Notes on Part 4 – Picture the scene

Part 4: Picture the Scene explores the overall structure of a screenplay and how it can be broken down into acts and scenes. To understand this further I read the chapter on The Three-Act Structure: Why You Need It and What to Do with It, from Linda Seger’s book Making a Good Script Great (2010).

With my trusty green highlighter and post-it labels, I noted down points that I hope will guide me through this next assignment and beyond. Firstly, constructing a story in a way that will give my screenplay direction, momentum and clarity, I must adhere to the Three-Act Structure. Whilst each act has a different focus, it must move from one to another by way of a turning point.

To help me visualise this going forward, I used the diagram on page 81 of Segar’s Making a Good Script Great (2010) and the guide from the OCA course book to roughly map my script.

IMG_0234
Rough guide for my structure of script

Reflections on Assignment 3

I finally handed in my latest assignment at the beginning of July. I’d already missed my deadline by two weeks – will I ever manage to defeat it during this course? – and I was feeling the pressure. The weekend in the run-up to my second deadline was spent burrowed in course work whilst trying to come up with 3-4 pages of script that would meet the submission date. The following paragraphs are from my Reflective Commentary for Assignment 3.

Project 4: Revealing character is where my script started to come to fruition, most notably from the exercise: A Dramatic Entrance. From there I was conscious, whilst writing this assignment, to construct a script with a main character, one or two secondary characters and one to three minor characters, on reading project 5: Assembling a Cast List. I had to reduce the characters considerably on my final draft, as the assignment submission states 3-4 pages of script, however, this also proved difficult on trying to decide what to keep and who to discard. I resulted in submitting 5 pages of script from a possible 8. I am still over the submission quota.

            During this assignment, I tried to pay attention to my tutor’s advice from Assignment 2 on being more specific with description when setting a scene, in order for the viewer to get a sharper image in the mind’s eye. I have to remember the difference between telling a story and writing visually for a screenplay, something I kept drifting into when writing the script for this assignment. Much of my re-draft here was omitting described scenes and adding dialogue whilst trying to maintain a decent screenplay within the allotted timeframe. My aim is to continue to read various scripts on dailyscript.com in order for me to condense an understanding of how screenplays are written.

            As I work through each part of the course I try to adhere to what I have learnt from the previous project and/or exercise and continue to incorporate it within each assignment. Setting my script in Ireland enabled me to explore further the use of idiom and idiolect within my script, however, I’m not sure if my use of language was natural and distinguished in its expression amongst my characters, though I did try to maintain an undercurrent of conflict and obstacles between them.

Projects 1 and 2: Connecting with Characters and The Character Lab consecutively, helped in developing my characters, however, I didn’t give it the time it deserved and fell short on a back story for my main character. With this in mind, I continued to write my script whilst thinking about the genesis of how and where Misty Greenacre transpired and building a character arc for her. I would like to continue my journey with her and develop a more complex character.

I have watched The Hurt Locker (2008, dir. Kathryn Bigelow, screenplay Mark Boal), Little Miss Sunshine (2006, dir. Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, screenplay Michael Ardnt) and Django Unchained (2012, dir. Quentin Tarantino, screenplay Quentin Tarantino) and noted reactions of main characters within the first 20 minutes of their introduction. In developing my script further, cultivating flaws to contribute to the storyline, as well as revealing contradictory traits to make my character/s compelling, will be the qualities that define them.

Lastly, on my tutor’s recommendation, I have ordered the following books:

Ashton, Paul (2011) The Calling Card Script. London: A and C Black.

Snyder, Blake (2005) Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. California, USA: Michael Wiese.

Seger, Linda (2010) Making a Good Script Great. Los Angeles, USA: Silmam-James Press.

These will be my constant companions as I progress with this course.

Whilst deadlines seem to overwhelm me I’m glad that I took extra time with Assignment 3. Judging by the feedback from my tutor it was the right decision: There is a lot that is most successful about this assignment. In particular, I am impressed with the concise characterization, the good use of the regional dialect, the way the scene moves quickly and engagingly. There is more of a sense of discipline in how you have organized and edited this text. The vivid characters, with their evocative dress were most successful, given their detail. The dialogue is witty and engaging. You have clearly worked hard on this.

On my next reflective commentary, I must avoid run-on sentences. Far too many commas stand out on my latest RC!

The next assignment is about the structure of story and scenes. Taking my tutor’s advice  I will make careful note of the story arc and the three-act structure and apply my writing to show I understand the basics, rather than being too experimental at this stage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections on Assignment 2

My learning log has taken a back seat of late, although I am writing most days in my notebook which, I suppose, is better than nothing. I mentioned in my last post that I would be writing about the exercises taken in Conflict and Dialogue but alas, I didn’t get round to it…

Three months has lapsed since then so the following two posts will be my reflections on Assignments 2 and 3 respectively.

