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Thursday, November 30, 2006

A visual medium

For a long time now I've been considering the right use for a script. Readers exclaim; "What? What's he on about now??? Isn't this guy supposed to be a writer?" Clearly a script has a use. But just launching into the script form is what I am challenging in this blog post. Do we do a script just out of habit? If no one had ever made a film before would we believe this to be the most sensible way to do it? After all film is a visual medium and the script is the written medium. Why is the script even a good idea?

Above is a picture of a writer's storyboard. This is by Christina Ferguson from the Development Hell blog. You can read more about her take on it here. But the central point is that this is a writers storyboard. Not a sexy full on directors board. It seeks to sketch out the flow of the narrative rather than detail out shots. This is how she has chosen to work on her structure. The aim is to craft a more visual story where what you see is more important than what people say. Would this work for you? Is this better than staring at final draft and getting bogged down in dialogue when you should be doing narrative structure?

Once the writers storyboard is done you then move into the script.

Why have a script at all though? Well Steve, the web designer for Circumference, designs all his sites in black and white first. Colour is a distraction at an early stage. You need to get the tones and shapes right first. A script, and a writers storyboard follow the same idea. Focus on one thing at a time and get that right first.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Meanwhile, in India

This guy makes the cheapest features - ever!

True non-linear

Following on from yesterday...

Check out the Korsakow system. Its a system that allows film makers to make truly non-linear films. You find your own way through chapters. The links on the page were to documentary ideas but fiction is also being done. Writing for this must be a challenge.

Cheers to Stewart McKie for the link.

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Guest Blog on circular narratives

Back in the past Lucy left a comment on the blog about her 'new idea for scriptwriters'. Obviously this would be a home for it. So here it is! Cheers Lucy.

Hi Tim, thanks for expressing an interest in my Narrative Circle idea on your blog.

Bit of background - at uni I became very interested in the French philosopher Roland Barthes, who wrote "A Structural Analysis of The Narrative." I came up with my own idea of The Narrative Circle as a reponse - it became my most trusted answer for exams and my dissertation. My mentor at the time said I should expand it into a book, but to be honest I wouldn't know how to make it interesting for 100+ pages, which is why I thought it may be something you'd like.

If you are unfamiliar with Barthes, the basic gist of his idea was this: just as sentences are made up of words which are in turn made up of phonemes, narratives too can be viewed in this "linguistic" fashion - they are made up of sentences, paragraphs, chapters, etc (or sentences, turning points, acts, etc - dependant on what medium you're in.) He talked of all narratives being composed of these "building blocks" in that they all have a beginning, middle and end, no matter which order this was in.

This got me thinking: I did the scriptwriting degree around the time MEMENTO was really huge - I think it was 2001 by this point. Everyone was going on about how it broke the boundaries, how NON-LINEAR it was. I watched the film and yes, I liked it but I found it frustrating because a) that huge deus ex machinas at the end with Teddy ("oohh, you've already killed John G" - I got the point, but I still felt cheated) and b) it didn't seem non-linear to me at all. The main plot was backwards, the subplot was forwards. What's non-linear about that? It follows a line!

Yet still everyone was going on about non-linearity and how it was this BIG NEW THING so I was delighted when an essay title arrived on the list that week at uni: IS NARRATIVE NECCESSARILY A LINEAR FORM? I set out to prove NO narrative was linear at all. Not if you view it as a circle.

Why would you do this? I see everything as a circle: you don't do things in straight lines in your life, completely passively; you go back to things, start again, multiple times. For example: you don't watch a movie in a straight line, you go and get a DVD, watch it, respond to it, go back to it, discuss with others, maybe watch it again...Even if you hate a movie you will still talk about it at some point, even if it's just 20 years later. And so it goes on and on, in ever decreasing circles.

For example, as I said: main plot goes backwards in MEMENTO - subplot goes forwards (Sammy Jankis), joining up at the point and paying off with "Never answer the phone." This is a circular motion to me. In PULP FICTION - we start in the middle as the beginning AND end, ergo making it circular. To me, at least. This is before we include the notion of audience's reponse, even.

Barthes said all narratives had a beginning, a middle and end: a set up, conflict and resolution. He didn't say which order they were in - so is there any such thing as a non-linear narrative when narratives aren't actually linear according to my idea of the circle? Does my Narrative Circle demonstrate Barthes' point? I think it does. But I would be interested to hear what you think.

