Thursday, 12 March 2009

Captain's Blog 12.03.09

Blog Two: The Writing Process: Part One

Ok, so... we have the initial structure of what we want to achieve in the episode scrawled down... we have the 6 questions answered (or, at least, we have an idea what the answers are, even if they aren't fully formed yet), and we're ready to launch into the writing, right?

Well, yes and no...

Ok, so now you're confused, right? Well, we're NEARLY there; there's just a couple of extra bits to tack onto the existing processes before we're ready to pick up the pen/sit at the keyboard and launch into the mammoth task of writing the whole thing.

And that is, of course, our base framework.

Now, you might think we already have a base frame outlined from the previous sections, but that's not what I mean. And, this base framework doesn't have to be something written down in "hard copy" format. It just has to be a general overview of the flow of the story as a whole, so you have waypoints to aim for.

When writing a long piece, it can sometimes be a daunting prospect to be staring at a blank page and wondering "how the hell am I going to write 30+ minutes of movie?!?". Using a base framework will at least give you an idea where you're going.

It can be as simple as Point A) Joe wakes up, cleans himself up, eats breakfast and leaves for work, for example. Now, that one line can be shot in a myriad of different ways, dependant on the other factors we've already addressed. Does Joe have a partner? Any kids? Is there any dialogue in this first scene? Is it all just done in a series of quick shots to establish the process he goes through every day, or is this day "special" for any reason?

Questions like this will help to form a basis from which to expand the initial scene. It could be a 30 second montage; it could be a 5 minute discussion about astrophysics, it really depends on what the purpose of this scene is.

Now, in 95% of instances, the scene needs to do one of three things:-

1) Further the plot of the story,
2) Provide further information on the character and/or his/her personality
or 3) Act as a buffer or establishing shot between two other scenes to avoid overload.

Now, Point 3) is a special case; these "padding" or "transistion shots" are sometimes required to enable smooth movement from one situation to another (for example, someone getting out of a chair and walking into another shot where action or dialogue happens, etc). They are usually used to break up long dialogue sequences, establish a mood or situation or to act as elapsed time.

The question you need to ask yourself is: "Does this scene fulfil one or more of the above criteria?". If the answer is no, seriously think about leaving it out unless it's a quick scene (such as showing the character getting out of a chair or leaving a room) being used as a transistion; extraneous extra scenes only add to the running time of the movie and can hurt the current mood or flow of the story if you aren't careful.

Examples of this kind of shot abound in Odyssey (tracking shots of the ship flying through space or sitting in orbit spring to mind). These kind of "establishing shots" help to form natural breaks between sections of the narrative and keep the viewer up-to-date on the current time, location and situation, so they don't get lost when a scene change happens. For my own use, they tend to be short, concise one or two liners, just to "jog the memory" about how the set a mood or location in the viewer's mind.

So, keep your "filler" shots firmly in mind as you start the initial writing... which we'll cover in the next installment :)


kuroken said...

Just a quick comment - I look at any long story with two things in mind - where I'm going to start, where I'm going to end (though the ending is often a bit more nebulous).

Since I refuse to make a movie over 30 minutes long, I figure on thirty minute chunks - in this case (the Daedalus followup) I'm thinking 4 chunks. And each chunk has to end at a point that makes the audience say "whoa" or "what?" or whatever - and want desperately to see the next part.

So my format is get to that point in part 1, do the gotcha, start in the aftermath of the gotcha in part 2, and move to gotcha 2, and so on.

Killian said...

As an ongoing "mini series" with a definate "beginning, middle and end" (even if not deliberately written that way), that makes perfect sense.

With a series, it's possible to end each episode in "cliffhanger mode", but I have my doubts as to whether it would work over a prolonged period (I know it worked for Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, but then again every "series" of those was really one long story, so I suppose the same goes for them, too).

In a smaller sense, each "self contained" episode is a single story, the main thing bridging the gap, obviously, being the characters and the arc story (the latter to a greater or lesser degree, dependant on the story being told). I feel that, so long as the story either a) shows development, b) displays a "now we understand character X a little better", c) furthers the arc plot or (ideally) d) all three, then it serves it's purpose :)