My film journey – How I create my films – Part 14

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Today we shall be looking at the pre-production process and details of the shoot for The Aftermath
The first thing to consider initially was the budget, and what could be done within the obvious limitations. At the time, there was no such thing as crowdfunding. You either were rich, inherited the money, begged, borrowed or had savings. I was lucky. I had some savings. But not enough. Put it this way, a nice trip with a crew to South Africa wasn’t happening.
Given the budget, I knew that we would have an outside scene, one that somehow needed to look like South Africa, and that we had to have an internal/indoor scene. It had to be basic, which informed my writing. It was going to be a documentary style, with a journalist interviewing the principal characters Lord Chelmsford (interior scene) and for the contrast, the captured Zulu chief Cetswayo.
I considered what was required. What I could accomodate, having done my research on the costings, including hiring a studio, the costumes, travel costs to pick them up, hiring props, etc.
This is what I had:
Basic film crew; director of photography with decent camera equipment and sound person/recordist. (You always need decent sound)
(If you can afford it, I thoroughly recommend a lighting person – for this film though, I couldn’t but the sun was my ally)
A few actors drawn from a local theatre in South London, willing to get on board so long as travel expenses were met. The characters they would play would be the journalist, chief Cetswayo, Chelmsford and his bodyguard.
Hiring of the 19th Century red tunic with helmet etc… had to obviously get right measurements from the the actors, as well as a 19th century journalist outfit.
Props – including a stool for the King to be seated for the interview, as well as a musket with bayonet fixed, spears, Zulu shield and a drum. For the internal scene, props included a table, chairs, glasses and a carpet.
The other location – and we got lucky, as it was on a bright summer day, was Epping Forest. And except for the odd tree, it looked like Zulu-land in South Africa.
My expenses also had to take into account editing, and sound/music effects.
This was a two day shoot; one in Epping Forest, and the other in the Studio, and 5 days set aside for editing.
My advice; do the research, find out how much things, and people cost; not forgetting travel expenses, price of editing for a day and of course, the availability of actors. By all means you can write your script prior to that, but be prepared to alter it in light of the realities of not just the expense, but also on the day. A couple of actors in crucial roles did not appear, so a quick script change was required. I ended up not just being the director and producer but also playing one of the leading roles! You must be prepared to be flexible. Haven’t got the right weather on the day? Can the actors come back on another day, as well as the crew? Can you afford to pay for another day’s shoot? No? No problem. Find another way. Shoot in the rain if you have to; incorporate it into the script, or check out the location to shoot under a tree, whatever. And a word about location. Don’t just check out the price; is it suitable for your needs; do the studio owners like the fact that you have X number of people, that you’ll be banging on the drums? Are there strict rules regarding the volume? Or where you can shoot? And always see what you are allowed to do, and –  as was the case for our external location – we scouted it well, like an infantry to find the best places to shoot. Remember, time is money. And don’t forget to budget for the provision of that most important of things….food! And make sure it’s enough!
I was lucky to be able to use two rooms for the internal shots; one for narration directly into the camera, the other for the interview. At Epping Forest we captured some great scenes which worked well.
The result? A half hour political documentary featuring interviews, brief scenes of conflict and tranquility, with a great narrator, and framed in beautiful scenes, music and special effects. Above all we accomplished our task. Not too shabby, for a budget of about 2K.
Most of all it looked fairly decent given the obvious limitations, and we had a great time.
The Aftermath gave a unique insight into the political underpinnings of a war made famous by Michael Caine’s Zulu; but equally important, it was the culmination of years of work, writing, research and dedication. A piece of creature work, I am most proud of, with the talents and fantastic assistance of my team, from the crew to the actors to the background personnel and last but not least, by sisters who provided invaluable support, and had their hands featured in film, banging drums, and my other sister who gazed at the camera in her beautiful narration. You can’t beat the support of your family or friends in an endeavour such as this.
I hope you have found this useful; and remember that nothing worthwhile is accomplished without obstacles, determination and belief.
That was lesson 14.
⦁ Keep going, keep writing, keep networking, keep learning and most of all keep doing. Practice makes perfect!

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My film journey – How I create my films – Part 13

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Today we shall be looking at how I began my first film, entitled, The Aftermath

I have always loved history, and in particular aspects of history rarely touched upon. When I grew fed up of watching nightly reports on every news channel about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict or the troubles in Northern Ireland, knowing that the reporters were never ever going to talk about how it all began, I realised it was time to take the matter into my own hands. For me, there’s nothing more frustrating than hearing the latest round of fighting without explaining, even on occasion, how it all began. And the news just wasn’t doing it for me. Consequently I turned to history, or more specifically, history books.

