August 2015 archive
In class this week, we completed an interesting exercise involving character building with subjects in mind. The task was to scroll through the StarNow page (specifically those who have agreed to work with us), select an actor from their headshot and create a character and narrative inspired by what we see.
To begin, I chose this young fella:
I started off with a few dot points of my immediate idea to help me structure the prose to follow:
I didn’t have time to write a sound conclusion, but I was pretty happy with the story concept I was able to come up in the short amount of time available. As I usually find it difficult to develop an idea from scratch, using the headshot as a visual prompt really helped me to get the ball rolling. This task was not dissimilar to previous exercises in which we would use a written prompt to help us come up with an idea for a story/script. Comparing the two processes, I personally preferred using an image to draw inspiration from as I am more of a visual-minded person. Thus, I found I was able to devise the prose more naturally and easily as I could visualise not only my protagonist, but also the world in which he surrounds himself.
The exercise made me think more deeply about what we were doing and how it relates to industry practice. A lot of writers and filmmakers often use the phrase ‘writing with actors in mind.’ I was led to wonder however what are the main factors to consider about the person in mind when doing this.
Do filmmakers write with an actor in mind based on their…
- Physical appearance?
- Previous roles in films/celebrity status?
- On-screen persona or identity?
- Relationship with the filmmaker or cooperative nature on set?
Or maybe it’s based on reachability, i.e. writing for someone who they will realistically be able to cast. Of course, it’s likely that it is a combination of these factors and, dependent on the filmmakers’ status and motivation, priorities are bound to differ from one case to another. It’s interesting though to consider these factors and how they relate to our own scriptwriting practice, e.g. what’s most important to us when crafting and casting characters.
To some extent we ‘wrote with an actor in mind’ in this class exercise, but all we had to work with was a mere headshot and a few lines (if that) in their bio. I did feel a bit guilty judging Rupa purely on his appearance alone, as obviously I wasn’t totally informed about what he would be like as an actor. For all I knew, he might have a totally different demeanour and not be fitting for the role I wrote him into at all. If we were actually planning to write a script with the intention to film based on the actors we selected, we would probably need to meet them in order to gauge if they really are suitable.
All in all, this exercise was certainly a valuable one and has inspired me to gain inspiration from visual prompts. Story inspiration is everywhere – you just need to look at the people and world around you with an open mind.
The time to knuckle down on our final projects has arrived! The other week we formed groups and Squadron was born, featuring Bonnie, Sarah, Jackson, Alex and myself.
I think it’s interesting that in this subject the aim of our final piece is ironically not to complete something final. Our tutors are less concerned about seeing a complete and perfected short film, but are more interested in our processes of production. I think this approach is valuable as we can really focus on developing our skills and knowledge of writing and filming, and not be held back by the need to complete something whole. This class is all about experimentation and challenging the conventional means of production and film tuition, after all.
It does present a challenge however as an undefined brief grants endless options. However, our group deemed it was important to be realistic in terms of resources, time and funds. We hope to produce something of a high quality, but understand that in order to do this we must not bite off more than we could chew. Thus, we thought it would be a good idea to start off our brainstorm as a group with resources in mind.
I suggested that we film in my hometown, Warrandyte, as it is very visually aesthetic with its vast bushland, trees and greenery. Alex then mentioned that she had an actress friend who was willing to participate. These formed a solid basis for the development of our project.
With a foundation in place, we decided that we would produce a sequence of suspenseful/thriller-esque scenes. From these, we intend to take the highlights from the footage and cut them into a trailer for our ‘film.’ We went away from this meeting with the task of writing prose for four unique scenes to meet these constraints, of which we would compare and determine which would be the strongest/most achievable.
Here’s what I came up with:
- Emily walks along river with fiancé Damien. They talk about simple things like how their day was, what to cook for dinner. Emily is quiet and distracted as she is having doubts about their future together.
- Emily goes for a run to clear her head – internal monologue may run, questioning her relationship. Exhausted and emotional, she decides to take a new route through the state park. She asks a passing male bushwalker if this cuts her through to where she needs to be – he says yes.
- Emily wakes up on the forest floor covered by a blanket, unknowing of what has happened and confused by how she got there. She sees the same bushwalker sitting on a log across from her, drinking from a thermos. Scrambling to her feet in fright, Emily questions him what is going on. He ‘reassures’ her that everything is okay, that he wants to look after her. He refuses to let her leave.
