It’s been a while internet.
After 8 treatments and 26 drafts, I’ve finally finished my animated feature screenplay!
It took me longer to write than I expected, or planned for, but it’s the first feature screenplay I’ve written so I needed to learn a huge amount.
It clocks in at 76 pages which is pretty short for a screenplay. The standard rule for screenplay/film length is that 1 page = 1 minute of screen time. However, this isn’t a hard rule and depends on a few factors. Mamoru Oshii’s 1985 animated feature ‘Angel’s Egg’ has a runtime of 71 minutes, yet the screenplay was supposedly only 1 page long. It really depends on the film’s style and format. My screenplay has pretty minimal dialogue and concentrates more on visual storytelling, so I’m expecting the finished film to run 80/90 minutes.
So now I’m moving on with the rest of pre-production, at the moment that’s storyboarding and art design. I’ll update more soon :D
Over the weekend I finished the 11th draft of my feature script and had some friends around to do a reading of it. They gave heaps of in-depth feedback and solid critique which is what I needed. The outside perspective is really helpful as after days and days of writing you can kind of lose perspective and you miss things that don’t really make sense or aren’t particularly strong.
I’m going to take 6 days off the feature and then I’ll get stuck back into it with fresh eyes. I’m not sure how many drafts it’ll take until I get to the final version but It feels like I’m getting much closer.
I’m really looking forward to finishing it and getting stuck into other pieces of production which will roll out quicker.
Gotta keep pushing on!
Today I finished another draft of my script!!!
I’ve been working as hard as I can on writing my feature screenplay, but it’s slow work. It’s taking a long time because I’m learning everything about writing feature screenplays from scratch. I’m improving heaps through each draft but I still have a lot to learn. It’s also the one stage of the film-making process I don’t want to rush. The screenplay is the kernel of the film. If your screenplay or story is rubbish, your film probably won’t be worth watching (I can think of numerous exceptions though). Other stages of film-making are very important too, but probably none more so than the screenplay.
I’m very conscious of the fact that people can fall into the trap of using perfectionism as a way of procrastinating and not actually getting anything done. So I’m constantly checking myself to make sure that’s not what I’m doing and I’m actually making tangible steps to finish the script. Fear can make you behave in strange ways if you’re not careful.
I’ve also changed the format I’m using to write the script. The first 5 drafts were done the way you’re MEANT to write a script but I’ve changed to writing it in paragraphs like prose. I found the regular script format harder to keep track of dialogue, descriptions and actions as it’s spread over many pages and not in condensed and easy to follow paragraphs. Once I’ve finished it I’ll convert it back into a regular script format.
One thing I don’t have to worry about that other screenwriters do, Is that I never have to be afraid of over explaining or over describing things. Most screenwriters write to sell their scripts or write it for other directors and production staff, but I’m the sole writer/director/animator and the only one who has to know how to create visually what the script is saying. In saying that though I still have to make sure I write in mostly visual terms and not describe inner emotions without directions on how to portray it on screen. For example if I wrote ‘Several dozen ants crawl up the man’s legs and begin biting him. The man feels terror and wishes he hadn’t smeared his legs in honey.’ it’d be no good because you can’t show inside his head where he’s thinking these things… unless you did a shitty voice-over or something similar. Instead it’d be better to write ‘Several dozen ants crawl up the man’s legs and began biting him. On the man’s face is an expression of terror. “Agh! Why did I smear my legs with honey!?” he yells.’ because you can actually visually or sonically depict that. In a sense it’s much harder than writing prose fiction because of this.
I’ve gone old school and started using system cards to map out the story structure on my wall. I’m hoping it’ll make it easier to see and analyze what’s going on in my story and what to improve/change. 300 of the cards set me back about $10 from a local office supplies store and they should last me ages as I’ll only have 50 to 80 scenes in my film.
I’m also constantly reading books on screenwriting, narrative and story to improve my skillz. I’m currently about halfway through ‘Story’ by Robert McKee which I’ve been told is one of the better screenwriting books out there. It’s pretty good but not perfect. In my opinion it’s about 1/3 really informative, 1/3 common knowledge and 1/3 bullshit (or at least very questionable). I’ve come to realise that there’s no real shortcut or formula for writing good screenplays and stories. All you can do is study, practice and find out what works for you and what doesn’t. Learn and know the ‘rules’ of classic narrative film-making and their function so you can use them, bend them or disregard them completely.
It’ll take many years with trials and errors but I’m confident I’ll attain a mastery of story some day. Perhaps I won’t master it with THIS film but I’m aiming to make the best film I can.
“No shit Sherlock!” I hear you say.
Well, I’m up to the 6th draft now on the screenplay for my first feature animation. I’m finding it quite difficult as It’s my first one but I’m learning butt-loads. In saying that though the screenplay is a fucking mess and it’s taking me way longer than expected. Even on draft #6 I think it might be pretty incomprehensible and that doesn’t bode well for the film if it’s not fixed.
The main problem I’m having with it besides it’s incomprehensibility, is that it seems overly plotted out, inflexible and unsubtle. Billy Wilder said that “The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer” and from what I’ve been reading most good screenwriters seem to agree. My plot points are anything but subtly hidden.
So I’m going to take a different approach and re-write the entire concept as a story, then turn it into a script. Starting with the main situation and setting I already have I’ll let the characters write themselves and see where it goes. I kind of know where It’s going to end up but I feel the story will flow better and seem more natural if I do it this way… or maybe not, who knows. All I know is I’ve got to get better at writing, and quickly, or my film will be z grade schlock.
All good narratives have a message, point of view and themes they explore through the characters and their interactions. A narrative that doesn’t do any of this will be pointless or shallow… a bad story.
I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this lately with the script I’m writing. In ‘The Art of Dramatic Writing’, Lajos Egri makes a convincing case for the use of a clear cut premise (message) in the narrative. He states that “An unclear premise is as bad as no premise at all.”, and he also goes on to say that you can only have one premise to have a successful play/narrative. While I agree that a good narrative needs to do something on that level, I’m not sure how much I agree completely with these last two points Egri makes.
If we take Oedipus Rex by Sophocles for example, we can say that the premise is ‘man cannot escape his fate’, but I can’t help but feel that it operates on many more levels than that. It explores ideas of choice, free will and inevitability. I guess what Egri says about premise is viable IF you do a whole bunch of other things as well.
With this in mind as I’m writing, I keep drifting to allegory to depict the premise of my story. Allegory is something that is really hard to do well, so I’m not sure how far I’ll go down that path. It’s really easy to be ham-fisted and lack subtlety when trying to get across the premise. I see it time and time again in narratives, the story has a message and something to say but it’s overdone, preachy and sanctimonious. The audience can see it too and they are not convinced. And although I think having an unsubtle premise is better then none at all, both options have to be avoided for a good successful narrative.
A writer such as George Orwell does allegory really really well especially with books such as 1984 and Animal Farm. Another person who does it well is Hayao Miyazaki especially with films such as Princess Mononoke and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. While you could boil down what these stories do to a simple overall premise, is doing so useful for formulating your own story? Maybe but it seems to come with it’s own dangers. One example of this is We Are The Strange by M Dot Strange. Although I really like the animated feature. I’ve noticed that one thing that it doesn’t do well is a subtle premise. It has a strong and admirable message but it’s executed excessively. This makes the message less effective and causes the whole film to lose cohesion.
So that’s my goal right now, to write a great narrative with a strong premise, yet do it with subtlety and have it woven into the rest of the structure well. I’m studying films and stories I think do this well and trying to work out the mechanisms they use. When I figure out how to utilise a good premise and message subtly within the story I’ll let you know ><