I was lucky. Around this time, I was working in publishing for a history magazine, and had access to a large number of history books. And I did get the answers I was looking for. Beyond that, and having watched the film Zulu, initially with disbelief, and then with a sense of sad realisation of the truth of it all, I came across a comprehensive book on the Zulu’s and the Zulu empire. And boy was it fascinating! After that I was inspired to do a film based on what I’d read. Of course I also read other books dealing with Shaka and the creation of the Zulu kingdom, and this helped tremendously in my preparation. At what point I thought it should be the project for my first film is uncertain. But here I could and wanted to do a film based on a part of history and a people that most of us knew little about, apart from Michael Caine’s film and the nightly report of South Africa’s Apartheid regime. But I had a problem. For a first film, and a budget next to miniscule, I knew that I wasn’t about to re-create anything even resembling the big budget blockbuster. How was I going to approach this? I decided to take a documentary approach. This was going to focus on the aftermath of that tragic war, mainly from the Zulu perspective. What were the politics behind it? Indeed what led to the war with the British and what happened after Rorke’s Drift and the battle at Isandwana? These were fascination questions with equally fascinating answers. More fascinating than even that was how I was going to do it; commit to celluloid, or videotape – as it was then – momentus events with a shoestring budget. But first the script…. In thinking about the script, and quite uncharacteristically for me, I had to be mindful of my limitation. No charging up the hill of a thousand Zulus with the Kraal in the background, and dozens of cattle dotting the landscape. Not in the UK at any rate, and not without gazillions in my bank account. Oh no. I couldn’t go large. I had to go small. Very small. Documentary style, intimate, powerful and with the key players. I considered my location, my meagre budget, my days to realistically shoot the film and that informed how the script was going to develop. I knew there wouldn’t be too many characters and I knew who the principal characters were going to be; the Zulu King Cetswayo and Lord Chelmsford. I also needed an anchor, someone to connect the two in my documentary style, and for that I opted for a journalist character. Beyond that I was going to have a number of extras, some fire in a flashback shot and at least one lavish setting among the locations.

The script was 30 pages, which equals 30 mins of screen time and I worked out that I had two days to shoot.

The objective was to be practical, adjusting the script to suit the tools at my disposal as the producer, writer and director of the film.

That was lesson 13.

  • My lesson 13In part 14 we shall look at how I put the pieces together.
  • Understanding the pre-production process, as I fashioned the script in accordance with what I could realistically achieve.
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My film journey – How I create my films – Part 12

Hi readers

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Today, we will be looking at Dialogue.

One of the most fascinating things I fell in love with when writing my stories was the endless variety of conveying thoughts and ideas through the words of a character. The English language is truly beautiful and we can thank all the different cultures that contributed to it, including the Normans, Saxons and Vikings.

I love words. My characters would come out with lines like “to whom it may concern, rest assured ye gentlemen that in my capacity as warlord within the lands hither, I’d do my utmost in this most grave hour. Beyond the shires, I will indeed invoke the spirits of my ancestors, and thus ensure that before the sun sets, victory shall lie within our grasp!” Say what? Well, this story was based within a mythical, magical, medieval realm. All that “King Arthur” stuff is really groovy. In fact I read a great deal of books with dialogue like that. Then I looked at the dialogue in screenplays. Let’s just say it’s different. Now, don’t get me wrong; there’ll still be historical-based films where you’d get a smattering of that kind of dialogue; perhaps more in the past than you would get today, but even on a contemporary level, a character might come up with, “when I saw you across the room, I felt we were meant to be together”. Now that’s not too bad, but honestly, how many people would utter those words….sober? More to the point, if a guy said that, how many women would believe him?

There are two main differences I learned about dialogue. 1. Brevity.

  1. Realism

If we take difference number 1, what could take five or six or more words in a book’s character dialogue, should take less in a script. Remember, the idea is to convey more action or visual aspects of a story and leave dialogue where possible to a minimum.

If we take number 2, we have to make it sound like ordinary, everyday conversation.

So if we pick up the first example of our warrior promising to help win a battle, a modern translation might look and sound like this. “For those interested, know this. As war leader, I will do my best and will also pray for victory today” See how much more realistic that sounds, even with the historical-type context of the story. It is therefore shorter, and more realistic. A more streetwise modern take on it, especially if the leader in question is a gang/drug leader would sound something like, “listen ya’ll. I’m the badass motherf….. round here, and their ass is ours!” Too strong? Maybe. Realistic? Hell yes. We don’t even need to make prayers.

If we pick up on our next example, when the guy falls for a girl, it could come across like this, “as soon as I saw you I knew it!” Those would be his words. Short and sweet, inviting the girl to respond, most likely with, “knew what?” And in the script, the character would simply smile a sweet smile and nod gently, as if to say, “yes you’re the one.” Though he won’t actually say it. See how much more powerful that is? More realistic.