BTW - I have some pictorial representations of this if I've garbled way too much here! Just didn't know whether you'd want attachments from me without my asking!

Best regards, Lucy

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The rules

'Real' bloggers like Hugh 'Gaping Void' MacLeod and Seth 'Purple Cow' Godin are doing mini manifestos. A manifesto is a set of rules that lie behind an idea. I talk constantly about film 2.0 and TV 2.0

But what does it really mean? What is the manifesto?

The rules of film making in the film2.0 world are:

One: Be close.
The audience and the film maker must be as close as possible. People that get 'in the way' (exhibitors, distributors) must either become part of the film making team or be side-lined.

Two: Making it together
We are on a journey together. The film is not a product to be flogged to customers. The film is an interesting challenge that we want to share with others.

Three: Honesty
I don't have all the answers of how to make a perfect film easily. No one does. And we all know that. So do not pretend otherwise. Overcoming obstacles is more interesting than just appearing to magically getting it right.

Four: Make it worth talking about
Word of mouth is the enemy of traditional movies. Poor word of mouth fights against their blanket marketing. We rely on word of mouth to spread our films. So make your film worth talking about.

Five: A story lasts forever
Therefore - invest in story, not glossy marketing.

Six: 'A film for...' NOT 'A film by...'
No one cares who you are. But they care if you made a film for people like them.

Seven: No snobbery
It doesn't matter how people see the film - DVD, TV, phone, big screen, download. It only matters that they see it. Most people also don't care what it was shot on, so long as it looks good.

Eight: Film is fun
We love making films. Show it. Excitement is infectious.

Comments on the manifesto are welcome. Its an ongoing work.
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NOT a trailer

Circumference producer Adam has reminded me that what we are producing is not strictly 'a trailer'. The reason being that a trailer is made from clips with a finished film. Being a bit like Archie, the main character who is detailed and methodical, Adam sent me a Wikipedia link to the actual definition.

So if it isn't a trailer then what is it? We were calling it a Visual Treatment as it seeks to bring our written treatment of the film to life. A treatment is a document that outlines both the plot and the style. So that kind of fits but isn't quite right as a lot of people wouldn't really know what we meant by Visual Treatment. And if we have to explain it - then it isn't right.

In the end I think we might go for 'The Pitch'.

"Have you seen the Circumference pitch yet?" Its a common term that most people know and it sums up what it does. It just pitches the film to you. A pitch by its nature is not a finished film. In fact it says you are a early in development. And I think Archie would approve.

I think we are in for a lot more of these kinds of discussions as we move forward on the film. What do we call things? What's the best way of presenting these ideas? If you are trying to create a new market rather than just another product then its to be expected.

All this discussion of course gives me an excuse to tease you with another screen shot. This only has 5 layers of effects.

  • One to blue up the sky
  • One to make Archie's tie more red
  • One to decrease the green of the trees behind Archie so it doesn't distract
  • A general colour increase for the sand and sea
  • A slight graduation left to right so its brighter where Archie is

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Tied up

Apologies for the infrequent blogging. I'm deep into the final polishing of the Circumference trailer. (NOT a trailer - see post above!) And the computer is deep into the rendering. So we are both busy. The above picture shows why. This is just one frame of HD material. It has over 200 images in it. Some of the final sequences will take 100 hours to render. I'll let you know when its done.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The list

I expect most of you will have seen this. But this is one of those golden lists that you always wish someone would do. And now they have. And the genius behind it is the one and only Danny Stack.

Its a list of companies that accept scripts from people like you and me.

But please read his upfront advice.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A red light

"Obviously you need to..." should throw up a red light in front of your eyes. When someone says 'obviously' it means 'so far everyone else normally does it this way so I guess you will too'.


If everyone else is doing maybe it then I should do something else to stand out. Fair enough. Maybe the normal way is the best way. But maybe it isn't? Especially considering how fast the world changes. What used to be a great idea may now be a dinosaur idea. 3 examples from my life...

Obviously you need to write the next draft of Circumference. Why? I wrote the last one. Why am I best qualified to do the next one? I am hoping Bournemouth writing colleague and script guru Danny Stack will help me and write it with me.

Obviously you won't actually walk all the way down Wimborne Road - you'll just cheat it in the edit. Yeah right. Just walk it and be done with it. People know. They can tell!

