A couple of weeks ago, we as a class divided ourselves into different groups, to help out in the various areas that would eventually lead up to our final studio presentation. I chose to help out in the Website team.
After receiving the list of things that had to be done from our team leader, Olivia, I set out to complete them. We had to upload our video; provide cast and crew information; write out the synopsis; etc. After speaking with my groupmates about getting those things done, I also edited the trailer, got approval from my groupmates, and sent it over to Brendan on Friday, the 3rd of June.
I emailed the Website team later in the week, asking if there was anything that had to be done for the Website itself, but it seems that it was pretty much settled and the only thing Olivia needed from us was to push our individual groups to submit the content as soon as possible, so that the Website could be up and running.
I had never done a shooting script before, so this was a new experience for me. I looked up a couple of examples on Google Images, and eventually arrived at this point, which you can see in the screenshot above.
This was a bit of a challenging task, as I had to dissect the script I had written into parts and scenes, and think about how I might fit that into each of our shooting days. We were initially thinking about shooting on two Saturdays, which is the 7th and 21st of May. We might change it to a weekend, on the 7th and 8th of May, but that’s really dependent on the actors and their availability.
Some of the things I had to think about while compiling and organising the shooting script were things like:
1) Allocating an estimated time to shoot each scene
2) Following actors’ schedules and availability
3) Coherence of outfits while shooting different days
4) Not keeping an actor waiting for too long while shooting another’s scene
5) Considering time for recording other remaining audio, etc
The shooting script is still in progress, but can be viewed here.
To elevate the severity of imaginary friends and the dark or creepy preconceived notions of it, we decided that our short film will have a lighter take, almost calming in nature and close to the heart. We want to illustrate the story of this innocent young girl and her journey in discovering life outside of her own imagination.
These are snapshots from some films that caught my attention. All of them involve child actors. More than that, though, is the fact that each of them are very visually appealing and warm in tone.
We want our short film to have a warm, homey vibe. Below are some pictures I got off Pinterest to illustrate the sort of places and feelings we are going for.
For the children’s clothes, I decided to go with something basic; nothing too quirky or fancy. The two little girls in the film will possibly be barefoot and wearing pretty dresses – illustrating their innocence.
The boy, on the other hand, will be slightly dishevelled when compared to Stella, away from the conventional neatness that kids at home or school have.
The clothes that they wear need to be in line with the ‘characters’ attitudes, socioeconomic status, self-image, and degree of concern for appearance’ (Gitner 2016). In this case, Sam is somewhat of an outcast, only visible to Stella. He doesn’t exactly have a place in the reality in which the rest of the characters exist – this seemingly ‘perfect’ world – and so by setting this wardrobe, he is depicted as somebody a little out of place.
Gitner, S 2016, ‘Multimedia Storytelling for Digital Communicators in a Multiplatform World’, Routledge, New York, p. 253. Late Bloomer 2004, short film, directed by Craig Macneill. Marry Me 2009, short film, directed by Michelle Lehman. Moonrise Kingdom 2012, film, American Empirical Pictures, & Indian Paintbrush, USA. Small Deaths 1996, short film, directed by Lynne Ramsay.
Writing from a child’s (and adult’s) point of view proved to be a challenge, seeing as how the way we speak is very different – not just in terms of age, but also culturally, as I had to consider the different slangs and ways in which they used certain words when compared to here in Australia and back in Malaysia.
As I did a bit of research on how I might go about this, I stumbled upon a book by Richard A. Blum which proved to be helpful. In his book was a chapter on realistic dialogue, and he stated that ‘dialogue should be motivated by the circumstances in the scene and should be consistent with the character development already established’ (Blum 2001).
As I began to think a bit about our few characters, I thought about the profile we had created for them, and tried to make dialogues that suited with their personalities. To give you a better idea of what I will soon explain, here is the link to the script.
Stella A sweet, socially-awkward girl. She is introverted but joyful nevertheless.
I made her social awkwardness evident through the way she interacts with her new ‘real’ friend, Chelsea. On the other hand, her joyful attitude can be seen when she is playing with her imaginary friend, Sam.
Sam Stella’s imaginary friend. He has a sweet and charming character.
