Tuesday, 27 March 2012

366 FRAMES 2012: My 366 Project

An update on my 366 Project.

In a previous post I outlined my new year’s resolution for 2012 which is to undertake a 366 photography project. The idea behind a 366 project is to take a photo a day for a whole year. To host the images I set up a blog which I called:  

365 FRAMES A YEAR, or 366 because 2012 is a leap year

The reason for such a long name was because I didn't realise until quite late in December 2011 that 2012 was in fact going to be a leap year! Hence the reason for the quick fix that was the post it note on the banner! 

Monday, 12 March 2012

Developing a Script, Part 2: Rough Draft - P.S.

In which I look at MacGuffins, Birthday cards and free writing your way into the subconscious.

This blog post was originally written as a reflection of the process of developing a script for the Planning and Making a Film module I undertook in the penultimate year of my BA (Hons). The module's practice was undertaken between October 2011 to June 2012 and it provided me with a hugely enriching experience. For a more detailed over of the module and the projects I undertook as a part of it, see Planning and Making a Film: The student filmmaking experience.


A MacGuffin from the Past

Fortunately, after the fiasco that been my outline, coming up with a new idea wasn’t an issue. It dawned on me that I already had a previous initial idea I could re-work and use. It was a variation on an idea I had explored in a previous script assignment from my A-Level Film Studies course.

For that particular assignment we had to write the introduction scene for a feature film and I came up with a scene where a male character breaks into a house, the scene takes place in the house’s kitchen, and this character begins to harass the current occupants because of a traumatic event that previously occurred there when he lived there in his youth.  However, as it was only the opening scene I didn’t have to worry about the rest of the story, but the potential for the rest of the story was something that always stayed with me.

Some notes for Mr. MacGuffin

Obviously, though, I couldn’t and didn’t want to use the exact same idea. However, a variation of the idea, say of someone returning home from work and finding someone sitting in their kitchen who they have never seen before, was an idea that I could use and was an idea that intrigued me. Therefore, this became the starting point for my new script.


What would Hitchcock do?

Mr. MacGuffin was the script idea that came from this initial premise and as the title suggests I wanted to craft a script that would be in the fashion of an Alfred Hitchcock film, here named after Hitchcock’s name for the element of the plot that the characters are looking for, the “MacGuffin”. I wanted to have all of the ingredients: mystery, anxiety, suspense, murder and shocks. Therefore, throughout its development I was constantly asking – what would Hitchcock do?

What would Hitchcock do?

I used the stranger in the kitchen as the starting point and gradually crafted a story about man called Markus Fry #1 who the character of Charlotte finds sitting in her kitchen. It is then revealed that Markus Fry #1 has the power of telepathy and the reason why he is sitting in the kitchen is because he is waiting to enact revenge on Charlotte’s husband Markus Fry #2 who, as the name suggests, stole his identity because he also is telepathic. Another element of this plot I particularly liked is that the majority of it took place in the kitchen. 

Some more notes for Mr. MacGuffin

In this plot I tried to inject as much Hitchcock as I could and the biggest Hitchcock influence came from his 1966 film Torn Curtain which has an absolutely stunning murder scene; stunning because when Hitchcock made it he wanted to convey how physically hard it is to actually murder a human being, hence the brutal nature of the scene.


Click here to watch the Gromek murder scene

The Gromek murder scene is a personal favourite of mine because Hitchcock has constructed it in such a way that he actually makes this horrific act enjoyable to watch. It was a scene I liked so much I decided to rework it into the conclusion of my script and, ultimately, the conclusion where Markus #1 murders Markus #2 is a homage to this scene.

Notes for Mr. MacGuffin

It was when I decided that Charlotte would help Markus #1 murder Markus #2, in much the same way as the female character did in Torn Curtain, that I stumbled on whole new element - that significantly changed the plot – the birthday card.


The scene outline for Mr. MacGuffin

I knew that the only way Markus #1 would manipulate Charlotte into helping him murder Markus #2 would be through his telepathy. The reason why Markus #1 needed her help was because Markus #2 had a far greater hold over his telepathic power and would be able to disarm Markus #1 relatively easily. 


Therefore, using the Birthday card, which in the script Markus #1 is writing for Markus #2, I placed a message that would unlock a subliminal instruction that Markus #1 had planted into Charlotte’s head earlier in the script. This message was included as a post script and it is at this point in the development process that the script ceased being called Mr. MacGuffin and became -  


P.S. This became the new title because it held more integrity and significance to the plot than Mr. MacGuffin, which I used merely as a direct reference to Hitchcock. Initially both Markus Fry #1 and Markus Fry #2 were going to be called Markus MacGuffin to further tie into the title. However, when I decided to change the title from Mr. MacGuffin to P.S. I decided to change the character names as I didn’t want a name that stuck out as a blatant reference a rather well known film term. I also felt that Fry worked better because it is a simple name and as Markus #2 comments to Markus #1: “You’ve had a simple life, haven’t you,” and this being the reason why Markus #2 steals Markus #1’s identity.