Ultimately, how I learned to write good dialogue was to listen very carefully to what people say everyday, minus the swearing hopefully – unless called for in the context of character and situation – (and I’m assuming we are writing a contemporary story here) and then substitute that for my “writers’ dialogue” which tends to flow and be all flowery. Also when actions can convey dialogue instead, use it.

So here’s another example, just made up. In a story, the character approaches people on the street and says “I’m Captain Kramer of the special police branch, investigating the disappearance of Mrs Wood, a neighbour here.” In the script this becomes, the character simply flashed his badge and said, “Captain Kramer. Have you seen Mrs Wood?” See? Short, sweet and realistic.

Here is one more made up example. In the story, a girl is comforting a well-known street beggar who has lost his beloved dog. As a story the dialogue might be like this. “Listen Joe, I heard from Mac that your dog died. I’m really sorry; I know how much he meant to you. All those years together…and it was so sudden. I just can’t convey my sympathy enough…my thoughts are with you…anything I can do for you?” But in my script, I would simply write, the girl silently strolled towards him, wiping off a single tear and sat beside him. She reached out, held him by the hand, gazing at the photo of the dog. “So sad”. They sat together in silence for a long while, then she gave him a hug, and passed a card to him. “Sorry Joe, gotta go, call me anytime.” See the difference?

The other thing I learned to do was to emphasize the difference in characters by their dialogue. While I had always done this, it was brought sharply home to me while learning to write dialogue for the screen. Take this story-type example.

“Listen Jack, I told you that if you don’t study hard, you’ll end up like me – in a deadend job. I’ve told you dozens and dozens of times. You don’t get many opportunities in life, and this one is superb. Now you have three weeks until the finals, what are you going to do about it? Well? Do you really want to end up doing what I do?” “But Paul, your work is all right. I don’t see anything wrong with it. I’m happy just doing this. We all get along. Your friends are my friends. After all, you managed all right, didn’t you?”

What does this interaction tell you about the characters?

Now try this.

“Listen Jack, I done tell ya, you gonna wind up like me if you don’t grab that bull by the horns. Ain’t no big deal doing this I can tell ya. Ya want something better, ya wanna look better, talk better. Exams coming up soon. Ya gonna go for it or what?” “But Paul, your work is all right. I don’t see anything wrong with it. I’m happy just doing this. We all get along. Your friends are my friends. After all, you managed all right, didn’t you?”

Now what does this interaction tell you about the characters? Different backgrounds, perhaps? Now try this below.

1 “Now I done tell ya, I don’t like this food” 2 “I told you, I don’t like this food”

Who was speaking the first line, Jack or Paul? See the difference dialogue and the type of dialogue does for a character? Here’s another exercise.

    1. “I’d like to withdraw some money please, preferably in notes – maybe just a few coins”
    2. “I wanna take out some cash now. “
    3. “Hey bro, need to get out some dosh”
    4. “Listen asshold, I want money”

Tell me, who is the most educated one. Number 1, 2, 3 or 4? Who is the most impatient? And who sounds like a bank robber? Who sounds like a student? Again dialogue can tell us so much about a character, and also their mood.

It is understanding the importance of brevity, realism and reading the hidden characterisations within the words, types of words used and manner in which they are used.

That was lesson 12.

  • My lesson 12
  • Understanding the key differences between dialogue in book form and dialogue in scripts
  • Using dialogue to convey the nature or class of character, their mood, and their differences in terms of speech patterns.In part 13 we shall consider my first film, The Aftermath, continuing the story of my creative film journey. 
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My film journey – How I create my films – Part 11

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Hi readers

Today, we will be looking at Story versus the Screenplay.

One of the earliest things I learned was how much more visual-orientated a screenplay was compared to a story. I have touched upon how many stories tend to focus inwards on a character, examining internal thoughts and inner conflicts. Very often this is shown when the story is told in the first person singular. Scripts or screenplays, being more visual, tend to show emotions, ideas or intentions in an external way.

A quick example. A man wearing a hat is disgusted with the price of admission to a concert. Perhaps he has been speaking to a staff member in the ticket office. Maybe he has been reading the ticket rates on a board in the foyer. In a story we hear his thoughts; we read the words pouring out of his subconscious, and then the man walks away without paying. Fine. For a story. But how to show that visually for a screenplay? The trick is to do this in the best way, and that means without a single word of dialogue. Whereas stories and books relish lines of dialogue and engulf themselves in words, dialogue and yet more words via the subconscious, the best screenplays do it with few if any words. The clue is VISUAL. What we see, rather than what we hear. That’s the real difference. One answer is to show in a screenplay a close up of the eyes of the man. What does he do when he is annoyed? Do his eyes narrow in disgust. Or widen in rage. Perhaps we see him take a big sigh. He shakes his head, which even with slight movements, is clearly shown by his hat, when viewed from a distance. Or perhaps he simply grimaces and leaves. Or we can show the simplest way, of how he expresses disgust, which works from a wide shot, that’s camera term, for seeing the whole picture from a distance. He angrily chucks his hat to the ground and storms off.

