Friday, 27 February 2015

Yr3 Week 18 - Reading Week 3 (Mon 23 Feb - Fri 27 Feb) & Spider Fly

This will be a pretty brief post, as there isn´t a whole lot to say: with no assignments pressing, this week basically served as a half term break for me. So instead, I´ll take this opportunity to talk about my other major Uni project, writing a short script due to be filmed as another student's dissertation film.

The short, 12 minute script is the titular Spider Fly, and goes like this:

A compact, sleek and enticing tale in the tradition of Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction, Spider Fly is the story of Jeff, a successful young hotshot lawyer in London. One night, he invites a dear co-worker, Christine, to celebrate a major victory at his apartment. As the evening progresses, however, Christine´s true motives become all the clearer, and Jeff struggles to tame the animal inside as she tries to envelope him in carnal seduction. 

As of this entry, we are three drafts in since the collaboration started back in late January. Each one was written in about a day, and then submitted to David Heinemann for a look over (he´s also my collaborator´s tutor), and naturally feedback took a little time to get back. Each one was positive, though the critical points were on expansion of the two leads, making them more three dimensional, as well as making the seduction feel more real and credible. 

I feel what drew me to this project was just the chance to write something outside of my comfort zone: I usually write more fantastical stories, so to go for a sort of psychological erotica was an interesting experiment. How well it turned out has yet to be seen, but the challenge is welcome.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Yr3 Week 17 (Fri 20 Feb - MDA3400 Screenwriting workshop 7)

Today was a little funny, as few people turned up, and did so over half an hour later, so instead I had more of a one on one tutorial with David Cottis, who was in charge of this session. I had completed my fourth draft of Little Visitor, now retitled Little Friend, which was finally up to the 30 page limit, and with the changes from last session's feedback implemented (better geography, more conflict with the parents and dialogue punch ups).

So, what did David think? Well, he felt it was on the right track and flowed better than it had before, and did like several scenes and bits of dialogue throughout the script, but Bobo still needed some more weight, than more so in the second half to better justify why Bobby no longer needs him. Also, the stop motion sequence could have more prominence, and be used later in place of a scene involving an old tooth box I wrote, to better tie the whole script together and not have things come out of thin air in the film's closing act.

Also, the action lines needed a bit more specificity and not be as broad in terms of things like room description, while still being to the point and short. That, and maybe the passage of time is a little too fast, and needed better placing/defining.

Yr3 Week 17 (Thurs 19 Feb - MDA3200 Film Theory - Representation)

Returning to the subject of Representation, we opened with an extract from Lars Von Trier's experimental period piece Dogville (2003), which opted to have actors in costume performing the story on a large stage with few props and tape marking the different 'sets' on the stage. Essentially, this was akin to low budget theatre, relying heavily on the power of suggestion and the audience.

Representation is all about choice and expression, which ties back to the discussions relating to language and semiotics we´ve had these past couple of weeks: how do we communicate and what that then creates for the audience (reaffirmation or doubt). It also permitted us to delve more into signs/signification. Not only do signs function relationally (a combination or sequence to create meaning), but there are different types as well, like the iconic (a close tie between sign and signified, like a red traffic light) and the indexical (many things i.e. Big Ben can be London, England, Europe, HP Brown Sauce etc.).

In turns, signs can birth a type of ideology, because a combination can create a meaning which in turn dictates our view of a given 'thing' or subject. It allows for a straightforward, conventional communication of a certain element in a universal manner. Without it, we may cause confusion or be left unsure, which also ties back into past discussions about film language and the avant garde. In theory, after all, we cam ascribe any meaning to any subject, but without a common agreement, it will not work. Film, being photographic, does allow a little more leeway, given that it is a motivated sign system (where there is a direct link signifier and signified), and notions such as the Kuleshov effect demonstrate this.

These ideas of film being viewable as paradigmatic (choice) and syntagmatic (syntax) extend beyond just the mechanics of a film. For example, stories and even whole genres can be broken down in a such a fashion, tropes or elements being delineated in terms of the accepted rules and limited choices i.e., Westerns (Location (Saloons, prairies, railways, canyons etc.), Costume (Stetson, spurs, boots), Transport (Coaches, trains, horses), Weapon (six shooters, rifles, tomahawks) etc.). Similar things can be done to say, genre hybrids like sci-fi westerns or romantic comedies, and can also be applied to say, characters and their archetypes.