- Emily is still being held captive in the bush. Bushwalker is in the distance gathering wood. Emily sees the flickering light from torches and hears footsteps, followed by her name being called. It is Damien. Bushwalker claims he’ll “take care of it” and goes after him. Emily screams and runs after him.
In our next group meeting, we will discuss all group members’ written prose and the strengths and weaknesses of each. This will then lead us to fairly agree on one (or a combination, assuming that they mesh) story concept that we are all happy with. Stay tuned for more production updates – exciting things to come!
The evolution of televisual systems and social media has not only transformed the way we engage with content, but also the social relations that exist between audiences. Instead of watching and discussing the grossing program with the family, viewers are taking to social media to start the online discussion live as events unfold. For the purpose of this blog, I will be discussing the how the social experience relative to broadcast television has changed, in particular, how scheduling and the proliferation of social media has shaped how we interact with fellow viewers of a program.
Historically, watching television was primarily a social and family-oriented event or experience. We all know the image of the typical white middle-class family spending some quality time together as they sit mesmerised in front of their one-and-only television set. While this image may seem out-dated, it still holds relevance in society today. So what is it about television that makes it such a socially unifying resource?
Image source: smartcarleen.com
Television programs are scheduled strategically to reach their target audience at a time when it suits them. For example, in the evenings it is assumed that children and parents have returned from school and work respectively, and wish to wind down with some family friendly programs. This effectively brings the family together as the programs are timed to suit their lifestyles and also usually their mutual interests. Consider singing competition show, The Voice – one of those programs that everyone can get sucked into. Typically, watching The Voice with family or friends is a more fulfilling viewing experience than watching alone as we can commentate our thoughts and feelings on the program to those around us. For example…
“I can’t believe he or she got through to the battle rounds with that song choice!”
“OMG, I know right?”
While this remains a familiar scenario in some homes, social television has taken on new meaning with the recent proliferation of the Internet. For one thing, increased television ownership enables family members to call dibs on a TV to themselves (Singer 2010). Consequently, instead of communicating with the family, they instead take to social media via a second screen to participate actively in the live discussion with equally passionate strangers (Ingrey 2014). When The Voice is on TV for instance, Twitter and Facebook blow up as people engage with others in the viewing community about the happenings of the show.
Even if watching on their lonesome, scheduling reassures viewers that someone else in the world has watched it ‘alongside them.’ If they need to vent about whether or not ‘so and so’ deserved to win that battle, it is more than likely that someone in the viewing community will share their frustration at that moment. The imagined community – a perceived community, culture or nation of viewers – becomes more real as viewers can see the comments flood in live as the show is broadcasted (Anderson 2006). This reinforces feelings of belonging and community to viewers, resulting in a (mostly) positive social experience, albeit online.
It is interesting to note how scheduling can have such impact over our own viewing habits and behaviours, as well as how we subsequently interact with others.
Anderson, Benedict, 2006, ‘Introduction’ in Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Verso, London, p.6
Ingrey, Melanie, 2014, ‘Triple Screening: A New Phenomenon,’ weblog post, 23 February, Nielsen Insights, viewed 10 August 2015, < http://www.nielsen.com/au/en/insights/news/2014/triple-screening-a-new-phenomenon.html>
Singer, Melissa, 2010, ‘Televisions are breeding faster than Australian households,’ The Sydney Morning Herald, July 19, viewed 9 August < http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/hometech/televisions-are-breeding-faster-than-australian-households-20100718-10g3k.html>
Dead Set is a horror/drama mini series in which a zombie apocalypse leaves the Big Brother housemates as the only remaining survivors. Sound ridiculous? Sure. But it is a clever concept created by British broadcaster Charlie Brooker. As an avid zombie fan himself, he believes “every person in the country must’ve fantasised at some point about what would happen if some terrible apocalypse occurred during a run of Big Brother (2008).” Dead Set follows protagonist Kelly, a worker on the fictional program, who manages to save herself and seek refuge in the house of oblivion.
Image source: andykinsella.com
The show can be read in a variety of ways, but in this blog I wish to focus on the way it represents the relationship between reality TV, its producers and its viewers. While Brooker claims that the series is “primarily a romp,” he encourages audiences to be the judge for themselves. The show spoke to me as a critique against reality TV and its creators, but predominantly the culture and following behind the genre itself.
The first episode in the series begins with housemate Joplin questioning the attraction and merit of television shows like Big Brother in our society. From the get go we are thus led to question how reality TV influences us, and why are audiences are so besotted by it.
