1. PeterBr
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    PeterBr Member

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    Screenwriting Understanding story specifically for filmmaking. advice?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by PeterBr, Aug 19, 2015.

    I'm on a mission. Can you guess what it is by the title? Although it has to do with filmmaking, the first step is more important. Like building a cathedral or a car or anything, I believe (as an architectural technologist by formal training) you're more likely to succeed with a set of plans on paper. And the same goes with filmmaking. As much as I'd love to setup my camera and start practicing Spielberg "oner's" (he's known for doing beautiful long, single shots) or any multitude of shot techniques, I know deep down that I need a plan. That plan: a story. Obvious I guess. And as simple as "story" may be to some of you, it eludes the shit out of me. I don't know why, but I can't quite get my head around it entirely.

    I watched Jaws the other day, partially to study camera techniques but also for story. Here's what I understand the story being generally (spoiler alert--this is an amazing movie even by today's standards, and if you haven't seen it, or haven't seen it in a while, watch it first before reading on.... unless you don't care about spoiling):

    A group of men try to kill a human eating shark as vengeance for it's recent killing of several tourists.

    As far as I know, a story requires a conflict and resolution as it's very basic elements. (And please correct or argue any of my points if you think otherwise--that's what I'm looking for from you.) Assuming that's true, Jaws succeeds as a story because the conflict--shark eats tourists, thus affecting the much reliant upon tourism industry in the small costal town--is resolved when, alas, the hero of our story--the town's chief of police no less--blows the shark up by firing a bullet at an oxygen tank. Dramatic and suspenseful because we weren't sure if the hero would survive until the very last possible moment.

    Now that's all great, and it seems easy to write something like that. Find a conflict, find a hero, put him in several predicaments as he tries to resolve the conflict, have him resolve the conflict just when you think he can't/won't be able to/last second.

    But there's so much more to it. And this is what confuses me. If the story was as simple as I just explained it, it would last 5 minutes--it would basically be just the man fighting the beast and winning. But, and here's where my confusion sets in, there's so much build up that seems unnecessary but for reasons I"m confused about, add to the story.

    For example, in the film, there's a lot of "character development" (wtf is that and why did I just write it lol?). Why? Why should we see close ups of people's faces as they talk on the phone? What does that add? My guess is that what it does is tries to create a sense of unity--empathy--for the character. Perhaps by showing the audience that this person is like us--angry, sad, horny, hungry, tired, annoyed, etc--that we are able to put ourselves in their shoes and therefore become more interested in their struggle. Is that it?

    I'm confused. I don't want to start writing a story until I know these basics again. What do you think? Am I off here?
     
  2. PeterBr
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    PeterBr Member

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    Bump
     
  3. jorel
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    jorel Member

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    Don't worry, I'm working on an answer. ;)
     
  4. jorel
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    jorel Member

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    First things first: I haven't seen Jaws, so I can't talk about that, but I'll give you my take on this.

    It takes time to warm up to or get into a story and 5 minutes usually aren't enough to do that (depending on what the story is about, of course). For a movie to possibly really touch someone, they need the chance to get immersed in it.

    The things you see on screen are all part of the story, from the setting to a character's body language or tone of voice, but also little things like the way their living quarters are furnished, the type of car they drive or the clothes they wear. All these details add to the viewer's picture of who the character is, and the better I know a character the more I know about where they're coming from and what's at stake. All of those shots are really there to introduce the characters.

    I'm just rambling here, but that's what first comes to mind when I think of the movies I've seen, is that as I'm being shown the lives of these people, I'm already feeling something, whether I identify with the character or not.

    When you first try to write a story, just go with what you want to write about. You'll know when something is missing (as you said, Jaws in 5 minutes would be too short) and you can work from there. Asking someone else to read and review it could give you some insight as to what is missing if you need.

    Hope this helps you out a little.
     
  5. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Story.

