Thursday, 5 December 2013

Yr2 Week 6 (Mon 18 Nov - Screenwriting the Short Film & Production update)

Today's morning lecture was to be, in fact, our last, as from next week onwards, we would have workshops at a later hour instead (the regular seminars, however, carry on). Anyway, for this swansong, we looked at going from a treatment to a script.

We looked some of the core elements and that make up this transition, and how they can be done effectively. We started with 'the Scene', a dramatic unit where something happens/changes. To illustrate, we looked a scene ABOUT a scene from the 1976 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon, where a studio executive (DeNiro) shows a writer (Pleasance) how to do a scene in film, describing a scene from a mystery involving someone finding a woman's black gloves (creating a sense of suspense/use of a 'Chekov's'). Another example used, this time more centered on dialogue was from a more recent effort, David Fincher's The Social Network (written by Aaron Sorkin), where our main character, Mark Zuckerberg, is talking to a girl, and ends up being dumped by him. During the conversation, Zuckerberg is speaks fast, throwing out a lot of information/answers to the girl's questions, leaving her sometimes befuddled and confused, and to an extent, also speaks with contempt, especially when he claims that she asked him what 'School would be the easiest, not the best, to get into' and she retorts by pointing out his almost mechanical nature. Being the opening scene, this instantly tells a lot about who Zuckerberg is/behaves without him having to state anything outright.

On the note of dialogue, an important aspect also brought up was never to 'write on-the-nose', where someone says what they mean overly plainly since 1) this is not how people usually speak, thus taking away credibility and believability, and 2) it detracts from possible 'Subtext'. In terms of writing, subtext can be divided up as four elements: The Physical (Where is it), The Personal (what is unsaid in a relationship between characters), The Political (the power relations/the hierachy/who is stronger) and The Thematic (how does this scene fit into the rest of the film's theme). Let's look at an example: in Billy Wilder's much beloved 1955 offering The Apartment, there is a scene where Jack Lemmon's character is summouned to his boss' office, believing he might be in for a promotion. However, his boss has gotten wind of his activities (giving away the key to his apartment to fellow employees to do 'private business') and grills him about it. In the end, he asks Lemmon for the key.

Some of the subtext to be drawn from this scene centers mainly on the Political (Lemmon is viewed with a sense of contempt by his superior, and at first, seems to be in complete control, and smashes down Lemmon's excuses). However, the scene was brought up more for use in an exercise for another important element when discussing scripts: 'Changes/shifts' within scenes, where expectations and thoughts can be subverted for different effects. We were paired up and given the aforementioned scene from The Apartment, and asked to look at the changes, and then to do some actioning (what is the character's superobjective/grand want, and then what are the objectives within the scene):
  • Lemmon's S.O is for a promotion, while his objective within the scene is to, seemingly, not get fired.
  • The Boss' S.O is to acquire the key, and his objective is to really drill into his employee and coax it out of him.
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In between sessions, my team for the Adaptation short had a quick meeting where we set on the filming date as being for the 7-8 December, and that would would have all the paperwork finished within the next two weeks.
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Moving along to the seminar, we got feedback for our our treatments: Mine was for a 1940s throwback short that mixed noir detective mystery with Three Stooges/Looney Tunes sight gags and slapstick. The class gave the consensus that, though funny, the ending was a bit conventional (the hero merely faints with disbelief at his own actions) and tone down the language used by an old lady during the first big setpiece, where our lead gets clobbered by her for seemingly being a peeping tom, to keep it more tonally consistent.

After, we did a quick but hilarious exercise where, in groups of three, two of us had to read a newspaper and try and make observations that could be used later as story/dialogue potential/ideas, while the third would write them down. Some of the following cam up:
  • No staples hold it together, making the paper obtuse to handle.
  • Huzzah for all Eastern Europe!
  • TOO MANY ADVERTS!
  • The English are awful at football puns!
  • Is Lady Gaga truly a male? 
  • American do not comprehend British Humour
  • Horoscopes are innaccurate tripe
  • Boardwalk Empire is irritatingly slow!

And well, that about sums it all up; both the seminar and the lecture bleed into one another, giving a good overview of what is required, and how much thought must be taken, to truly make a script stand out and work to the best of its abilities, and the variety of ways, as shown above, that can be utilised to do so.

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