In the previous post I talked about A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young and how my outline development process matched up with Webb’s technique. I concluded that I only got as far as the first two steps and this was why my initial script ideas hadn’t been any good or at least at a point where they were lending themselves to a coherent linear narrative.


The five steps for producing ideas

However, with P.S. I had been given the whole Christmas break to acquire new ideas and perform the first three steps of the process. Certainly, when I did return after Christmas and began to write the script, with only a very vague notion of the overall plot, it became apparent very quickly that the knowledge gathering I had done over Christmas was paying off!

More so than any other script I have written this one had less planning and outlining put into it and as soon I started to write the scene where Charlotte comes home to find Markus #1 sat in her kitchen I began to realise that I was free writing the script. The actually shaping and outlining of the plot happened while I was writing the script!

The funny thing was the ideas of telepathic influence and of the conscious mind being influenced by the subconscious mind that I explore in the script was actually informing the mental approach of free writing that I was using to generate new ideas to write into the script, so as much I put into it the script it would then give back. In fact, I managed to write the full fifteen page script in a day, it was a truly exhausting but fulfilling effort!

Therefore, I think with this script I managed to go through the full five stages of the producing ideas technique. Over the Christmas break I got through the first two stages and probably started on the third stage and then when I came back, as evidenced through my unintentional free writing approach, I managed to through stages three, four and five simultaneously. I believe that the actual writing of the script was my way of rationalising this rather bizarre and abstract idea that I had inside my head. An idea that thankfully, unlike my earlier ones, produced a linear narrative.


09/01/2012: Rough Draft Feedback Session with Leslie Gittings

As a seminar group, we had previously had a feedback session with Leslie about our outlines. However, this had been largely useless as we only looked at a few of the outlines opposed to getting individual feedback. With our rough drafts, though we did get individual feedback and mine was less than promising. The basic points of the feedback that Leslie gave me ran thus:

  • Didn’t make sense.
  • Overly complicated.
  • Too many details.
  • It was too violent.

It was all pretty negative feedback but I know everyone got an equal measure. I’ve also discovered from other people’s feedback that Leslie is slightly prejudiced when it comes to negative subject matter!

I can sympathise that the script was too complicated or at least too complicated for something that had to be told in 5 – 8 minutes! Also, I think my compressing of ideas that are explored in a relatively short space of time made them come across as confusing. I didn’t think it was that violent but, saying that, I don’t think the Gromek Death scene from Torn Curtain is all that violent, but that is only because I’ve become accustomed to it.

Basically, Leslie said the best thing for me to do would be to rework my script into something simpler. However, I had other ideas.


An Unusable Script

As much as I had enjoyed the developing and free writing process of this script, I felt that I needed to come up with a fresh idea for my final submission draft. In fact, I really did struggle to change or, at least, reduce the idea of P.S. and because of this a new idea was looking more and more appealing. After all that hard work I realised my best option was to start over, again!


If you would like to read P.S. then your can do just that: P.S. a short film script

Check out Developing a Script, Part 3: Submission - Busybody to see the development behind my submission script.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Developing a Script, Part 1: Outline - Idle Time

In which I look at the winter blues, burglaries and not having enough idle time in the script development process. 

This blog post was originally written as a reflection of the process of developing an outline for a script for the Planning and Making a Film module I undertook in the penultimate year of my BA (Hons). The module's practice was undertaken between October 2011 to June 2012 and it provided me with a hugely enriching experience. For a more detailed over of the module and the projects I undertook as a part of it, see Planning and Making a Film: The student filmmaking experience.


Introduction

In addition to producing two short films, as part of the Planning and Making a Film module, we also have to submit a short film script. The scripts that meet the criteria, as set out in the assessment brief, are then made available to all the members of the module and from these, in our smaller production groups, we select one that we produce as our second short film.

In this post, and two more that will follow, I am going to explore the multiple development processes and script Ideas I went through that, eventually, lead to my final script Busybody. The script assignment counted for three separate deadlines and was split into three separate parts: an outline, a rough draft and a final submission draft; each of the posts will examine one of these parts and the work that went into each of them.


Gathering and Working Over

When first starting the module in September 2011, I had been very aware that eventually I would have to write and submit a script for a 5-8 minute film. Therefore, I’d kept my mind on the alert looking for ideas that might make for a good short film throughout the whole production process of Where will it all stop.

The Winter Blues was the first potential script Idea I explored and my starting point for this was a protagonist who suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder, a disorder that can bring about severe mental illness during the winter months, hence the title.