According to S. Shyam Sundar – professor of communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory at Penn State University Park – reality TV is “much more seductive [than other types of programming] because it seems much more real, much less orchestrated (McDermott 2012).” While this is true to some extent, it is widely recognised today that reality TV is typically not a true representation of ‘the real.’ Dead Set highlights this as Kelly doubts her new job: “the show and the crowds and everything, it’s not really real is it?” This comment encourages viewers to think past what we see on screen and question the validity of what is labelled as “reality.”
To elaborate, reality TV is universally recognised as ‘trash.’ Big Brother of all shows is perhaps the epitome of this, thus making it the obvious choice of program to use as a basis for critique in Dead Set. Brooker also notes that “all zombie movies eventually boil down to a siege situation,” and the secluded, camera-filled Big Brother house would be an ideal and original setting.
In many ways, the mindless zombies in Dead Set attempt to represent and undermine the viewers of reality television. The show likens reality TV to an infection, taking over the world as it gains popularity and sucking in its victims in one by one. Once people start watching shows like Big Brother, they get addicted and cannot pull themselves away. Note the parallel to out-of-control, brain-dead zombies.
Brooker also draws attention to the flaws of reality TV production as viewers are led to immediately despise the money-hungry, ignorant producers in the fictional run of Big Brother. Presumably (and hopefully) this is an exaggerated version of what goes on behind the scenes, but nonetheless it inclines viewers to question the values and priorities of reality TV production as a whole.
Dead Set definitely leaves you with a lot to think about – from the problems with reality TV, all the way through to how to survive a zombie outbreak. It certainly is an interesting representation of some complex underlying issues of the reality genre, making for a thought provoking watch.
McDermott, Nicole, 2012, ‘Why we’re obsessed with reality TV,’ Greatist, 11 July, viewed 10 August 2015, <http://greatist.com/happiness/why-were-obsessed-reality-tv>
Brooker, Charlie, 2008, ‘Reality bites,’ The Guardian, 18 October, viewed 11 August 2015, <http://www.theguardian.com/film/2008/oct/18/horror-channel4>
In the previous blog, I examined how a transcript of an episode of Skins compared to a completed episode. So to segue on from that, I wish to compare how a first draft of the pilot episode of Friends, or Friends Like Us as it was originally titled, compares to the fine cut of the episode.
Disclaimer: if you are not a Friends fan you probably won’t be a fan of my blog – chances are it’s going to come up A LOT. You have been warned.
The following document marks history in what is one of the most successful sitcoms of all time:
Friends 1×01 – The One Where Monica Gets a Roommate – SCRIPT
Image Source: Friends Wikia – The Pilot
What is most noteworthy for me is the significant dialogue differences between this early draft and the pilot episode. Conversations are cut short, jokes are removed and replaced, and the characters take on different personas. So what happened between this first draft and the fine cut to result in so much change?
In a large-scale production such as this, the script is under the influence of a lot of creative minds – writers, directors, cast, even audiences. Thus, it is likely to undergo a lot of change before it reaches our screens.
On the official Friends website, a FAQ asked, “What was the life-cycle of the typical show?” In response was the following detailed breakdown of all stages of production (with a particular focus on pre-):
Extensive process, huh?
This indicates the time, effort and collaborative measures that go into script writing. Evidently, it is difficult to ever consider a script as being finished as it remains subject to revision throughout all production stages. In fact, it is not until the TV show or film is released that the script can officially be declared as complete. I think it is important for us as amateur writers/filmmakers to remember that what we write is never set in stone. The role of the script is to essentially guide, but not define, our filmmaking practice.
On a bit of a side note, I would love to one day sit in on a table read of a professional TV show or film, just to see how it all goes down. While I have watched quite a few script read-throughs on Youtube, I have only ever experienced them backwards, i.e. watching them after having seen the film in it’s final form. I think it would be amazing to see the whole process, from all the ideas thrown around to determining which jokes are the funniest, and to eventually see it come to life on film.
While I was searching for inspiration for this week’s initiative post, I found myself spending hours reading scripts of my favourite TV shows and films. There’s something almost nostalgic and oddly satisfying about seeing early production documents when you’ve only ever known their completed form. It’s kind of like seeing baby photos of someone you love but never knew as a child – you take notice how they’ve grown, developed and changed from when they were ‘young.’
After reading a script or watching a read-through, I would then seek the completed version of the product for direct comparison. I think making these comparisons is especially fascinating as we get an idea of the stylistic choices made in order to adapt the script onto the screen. While ‘action’ in a script may tell us what the character is doing, it doesn’t tell us how it will be shot, cut or the specific details of the mise en scène. After reading a script, we become more aware and focused on these stylistic qualities, as we already know what dialogue is to come.