With stories, the pictures form in your head; the head of the reader. In your mind, from the descriptions given, you build up an image of the characters, you imagine how they sound, you read what they truly think about the lovely buxom lady who has just entered their restaurant – their life. The dialogue, internal or spoken by one character to another, can be flowery, “regional”, beautiful, Shakespearean or poetic, not to say angelic.

With screenplays, the purpose is to tell a story as much as possible visually. It is for a larger audience, and forms the blueprint for a collaboration of many film makers, and just as a single still picture or photograph can only hint at the internal emotions of the subject, so too does the result of a screenplay, a film, of many frames (pictures) shot per second, can only hint at the internal emotions of the subject, unless the subject is DOING something. Visual – not internal, that’s the key. The best screenplays, and by extension the best films tell their stories visually, with style and without too much dialogue.

When I wrote “The Strongest Man Alive” I knew instinctively that I was writing in a more visual way than “Away with the Wind”, and this was partly because of the very visual, very action-orientated theme, and partly because of the subject matter, or theme of the story. To be sure, even the best romantic films are based on a screenplay that shows action, and action in this case doesn’t necessarily mean a couple diving into bed like a couple of Olympic swimmers, but “action” as in movement, the kind of subtle movement which shows emotions, as given in the example of the man with the hat above.

Always the thing to consider with a screenplay is how to show this scene (or part of the story) in a visual way, as opposed to doing it by dialogue. The film E.T is a film which is incredibly moving at the end, and it’s done visually. You will recall how earlier in the film when Elliot hurts his finger and says, “ouch”, ET recognised that this meant pain. Elliot did not have to clumsily say, “it hurts”. “Ouch”, the expression on his face tells us all we need to know. Therefore at the end when E.T is about to leave his friend, and his finger moves from his heart to touch Elliot and says, “Ouch” you know instantly what it means. Watch that scene again. Now watch that scene again and replace it with ET saying, “painful for me to leave you” Is that as powerful? See what I mean? Too many words there. And incidentally, ET himself says very little. In that scene, E.T simply says “come”. Elliot simply says, “stay.” That’s it. As little dialogue as possible. If this intelligent alien had learned the entire English language in a day, like the mermaid in Splash (and by the way, I do like Daryl Hannah, and the film too), and chatted like everyone else, do you think the ending would have been as powerful? “Oh please come with me, Elliot, we can’t break this bond, we’d always be together, you’d love my world, all my people would love you like I do, it would be wonderful…..blah…blah….blah…”

Take the example of the plants springing to life when Elliot had thought ET had died. As soon as he saw the plants springing up (a VISUAL clue) he knew that ET was back! No need for boring dialogue like, “Elliot I’m alive!” No sh** Sherlock. I would never have known for sure as dead people speak to me all the time! Good grief!

In First Blood Part II, after John Rambo’s girlfriend dies in Vietnam, when he has finished burying her, having wrapped around his neck her good-luck pendant, his hands in mud, clenching fist, then he picks up his crossbow, rises slowly and looks out, you know this guy is seriously pissed off! His eyes, his facial expression says it all. He doesn’t even need to shout in rage. And visually the rain helps too. It won’t just be raining water either….

In Pyscho, you know there’s trouble brewing. A mysterious house shrouded in darkness not far from Bates motel. When Norman Bates comes running down to see his guest, already something is not quite right. Then it gets worse. The empty motel, the business with selecting the room key..his quirky movements, pauses, hesitation, awkward silences, uncertainty, unable to say, “bathroom”, wanting to have her share his meal with him in the office, then not in the office, then in the room covered with stuffed birds bearing down on the Janet Leigh’s character, as though advertising for Hitchcock’s next Birds film! Indeed the stuffed animals look like they’re about to pounce on her. Would you eat in a room like that? And that’s even before he speaks to say how “a boy’s best friend is his mother…” Yikes! Sometimes a good screenplay can tell you all about a scene with or without character involvement. Look at the landscape, the weather, the animals, the stuffed birds, claustrophobic attitude, rustling leaves, blood trail, haunting mood – and the music helps too. And yes, even the screenplay can include notes on sounds and music, in a way that a story cannot.

Unlike a story, complete unto itself, screenplays are the first stages in the process of making a film. There are many things to consider, and the script just touches upon it. The first thing you notice when you read a screenplay is the somewhat unusual approach to storytelling. Characters are introduced by name and description in bold font, or CAPITAL, and the dialogue stands out from the rest of the description by virtue of being in the centre of the page. Also certain actions are highlighted in CAPITAL. This shows where the emphasis lies, and helps to distinguish for the director and everyone involved in filmmaking, what needs to be shown and how it needs to be shown, and the actors can clearly see what words they need, and how they will express it in the context given. It certainly surprised me when I first laid eyes on it. It was a strange new world for me. So I had to learn.