It took a while for me to get started on Assignment 2, primarily because I wasn’t happy with my synopses and partly due to fear of writing a plausible screenplay that keeps the audience involved and satisfied. The following is my Reflective Commentary for Assignment 2:

The exercises in ‘Part 2 – Conflict and dialogue’ helped enormously in understanding how crucial conflict and dialogue is used to move the script forward and keeping the viewer involved.

On watching Cold Mountain (dir. Anthony Minghella, screenplay Anthony Minghella), I was aware of the importance of main and secondary conflicts that the main character faces, and reflected in my diary that I must keep this in mind when writing my screenplay and, whilst obstacles are an important process in getting to the end goal for the character, they are crucial for the viewer too, in as much as they keep the viewer watching.

From there I discovered that the protagonist should get much of the attention, but equally, the antagonist must keep the viewer intrigued and compelled to keep watching them. During this part of the assignment, I watched Winter’s Bone (2010, dir. Debra Granik, screenplay Debra Granik & Anna Rosellini) and The Shawshank Redemption (1994 dir. Frank Darabont, screenplay, Stephen King & Frank Darabont).

Whilst I spent much of my time watching films and reading various scripts (see bibliography), I lost confidence in my synopses/ideas from Assignment 1 to start my screenplay, so I focused this assignment on two scenarios from the exercise in ‘Project 5 – conflict in dialogue’.

In my first scenario set in a supermarket car park, my aim was to keep the script simple and focus entirely on the interaction between two female characters: Belinda and Sophie; both very different but, very much in command of the situation as it occurs. I purposely wanted to start the scene with Belinda trying to emulate a sense of calm through her motivational CD rather like the character Carolyn Burnham does in American Beauty (1999, dir. Sam Mendes, screenplay Alan Ball) and for the viewer to wonder why she is doing this. Then as the scenario escalates, we can see Belinda unravel, becoming the person she is trying to escape from. Sophie, on the other hand, is far more relaxed, self-confident and free.

For my second scenario I had started to write from Marnie’s point of view but as I continued with it, Derek seemed to take over, with much heavier dialogue, and a far more confrontational influence, not just to Marnie but the other characters in the scene.

I tried to work with idiom and idiolect in both scenarios, with Sophie in scenario 1 and Lady Shanus Jubilee in scenario 2, but feel that I haven’t got to grips with it on this assignment. This is something that I will work on throughout this course and listen to what is going on around me.

Going forward, I will continue to read scripts – I am familiarising myself with its form from the various scripts I have read. I am starting to understand the importance of dramatising a script through actions, reactions and dialogue and tweaking actions to more dramatic effect.

For the next assignment, I will endeavour to keep working on idiom and idiolect as well as creating characters and ideas that will help my screenplay come to fruition.

My tutor seemed pleased with my commentary, especially because I took his advice following Assignment 1 and followed his pointers below:

  1. What you did and why- how the pieces were structured, and choices you made regarding that. The point of view of characters or the narrative stance from which the script was written. Choices you made about the language used. How you edited your work with one draft to another.
  2. What you think about what you did.
  3. What you’ll do next time.

I was conscious whilst writing my second reflective commentary to take his advice and it seemed to pay off. In his words: In the reflective essay, you have thoughtfully and with reference to technical developments given me a detailed account. I think it is a strong reflective essay with a good range of references. It is also structured well. 

As each assignment is written my aim is to improve upon each one and I felt I had with number 2. As my tutor states: Generally speaking, I think you are making good progress. In both the pieces you create sharp, engaging and distinct characters. They are also memorable and have very sharp dynamics between them. I found myself laughing out loud a few times, which shows just how successful you were with these characters and situations!

During the assignment, I did slip into novelistic terms when describing characters, as my tutor points out: There are quite a few little points in the piece where I have asked for this specificity a little more in terms of ensuring you visualizing everything the reader will see. Remember that nothing novelistic can be offered about the characters- we only know what we see, and at times more specific description would have really helped the viewer to get a sharper image in their mind.

Whilst working on Assignment 3, I kept this in mind throughout.

 

 

 

 

Notes on project 1, exercise 1

I’ve been writing in my notebook recently because it’s easier to lug around the office than my computer and so the next few posts will be my notes on exercises for part two.