This in turn lead us into Stereotypes/Cliches, which are those well trodden paradigmatic and syntagmatic ideas, the conventional exemplifiers i.e  a big burly John Wayne type in a Western. The advantage is its familiarity, quickly communicating a notion to the audience and filling in the allotted role with ease. The downside is the same though: audience have seen it before, and so to avoid it, writers need to have a greater self-awareness of signification and be able to think outside of it. This ties into ideas such as defamiliarization (the familiar in the unfamiliar) and the Sensory Motor Mechanism (how we see familiar patterns and structures).

However, this leads us right back to the issue of interpretation, and the question over ambiguity and clarity. How much do you state, and how much do you leave for the audience? Naturally, a little context is always needed: a training video will need the clarity, while an arthouse film does not. Well, that took us into the seminar, where we viewed two different extracts, and dissected them to see what they were communicating. Those were David Lean's This Happy Breed (1946) and Jean Luc Godard's Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1966).

The first is a Christmas in 1920s Britain in a moderately well off British household. Both the younger and older generations are having a little party, a young sailor stops by to visit his girlfriend, and the parents have a little chat in the kitchen. Seems straightforward enough, and very quaintly British, but underneath, what can be read? Well, among the young there seems to be a strong desire for change, be it the son's Marxist values and spiel during a toast, or the daughter being aspirational and wanting more than to be the future wife of an admittedly nice but plain sailor. Of course, they are also rather impulsive, which is contrasted by the father, who believes that change comes slowly, that it must grow in a manner akin to a garden. However, such ideals play off against the setting of an ordinary, proper and conservative British household of the 20s, complete with Granny and tea. Also, despite the abundant number of women in the house, there is a patriarchal undertone here as most of the scenes are driven not only by the males, but also the prominence of the Father, a very calm and wise figure who gets the meatiest speech.

The second extract is set mainly in a Paris bar in the mid 60s, and is more abstract. In the basic sense, a middle class prostitute goes into a cafe, has a coke, and talks to some friends as well as eye up a young man, while there is construction work going on outside. However, being Godard, it´s not so clean cut: there is frequent cutting back to the construction, often with slightly out of sync sound, as well as a narrator waxing philosophical over the mundane setting. The crosscutting could potentially imply a link between the prostitute and the industrialization in the city, as if saying that French society, a capitalist society, all ties back to some kind of prostitution/selling, and the frequent shots of a stirred cup of coffee naturally could imply space and the greater universe, which mixed with the narrator, feel like the film is being none too subtle about making a point of some sort about France of the time and the people who lived within it. In fact, such an approach is very similar to the other Godard film we saw, Weekend.

This has been one of the meatiest sessions I think I´ve had so far on this course, and naturally, it was quite a bit to take in. However, I feel there is a lot of merit in the concepts presented, and it certainly gives one pause to think more about how even something as simple and straightforward as a sign can have much bigger connotations, and just the sheer variety of them and where they can appear, even if we don't actively think about them or perceive as signs in as obvious a manner as say traffic lights.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Black Butler (Kuroshitsuji) II: Trancy´s Tale - A 13 part Fan Series (23/2/2015)

Not the first time I´ve used the blog to advertise what I do outside of university activities, and not the first fan project I´ve mentioned here either.

So, what´s the chase this time?

"Black Butler II: Trancy´s Tale" is a 13 episode supernatural mystery-thriller series, set in Victorian era England. 13 year old Alois Trancy is a psychotic noble, surrounded by demonic servants, and tasked with cleaning the dirty laundry of Britain´s upper crust as the Noble´s Gardener. Once upon a time, though, Alois was not so wealthy, and endured a life of slavery, misery and humiliation. He made a deal with an elusive spider demon to never again endure that, and to never be alone.

Now in the guise of an upper class butler, the demon, named Claude Faustus, assists his young master as they tend to their dark work. And frankly, they are not afraid to use whatever means are required for the task... But of course, being the Kuroshitsuji (B.B.) universe, nothing is quite as straightforward as it seems, and soon, ghosts from Alois´ troubled past begin to emerge, and he will have to face personal demons that, frankly, make even Claude pale by comparison.

So, that´s the jist. Trancy´s Tale is something of an experiment: Black Butler II is something of a hot tamale in the anime world. It has its fans, as the mountain of fan art and fiction can attest, but on the whole is seen as a failed mishmash of contradictory ideas, contrived storytelling and a major misfire of the very core of what makes Black Butler what it is. Initially sold as Alois and Claude´s show, it promised to be an interesting inversion of the previous season of anime, but was nothing more than a ploy, and only took less than an episode before Ciel Phantomhive and Sebastian Michaelis were crowbarred back into the show. All that potential gone... until now.