FADE IN

INT. HOUSE – DAWN

There was ME, Young and ambitious. And I looked at my paper, RAISED it to my FACE.

ME
(very surprised)
How am I going to learn this new form of writing?
How will I learn to write a screenplay?

Then I sat down and STROKED MY CHIN thoughtfully, and set to work…

And so readers, that’s an example of the structure of a screenplay. When the film opens, going from a black image or a series of company logos and opens up, we FADE IN. If you were watching me in a film, then you would see me raise a paper to my face, a (camera) close up of my chin being stroked. Because that’s what the director, or screenwriter wants.

INT. HOUSE – DAWN This simply means Internal, as in the opening scene or beginning of a story based inside the house, and of course it is early morning. EXT. means external, a scene that’s set outside. Yes, there were quite a few things to learn.

But there’s more to it than just the technical structural and visual differences too. Where a novel, for example, can have a myriad of characters, a few dozen or a few hundred, screenplays tend to be condensed and consequently have fewer characters. Very often a character on film can be a composite of many other characters in a story upon which the screenplay was based. The reason is simple. A thousand page novel has lots of time to introduce and build up characters and atmosphere and storylines and gradually bring them to a crescendo in a final outcome. A 120 page screenplay has to do the same job in a fraction of the time. Consequently not only can we not have too many characters in a screenplay, but things have to be trimmed down.

Another example.

A story can take many pages to depict a character who is fed up with the world and the politics of the world; he is a loner and has many past reasons for being so. We can read the thoughts of his mind and get a clear picture of the character. He can even voice his views to many people within the pages of the story. The challenge is how to show this visually and quickly in less than a page of script. Simple. The film or script opens up with a dishevelled man in a lonely apartment, no pictures of loved ones, few items in the house, and we see him disgruntled, a TV in the background. After adverts the TV then shows a politician speaking. The man sums up the energy to stroll over and switches off the TV in disgust. The telephone answer machine pips up, and a voice says “we haven’t seen you in ages? Why don’t you answer the phone?” Then he switches of answer machine and unplugs the phone. That tells you everything. Below is how I would write it as a screenplay.

FADE IN:

EXT. TOWN VILLAGE – DAY

A row of cottages on a quiet street. A speeding car breaks the silence. Passes a brown cottage. We CLOSE IN on a brown thatched cottage set slightly apart from the others.

INT. MESSY COTTAGE LOUNGE – DAY BRIAN COBSON, an unshaven man, unkempt wearily gazes out the window. We HEAR TV ADVERTS in the background. COBSON still gazes out. Then we hear VOICE OF POLITICIAN.                                                 V.O. (means voice over)
We need a new kind of politics, this country cannot
continue to carry on this way. If I’m elected I promise..

COBSON suddenly seems wide awake. He turns away, strolls towards TV. He SIGHS. Switches it off. Then telephone rings. Answer machine BEEPS. Recording starts.

V.O.
Brian darling, where are you? Why don’t you answer
the phone? It’s been ages since we all last saw you.
Please answer….

COBSON SIGHS again and switches off the machine.

And, that is how I’d start the screenplay. In this short time we know that he doesn’t care about his room, his appearance or speaking to anyone. He doesn’t mind gazing out the window, and listening to adverts, but he has no time for politicians. That’s how it’s done. Short and simple, much like the sentences and dialogue in the script. Sentences and descriptions are short, as it depicts camera shots, and angles. Sentences do not deliberately flow as they would in a story.

That was lesson 11.

  • My lesson 11
  • Understanding and implementing the story in the structure of a screenplay.
  • Keeping characters and descriptions simple and above all visual to illustrate the characters, their intentions and storyline.Next week, in part 12 we shall consider Dialogue, continuing the story of my creative film journey.

 

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My film journey – How I create my films – Part 10

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Hi readers

Today, we will be looking at completing the story.

Having considered my protagonist, his allies, the antagonist, building the narrative with smaller goals to achieve the objective, adding conflict between the characters as well as the major conflict, and having successfully covered Acts 1 and 2, I was in the middle of Act 3, knowing the story was almost complete.

Once I had developed my story ideas and put meat on the bones of the story, The Strongest Man Alive, I realised that its completion had to cover all elements. That the resolution had to address all the problems that had been raised, and this did not simply cover the concept of defeating the protagonist.

To fully complete the story, to ensure that the reader had a fantastic journey, every doubt, dream, ambition or fear had to be laid to rest, or achieved. To be sure, this does not happen in every story. But for me, given that the story ran for a few hundred pages, I needed to be sure that everything was covered. No room for “if’s or but’s or how’s”

While in my opinion no writer can fully satisfy the ideas or thought processes of the readers with regards to characters or plots, or even be sure that the resolutions achieved meet with expectations, certainly the resolutions have to be met.