I’m mindful of the number of films that one has to watch whilst doing this course and sometimes I get anxious that I’m not going to have time to watch them all with everything else that’s going on in life. Rather than watching four or five further films in the first exercise of Conflict and Dialogue, I started on the list that is referenced in the beginning of Scriptwriting. So far I have watched, Winter’s Bone (2010, dir. Debra Granik, screenplay Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini), Sense and Sensibility (1995, dir. Ang Lee, screenplay Emma Thompson), American Beauty (1999, dir. Sam Mendes, screenplay Alan Ball), Cold Mountain (dir. Anthony Minghella, screenplay Anthony Minghella) and Little Miss Sunshine (2006, dir. Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, screenplay Michael Arndt)

My chosen film for this first exercise is American Beauty (1999, dir. Sam Mendes, screenplay Alan Ball). The main conflict in this movie is between two characters or more, primarily, Lester Burnham, his wife Carolyn and their daughter, Jane. From the first instance, we focus on Jane who is being videotaped by her friend and neighbour Ricky. Jane discusses her need for a father to be a role model, not some geek-boy letching over her girlfriends from school. She calls him a lame-o then says someone should put him out of his misery. Off camera, we hear Ricky: Want me to kill him for you? Then Jane responds: Yeah, would you?

Immediately we know that Lester is the main focus of American Beauty, most knowingly in the voiceover that follows, he is telling us that within the year he will be dead. As the film journeys towards the final act, we see a secondary source of conflict in Lester as he struggles with his identity in the form of a mid-life crisis and this, in turn, proves a struggle for his wife Carolyn, already fighting her corner for want of a better, more dynamic husband. Seemingly a well, put-together woman who is also the main breadwinner, she holds all the power in their household though her aggression and vitriol push her further away from Lester.

For Lester there are many obstacles he faces throughout the movie:

  • his wife regards him with contempt
  • his lack of sex life
  • the marriage is in meltdown
  • his daughter thinks he’s a loser
  • his job is going nowhere
  • his boss is positioning him for the axe

Whilst, in the beginning, we view his mid-life crisis through his infatuation with Jane’s sultry friend Angela, he gradually starts to reclaim his life whilst those around him start to unravel.  For while Lester is enjoying his newfound freedom, he ends up paying the ultimate price.

Now I understand how vital conflict is when writing a screenplay. For it keeps the story moving towards a successful conclusion and it needs an audience to feel involved and satisfied in the process.

My biggest task right now is making sure that there are enough obstacles between my main character and their end goal in order for an audience to be satisfied. So, I guess I should add two more post-it notes to my ever increasing mind map: Conflict and Obstacles…

 

 

Thoughts on Assignment 1

I’m frustrated that I haven’t posted on this blog for a while. Life has been busy and I haven’t been able to spend enough time on my coursework. I’m glad Assignment 1 is not submitted for formal assessment!

I felt that I rushed the first assignment. I wasn’t able to meet my deadline and had to push it back by a week. I’m not overly enthusiastic about my three synopses either…doubting my ideas and the fact that I hadn’t spent enough time on the exercises. Having said that I have read some screenplays: Little Miss Sunshine (screenplay by Michael Arndt), Atonement (screenplay by Christopher Hampton) and American Beauty (screenplay by Alan Ball). I’m hopeful that by reading more scripts I will get to grips with the process of screenwriting and begin to feel comfortable with writing in this format.

Writing visually certainly makes me think more about what I put on the page. Adapting an extract from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald was the second part of the assignment and I think I enjoyed this more than coming up with my own three synopses (should I even admit that?) I downloaded the adapted screenplay by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pierce and started to work on the extract. Whilst I endeavoured to capture the scene with slight adjustments, I’d forgotten to reference point of view and descriptions about each character. My tutor also remarked it was a little on the short side; I’d just about managed 3 pages but could have stretched to four.

I think I was a bit daunted about doing my first screenplay exercise and thought it better to err on the side of caution, however, it limited my creativity by doing so and therefore resulted in silly mistakes.

Advice by my tutor to make certain adjustments has helped me to understand what I need to do going forward, certainly for Assignment 2. In crafting conflict for the next assignment, I must pay attention to the contrasting voices of each character and think about what makes them unique and how that can be visually expressed in the scene. Thinking about how conflict is going to move my character along to a state of resolution will hopefully satisfy the viewer. Easier said than done!

Finally, since starting ‘Scriptwriting’ I am more aware of what I’m watching on television and screen and how what if’s tantalise the viewer. For instance, does a scene engage the viewer and satisfy them. Is it far-fetched or realistic?  Am I rooting for the protagonist or the antagonist? Am I engaging with what I’m watching? The other night I shrieked at my television “would that really happen?” whilst watching The Replacement. Well, I must’ve been engaged to cause that reaction even though the scene was very far-fetched. In fact, for me, much of them were. As for satisfaction, the juries still out…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Project 2: Writing a screenplay

For this exercise I’m going to examine some of the techniques a writer uses to make a story more visual and dramatic. Project 2 touches on Brokeback Mountain, a short story from Annie Proulx’s book Close Range: Wyoming Stories. Larry McMurty and Diana Ossana are screenwriters whom adapted Brokeback Mountain into the much acclaimed film.

