Monday, 21 July 2014

Telling a story: The Eager Student


Learning to understand how the cogs and gears behind a story enable that story to be told effectively... will enable you to tell effective stories that keep the audience engaged.

This post comes from a highly regarded dissertation length reflection piece I wrote 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 overview of the module and the projects I undertook as a part of it, see Planning and Making a Film: The student filmmaking experience.

Before taking the module, I already had some experience with filmmaking; I had conceived a 15 minute film, The Better Villain, for an A-Level Film Studies assignment; as well as making four mostly accidental documentary projects. These projects taught me an awful lot about how to edit: in terms of taking hours and hours of footage (one of the documentaries had three days’ worth of footage) and reducing that footage down into a succinct and structured form with a beginning, a middle and an end.


The Eager Student - a very short practice film exercise.

However, these projects had always been made without a script (The Better Villain had a basic premise and as it was a silent film I had directed the actors from behind the camera) and, therefore, these experiences lacked the discipline needed to translate a written script into a visual form. If you can not successfully translate a script to the screen then you should not be in the narrative filmmaking business. 

Translating a script to the screen is exactly what the task of making The Eager Student demanded of us. In hindsight, looking at my group’s version of The Eager Student we followed the original script too much! The three main beats of the story - a girl goes to her class, sees that no one else is there and then realises she is there at the wrong time - are present but inside a visual form too long to tell the story with an effective pace that keeps the audience engaged. 

Learning to understand how the cogs and gears behind a story enable that story to be told effectively, as we did in the analysing of the short films and the writing of their loglines, will enable you to tell effective stories that keep the audience engaged. Certainly, now, I can see that this is the whole point of the module: showing, fundamentally, how an engaging story is told.

With the making of my group’s version of Where will it all stop [the module's practice film exercise], aside from rewriting the ending and suggesting shot compositions, I did not really engage with how best to tell the story, I saw that production more as an opportunity to gain technical knowledge. Accordingly, this reflection will focus less on the making of Where will it all stop (I have already written a reflection on it), although this post will make reference. 

Instead, this post will be a reflection on how my skills as a storyteller have been nurtured throughout the academic year in my experience of writing Busybody [the short film script I had to submit], seeing it be adapted and in my contribution to the making of One Door Opened.

Next: Story is everything: developing and writing a script
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