So what did I consider?

    1. Character growth. Our protagonist has been through a series of adventures and had to suffer and watch others suffer the same fate, if not worse. By the end, he would be a changed man.
    2. Inner resolution. Any personal demons or qualms or concerns deep within his subconscious would be resolved by the end of Act 3.
    3. Each small objective. Each of the obstacles which helped build the narrative would be addressed in one way or another.
    4. Friends of our protagonist – their aspirations or fears. Just as with our protagonist, each aspiration or fear had to be met in some way, resolved to some degree if not fully.
    5. Conflict between friends. Whatever differences which originally existed between Nevadon and his allies, or whatever problems arose between them, in their course of their mission, would be resolved. If not in its entirety, then at least partially. An understanding at the very least would be achieved.
    6. Answering the question. This can be considered to be part of the first question or obstacle. Where are the people in the village? This has to be emphatically answered, as it was the initial catalyst of the whole journey.
    7. Defeating the adversary. This is the ultimate goal and must be addressed satisfactorily, at least comprehensively. The readers would have gone through a few hundred pages to get here. While there is no gun for this fantasy, a simple, single swipe of the blade to end him or it, would not do. In completing this resolution, as part of the story, I considered the strength and resources of the villain, and all the obstacles that he/it was able to put in place. Consider the real life character of Napoleon (not to suggest he is necessarily a villain – conquerors, saviours or tyrants are named depending on which side of the fence you’re on); he had practically conquered all western Europe. The Duke of Wellington alone was never ever going to defeat him. Nor would it be in a simple battle. See what I mean?
    8. How the experiences had changed the survivors. I did not go into too much detail here, but it was addressed. If you’d been held captive for weeks – and depending on your captor, and the type of environment you were in, and how you were treated – you’d be changed too. Your outlook based on your experiences would have changed.
    9. Bringing all these elements together. Whether a sequel is being considered depends greatly on the answers to these questions, how indeed the characters have developed, how they feel within themselves and towards their allies, their villains and fellow man. But at least this would be stated.
    10. By answering these questions, I completed the journey of our characters, and this being my personal plot-driven extravaganza, I opted to end this on a positive note.

But that was lesson 10.

  • My lesson 10
  • In completing the story, be sure to address all questions posed throughout the story and show how this has affected all the major characters as they finally resolved their issues.
  • Next week, in part 11 we shall be looking at story versus the screenplay.
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My film journey – How I create my films – Part 9

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Hi readers

Today, we will be looking at building the interest and objectives in the narrative.

As I was developing my story ideas and putting meat on the bones of the story, The Strongest Man Alive, I realised that it was not enough to simply say this is our hero, this is our antagonist, this is the objective, and our hero has friends to help him with the mission. Why should we care about the hero? Why should the story interest us? Furthermore, how can we build on that interest, and the objectives of the character in the narrative?

Here’s an example; our detective is our hero and has discovered the problem, a murder – which must be solved. He has to follow a trail of clues, interrogate suspects, examine the crime scene and effectively go on a mystery tour. We do not discover who the real culprit is until the final part of the story, where he then apprehends the murderer. Depending on whether you are watching a TV show of the “Murder She Wrote” variety or reading a book or an Independent-type film, the final piece of the jigsaw would see the villain either calmly get taken into custody, make a mad but brief dash for freedom or have some big fight scene.
In general, in these types of story, the typical rule of introducing the crook early on would not only never work, but be pointless. It’s a different kind of story. In other words, yes, a problem is introduced early on, but it is the result of the action of a villain, not the revelation of the villain. And that’s what my hero was going to embark on; a journey of discovery, following the gruesome clues or breadcrumbs, which manifested themselves in abandoned towns and horrible rumours. It was an extension of the seemingly natural disaster of Away With the Wind, but leading onto the main culprit, whose revelation would come only right at the end.

If we have purchased a book containing 500 pages, we are going to invest time in the characters and story. We are going to enjoy a good comprehensive examination of them and their world and follow their journey with them. On the other hand, if we are watching a film on TV, and we are not gripped very quickly by a problem our nice chap is having, well…..we are going to reach for the TV remote. If a film is ponderous, achingly slow to get going, then the critics will lambast it, and nobody would want to head off to the cinema to see it. Like the villains in countless movies, the story itself becomes a character in this one respect; the story must get off its comfortable sofa and grab our attention by the throat. We want drama, we want action, and we want it quickly. And this can equally be applied to even romantic comedies. Things had better happen very quickly on film. In the Strongest Man Alive, needless to say, it didn’t take very long for our hero to discover his problem.

