Write to Shine continues with a fury, and I’m already finding positive practical changes that I can make to my (potential) writing practice. I think the two techniques that I took away from yesterday’s session on visual storytelling were:
1) Plot out the geography of a scene. (Example used: Saving Private Ryan opening)
2) When writing a multi-stranded scene, consider the individual beats that comprise the arc of each strand and then think about the rhythm in which you skip between those beats and strands. (Example used: Wedding scene from The Godfather)
The first, geography, was something I guess I had sort of thought about before, but sketching out the physical location of a scene before writing it is something I found fits nicely with how I visualise before I write. It loosened up the mind and started offering creative options in much the same way lots of automatic writing does for me, but with a greater focus. It reminded me a little of when I was obsessed with making maps as a kid. Draw out the island (always an island), plot out the hazards, the little safe havens, dip it in some cold tea and set the edges on fire. Actually, thinking that I did that on my own so much, there’s some terrible parenting right there.
As a practical example, we drew up two different maps, based on the Normandy landings. One was our version of the PT boats hitting the beach, the other was a camp set up in the bloody aftermath. I started by including solidly practical elements (the landing craft, the coast outline) before sketching in the little details that made it different. The tutor had a dog splashing around in the surf, I ended up with an artillery boat set behind the landing that was still firing at the beach head, with increasing proximity to the boats. I also added some tributry surrounded with trees. Geographically inaccurate (more Apocalypse Now than anything) but that’s what came into my head. My camp scene was more standard fare…a medical hunt, a few benches outside where a ‘party’ was occuring, and a hill overlooking the beach. In each example, we had to position three characters, consider a character trait for each, their relationship to each other and what one might want from the other two. We ran those considerations through our heads while keeping the geography in mind and, voila! you end up with a shot sequence, told through details rather than camera angles. I found the punchier lines felt more active than their flowery counterparts, but both were definitely better than the camera angles that I had previously defended the use of. Seeing this technique used well made me realise how peppering a script with camera notes just kills the read.
The second technique is one that I find I have done before but it’s definitely not something I’d given conscious consideration to. Perhaps I was coming to it with an editors eye, assuming that’s the sort of thing that gets built in post. While I’m in no doubt that this is true a lot of times*, it can’t hurt to be working it out at script stage. I’ve always tried to tell stories as visually as I can, but this layering of beats so they do as much work as possible for the story I had never worked out with any rigour. For example, while it seems obvious afterwards, in that wedding scene so much is set up and foreshadowed. (For example, Sonny’s raging temper – ostensibly out of love for his family, but crucially dispropotionate in a way that will be fatal). It does that without being cloying or seeming like we’re having a back pat from Captain Exposition precisely because it bounces around those strands in a fairly loose, organic way. You’re being given a lot, but you scan it as just watching a party unfold. Nice.
Also, I should note that the two scripts that we read (Emily and Mikel’s) utilised the visual exceptionally well and sucked you in to the atmosphere of the worlds they’d created. Both were quite moody pieces that might be hard to get the reader on board with, so if you’re to create work like that, it’s quite an important skill to hone. Oh, and write a script that’s a compelling read in itself – can’t lose sight of that when I’m gummed up in my five months funtimes.
* I finally got around to seeing Blade Runner: The Final Cut this weekend. A thing of beauty, and a testament to what good enhancement can do for a movie, but it’s definitely been dicked around in the edit from its originally intended telling. They syuzhet’d that fabula right up.