Beyond the monsters, mystery and Victoriana Gothic that help define the Black Butler universe, I believe that the Alois/Claude team could allow for a compelling story dealing with family, acceptance and renewal, and how perhaps, even the damned can yet find some shred of humanity and compassion in the end. Also, unlike a lot of fan material on the internet, these will be presented as professionally formatted teleplays, as if these were actually being submitted for proper anime production (that I should be so lucky this early in my career!). 

So well, fingers crossed and hope I make One Hell of a Show....

Link to additional info:

Link to Episode One:

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Yr3 Week 16 (Fri 13 Feb - MDA3400 Screenwriting workshop 5 & 6)

(There was a screenwriting workshop on Monday which I attended, but there was practically no one else there, so it was frankly a waste of time as far as documenting it or gaining anything meaningful for the script from it. Just wished to clarify that before we proceeded further).

So today, in the sixth workshop we have had, I brought in the third draft of Little Visitor, which had now expanded the father-mother conflict and extended the ending to allow Bobby to play a larger role in settling the issue. The opening has also reincorporated the dinner scene between Carl and his son to better establish their situation.

So, class and tutor feedback?
  • The ending managed to be sweet without being sappy or too well wrapped up, acknowledging the difficult situation our trio found themselves in.
  • The fight in the last third gives better insight into the relationship´s history between Carl and Maria.
  • Dialogue needs some polishing, especially Carl´s in the opening which sounded a little robotic.
  • Better geography: the story needs to be more definitely anchored somewhere, in terms of location description as well as maybe the speaking style of the characters.
  • Bobo still needs more justification, as he still feel like an external component instead of an active presence aiding the story.
  • Some fo Bobby´s dialogue a little stiff and repetitious, such as he use of the word ´Dad´more than would be expected for a boy his age.
  • Still lacks a proper target audience. Needs more of a definite focus: Bobo and Bobby, or the parents reconciling and doing what´s right for their son?.
Well, looks like I´ve got my work cut out for me. Onwards!

Yr3 Week 16 (Thurs 12 Feb - MDA3200 Film Theory - Post-Structralism)

Today´s double act focused on the notion of post-structuralism, which, though often seen as what destroyed Grand Theory as a legitimate method of dissecting cinema, is actually more of a mutation of it. That is to say, both are still focused on examining the relationships in film and its effects, but both go about differently, as we shall see.

The filmmaker and the spectator share what can be considered a cinematic language, a means of being able to present ideas and stories on the screen and how the audience is able to follow them. Of course, this ties back to language (linguistics), which we use to define things in our lives, as well as ourselves (thought and spoken). The challenge then is how to go beyond that and think of the unspoken, which can be seen in avant garde filmmaking, breaking the common cinematic language and trying to get the viewers to think a little more.

Of course, said viewers are also bound to their social and mental upbringings, which also helps us define a film´s target audience, and can lead to various ways to ´read´something. Theorists Lapsley and Westlake summed this up as ´Endowed with capacities, subjects can reject and formulate alternatives´, and methods like the ´Chain of Signification´symbolise these notions of endless interpretation. This is very much what post-structuralism is about, finding that rupture and distrusting theories and ideas of absolute and concise meaning. As an example, the Soviet film Mirror (1975) plays fast and loose with notions of time, relative space and continuity, never being fully clear on where it is going or what it is saying, but leaving it to you, the audience, to draw your meanings as to what the sequences mean (we have a mentally deficient man in a seance, we have a mysterious woman in the woods, we have a strange dream sequence involving water, we have a boy watching static on the television).

Of course, as a byproduct of freeing the spectator so much, it also puts notions like Auteur Theory into question, seeing the ´creator´ as more of a tool of the audience than as an entity themselves.After all, if you can draw countless different meanings, what does it matter what the original author thought or felt? In the seminar, we delved into this a little deeper, viewing the extract from Mirror as well as the famous Ride of the Valkyries sequence from Coppola´s Apocalypse Now (1979), and seeing what we thought and felt about each sequence and what it was saying/doing.

Naturally, this was a lot to stomach, and Patrick has said he will break it down further in the coming weeks, which should prove interesting, as it certainly gives one a lot to think about here. Naturally, it is not difficult to see why this ended up taking over from Grand Theory as a major mindset in the word of Film Theory and Analysis: it allows for countless viewpoints and thoughts on the matter not limited by the rigidity we have seen from Grand Theory in the past, and really encourages us to go deeper into the layers of a film beyond any sort of ´apparatus´ or other confining trope.