He is submissive to Stella, for example when he agrees to use the purple crayon when Stella tells him to, or when they are playing ‘Hairdressers’ together, where Stella chooses the hairstyle that he will have. This submissiveness is also for the fact that he is merely something Stella brought to life.
Chelsea Stella’s neighbour, who later becomes her friend. She is a talkative, inquisitive child.
Her talkative personality contrasts against Stella’s quiet nature, and this can be seen when the two interact for the very first time. She uses a lot of questions and longer sentences compared to Stella’s short, seemingly disinterested replies.
Mia Stella’s mother. She is constantly concerned about Stella’s well-being.
Her concern is seen on the times she checks on Stella and finds her playing with nobody, and when she is on the phone with a family friend. She is also the one who invites the neighbour over for tea and encourages Stella to play with Chelsea.
By thinking about our characters’ personalities and how they would react or respond to situations, I was able to come up with dialogues and actions that suited accordingly. Additionally, I got comments and suggestions from my team and other friends as to whether or not these characters’ dialogues suited their ages and personalities. Brushing it up along the way, I was able to improve it over several revisions.
This was a fun and interesting exercise for me, as I have only done one other short film throughout my schooling life, and so do not have much experience with creating solid characters or writing scripts. I reckon that I might have to make a few other changes along the way as the weeks come and go – as if we as a group have not already gone through that – but as that is all part of the learning experience, I believe that that would be exciting nevertheless.
Blum, RA 2001, Television and Screen Writing: From Concept to Contract, 4th ed., Taylor & Francis, UK, pp. 81-90.
Instead of taking an entire album, I thought about what it would be like to use one photograph and create a soundscape out of that. Kind of like telling a story through an audio clip.
The sort of sounds I’d consider recording for the above picture is:
1. Prepping a camera on a tripod
2. Voices, asking for everyone to sit down
3. Setting up the timer
4. Scrambling to find our seats
5. The lighting of a match
6. Silence for a few seconds
7. The photo is taken
8. The lighting of a match, again
9. Singing ‘Happy Birthday’
10. Blows out the candles
As I wrote this script, I started visualising in my head what it would look like on screen. Seeing as how there are quite a few characters in our short film, we wanted to go with ensuring that more focus is put on the main character – the little girl, Stella.
With that, we decided that we want to capture our short film in a way where the spotlight is on Stella and her interactions with the two other children in the story, allowing viewers to see things more from a child’s perspective.
With this scene, I imagined that Stella’s mother, Mia, is never completely seen. We don’t ever see her face throughout the entire film, but we do see bits and close-ups of her – from the waist down, or just her mouth, or her back.
In a short film about a little girl and her relationship with her parents, ‘The Quiet Room’, director Rolf de Heer uses ‘various techniques to intensify the sense of being inside a child’s head, from stylised lighting to upturned camera angles emphasising adults towering over children’ (Lopate 1997). In our short film film, the children play the most important roles amongst themselves, and so we want to ensure that the focus is always on them.
Scene from ‘The Quiet Room’ (1996).
This shot is an example of how we want the adults to be portrayed in our short film – physically there and still a part of the child’s life, but not entirely a dominant character.
As with the above storyboard, only bits of Stella’s mother, Mia, is seen. The overhead shot with Stella colouring with Sam suggests what it is like from an adult’s perspective, but by seeing it in this way, it is also about how a child expects an adult to view them – in this case, that Sam exists. The close-up on Stella’s face is aimed to ignite a sort of attachment to the character, as we are fully focused on the joy she feels when she is around her imaginary friend.
To give myself further ideas of how a little girl would talk or react to certain things, I decided to watch ‘I Am Sam’ (2001), a story about a mentally-challenged single father and his daughter.
What I got from the little girl’s character, whose name is Lucy, is that she is a very inquisitive and straightforward child. She is also capable of making her own decisions and is adamant as a child naturally should, for instance, when a child insists to do something or demands for a specific toy. I allowed a bit of Lucy’s character to feed into the two little girls we have in our short film, seeing as how their conversation is actually the build-up to our climatic scene.
