Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Narratives Unit [A Reflection]

Overview: to write a 30 minute script based in the real world. It should feature a subplot and be resolved.

The reason for the unit was for us to think in terms of a complete narrative with a main plot and supporting subplot that interweaved, fed and influenced each other. Also to set up, develop and resolve a story and characters from the beginning that went through change and made a choice at the end.

From the initial brief and feedback from the lectures I got the impression that they wanted a family orientated drama. It was easy for me to think within that arena because it’s something I’m extremely interested in. From the start I wanted something that I felt strongly about and something that would carry a certain level of quality and professionalism. In the development of my idea there were a number of influences that helped me to define what was needed to create a good 30 minute script. The following advice I received from a seminar on the short film Lady Luck:

Kick your story off fast and open with an attention grabber.
The complexities a character can contain.
Power in relationships.
Designing your cast for difference.

This changed the whole way I looked at and approached my own 30 minute script. Another film that was highly influential was The Deadness Of Dead.

Tutorial [The Pitch]:
It’s about single parent, Mike who has three children; Tasha, sixteen Scott, fourteen and Graham whose eight. Their household is a noisy one and has its far share of fights. But it’s one where they’re loved although they don’t quite know it yet. Mike longs for the mornings when he can go to work and get a break from what he sometimes calls a “living hell”.

But this to them is soon seen as happiness because tomorrow their mum will turn up on the door step. After a heartfelt plea and guilt trip he agrees for her to see them tomorrow after school. She then pushes him further to agree on a trip to a caravan park where they can get away for a few days and catch up on lost time.

During which Scott begins to connect with his mum but only shows it when his dad isn’t around. Tasha hasn’t got any time for her mum and gets closer to her dad. Graham is taken by this new person named “Auntie Christine” because he has someone he can waffle on to who won‘t get annoyed or tell him to shut up. Mike on the other hand feels himself splitting down the middle and soon wonders if he‘s made the second biggest mistake of his life.

Feedback: Its more like a feature film story and needs to be simplified and narrowed down to its essence.

Initially I was worried about pitching the idea but as soon as I started to receive encouraging feedback I realised it wasn’t the idea that the problem is was my lack of confidence. The feedback from my tutor was valuable and spot on. It was easy to accept the changes need but it was hard at first letting go of certain things. But I trusted my instincts and soon the essence of the story made itself clear and I knew what had to be done. The timeline of the story had to be shortened and the number of characters. So sister Tasha went and so did the Caravan Park holiday. In came Scott’s birthday and his birthday meal, the same day of Christine’s return. Something I learnt early on is that you have to be prepared to cut your favourite things; that happened with losing Tasha (an essential part of the family dynamic) and therefore her ‘Sinking’ speech, which connected to the title and revealed her deep hidden feelings about her absent mum. In retrospect my initial pitch was far too long and could have been cut down a lot. It needed to state the main character, his goal and direct opposition.

Pre-writing; From the go I knew that I would approach this script with more planning and preparation. I knew 30 minutes was going to be a challenge but also enjoyable because there’s time to develop the characters. We received our assignment in the last week before Christmas and I stayed for an extra week to concentrate and plan as much as I could of the story. By the end of the week I had 38 pages of story and character development and a clear idea of what would happen in the script.

My script, (Sinking) was about a mother who returned to her husband and two boys after six years.

I found it very useful to talk to other people about my idea. It’s something that I’m very reluctant to do. But if you find the right person and have a certain confidence in your idea then it will more than pay off. If it doesn’t lead to anything new then it will help to further clarify the story within yourself. In this case a such talk changed my mind about the suicide of Scott (finale) and made me realise that it wasn’t his story. The story is his father’s and therefore Scott would be stealing the finale from him, which is a golden rule in scriptwriting: Never take the finale out of the main character’s hands. So gone was Scott’s suicide and in came a highly charge argument between Mike and Christine, in which she reveals her secret. From that moment Scott never became more than a secondary character and one half of the subplot. Having pitched a few times to the tutors and regularly to colleagues I now feel more confident at pitching and hope to be more open to it in the future.

First Draft Comments: For my original draft the subplot featured a couple who were friends with the main character. Their story reflected his own and with his wife returning reflected what they used to be. The script was a few pages over the limit and their story made the script too crowded. It wasn’t clear who we should be following as both stories featured equally. I made the decision to cut the subplot and replace it with the two boys, which I should have done from the beginning. But at first I wasn’t quite clear on the definition of a subplot and how much it should feature. But having done it this way made me define the main character and his story more.

Final Draft: I felt it got down to the essence and the heart of the story. But through lack of time management and setting myself deadlines I didn’t have time to go over the final draft.

The last minute re-write of the opening scene resulted in a scene that was quite redundant and dialogue heavy. It featured the main character at work but didn’t advance or foreshadow the story in any way.

Main things learnt:

Dialogue has two purposes; to reveal character or push the story forward.

I now know I should be fighting every single idea; character, scene or line of dialogue, sub plot etc and find reasons to throw any of it out. And it's when I can't find reasons to get rid of something that's when it should stay and belongs in my script. Everything on the page should have a reason for being there.

Script Development Overview:

Looking back I think I spent maybe too much time developing as it ended up being 157 pages from initial concept to the final draft. Having spent so much time developing I didn’t have any time to go over the final draft before I handed it in. This proved to be a problem because as I’ve said the opening scene was redundant and there were a number of typos and a few melodramatic moments. I also ran out of time to read over and consider any new ideas.

Mark: 68%


When it came to the essay I left it till the last few days. I didn’t manage to get out the books I wanted because all the good ones had been taken. So I had to settle for what I could get. Before the end of the year I attended a workshop on essay writing, which was useful. It helped me to think in terms of what is needed from the question and break it down into an argument and into for and against sections. The recent lesson and handout on essay structure from my Pal session also helped to clarify approach, research and discussion.

Mark: 58%

Even though I left it to the last minute my essay mark was an improvement on the previous one.