Yr3 Week 16 (Wed 11 Feb - MDA3300 Film Research and Context - Pitching practice)

Today´s session (I opted to go to the smaller morning session on account of the topic) centered on how to pitch before a potential group of investors/persons in relevant authority. The basic breakdown is as follows:
  1. A quick introduction to you and the project.
  2. Top line information (name, format, length, your role).
  3. The main ´crux´ of the pitch is not too far off from a treatment, just condensed: Synopsis, outline, relevant background/context, and the U.S.P. (Why now and why you?)
  4. Either end on a memorable cliffhangar, or just the old fashioned ´Thank You´and have time for questions.
Naturally, just knowing the basics is not going to be enough, so drawing from her own experience, Elhum offered the following advice:
  • Know your audience beforehand, and tailor the presentation to maximise appeal to them. After all, what´s the good in making a very visual piece if all you do is jabber?
  • Practice, practice, practice! And try timing yourself, since pitches are usually brief affairs, the it is important not to ramble.
  • Breathe and relax! There´s no prizes for passing out.
  • Be passionate and energetic. Be very visual and descriptive without going overboard or becoming pompous.
  • Introduce the key characters/players in a vivid manner, enticing the audience to want to meet them and building a stronger emotional tie.
Originally, I was to pitch the treatment for Little Visitor, but upon reflection, decided this would be a good time to try pitching at least the first season of the animated series I am developing, Very Strange Things. Despite my nerves, I ploughed on, and the full details can be found on this post, as well as my closing thoughts on the whole affair:

Yr3 Week 15 (Thurs 5 Feb - MDA3200 Film Theory - The Gaze and National Student Survey)

Today´s lecture and seminar were a little undercut by the National Student Survey, which is exactly what it sounds like: a survey gauging how students are enjoying their courses and what could be done to improve it. In return, I received a fun little Tetris torch, so hooray!

Anyway, in what was able to be scrounged today as a lecture and seminar was focused on the notion of ´The Gaze´, which is also what it sounds likes, and derives from concepts like voyeurism and sadism (watching others). The Gaze is broken up into several categories, such as the Professional (scientific, judicial), the Aesthetic (beauty), the Investigative (journalistic, deductive), the Voyeuristic (erotic), the Taboo (forbidden) and the Tourist (exotic), all united by a common thread of being a ´drive´/´purpose´ with an aggressive undertone (to look, you must seek/find). Any one of these can also form part of the ´Male Gaze´, which is what is most often associated with this style of theory. The idea of the camera, a phallic creation, as a means for male control and pleasure. Films like Michael Powell´s Peeping Tom (1959) took this stance more literally, having the protagonist being a psychopathic camera who films his female victims.

Of course, this then begs the question of where female viewers fit in, and this theory argues that to do so, they must become ´false males´/´adopt the male perspective´ or, identify masochistically with the lead female in the film, often seen as the lesser according to this model. Of course, this is not so black or white either, as cinema can play with that angle, such as in Billy Wilder´s Some Like It Hot (1959), where the two male leads crossdress as women, and the usually ´perverse´angles so often attributed to this theory are used to gawk on them (like say, low shots on their legs).

The seminar was brief, due to the above mentioned Survey, so little more else was gleamed today for that. Naturally, the theory is certainly an interesting one, but I find it a little lopsided, as it really ignores things like context of the story or the actual film´s own ideology, and just paints a very black and white scenario, which in turn, cancels out films that may not be male-centric altogether. (Where would say, Almost Famous, Girl Interrupted, Marie Antoinette or Boys Don´t Cry fit here if all cinema is basically an excuse for male pleasure?)

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Yr3 Week 15 (Wed 4 Feb - MDA3300 Film Research and Context - Treatments)

In today´s workshop, we took a look at Treatments, which is where a lot of films, screenplays specifically, start life. It´s a document that acts as an overview of the project, its characters, genre and plot. However, instead of recap everything here, I´ll instead post up a link to a piece I wrote as part of my Screenwriting Made Very Easy series which details what is needed in a treatment, and what mine look like:

Besides that, as well as doing old fashioned practice on pen and paper, there were a few more details that Elhum advised putting in:
  • Other additional elements you could include are the likes of a Target Audience, the Unique Selling Point (U.S.P), the length/form and maybe, if needed, a visual reference point to illustrate how the piece will look and feel.
  • Avoid vagueness and be specific! The devil really is in the details!

