cynical. On the other hand, if your goal is to describe a positive relationship, a romantic tone may be more appropriate. The writer creates tone by the type of observation incorporated into the story. If romance is your goal, the beauty of the day can be as useful as the...

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...

Use Plot Against the Main Characters Goal

Just as triangulation provides a method to build the dramatic arc of the story, plot can be used to make the climb steeper and consequently more gripping. It should be said again that it is not necessary for a melodrama to have a plot, but if you choose to use plot, it should be used in a particular fashion. In the melodrama, plot tends to be used against the character and his or her goal. The flip side to this is the situation comedy, where the plot is used in the opposite way, to enable the...

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...

Using Sound To Tell The Story

Besides conveying what (as we have noted) philosopher Susanne Langer calls the feeling-tone of a film or tape, aural images can expand the frame in terms of offscreen space and extend the meaning of what is being shown, by using sound as metaphor.1 When these images are an integral part of the story, they usually originate in the script. The great French director Robert Bresson, whose films are known for the quality of their visual images, is a master at extending the frame through sound. In...

What Stories Can Do

From early on in our history, stories have offered us alternative ways of experiencing the world. Huddled in the dark about a fire or in the heat of a marketplace, seated at a great lord's table or in the darkness of a movie theater, we drink up stories about the marvelous or terrifying or comical experiences of other human beings. We participate in the adventures of heroes and heroines, whether they are called Achilles or Michael Corleone, Little Red Riding Hood or Dorothy of Kansas. The most...

When Appearances Are Deceptive

In one of his aphorisms, Oscar Wilde, the Irish playwright and dandy, turned a general belief upside down by suggesting, It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. We laugh at this deft reversal of what is commonly held to be true, and we may even agree that it makes a kind of topsy-turvy sense. However, if you reflect upon it, the witticism also makes straightforward sense in life, people unconsciously give themselves away all the time. What is revealed to the acute observer...