Here’s an example. Take the simplest of stories.Let’s call this story. “The Tea saga”. But it’s really simple. A teacher gets visited by his friend one day; a friend he hasn’t seen in years. The teacher is surprised, welcomes his friend with open arms and says, “take a seat, I’ll make some tea.” Simple right? Not really. Not if I want to make a story out of this. Not if you want to build interest and the objective of making and receiving tea. After all, what’s so special about tea, you might ask. And by the way, I’m making this up as I go along. If the friend sits in the living room, then I can see my task being harder or near enough impossible. And I’ll tell you why. Unless our friend can see what’s happening the conflict that we need won’t really work for what I have in mind. Our friend will sit in the kitchen, and he will watch the teacher make the tea. So far, so good, right? Wrong. If they think alike nothing happens. A pleasant conversation, tea gets made and drunk, he departs. No harm, no foul. What a lovely cupper. The end. Boring. However, although they’re friends; they think differently about things. I can extend this to hygiene, Feng Shui and even the types of portraits hanging on the ceiling. But it’s a simple story, so we’ll limit this to tea. And for extra simplicity, let’s assume both like PG Tips, but our friend has a way he likes his tea to be made. So he keeps complaining and instructing the teacher as the tea is being made. Water is not the right temperature, milk is wrong type of milk, or not enough, the cup is not quite right, the tea bag is not brewed right, it’s even the wrong tea bag, but as you are using the square ones, it must be like so and so. You can imagine how this will begin to irritate the teacher. Yes, they’re good old friends, but either they’ve been apart for so long, and forgotten their differences (perhaps that’s why they’ve not been in touch for so long) or it’s just that when it comes to making tea, they’re simply poles apart. Now whether I decide to turn this into a comedy or horror depends on what characteristics I decide to give them. I could make the friend sigh and do it himself, except that his character trait is that he’s clumsy and virtually breaks or threatens to break every utensil in the kitchen, when not falling over himself, or I could make this a horror. The teacher has been spending the last few months in a rehab for violent behaviour after witnessing the mugging and death of his wife. He’s prone to violence and the trigger for this is any criticism of his pride and joy. And his pride and joy is making tea. Either he’d spent time in India or China, or learning the trade in a café specialising in the art of tea. And by the way he has an Uzi 9mm stashed in one of the kitchen drawers. See? Conflict. It can be large or small, but tells us about characters and keeps things interesting as we seek to solve the major problem in the story.

What makes a story interesting on a fundamental level, for me, is an interesting character. Then it’s closely followed by an interesting plot. An interesting plot without an interesting character ends up being bland, even predicatable. An interesting take on a government conspiracy plot or alien abduction is boring if the hero turns out to be a troubled detective with a skill for shooting. However if the alien abduction is being conducted by the president in secret, because his relatives were conspiracy theorists, his uncle an astronomer, and his mum a secret occult worshipper, who has discovered a rare artefact that may hold the clues to communicating or at least understanding the reasons for abduction…well, I think you can agree that it’s more interesting than a copper contacting S.E.T.I and the FBI and saying, “bring your choppers, radars and bazookas. We’re going to nuke that mother…”

By giving my characters layers, quirks, unique things about them, and their perspective on life and how to accomplish the goals at hand, I was able to bring interest to the story.

The building of objectives is very important. There is a major goal, and to achieve that, our heroes must discover and tackle minor goals in place to reach that. Solving the little puzzles and clues which escalate brings us a step closer, and arms us with enough information, to get the bigger picture and resolve the problem. The objectives build up to the final objective. The clues our detective was gathering and solving was leading to a picture of the means, motive and opportunity  – thereby, painting a portrait of the murderer.

Nevadon, the hero of the story had one simple objective. Find out why this village is abandoned.
But the answer to that grew, as clues and discoveries were made, leading to other objectives; how big is this problem really?
So the first smaller goal was to discover the size of the problem.
How many other places have suffered like this? Another smaller objective to be resolved.
Who is the culprit? Yet another objective.
Where does he live? Goal 4
How can it be stopped? Task 5
What do I need? Task 6
How can I recruit the right people? Task 7
How can I trust them? Task 8
How long will it take? Task 9
How long before the next disaster? Task 10
How can we stop this? Task 11
Do we have what it takes? Task 12

All these questions generating smaller objectives, and indeed how our characters seeks to resolve them builds the narrative and keeps us invested in both him and the story. And that’s how you do it. And the story can be as simple as having an old friend round for tea. What could possibly go wrong?

But that was lesson 9.

  • My lesson 9

By understanding the motivations and differences in characters which informs their decisions or decision-making process we become interested in them. Adding conflict helps to keep the story interesting and moving. By adding layers or more tasks, which would enable them to solve the ultimate goal, we ensure a more interesting and ultimately fulfilling story, as each objective is achieved in the build up.