    My current WIP has a number of major incidents (I'd say three at the moment) that form the man he becomes. Each incident has a number of "trigger factors" that lead towards it. You could (and to bring the film in under 2 hours, you probably would!) cut some of the "trigger factor" scenes, but you do need some of them to understand why he acted as he did in the major incidents, and why he ended up as he did in the final shoot-out. And you can always flesh out with wife trouble/car trouble/????
     
  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    For me, because that's the point. I think that you see the fictional work as being about the plot, and the characters are there to serve the plot. I see most fictional works as being about characters, and the plot is there to make it natural to demonstrate aspects of the characters' personality and development. That's why I read murder mysteries and often completely forget how the mystery was solved; I don't much care about the mechanics of the plot, I care about the people who drove that plot.

    Sometimes I get interested in the plot--for example, what was that THING in the season closer of Orphan Black? But I care more about what we learned about Delphine in that episode, and about whether Rachel is headed for any sort of epiphany or if she's just going to keep getting worse.

    Edited to add: For example, there's a great deal of character payoff in Orphan Black in the simple exchange:

    Sarah: "Get it, meathead?"
    Helena: "Do not call me this."
    Sarah: "Do you understand, Helena?"


    That, and the end of the exchange with Helena saying, "Thank you, Felix," is fascinating and exciting to me, more so than many of the big dramatic fight scenes. It's a change, a huge change, in the relationship betewen Sarah and Helena.
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2015
  7. PeterBr
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    PeterBr Member

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    Thanks @jorel . I really appreciate your feedback. I think what you say above (bolded) confirms my guess that showing characters in between the action of a story (their interaction with family/friends not directly related to the action, their environment, their facial expressions, etc) provides a sense of connection with that character, and that connection in turns makes the reader/viewer more invested/interested in some way. Am I off? I don't want to falsely answer my own question, you know what I mean?

    Also, I like your suggestion to just write and get feedback. My only concern is that I'd be getting bad feedback from writers who don't know a good story from a bad one. I've read a bunch of stories on this forum and unfortunately none really gripped me. There's something missing in them. I wish I knew what.

    ***
    Thank you @Shadowfax Could you help me identify the "trigger factor" scenes and "major incidents" in Jaws? It helps me to apply these new concepts to a movie/story I'm familiar with.

    ***
    @ChickenFreak Thanks. I think I'm "getting it", but it's still quite elusive. You say "I care..." regarding the character. Is that because of the character development--those day-in-the-life scenes that seem pointless? And does every scene in a story need to be tied to the plot or eventual conflict, or can it be independent, purely for character development purposes? Correct me if I'm wrong: In the case of Jaws, we, the audience, grow to care about the protagonist (police chief Brody) because we see that he truly cares about the safety of the people swimming/beaching whereas the town Major cares more about preventing an exodus of tourists (aka, loss of tourist dollars) and thus impedes Brody's attempts to warn beach goes about the shark. Are these the "trigger factors" that @Shadowfax speaks of? :superthink:

    Thanks guys. I know it's a lot, but I think if I understand this a bit better, it will help me not only know when I'm reading a good story vs bad/cliche, but also will also help me immensely when I'm writing my own and directing of course. it's all tied together...
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, it's because the character is interesting, and the writer somehow made the character interesting. A character is often interesting because you identify with them, or you have the fun of figuring out what they're thinking, or very frequently both. You don't necessarily NEED "pointless"-in-terms-of-plot scenes to make the character interesting; if you can combine plot and character development into the same moment, that's even better.

    MINOR ORPHAN BLACK SPOILERS FOLLOW

    But sometimes you need the plot to shut up because the character work is so important. The "meathead" moment that I quoted was after a whole lot of plot--discoveries about one of the villains, and massive peril for Sarah and a sudden helpful involvement by Helena. (I'm trying to avoid spoilerizing much.) Those events were essential to the plot, and they were the reason behind a change in Sarah and Helena's relationship, but we absolutely needed to see that change; if the writer had just moved on to the next plot-heavy scene with Sarah and Helena cooperating, it wouldn't have worked.

    So we see Sarah trying to be courteous to Helena and Helena trying to be less of a psychopath. :) We also hear Sarah put into words a bit of how she feels about Felix (her foster brother), and we hear her appreciate what he's been doing for her, and we hear the beginning of Helena regarding them both as family. But in terms of actions, the scene is just about Helena getting a bath and some clothes.