Some notes for The Winter Blues

My initial thinking was that the protagonist’s struggle with his illness could be the story of the script. The problem with that idea, though, is it was one that I had seen done so many times before. Therefore, I started to look for other ideas either to combine with this first idea or to give birth to a better idea. 

I began to think that perhaps another way to do it would be to have the protagonist struggling with the initial SAD problem and then around this introduce a bigger, external problem. Then I could have the protagonist’s struggle with the illness or the nature of the illness itself, at first come into conflict with the bigger external problem and then provide the resolution to that bigger, external problem. 

Finding something that could be that bigger problem was relatively easy as there had recently been a spate of burglaries in Oldfield Park, the area of Bath that I live in. Therefore, I began to think about combining the idea of a burglary with The Winter Blues idea and I came up with a couple of things: maybe the protagonist gets burgled and has to deal with It, or the protagonist witnesses a burglary, or is a part of a burglary, or inadvertently becomes a part of a burglary. However, while I was presented with many new paths to explore I was still having trouble moulding the ideas into a coherent linear whole.

Some more notes for The Winter Blues

I then tried adjusting the idea from burglary to a tension that existed between the student and non-student residents of Oldfield Park, which is something that does exist and gets no end of coverage in the local press! In this instance the protagonist who suffers from SAD could be a non-student resident and his condition spurs him on to fight back against the student residents. I also looked at the flip side of this where the protagonist was a student who suffered from SAD and because of this fought back against a band of residents. These band of residents were fanatics and had come together to perpetrate a number of robberies against the students and eventually murders. This idea did get a bit out of hand! 

However, I was still finding the ideas to be too abstract; nothing was convoluting together into something that would fulfil a coherent, linear structure ideal for a 5 – 8 minute film.  Therefore, I decided to start developing an alternative script idea from scratch. Although, this just ended up being another off-shoot of the ideas I had explored in The Winter Blues.

Float My Boat/It’s a Student Life was a script idea in which a group of students assemble a plan to steal money from their landlord. Once they break into his house they discover that he has a network of hidden cameras in all of his properties; with this knowledge of his hidden cameras the students decide to blackmail the landlord.

Some notes for Float My Boat

It became apparent, fairly quickly, that this idea was becoming far too big for a story that had to be told in a maximum of eight minutes, so I abandoned it!

Idle Time was an idea I came up with out of necessity. I needed to submit an outline for a script because it counted as one of my deadlines so I came up with a cop out idea. I had recently re-watched Groundhog Day, a film in which the protagonist relives the same day over and over again, and Ideal Time was just a variation of that idea. Luckily, as it was just an outline that was required, all I had to submit was a sheet identifying the characters, the scene structure and the beats: beats being changes of motivation that occurred in each of those scenes. 

Some notes for Idle Time

The outline that I wrote down was concerned with a work shy youth who discovers he has the ability to stop time. He is then able to use this power to steal money from banks and unsuspecting victims, who don’t fight back because everyone is frozen in time. After messing about in some very vague sketches of him abusing his power, the script eventually concludes with him unable to restart time. When he does manage to restart it the effort required kills him. 

As is apparent, Idle Time had a very basic premise that lacked any real substance for a full-fledged script and not for one second did I consider developing it further for my final script. It was copout idea that I was hugely ashamed of and which I made very clear on the outline sheet that I submitted! 


Developing Ideas

During a scriptwriting session Mike Johnston encouraged us to read: A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young, which is a book that demonstrates the process the human mind, goes through in its construction of an idea. The technique is broken down to its most fundamental components and because of this, as the author encourages, it is a technique that can be applied to any creative field, not just writing! The book breaks the technique down into five steps.

The five steps for producing Ideas

Certainly, looking at this structure, I can see why I was unable to create a successfully structured script idea. I had not given enough time for the ideas to be worked over by my subconscious; I only got as far as the first two steps! 

But this hadn’t been down to laziness, more so it had been down to the fact that I had been developing two other script ideas in addition to this one. As I already detailed I had been developing two scripts Xbox Junkie and The Gaming Complex for my housemate Michael Kelly, who is a Creative Media Practice student who had been in need of a script for his final year project. As getting these two scripts done before Christmas had been a priority for me the script I had been developing for Planning and Making a Film got put to end of the queue and, ultimately, didn’t get enough mental attention as it needed for the full Producing Ideas process. 


Not having a full-fledged script idea before Christmas wasn’t a complete disaster, though, as the rough draft and final script were not due until after Christmas. Therefore, I had the whole Christmas break to devote to acquiring new data and developing a new script Idea.


Want to read the very short outline I submitted?

Idle Time - a short film outline


In Part 2 I will look at the development process for the rough draft submission: Developing a Script, Part 2: Rough Draft