More than just observing how a little girl reacts to the world around her, I also paid attention to the way some of the parts were edited. Seeing as how I am going to be editing our short film, I took notice of some techniques I could draw from this movie. As an example, scenes with Lucy and her dad playing or having fun together were slowed down, causing more vivid emotions that allowed me to take in what was going on. As for the more climatic, dramatic scenes, the editor made lots of cuts and close-ups on faces, and that gave me a panicky sort of feeling.
By analysing the little things that make a film, I believe that more than visual aesthetics, editing plays a big role as well. The choices one makes when it comes to video editing is crucial to the progression and chronology of a story, and those choices we make will influence how the audience views the story and ultimately how they will react to it (Bell 2009). Paying attention to where and how we edit is fundamental to a good film, and I hope that I will be able to achieve just that with our short film.
‘I love the idea of stripping everything down to its essentials and telling your story with just the necessary pieces in front of you.‘ – Ray Wong
The above statement is one by director Ray Wong, who directed a sci-fi short film called Burnt Grass (2014). He was on a low budget when he and his crew made this short film, but he chose to make it work. He focused a lot on planting the idea of this ‘sci-fi mechanism’ and said that by doing this, he allowed the audience to do the interpretation and thinking whilst he had the freedom to explore the relationships in the film (Wong, 2014).
Our short film too had a lot of stripping down to do. As we began to think of ways in which we could put more emphasis on the message we wanted to convey, we began to strip it down, removing elements that weren’t necessarily essential to pushing the story forward, and instead worked on the things and relationships that mattered.
We decided to put more emphasis on the children in the story, focusing it more on Stella and her relationships – with her imaginary friend, Sam, and a real girl, Chelsea. We even removed some of the details about the children that we initially had. By doing this, we were able to have a clearer direction on where we want to bring this film, which is more to the topic of imaginary friends and how this child overcame that.
I believe that there is still a bit more to work on, and my group and I will be evaluating and polishing it over the next few weeks.
When you find that one thing that inspires you and pushes you forward, that is also when you will be putting yourself on a journey of progress, in discovering your strengths and potential -in this case, as a filmmaker and creative individual. One thing that got me wondering throughout this learning process is how one can come to truly and strongly believe in their own idea. Why I say this is because there is a huge difference in pitching an idea you conjured out of the mere need to, and pitching an idea you have a heart for. I want to explore this thought as it was a hurdle I went through, and I also want to discuss the process of how this story came to be.
I came to notice this as I was pitching different ideas to my lecturer, James. My group mates were away for the week and I knew we had to come up with something. I found that the more I tried to concoct a story, the more complicated it became. So I began to carefully reflect back on the first idea, which involved telling the story of a painter’s life – how she was a prisoner of her mind, and how she countered near-death experiences through art. Wheeler-Smith (2014) states that ‘an individual’s sense of self and identity may also be connected to his/her ideas, thus promoting feelings of psychological ownership and possessive attachment’. Her statement resonates with me, as I found that the ideas I kept coming up with after that never strayed far from the original one. One of the reasons could be the fact that as an art enthusiast myself, I often find comfort in drawing when I have to cope with difficult times, and I wanted the painter in this story to illustrate that. The problem was, as much as I enjoyed the elements in this idea, I had to come up with something better; something simpler.
Throughout the weeks, I found myself struggling to explain our (rather complex) story, not just to my lecturer, but also to some of my classmates. No matter what sort of ideas I found myself coming up with, it just didn’t quite click. ‘The productivity of language can just as easily lead to confusion and ignorance as to enlightenment and progress’ (Stratton 1999). This proved evident in my futile attempts. Drawing from that statement, I decided that I had to narrow it down and pick a few themes and elements that stood out most to me – strength, faith, death, woman… just to name a few. As I critically thought about those few things, a vision of a short film slowly began to form in my mind.
I realised that I had to delve deeper into the reason behind why I do what I do. One thing that Harris (2014) mentioned is this: ‘Creativity is not just found in the process of ideation (idea generation); it is found in the process of defining criteria for choosing the idea that moves forward’. He also wrote about how this process aids companies’ attempts to define their value system and also what they deem most significant. As I read that, it got me thinking about how creativity isn’t just about coming up with a good or feasible idea – it is about having an idea that resonates with you (and your team); one that you can be proud of because it tells people who you are and what you believe is important.