There are similarities between prose and screenplay: time and location remain the same, likewise the confrontation between Alma and Ennis over his relationship with Jack Twist.

We are introduced to Monroe, known as the Riverton grocer in the story, whom Alma married after divorcing Ennis.  In the adaptation though, he is  driving the action forward, setting the scene of Thanksgiving by carving the turkey. Placing him at the head of the table, the viewer is aware that the scene is set in the Monroe household.

Dialogue is added between the interaction of Ennis and his daughter, Alma JR. In the story he sits between his daughters, talking about horses to them, trying not to be a sad daddy. In the screenplay, Alma JR starts the conversation by asking her father about riding broncs in the rodeo. It states that he tries to be cheerful for his girls, not wanting to be a sad daddy and his girls love him, their faces rapt when their daddy speaks.

The following scene is the interaction between Alma and Ennis in the kitchen on Thanksgiving night. The story tells us that Alma is worried about him and he ought to get married again but in the script, dialogue is used to start the conversation:

ALMA

You ought to get married again, Ennis.

(pause)

Me and the girls worry ’bout you bein’ alone so much.

Dialogue is primarily the same as in the story, though the screenwriters have omitted some  sentences and added others to heighten the dramatic conversation between the pair: Alma turns on Ennis telling him not to fool her no more with the added sentence ‘You didn’t go up there to fish. You and him…’ Here, the screenwriters add some action before he responds: Ennis grabs her wrist and twists it. He continues, ‘Now you listen to me, you don’t know nothin about it.’ Alma then drops the dish she is holding.

What is interesting about this scene is the subtle changes the screenwriters have used to heighten a dramatic moment. From seizing her wrist in the story to grabbing and twisting it in the screenplay, and dropping the plate as opposed to it clattering, an image is already set in motion.  Ennis becomes more forceful too; in the story he is less so: ‘Shut up,’ he said. ‘Mind your own business. You don’t know nothin about it.’

From reading this section of the screenplay the screenwriters have told a story through images. I know where each scene is set, when it was set and what year:

INT: RIVERTON, WYOMING: MONROE HOUSEHOLD: THANKSGIVING NIGHT: DINING ROOM: 1977 : (and) THANKSGIVING NIGHT: KITCHEN: 1977

I know who is speaking: the name of the character is in bold capitals and sometimes brackets are placed underneath encompassing their feelings, emotions and reactions so they know how to portray the dialogue.

An adapted screenplay is pared down from prose using direct interaction between its characters. Dialogue connects one character to another. In comparison to prose, where a novel or short story can take the reader inside the mind of the character, with the words revealing opinions, dreams, thoughts and feelings, a screenplay must show what a character is thinking and feeling through images, actions and  dialogue.

I must keep this in mind when writing my screenplay.

Shark attack

I am galeophobic.

In other words I’m scared shitless of sharks. So, you can imagine my distress on reading Exercise 1 in Scriptwriting: An introduction to screenwriting, that I have to watch that scene from Jaws:

‘Police Chief Martin Brody is reluctantly feeding bait into the water. We see him smoking a cigarette and shooting dirty looks at Quint, captain of the boat. Suddenly, an enormous Great White, its teeth bared, surges out of the ocean towards Brody. Brody jumps backwards. Still smoking, his eyes never leaving the water, he retreats slowly to the wheelhouse where he delivers the unforgettable line, “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”’

Yes, I know the shark is plastic and now somewhat dated but I just can’t bear them…not even cartoon versions. Finding Nemo was a nightmare. 1 hour and 40 minutes spent with my hands in front of my eyes. My poor (young at the time) daughter thought I was mad! Well, I was during that. Sharks are so menacing!

So, I somehow plucked up the courage, with the help of my husband to watch the scene via YouTube. In all it is 35 seconds. That’s it…35 seconds! There’s about 9 seconds of dialogue, 20 seconds of reaction after the Great White appears and literally 2 seconds of the Great White baring its teeth…I’m shaking just writing this.

On watching (between fingers) such an iconic scene, seconds seem like hours; there’s so much going on that one doesn’t think about time at all. In a movie like Jaws you are gripped (no pun intended) from start to finish.

 

Writing a 15 minute screenplay is daunting. I have to consider my character’s thoughts and feelings through images, action and dialogue. I must train my mind to think visually, read as many scripts as I can and spend hours watching movies. Including Jaws…gulp!

Already I’m reading the script of Little Miss Sunshine (screenplay by Michael Arndt) and enjoying the interaction of the characters on the page. I have seen the movie and look forward to watching it again for my work on Part 4 of the course.

As I continue to plough through each exercise, I will write about films I have watched and scripts I have read. Most importantly though, my screenplay will be journaled throughout.

Wow! Did I just write ‘my screenplay?’ Here’s hoping…