Obviously you'll eventually charge for The Scriptwriter's Life diagram. Why will I? Its not for the money. Its half for doing it for myself. The other half is more self-centred. Its about promotion and recognition and for being seen to be the guy who does new ideas.

So just picture that red light! It works for me. Obviously it will work for you.

This photo is called Red Light and is of room 64 of the Jardin de l'Odéon. It is by FREDERIC DURAND.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

More computer skills and more on eggs

Computer Skills

Last piece of advice on technology for now. Its one that I am surprised that others don't always know about. But offering these bits of advice reminds me of the comedian's dilemma. The comedian wants to say something exciting and on-the-edge but isn't sure everyone will get it. His joke needs to be about something we all do, but never talk about.

The comedian might say; "You know there is always one teacher that you fancy at school..." Well what if only the comedian fancied the teacher at school? What is all the audience look back and think 'freak!'? Oh no!

Well, that's my position. (Not the teacher bit, the dilemma bit) Except for me its the worry that you may all look back at me and think.. "Yeah. We know that!"

Today's risky issue is around "Track Changes". A useful tool for working with others. We all need to work with others at sometime and we need to work on documents and scripts and share ideas. Track changes ensures people see what are you doing. Its transparent working.

In Microsoft Word its in the Tools menu. Try it. You see instantly how it works as soon as you turn it on. You see all the changes being catalogued off to one side with your name written next to it. If someone else changes the document it has their name. Now we can see how is changing what. And we can either agree or disagree.

Google Documents is even more powerful. This is like word-on-the-web. Your document is stored on-line and people you invite can edit it. Again - all changes are tracked so you can see who has changed what and go back to earlier versions. Here is our proposal for a video wiki to give you an idea. If you had permission you could just change the document straight away.

Next time you need to work together give it a go. If you can't be together its the next easiest thing. One document - many editors - all at once.

Coming next on the Scriptwriter's Life is presentation skills.

New to this diagram?
What is it? - How do I get a copy? - Read from the beginning on the blog.

The Scriptwriter's Life diagram is by Tim Clague from a joint venture by Projector Films, South West Screen & MartonHouse.
The diagram can be used by anyone and is under a Creative Commons License.
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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Computer Skills and sucking eggs

Computer Skills

Some wags have said that the Scriptwriter's Life is like teaching writers to suck eggs. And in some ways they are actually right! If we are good writers we should know most of what is on here and be good at it. So I feel little need to explain much about script layout and what Final Draft is. If you do want to know more then just click on the links in the last sentence.

But, to keep the analogy going, how many of us can actually suck an egg? In fact, in real life, who the hell would suck an egg without breaking it. I expect Potdoll can for some reason. But anyway...

So my only piece of advice for today is 'beware complacency'. You may think you know Final Draft but do you know the ins and outs of the Revisions feature or how to use Macros (its in the document menu and lets you set keyboard shortcuts) Did you know it has a built in Thesaurus (in Tools) and that you can leave yourself notes in the script to remind yourself to do something (by using Insert Scriptnote in Document? These are your tools. Know them well.

My top advice. Set your auto back up save location (which is in preferences) to a different drive on your computer to where you normally save your scripts. That way even if one drive fails you don't lose your work.

New to this diagram?
What is it? - How do I get a copy? - Read from the beginning on the blog.

The Scriptwriter's Life diagram is by Tim Clague from a joint venture by Projector Films, South West Screen & MartonHouse.
The diagram can be used by anyone and is under a Creative Commons License.
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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Free Film

Thanks to Suki for finding this. Like our film Circumference this is a free film - as in no cost to the consumer. Its called Human Residue and is a horror-style affair. A lot of work going in so drop by and check it out. Unlike Circumference however it is a way of getting the film out and about rather than a new business model. But its interesting times to be a film maker and its great to see the UK leading the way.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Beware the Doppler effect

Sound 'sounds' differently if it is travelling towards you or away from you. The most commonly used example of this is an ambulance siren which will change pitch at it flies past you. It sounds higher in pitch at it dashes down the round towards you and then slides into a deeper pitch at it passes and sets off into the distance again.

This is called the Doppler Effect and, simply put, is an explaination for how wavelengths change if relative speed changes. It even happens for light. Things appear more red if they move away from you for instance. This is something you won't tend to see in normal life as things have to travelled very fast.

