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?
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.
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.