In an earlier class, for homework, we all sent in examples of scenes in films that use visual storytelling without dialogue. One that had a big impact on me was a scene from Children of Men (2006), when Kee and Theo are trying to escape a housing complex that is being fired upon with Kee’s newborn baby.
This scene gets me emotional every time I watch it. I think that one thing that gets me every time is watching all the grown men, all the hardened soldiers, going stock still at the sound and sight of a newborn baby for the first time in years. I think that it goes another level deeper than that; I think that the film as a whole takes many artistic influences from both classical and contemporary art, and Alfonso Cuaron uses all these artistic cues masterfully to make the audience feel intense emotion. That is definitely something that I want to be able to pull off in my writing, being able to use vision and audio, not necessarily dialogue, to convey emotion, intense or otherwise.
Something else that I think I could be working on is considering and conveying what I want the cinematography should be through a screenplay. Children of Men has beautiful cinematography, particularly full of shots that linger away from the protagonists and scrutinise the world of the film. This includes the social and political state of the film’s world, and allows the viewer to reflect on the state of humanity in the film and perhaps also in real life. I think that in my own writing, I can do a better job of conveying the actual visuals of the film. But even more so, I should improve my understanding of sound and aural storytelling. I think that this is something I should work on because I am not confident with sound and music in film.
‘Screenplays should be experienced as a form of cinema itself’ whereby ‘both, although via opposite polarities, are audio-visual (the screenplay cueing the images and sounds in our mind)’ – Chris Dzialo
What I’ve learned so far from this studio that can be related to Dzialo’s quote is that screenplays need a balance between being able to interpret a script freely and being strict enough to provide laws of the universe of the film.
In one of our first classes in this studio, we spent it in groups analysing scripts from existing feature films. For most of these scripts, we felt that they would only describe action and features of the film’s diegesis that were explicitly relevant to what could be seen on screen.
Unlike a novel, which will go into great detail describing how a character feels, what they can see, hear, smell or taste, a script will only go into what can be seen by a viewer. What I got out of the exercise is that the screenplay of a film is the bare skeleton of a film. It is up to the filmmakers, designers, sound designers, writers and actors to work together to flesh out a film visually and aurally.
It’s also important to realise that directors all have their own styles of filmmaking. Stanley Kubrick will micromanage a scene down to the last little piece, whereas Judd Apatow is renowned for being flexible with actors and coming up with new moments and dialogue in the moment of production. For someone like Kubrick, the screenplay will be the be all and end all of exactly what ends up being in the film. Apatow is someone that prefers working flexibly with his cast and giving everyone on set creative freedom.
In the end, the screenplay is the absolute basic framework of a film. It can be adjusted, or it can be relied on with absolute consistency.
For one of our screenwriting exercises, we were given a prompt and had to practice our visual storytelling skills. In this interpretation that I did of one of the prompts we were given, I went all in full literature student mode. The main constraint was that we could not use dialogue.
I think that what I did well here was convey a sense of the story through physical action and space. I wanted to focus on the characters’ emotions and relationships through their physical movements and behaviour.
I think that I could have had a little more confidence writing this. I knew that we’d most likely have to read these to the class so I think I was holding myself back a bit. Also, this wouldn’t be appropriate as a screenplay used in industry, since it’s a bit long and waffly. This would probably be something I wrote as a novel, or wrote really early on as the foundation and then trimmed down super hard for a final script.
As of late, what has been really important to me in how screen stories are crafted is the way that women are written in their respective stories.
For example, in Blade Runner 2049, I feel that women take on very 2 dimensional and backseat roles. Firstly, I felt that it gave very little credit to the actresses’ abilities as performers. Secondly, I felt that it was a boring cookie cutter film, where the female characters take a serious backseat in screen time and active speaking moments. [[SPOILERS]] One of my biggest issues with the film was the scene where Officer K (Ryan Gosling)’s hologram girlfriend, Joi (Ana de Armis) initiates sex with him with the help of Mariette (Mackenzie Davis). It felt less like a scene with actual character, relationship and plot development and more like some male fantasy of a girlfriend initiating a threesome.
In direct contrast to this film, Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) shows a compelling, 3 dimensional female with flaws and strengths that an audience likes and wants to succeed. Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, was originally written by the screenwriters, Walter Hill and David Giler, to be a man. By writing a character without being blinded by stereotyping qualities such as sex, race or age, Ellen Ripley is a character without any wasted screentime, action or dialogue. This is something that I also admire in Denis Villenveuve’s films Arrival and Sicario. In both these films, like Alien, the female protagonists are crafted and driven by their own personal, independent motivations and desires, as opposed to only being plot devices to their male counterparts.
What I want to get out of this studio is more ability to write characters as unbiased from their stereotypes as I can. I want to be able to fixate less on their personal qualities such as sex, race or age, and instead learn how to craft interesting and compelling characters and relationships.
We had some screenwriting exercises in our tute, and since I haven’t been writing in a while I feel like I struggled a bit.
First struggle was having the confidence to get going on a prompt where I wasn’t sure if I was invested in it or not. Then having the confidence to read it out to the class.
What I learned from hearing from other people is that anything goes. Which felt fairly liberating.
I want to spend some more time over the semester actually writing stories in my own time, and practicing. To me, the most significant thing in a story that can make it or break it is character and relationships. Some of my favourite movies as of late have been those with dialogue or scripts that don’t feel like they’re bullshitting me. This includes Donnie Brasco, In Bruges and most Martin Scorcese movies. In these films, I feel as though the actors actually exist not only in the world of the film, but could exist in reality too. In a lot of Hollywood blockbuster films, dialogue feels clunky, artificial and unreal. It feels like people talk in a way that is unrealistic, or unfaithful to our own reality. I appreciate scripts that imitate, to the best of its ability, the way that people actually talk: interrupting eachother, talking over the top of eachother, etc.
I had some thoughts on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the way that the films are made that made them so popular. Up until Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther, I started getting a sense of them being the same old, same old.
I feel like having Taika Waititi and Ryan Coogler take the helm on Thor and Black Panther respectively breathed a different, if not new and improved, life into the MCU.
I have a soft spot for Taika Waititi, so I am biased. But having the opportunity to have a new kind of entertainment come out of the MCU meant I could enjoy Thor in a new way. And it didn’t feel entirely disjointed or out of nowhere. The comic relief and general style of the MCU meant that it wasn’t a complete switch in genres that might have alienated audiences.
As for Black Panther, I felt as though it was a film that treated its audience like mature adults. It shifted away from the inner circle of the Avengers and their problems, and examined social, political and cultural ideas in a way that didn’t feel patronising. That being said, I am a middle class white girl so maybe my opinion isn’t valid, but I stand by it. As someone who enjoys movies, I was entertained by it and didn’t feel like I was being bullshitted.
Except for the rhinos. The rhinos were dumb.
Basically, I think that it’s significant that the MCU took the time to try new things and have new directors and writers take lead on their recent films. I was entertained, which I think is what counts. Still think that Marvel needs to chill out and stop milking their franchise at some point.