Monday, 9 March 2009

Captain's Blog 09.03.09

The Anatomy of an Episode - Part One

Ok, as a kind of experiment (and also a good indicator to anyone I can eventually entice into writing for Odyssey :P), I thought I'd start this "mini-series" of blogs about my own writing (and shooting) process, in the hope that it's useful to those of you who shoot and write yourselves, to see how someone else's "creative process" works.

It might sound a little disjointed, as there are plot points I want to avoid giving away in the interim, but I thought it was worth a shot.

Blog One: The Idea

Ok, so as I've mentioned on the show a coupla times, I have a plan for at least the next two seasons of episodes already laid out, in very rough sketch format. This plan consists of a few pages of Word doc, liberally broken down into synopses under provisional title headings. Titles are something I think people struggle with; sometimes they come slam-bang out of the blue, other times they need long and careful thought, and in the case of Odyssey, I try to make the title fit the episode as much as possible (even if the meaning is a little obscure to begin with).

So, with that in mind, let's look at Episode Six, the next one on my "writing block". This has been slated as a Leyland-focus episode since Day One (as all the other main characters in the ensemble get a spotlight episode this season; Albrecht in Ep1, Nolan in Ep2, Harper in Ep3, Frost in Ep4, M'raal and to an extent Cross in Ep5, and this one is Joseph's chance to stretch his acting wings a tad ;)). As such, it needs to be an episode that examines certain aspects of his character, maybe challenges some of his beliefs, and gives him both a mental/psychological conflict to resolve, as well as a more material one.

So, for character development, what are we looking at here? Well, Leyland has been broad-stroke painted as somewhat of a dull, by-the-book guy upto now. He commands the fighter wing attached to Odyssey (as shown in Ep2), and fulfils the role of Second Officer in the command hierarchy. Slow to anger, slow to joke but fast to complain about a rules infraction, Leyland needs to change a little to adjust to life aboard the Odyssey (a most unusual command crew isn't likely to be seen elsewhere in the Fleet. Ryan has handpicked the crew for a reason... which we may or may not discover directly, over the course of the developing series...), and he has picked the stiff-necked Leyland as well, for a reason.

So, the first two elements are in place; we have a broad idea of the kind of guy Leyland is (already having been set up by the Finale and the preceeding episodes), and the fact we need to make him grow as a person during the course of the show, so we can understand him more.

Eager to avoid the old "estranged father" concept (and having already used it to a degree in Ep3), as well as trying to side-step the old trope of having the character's parents distant, dead or so far away they don't appear, I decided to bring them to the forefront in this episode rather than falling into the stereotype trap. So, Leyland has a happy family; does he see them regularly? Maybe. Is his father proud of what his son has achieved? Probably (as we've already had one strained family situation brought about by unreasonable expectations this season :P).

Brothers or sisters? Maybe an older sister, I feel (breaks out of the usual mode of competing mail siblings). Will she appear in this episode? Who knows; the idea and concept might well be used purely to push the story forward at some point.

So, what's the story about? Well, it's a questioning of Alliance Command's distrust of the growing political and sectarian power the United Church has begun to demonstrate. They don't trust something that looks almost too good to be true. But what's really going on behind closed doors?

Well, that's the subject of Part Two, coming tomorrow... stay tuned for more :)


sisch said...

Very interesting read - I always love to hear how directors develop their ideas, especially if it's for a series of the scope of Odyssey, with so many different characters. Something this big, to be honest, intimidates me a bit!

On the other hand, even if you're not doing a series; if you want to make your characters come alive for the viewer, you need to have detailed backstories for each of them - preferably not only, in a kind of foggy way, in your mind, but written down in detail. Every little detail helps! The more alive they are for you as a writer, the more alive they come on screen - even if they're only ever visible for some minutes.

Looking forward to the next part of your musings! :)

Killian said...

I thought it'd be an interesting exercise to show my thought process and work pattern to see if anyone else does it the same way, or even (shock of shocks!) if it helps anyone with organising their shooting and/or plans.

More is coming down the pipe (or, at least, as much as I can give away without... giving anything away, at any rate ;))

kuroken said...

I disagree with Sisch - I don't feel a need to begin with a backstory for the characters - I give them backstory as needed for the plot.

For instance....

As I convert animations and mess around with Vue for a big opening flyover scene in Daedalus, I'm also working on my followup to Daedalus - also a Conquerst film, but focusing on a Fleet Criminal investigator, a cop, who's investigating a murder.

There are a couple of Easter Eggs in Daedalus that foreshadow this story (as Sisch knows, since she's handling one of them) and the lead character, Jack Archer, appears very briefly in one Daedalus scene (this story is happening at the same time as Daedalus)

So, Jack Archer - rough guy, bad tempered guy - and that's where he begins. Why? How should I know. I don't need to know. I'm where the audience is when we meet Jack.

As I've needed backstory for him, I've created it - he's clearly got a problem with a security lieutenant, and says they go back a long way, but that's all we know. Guess what...that's all I know too. When I need to explain it, if I need to explain it, I'll make something up.

In part two, he and his boss will be visiting Admiral Samuels, Chief of Fleet Operations. On the ride home from work today, I thought "Hey, what if Jack and Samuels have a past. Maybe Jack was chief of security on Samuel's ship. Maybe something happened that caused Jack to leave the Fleet and become a civilian investigator with Fleet CIS. Hey, maybe it has something to do with the security lieutenant, Franks...."

And so it goes. I don't feel a need to know everything about my characters in terms of their backstory, only in terms of their character. What kind of person are they is out front, in the audience's face. Why they're that kind of person is as open to interpretation as why any of us are like we are. As you get to know somebody, as the situation makes it natural for someone to share some information about themselves, they do. And then you know it. And then maybe you understand them more.

But as my characters develop over the course of the story, their background, what makes them what they are, is made up as needed. I know what they're like - I know how they're going to react, what they're going to say - why is something that I dish out when it serves the story.

Killian said...

I agree with what you're saying... to a point.

With a finite story and an "end goal" in sight, the necessary character of each individual...character needs to be in place enough to start "in media res"; the character is shown as they are, and the necessary parts of WHY they are as they are can be filled in (or not) as the story progresses, but only those parts which are vital to the current story being told need to be shown (or hinted at, or implied); there's no need to expand on why the character acts the way they act in a stand-alone situation, unless it's to further the current story.

With a series, I feel there's more need to show why a character feels/acts/thinks (to a certain degree) the way they do, so when a character chooses a course of action, it remains believable for the audience (or, conversely, makes the audience say "WTF?!?", which is obviously the intent in making them do something they normally wouldn't). Whether this "backstory" is part of the concept from day one, or develops from the character's current persona, doesn't really matter. The important thing is that there is consistency in the way the development goes; the character's deeper issues, thoughts, etc are important to making them a more rounded individual as time goes on. The personality of that part fleshes out more and more as the character grows more and more "real" in the eyes of the audience and, as an ongoing role, the character becomes more and more three dimensional and someone the audience can identify with.