Monday, 21 October 2013

Yr2 Week 2 (Mon 14 Oct - Screenwriting the Short Film)

In today's lecture, we looked at Personal Experience, and how that can be of use when writing and making films. To really set the stage, we looked at some work from the famous Swedish film maker Ingmar Bergmann, who himself had a very troubled life (growing up in a strict, religious household, going through a number of marriages, suffering from depression and even being committed to an insane asylum for a while.) We first looked at his television miniseries Fanny and Alexander, which was in part based on Bergmann's childhood (specifically, the opening scene where the boy fools around the house when no one is around). Notes of the scene include:
  • Very sparingly used dialogue, which adds a little realism, since we tend not to talk much when alone.
  • Emphasis on sound, whether its the horses outside, the chimes of the clock, the lack of ther people around the house etc.
  • Lots of close ups, emphasizing the objects the child plays with, as well as, again, the lack of activity around him.
  • The toy theatre in the opening (a nod to Bergmann's own childhood, since he had one).
  • The magic lantern (another part of Bergmann's childhood, in fact, he traded some toy soldiers for one at the local toy shop).
Then, we watched an excerpt from another Bergmann's film, Hour of The Wolf, which owes in part to an event from Bergmann's childhood, where his friends locked in him in a mausoleum with a female corpse. The scene in question involved the lead, played by Max Von Sydow, going up to the corpse of his dead lover, which seemingly returns to life and mockingly laughs at him. Some of the observations I made here include:
  • Black & white film, and by and large silent, allowing the surreal, almost nightmarish imagery to take centre stage.
  • Other corpses seemingly wake and laugh at him too, which may be a reference to how Bergmann's grandmother would humiliatingly make strange noises during love scenes at the cinema.
And on the note of recalling the past, we then moved on to the core theme of the session;
What Gives Experiences Value?
Some of the ideas thrown out by the group when asked included:
  • Can't be taught, so it has to be told to be conveyed unto others.
  • Gives us a personal perspective/uniqueness on a certain area or subject.
  • It can inspire us to do better, based on good or great experiences.
  • The sheer range and contrast of experiences can make for a broad pool from which to draw influence, inspiration and ideas for stories.
  • They can involve common/universal/transcendent themes and emotions i.e. joy, rage, ire, guilt, forgiveness, redemption, aspiring to do better, greed, want, lust etc.
We then watched the short film Barrie the Barber, from Wales, a black and white piece about a small town barber, who seems to be caught in a self delusion, such as believing he is physically fit when he has a bad cough and smokes/drinks, and in the end, going outside to the sunlight (the only time in the film, since the rest of the time it's either raining or set indoors), he comes to a sort of realisation about the whole thing (a typical stopping point for shorts, when a major change is about to occur to a character that could be explored in a longer feature).

And capping off with some quick points and discussion (revising the concept of dramatic irony, talking about the four basic emotions (anger, sadness, happiness and fear) and how they differ from feelings, since the former are more like 'primary' colours, which can be mixed to form the latter, which are more complex), that concluded our morning lecture.

Moving on to the seminar, first, we were asked to get into pairs (in my case, threes) and share the stories we had prepped over the blast week, and get feedback: my story dealt with a Latin American youth who works in a video store, and ends up meeting and befriending a new teacher, and together they work on a screenplay and get it made into a feature, though not without some tensions and difficulties, especially the youth's social inabilities.

The feedback was that, on the positive side, I had written it well, clearly and concisely, however, on the other hand,l the ending was a bit rushed, and perhaps the conflict between the two needed some work. Afterwards, we asked to form a circle (of sorts, given the small size of the room) and think about one memory from the past, then one that was significant in the last year, and then take someone else's: 1. Picking vegetables with my grandmother as a small child. 2. My nephew passing away, only a few months old. 3. Getting diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Some of the memories from the rest of the group included:
  • Being mauled by a pitbull
  • stealing cigarettes from a corner shop
  • Having a baby
  • Being born in Greece and often bullied
  • Being betrayed by someone close
  • Witnessing violent fights between parents
  • First day at college
  • Being madly in love the past summer
  • Playing with Dad and siblings in Kenya
Then, as our last major exercise of the day, we quickly went over the parameters (guidelines) for story design when it comes to short films, quickly going over elements such as character focus vs interaction (who they are vs how they interact with others), character vs object/decor (the mise en scene, and what we can tell about them from that), simplicity vs depth (how much detail and how far you can go), economy vs wholeness (how much is needed to make it work, and what can be trimmed/cut), image vs sound (pretty self explanatory) and consistency vs surprise (what the audience expects, and how can we play with them).

For our assignment, we had to go away and describe a memory from our past, that changed us in some way, in 300 words. To conclude, today got into a lot of the 'meatier' aspects of writing, and the personal aspect has a special relevance today, given the popularity of the 'Based off a true story' film nowadays, Paul Greengrass' Captain Philips being a recent and popular example. Furthermore, the latter session' activity of sharing memories was a real eye opener, and it gave my classmates a lot more dimension and courage, since a lot of what they admitted was extremely personal, and it says a lot about their character and will that they were willing to share this with their classmates, and that truly touched me in a way that I haven't been within an educational environment in a long time. I salute you people, and David Heinemann for putting it together.

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