I wanted the focus to be on the idea of death, which is also relevant to the prompt my group was given, so I started thinking about how I could push this story forward. So just as how, be it in art or photography, the idea of having contrasting elements is encouraged, I decided I wanted to do the same with this short film. Extending from an idea mentioned by Elder (2008) in his book, this sort of separation is necessary but ‘recognising affinities among things is [also] required to place the perceived object in a context’. Having that said, this ‘principle of unity-in-difference (Kontrast-Anologie)’ led me to think about how it would be relevant to come up with something cohesive that revolved around the topic of death, yet something that could conquer the preconceived fatalities of it.
Death is something people often dread – it is not a topic very much celebrated. To have strength and joy in the face of something this serious is what I believe children could have, simply for the fact that their innocence and carefree personality is their driving force. It is said that children who are fearless tend to ‘develop stronger internalisation’ when they are very close to their mothers and when their mothers are responsive to them (Damon, Lerner & Eisenberg 2006). So for this short film, I wanted to portray the confidence of a little girl and her loving mother, unwavering even in the face of death. The story revolves around this little girl who faces a medical condition and her companion, who is Death in the form of a little boy. I chose to use children to contrast the severity of sickness and death, to the carefree nature of the young.
To add to the essence of joy radiated by the children in this short film, I felt like using warm and bright tones would be our best bet. After all, what better way to overthrow death but to have a positive outlook? We will be experimenting with a lot of high-key lighting and controlling the warmth of our shots through colour grading. This sort of lighting often illustrates feelings of warmth, cheerfulness, expansiveness and energy (Stinson 2004), and that is exactly what we aim to have with the children in our film.
Upon having these plans laid out for our short film, it was then that I knew I had an idea I really wanted to pursue. It took a while to get to that point, but the journey I took on coming to this point was a defining one for me. As we spoke a little more as a group, we began to take on the idea of this girl having Death as some sort of imaginary friend; a metaphorical reminder that all things come to an end. In an article in The Straits Times (2012), Ng states that imaginary friends help children cope with life changes. Moreover, her youth and innocence allows her to see this entity as a life form, as compared to her mother who – at her age is already bruised by age and worldly troubles – cannot.
As we continue to think about how we might develop our short film, one thing I hope we will be able to put our focus on is the meanings behind the elements of our story. It would be interesting to create a short film that is also an artistic piece, with hidden metaphors that convey a message to our viewers. In efforts to do so, one thing I will personally be doing is some research on topics like children, death, and imaginary friends. I believe it would be an interesting blend. I also intend to watch a couple of films to gain better ideas and more inspiration from other passionate filmmakers. Our intention is to create a film that expresses our own creative direction and we will continue to work towards delivering that.
Damon, W, Lerner, RM & Eisenberg, N 2006, Handbook of Child Psychology, 6th ed., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New Jersey, pp. 326-327.
Elder, B 2008, Harmony and Dissent, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, Canada, pp. 132-135.
Harris, LVA 2014, Idea Engineering: Creative Thinking and Innovation, Momentum Press, New York, pp. 122-124.
The visuals and sound design on this short piece was great. I’ve always been one to appreciate art (be it film or paintings) that are both dark and odd in its own ways, and I have to say that David Lynch is luminary.
What am I researching? Why am I researching it?
I have always been a very visual sort of person, but the sound design on this piece was almost enticing. The first time I watched it was in our studio class. The second time, however, I decided to leave it playing without looking at the video. I decided to focus all my attention on the the audio. It was great, with it sounding as disturbing as it looked. I hope to further explore that as it is certainly different from the way I used to see films.
What have I learned?
I have a tendency to disregard sound design, simply for the fact that I enjoy looking rather than listening. However, this has made me realise how beautiful a film can be, and how audio and visuals are made to work together.
Where is this leading me?
Hopefully to experimenting with different sounds when it comes to making short films. I might even want to think about something that is solely (or heavily) focused on just sound.
Possible future research directions:
How to actually produce a soundscape that is random yet meaningful. I feel like I really don’t know much about how it actually works, or how one can make it work, but it’s definitely something I’d like to really play around with.