    It can be independent, but we need to care. You don't want the reader or viewer to say, "Why should I care?" You want them to be interested, or ideally delighted, as I was delighted to see Helena interacting in a calm moment when she's not killing anyone.

    I'm not clear on what is meant by trigger factors, but I agree that these are important. If the police chief just got everyone's respect and obedience without conflict, that would be boring and we wouldn't care nearly as much about him.
     
  9. PeterBr
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    PeterBr Member

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    Thanks @ChickenFreak. I'm trying to recall seemingly pointless character scenes in Jaws and nothing comes to mind. It seems that if it's not a character development scene, it's likely a plot scene--or at worst, a scene meant strictly to establish environment/location. Next film I watch, I'll be looking out for how such scenes actually add to the character development. I think if I can point this out in a film, it's going to help me some.

    This is very interesting to me. I'll have to return to your comments a few times when I'm writing or actively watching for story. Thanks.

    So we need characters to have conflicts with other characters in order to keep a story interesting? And I'm guessing this is where the universal conflicts come into play: man vs man/self/nature/god/machine/society.

    Thank you @ChickenFreak. I would really appreciate your feedback on my story when I do post it.
     
  10. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    I highly recommend, "Story", by Robert McKee.

    It covers it all.
     
  11. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    How many books have you read on screenwriting? That would be a good place to start.
    Syd Field
    Viki King
    Blake Snyder
     
  12. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    I am guessing Save the Cat for Snyder.

    Do you mind confirming the titles for the other two (or all three if I have erred), as well as your recommendation / review of them, please, @Sack-a-Doo!?
     
  13. AspiringNovelist
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    AspiringNovelist Contributing Member

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    Well, I think the simple answer to your question -- why all the character development -- is this: Good movies (just like good books) move forward through great dialogue and character interaction.

    While the setting and theme is important, it's really the viewers (or readers) ability to eavesdrop and learn motivations that make us continue to watch (or continue to read). Plus you have to setup reasons why the characters will 'do' the things they do. Friendships/bonds are key elements. Hate/revenge are, too. Plus others.

    That's why the long monologue by Quint -

    Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss): You were on the Indianapolis?
    Brody (Roy Scheider): What happened?
    Quint: Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, chief. It was comin' back, from the island of Tinian to Laytee, just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in twelve minutes. Didn't see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. Thirteen footer. You know how you know that when you're in the water, chief? You tell by lookin' from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn't know... was our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. Huh huh. They didn't even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, chief. The sharks come cruisin'. So we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know it's... kinda like ol' squares in battle like a, you see on a calendar, like the battle of Waterloo. And the idea was, the shark comes to the nearest man and that man, he'd start poundin' and hollerin' and screamin' and sometimes the shark would go away. Sometimes he wouldn't go away. Sometimes that shark, he looks right into you. Right into your eyes. You know the thing about a shark, he's got...lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eye. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be livin'. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white. And then, ah then you hear that terrible high pitch screamin' and the ocean turns red and spite of all the poundin' and the hollerin' they all come in and rip you to pieces.
    Y'know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men! I don't know how many sharks, maybe a thousand! I don't know how many men, they averaged six an hour. On Thursday mornin' chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player, boson's mate. I thought he was asleep, reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up and down in the water, just like a kinda top. Up ended. Well... he'd been bitten in half below the waist. Noon the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us, he swung in low and he saw us. He's a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper, anyway he saw us and come in low. And three hours later a big fat PBY comes down and start to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened? Waitin' for my turn. I'll never put on a lifejacket again. So, eleven hundred men went in the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.
     
  14. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Field: Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting
    King: How to Write a Movie in 21 Days
    Snyder: Save the Cat!, Save the Cat Strikes Back, Save the Cat Goes to the Movies

    Of course, these are just the tip of the iceberg, but they'll get you started.
     
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  15. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    Cheers @Sack-a-Doo!
     
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