Tagged: script

Feature Screenplay Completed!

It’s been a while internet.

After 8 treatments and 26 drafts,  I’ve finally finished my animated feature screenplay!

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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

-Hamish

FEATURE ANIMATION UPDATE #3

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

-Hamish .S

1st Script Draft Finished!

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I’ve finished my the first draft of my feature script!!!

There’s still a long way to go however. I’ll probably end up doing from 10 to 20 drafts until the script is finished. I really want to spend the time on the script and get it right as it’s my first one and I’ve still got a lot to learn.

The script is 20 pages at the moment. The usual rule for script time is that 1 page = 1 minute on screen. This rule is for conventional films where there tends to be a lot of dialogue, but my film will have minimal dialogue. I’m aiming at the film being 70-80 minutes long so I’ll try to get the script to be 45-50 pages minimum.

-Hamish .S

ALLEGORY OR MESSAGES WITHIN STORY

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.

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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 ><

-Hamish .S

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing a Comic for the First Time – Pt. 1

I’m a big fan of certain comic and manga artists, like Charles Burns and Junji Ito but I never thought I would end up making one.

File0018I’ve decided to write a comic because It’s a great story telling medium, It has quicker output than animation which allows me to produce more stories + get better at telling stories over time; and it’s still a visual way to tell them.

Coming from an animation background I’ve never written a comic before so I thought I’d detail my home-made process to encourage anyone else out there who wants to create and make interesting and diverse comics/graphic novels/manga. This process works for me but everyone is different so don’t be surprised if your process ends up different.

1. Detailing Ideas and Basic Concepts

My memory is completely shithouse so when I’m thinking of ideas and concepts for stories I’ve got to write them down right away, otherwise they slip into the fog that is my swiss cheese brain.

So to begin with I just write down ideas and visual ideas that I think of, into my journal(to keep it all together). I also write down questions I need to ask myself like “what is the protagonists motivation in this point?” or “what am I trying to say with this comic” or “why is this character even a human?”. Asking myself these questions by writing them down helps me to answer them by forcing me to think, and if I can’t answer them they’re on the paper so i can come back and work them out later.

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2. Sequence of Events

The sequence of events is the scaffold where the narrative starts to come together.
On a blank page I write paragraphs that describe what is happening and basic dialogue. I then separate the story beats and breaks with arrows. The SOE is kind of like a story mind-map.

So an example of would be..

       ‘Protagonist wakes up in sewer with no legs. Pushes character b off of her(startled) and talks to him. Character b explains his intentions and background(limited). Protagonist has flashback to falling into sewer.

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  Protagonist finds driftwood and shoves them into her leg holes, creating prosthetic shins. Crawls out sewer grate into bare concrete trench. City can be seen in distance.

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etc.’

I find the sequence of events to be particularly useful in establishing early problems and holes within your story which is indispensable.

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3. Script

The script is where you start fleshing out your dialogue and the concepts that the characters and their interactions will construct. I’ve found that using the same script format as screenplay scripts works best for me. So under your character names the text will be dialogue, then other lines will be descriptions of actions and what is going on in the scene. You can find a script format tutorials everywhere including here.

Writing and formatting your script in a word processor is a pain in the ass so I’ve found that using a screenwriting program like ‘Final Draft‘ to be much better. After a few hours of use the program becomes second nature and makes writing out a script easy and quick.

I tend to write several drafts of the script over several weeks. I’m new to writing for character so I find convincing and ‘natural’ dialogue particularly challenging. After I write my first draft and wait a few days, I’ll go back and view the work with fresh eyes. I often find much of what i had written previously to be… pretty shit, but that’s ok because you can use previous dialogue and work on it to make it better, more complex and more natural.

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4. First Visual Draft

The first visual draft is comprised of a series of small boxes representing pages, and stick figures in the boxes representing characters with primitive surroundings. The idea is that you can quickly sketch out what you visual want each panel to look like and not worry about the quality of your drawings.

This is only meant to be seen by you so don’t be ashamed by the quality of your drawing. As long as you can understand what is depicted then your drawing is good enough. It’s about getting the vision out of your head and onto paper to be worked on later.

I recommend numbering your ‘pages’ as it can get a bit confusing after a while.

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5. Second Visual Draft

If I was working by myself I would skip this step and go on to step 6. to save time, but my friend Oscar C is illustrating the final work so I’ve created a second visual draft to convey my ideas to him.

The second visual draft should be a representation of the final work. The comic zine I’m working on will be an A5 sized booklet so all pages in this draft are that size. I draw on both sides of each page so when I bind them it will look like the finished book, and you can flick through and see any weaknesses it might have.

The pages and drawing will take longer than the first draft because you the drawing need to make sense to someone else. In this stage you will also likely change pages and panels because you will realize other things work better. This is good, don’t be afraid to change from your first draft.

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When all the pages are complete you can bind them with a bull clip to keep it all together. You now have the entire comic in draft form!

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The next 3 parts(final panels, editing + digitization, self publishing) will be in the part 2 of this tutorial.

I just bought a book called ‘Making Comics’ by Scott McCloud. I can’t recommend it because I haven’t read it yet, but it stood out from all the other ‘how to make comics’ books I could find. Instead of teaching you how to imitate the style of other comics etc., it concentrates on how to construct a good story, effective panel layout, what to show and what not to show in those panels and stuff like that, which is exactly what I need. It also seems that master storyteller Neil Gaiman recommends it so it’s definitely worth a look. I’m hoping it will improve my comic writing abilities.

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– Hamish S.