So what's this got to do with film making? Well first off its interesting in itself and that should be enough! But of course, as ever, I do have a film making analogy up my sleeve.

Replace siren with idea.

A new idea can be distorted if it comes at you quickly. The speed of its approach to your mind distorts it and makes it sound better (or worse) than it might actually be. That flash of inspiration on the film set for a new shot, the sudden burst of ideas that means merging two characters in your script. Let them sit for a while first. Only an idea that has sat for a while and is stationary can be properly judged whether it is pitch perfect of not.

Next time you get that flash of inspiration - enjoy it - then remember the doppler effect.

If you fancy twatting about for a bit then explore waves with this java applet.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Technical overview


The word to strike fear in writers. We write because we are artistic beings who strive to enrapture our audience with tall tales gleaned from the human condition. 'Technical' doesn't come into it. Man!

But that's of course complete bollocks for the writer trying to get ahead and ensure his script turns into something tangible - film, TV, game, play, whatever. There is definitely a certain level of competency that you must have in order to be taken seriously. But I say we should go just that bit further. We should not have the minimum skills to get by. That would make us like a painter who doesn't understand the materials he uses. He can get by without it - but knowledge of how paint reacts to the canvas can only help to make him more competent. It doesn't make him 'better' or more artistic. Just more professional.

Rough old analogies aside this may make us feel a bit out of our 'comfort zone' or more simply put, it sounds like a bit of effort. But actually being on top of your computer skills, knowing how to make your documents look great, understanding some conventions will make your work better and make you feel confident.

So, tough sell though I think it is, that's what we'll look at in this section. What do you actually need to be able to do and how well? It may surprise you but some writers actually enjoy this. My friend Stewart McKie even runs a website specialising it.

New to this diagram?
What is it? - How do I get a copy? - Read from the beginning on the blog.

The Scriptwriter's Life diagram is by Tim Clague from a joint venture by Projector Films, South West Screen & MartonHouse.
The diagram can be used by anyone and is under a Creative Commons License.
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Friday, November 03, 2006

The best book on film making

This book is great. I've only glanced at it for a few minutes but I'm already committed to reading it thoroughly. Its all here:
Funding, festivals, agencies, agents etc, etc. Its for all levels of film makers.

In a way I feel bad. Its taken me about 10 years to know all this stuff. Now you can just read it in this one book. But this bad feeling is the way I know its a great resource - its worth being jealous about!

Its on Amazon here.

I got a free copy through the post. It wasn't actually meant for me, but I got it anyway. So this blog entry is written through guilt / seeking to balance the karma.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

20 years is a long time...

Watch this.
Then this.

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Thanks to William Speruzzi.

Character & Dialogue part 3 - read thru and improv

Read through and Improvisation

These are two powerful techniques. But they used mainly by directors. But writers should use them more than they currently do.

Both techniques are seeking to prevent the danger of 'head down' writing. This is a bigger danger than most writers realise. A head-down approach leads to characters that aren't fully alive, that perhaps don't speak realistically, that just act rather than react. Its so easy for this to happen because the written word is NOT the spoken word. As writers we are trying to capture the flow and energy of real conversations and interactions - on a page. So is staring at typed up words the best way to do it? It seems crazy the more you think about it.

If you fancy another way to write then try these ideas.

Improvise it. Working with others kick around some scenes. Film it maybe. But do some of the key scenes in your story: What would I say, what would they say, would I walk off, would I come back, would I try and talk about something else? Know the characters, know the scene, know their agendas - and then go for it. Afterwards, pick it about and take out some of the good stuff (not all of it obviously). This idea is similar to writing with a writing partner (like Sam and Jim or the WordPlayer guys) but even better.

Read it through. Further down the line read the script out. Not just read it. Read it out. Best of all is to get other people to read it out. Once you hear it you realise there is a massive difference between what you thought the scene would work like and how it really works. Your following draft will be amazingly better. Its a guarantee.

Once you explore those ideas you'll wonder how you ever thought you could write a dynamic, realistic, flowing, natural, exciting scene by sitting at your desk on your own. Most of all you'll wonder why we start with the written word when we need the spoken word.

New to this diagram?
What is it? - How do I get a copy? - Read from the beginning on the blog.

The Scriptwriter's Life diagram is by Tim Clague from a joint venture by Projector Films, South West Screen & MartonHouse.
The diagram can be used by anyone and is under a Creative Commons License.
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