There isn´t much else to really comment on, as this was a pretty cut and dry session, and well, any other topic I could discuss my above piece already does in greater detail. Elhum was once again very thorough and did come around, talking to people about their treatments and what to do, which was helpful.

Yr3 Week 14 (Thurs 29 Jan - MDA3200 Film Theory - Spectatorship)

In today´s lecture, we looked at the concept of spectatorship i.e. the audience and their relationship with film. To use an immediate example, Patrick screened a clip from the 2008 Iranian film Shirin, which was basically a film about an audience of women watching a romantic Iranian drama, and seeing their reactions. They cried, they sighed, they jolted, their faces sort of mesmerised and entrapped by the screen. This invited questions about what is the ´pleasure´of cinema (masochistic or sadistic), and what can it do to and for an audience (excite, tease, manipulate etc.)

Spectatorship in this case refers to an 1970s/80s offshoot of Grand Theory, which we have discussed before on here. It essentially imagines a hypothetical viewer of the film, and what they gain from a film experience. Naturally, the usefulness of having a hypothetical someone means you can place your film within relevant and relative categories to understand who it would work best for and why. The downside of course is that audiences are not always easy to gauge, and a film can sometimes find appeal or lack thereof with other individuals not part of the original ´spectator´.

Spectatorship also forms a part of another element of Grand Theory, the Cinematic Apparatus, which basically breaks up the film experience into the technical, psychological and physical dimensions and how this affected the viewer. This in turn owes a debt to the likes of notions like semiotics (how we understand signs), psychoanalysis and the idea of an Ideological State Apparatus, which basically dictates how society informs our ideologies and beliefs through everyday means like the media, and given the vast array of themes and subjects tackled in cinema, it´s not hard to see the importance of such ideas.

However, Grand Theory and its various tangents have since been dismissed as dated, feeling too archaic and limiting in discussion of what cinema is and what it can be. This has since been also colourfully dubbed as ´SLAB´Theory´, derived from the four main authors who birthed the notion (Saussure, Lacan. Althusser and Barthes), and we went onto talk further about this ideas in the seminar, discussing spectatorship and the nature of ideology (which is not simply limited to beliefs, as one would think from its common usage, but is simply the way we go about lives. Even our morning routine is for all intents and purposes, an ideology).

Once again, I feel like today provided me with a more substantial and thorough discussion of an aspect of Film Theory than had ever been done by Sharon. We had touched on ideology and the Cinematic Apparatus, but both were in vaguer, less well defined terms and it was good to get a better understanding of both. Also, this a good step towards seeing how theory applies to our own films, since now it feels a lot more relevant and immediate than the dusty, more stately moniker of Film Theory would at first seem to indicate.

Yr3 Week 14 (Wed 28 Jan - MDA3300 Film Research and Context - Guest Lecture)

In a slight change up for today, we had the privilege of enjoying a guest lecture/QnA with British filmmaker and rising star Destiny Ekaragha (director of Tight Jeans and Gone Too Far, both of which have been mentioned before on this blog).

Beginning as a runner after studying Film and Broadcast at London Metropolitan University, Destiny then worked at a cinema for three years before getting a three month apprenticeship over at BBC Films. Inspired, she went on to make her first short film Tight Jeans, but finding funding was a challenge, due to the all black subject matter and cast. However, money was raised and after a slew of festival submissions, got accepted into the London Film Festival, which got her plenty of press notice.

Following her next short film, The Park, was her first feature, Gone Too Far, finding herself identifying with the subject matter, as well as greatly enjoying the original stage production. However, the sell was tough due to, again, the all black subject, and so to help drum up interest, did a readthrough of the script. One notice came from the BFI, who agreed to help put up part of the budget for the film. Following a social media campaign due to the limits of their advertising budget, the film was released to positive reception, including a positive reaction from top UK Film Critic Mark Kermode.

She advised us to be willing to make sacrifices and stick with it, no matter how hard it got, and that it was a pretty brutal industry that took no prisoners. Despite that, I personally was rather imrpessed by her charisma, and still evident enthusiasm for the medium, even after the hassles and battles for her films to even get off the ground. That to me is really inspiring, as I myself am in the throes of getting my own animated series off the ground, and I too have had to deal with rejections and the cold shoulder here and there. And to see someone make it and maintain that attitude really resonated.