It is also interesting to note how the dialogue of scripts translates onto the screen. I was curious to read a script for one of my favourite TV shows, Skins, to see if I would engage with it as much on a textual level. As the show is set in Bristol, UK, the characters speak with an extensive amount of local slang and cuss words. Through reading a transcript (couldn’t find an original script or screenplay), I was surprised by how differently it delivers on paper. In fact, given the language used, it was much less comprehendible and engaging without the tone, body language and actions of the characters.
Obviously the writers of Skins knew what they were doing would translate to screen, but by reading the script alone, people might question whether or not it would appropriate. Of course, it must be realised that a script is a film in its earliest stages, and the complete picture will not come together until it is executed visually and aurally, complete with performance and mise en scène. This essentially reiterates the need for writers to have an aptitude for filmmaking – they must understand what type of text will work on screen and what will not. Alas, being a skilled writer alone is simply not enough.
Image source: HD Wallpapers
This led me to think about how novels differ to scripts and screenplays. Novelists do not have a visual component to fall back on, and thus rely entirely on their descriptive language to paint a picture in the readers’ mind. They must describe their characters thoughts, feelings, whereabouts, actions and dialogue in a way that is both compelling and engaging for readers. Scriptwriting however is concise and straight to the point, with a rule of thumb being to only describe what is seen or heard in addition to dialogue. According to Brian Klems, “clever dialogue is found in quick back and forth exchanges, not prose-y speeches.” He recommends that 95% of dialogue is kept to three lines or less.
Interestingly there is in fact a novel adaptation of the show Skins. Although I have not read it myself, I’d be interested to see how the style of writing differs to that of the dialogue in the script.
All in all, I think it is a valuable exercise to compare scripts to completed films and make observations. I will endeavour to do this throughout the course as it is not only fascinating, but also teaches me a lot about the interdependent relationship between writing and filming.
It’s interesting to learn the specific and ‘proper’ ways to do things when it comes to editing software. I’ve definitely developed habits over the years that slow me down in the suite. I thought it’d be helpful for my benefit, and perhaps anyone else who stumbles across this post, to put up some Premiere short cuts here for future reference:
Selection Tool: V
Track Select Tool: A
Ripple Edit Tool: B
Rolling Edit Tool: N
Rate Stretch Tool: X
Razor Tool: C
Slip Tool: Y
Slide Tool: U
Pen Tool: P
Hand Tool: H
Zoom Tool: Z
Once I have these down pat, they will likely make my life a lot easier. Props to Paul for posting these originally!
The Writing for Film class exercises have offered both a practical and conceptual insight into film production. So far there has been a strong emphasis getting out there and producing content, from script writing, to filming, to editing. I think this approach is really effective as the best way to learn is from doing. It gives us the chance to experiment, make mistakes and ultimately learn from our experiences along the way.
Class exercises over the past two weeks have enabled us to cover the works as we got the chance to dabble in all stages of production. Through this, we were able to put our creative and technical skills into practice to create something simple yet well structured, continuous and complete.
For exercise 2b, in groups we were asked to draw inspiration from the creative students kids clips to create something of our own. In our group, we decided to write our script as a continuation of the following clip:
With the intent to change the dynamic of the relationship, we decided that the main mobster character would be the father/mother to the two ‘children.’ Although we had limited time to come up with a script, we came up with something short, snappy and easy to shoot. This left a lot of room for improvisation on set, resulting in the dialogue to come across more natural and fluent.
In terms of filming, we were instructed to gather six shots in total. At first I thought that this seemed a lot for a scene with minimal action, but when it came to editing, I realised why the more shots would be useful. In terms of continuity, some shots would work, and others would not. Thus it was valuable to have an array of different shots to choose from and carefully select which of them would work best. Here’s what I came up with in the editing suite (please excuse the painfully awkward ending – we kind of forgot to come up with a conclusion):
In the edit suite, I also learned that changing shots must fulfil purpose. If they are changed erratically, or unnecessarily, they consequently detract from the content of the film and viewer is likely to be aware of the cuts when they should fly unnoticed. More shots or cuts does not necessarily equate to a better quality product. For this reason I chose to neglect a medium close up two shot of the children as it just seemed random and unnecessary, and ultimately disruptive to the flow of the scene.
So far I am really enjoying these classes and am learning a lot from each exercise. With each task come new learning curves that teach us something valuable about the filmmaking process.