  • Next week, in part 10 we shall look at completing the story.
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Strange Film Titles

Ah films. I do love them. Back in the 80’s I watched “Karate Kid” and was just a little disappointed.
“Wax on, wax off”. For me it was, “Eyes open, eyes off, mouth opens, mouth yawns..”
You could hardly blame me really, I had just recently watched, “Enter the Dragon”. Didn’t see any waxing there, just good old fashion action. So you can imagine my surprise and delight when I learned that there was going to be a remake starring Jackie Chan, that superstar who blew me away with his stunts, humour and martial arts with the film, “Police Story”. Must rank within my top ten martial arts films of all time. Anyway, I was looking forward to the new “Karate Kid” starring Jaden Smith. “Karate Kid”. Good. Except, it was really Kung Fu Kid. So I sat through the film waiting for the inevitable explanation as to why a kid in China (not Japan) with Jackie Chan – a known practitioner of Kung Fu – would be learning Karate. Surely there must be a reason; even a spurious one, like it was all a dream, as was the case with an entire series of Dallas. He thought he was in China, but woke up to discover he was in Japan, right? Or at least he was learning Karate, right? Er..no. So it got me thinking about other strange, if not misleading, film titles. “Enter the Dragon”. Well, this works once you accept that Bruce Lee was born in the year of the Dragon (Chinese calendar). Obviously, it’s not a fantasy, and it most certainly isn’t about a real “fire-breathing” dragon. If I featured in the film, it would be, Enter the Taurean (Western Star sign), or sticking with the Chinese theme, Enter the Monkey. See how it works?
So let’s move on. Another film, “The Madness of King George” had to stay I guess, because, “The Madness of King George III” would have led some people to believe they had missed the prequels. How about “Bullet Proof Monk”? Well, yes, but in real life the Chinese used bullets and easily overran Tibet. Hmm…Let’s look at another. “The Great Escape”, a good film. But “The Great Escape” really should have been entitled, “The Great Escape attempt”. I mean, really, how many prisoners actually escaped to freedom? Oh, but it gets better with some of these film titles. Check this one out – “The Neverending Story”. Or loosely translated, the story that never ends. We don’t even need lawyers for that one. Had I viewed that in the cinema, I believe I would have been well within my rights to get a refund. Or a partial refund, at least. This was the neverending story after all! We’ve been had! We’ve been hoodwinked! How about “A Clockwork Orange”? Sounds like Terry’s Allsorts, but with an orangey chocolatey, clockwork centre – good for those who haven’t got much time for the chocolatey munchies. If you hadn’t seen the film, and were asked to comment on what you think it would be about, let’s just say that the rehabilitation of a serious offender would not have sprung to mind. I mean, honestly, the marketing department? What drugs were they taking? “And my next film will be about a jewellery heist. Gonna call that, A Needlework Raspberry”. Really? What about the self-explanatory, “Eraserhead” by David Lynch? And no, it’s not about a school kid having trouble with his rubber (or eraser, for our American cousins). Then there’s “Trainspotting”, Danny Boyle’s social film about a bunch of guys in anoraks, sitting by the railway tracks, binoculars in hand, looking to spot fast-moving and unusual trains, right? Sorry, I was going by the title, not the film. But what a great film. Of course, “Drug-heads” doesn’t smoothly roll off the tongue, and well…maybe not the best title in the world. But let’s move onto that wonderful canine film for all you animal lovers out there; the beautifully shot and emotionally satisfying “Reservoir Dogs”. I swear, I will never look at dogs the same way again. Now, moving on, “Apocalypse Now” must be about the future holocaust, after the nuclear war – until you watch it. But what about the films starring animals? You know, Animal Farm? Or that other “farm” film, “Silence of the Lambs”? Did we even see a single lamb in the film? Surely in some bizarre dream sequence, no? A character falls asleep and sees something weird, like in “Blade Runner”? Maybe he dreams of lamb chops with some chianti? As for Blackula, let’s not even go there…jeez what kind of imagination is required for that? If we have a black cop, do we call him, blop? And you wonder why it’s a flop? Dear oh dear oh dear. Brings tears to the eyes, which brings us neatly onto “The Crying game”. Except I didn’t cry. Nearly choked on my nuts though. My peanuts. Funny thing that, it did have something to do with….er, let’s move on. What’s that? Should’ve been called something else? It certainly was… As for “Full Metal Jacket”, why, I was at least expecting one bullet-proof vest. But there you go.
Of course we can dip into that reservoir of really dodgy names and pull out a whole net of remarkable titles; titles I suspect whose weirdness was matched only by the film’s premise, or marketing campaign. Examples include classics like “Phffft” (1954) starring Judy Holliday and Jack Lemon, “SSssss” (1973) and my favourite, “Santa Claus conquers the Martians (1964), and the real selling point? Check out the poster, “It’s in Blazing Color!” Yep.What the blazes…? Santa? Martians? How did the reindeers get up there? Does it snow much on Mars? But what can I say, except “Eegah”! (1962). So in conclusion, it’s all “Too Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar”.

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