Posts Tagged With: emotions

Emotions first

 

emotions_2c18b4_208007

I have a nasty tendency when I’m plotting out a script to get too focused on the events. I work out what the beginning and end scenes are and then split the story into quarters, give each quarter a rough title and then start fleshing each quarter out with scenes.

The problem with this approach is it can sometimes leave me with cool sequences I’m very attached to which look great … but don’t really service the character’s journey. Because that’s what a film is: the protagonist’s journey, following along as they learn their most important, life changing lesson.

?????????????????????????

No matter how big or blockbuster-y the film is, I want that emotional core. I want it to the story of one person learning and changing and growing (or dying and failing, that works too) … and I want that journey to be integral to the story. I don’t want the story to happen and then the character to suddenly change at the last moment or to change independently of the events. I want the events to alter her worldview, to shape and change how she feels until she’s forced to make a difficult transition which is the only way to meet the challenges of the film.

I don’t care if it’s a superhero film or a small-scale drama. Whatever the story-flesh is, I want it wrapped around a solid emotional-skeleton.

9570ff2270af4742ba746b4ac46b4922

The problem is, when I start with the flesh I end up with too many arms or not enough legs or a weird lumpy bit in the middle of the stomach which is soooooo cool … but has nothing to do with the main character’s turmoil at all.

So maybe, just maybe, the answer is to start with the emotions first?

demotivation-us_captain-obvious-strikes-again_134218278835

Maybe the way forward is to write down who she is at the beginning, who she has to be at the end and then divide the film up into segments which represent the emotional steps on that journey?

Maybe if I give each step a relevant name, let’s say I’m using the five stages of grief or something, then I know the sequences need to represent denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance*.

4e41b948786338b45e4664c4b4e0159d

Only when I know what the steps have to mean should I then work out what they actually are. I can construct the physical events of the story around those steps. So it’s not “She has to get the key to unlock the thing!” but “She needs to realise not all people are untrustworthy” and then figure out which bit of action best represents it. That way the emotional change is smooth, it happens gradually and every scene adds to the whole. Every scene can still be funny or cool or thrilling or whatever … but they have meaning, they contribute to the film instead of being diversions.

images

Films tend to get written the other way round. Certainly whenever I get a rewrite job it’s usually because the original writer didn’t have (or couldn’t convey) a clear emotional journey, resulting in a script which has good bits in it … but none of those bits add up to anything satisfying. It’s really, really hard grafting an emotional skeleton on afterwards because, obviously, skeletons are meant to be on the inside, baked into the core of the story.

657ca4c2c9e4433536cc8513816e74d9

It also means there’ll inevitably be that conversation with the client where they have a specific scene they’re in love with which has nothing to do with the story they’re trying to tell but looks sooooooo cool. Trying to persuade people they don’t need the thing they love most is never easy, but often the best options are cut it or tell a different story, one where that scene makes sense.

This is often most clear in action films, in the difference between a good action film where every fight scene and set piece changes the protagonist in some way and a bad one where shit just blows up for no reason.

download

On the other hand, we all have favourite films where nothing makes any sense and the fact it’s just shit blowing up for no reason is what makes the film so great. So perhaps this emotion-first approach isn’t always needed?

Or maybe those films we love would be even better if there was some point to them?

funniest_memes_what-s-the-point-of-blurring-the-middle-finger_5322

Maybe they’re good not because of the script (blasphemy – everything comes from the script!) but despite the script? Maybe it’s a mediocre script which has been acted, directed, edited, lit, dressed and scored well?

e667e7355eddfe17eb4b4938dc3cda62ec8e359eb6f8a2465c05e0067bc4e265

I don’t know. I just know that for me starting with the emotional journey makes the script a lot less painful to write than starting with the physical one.


* You may be of the opinion that these five stages are bullshit. I may be of the opinion you’re right, I may not. Doesn’t matter.

Categories: My Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Second that emotion

Hello, happy new year and welcome back. My you’re looking slim. No, honestly, you can’t tell how many boxes of Quality Street you ate. Please allow me to admire you for a second …

One_second_later
… okay, let us begin the year.

I’m fully immersed in a difficult* rewrite at the moment and the danger with all rewrites (or indeed writes) when they’re taking a long time is that I’ll stray off the point.

Emotionally speaking, that is.

I know the point of the scene and the film and all the themes and character desires and what not … but I’ve found I need to keep reminding myself of the tone lest it wanders off into something too depressing or too silly or too scary or … stuff.

003

Tone, to me, is the promise of a specific emotion. The tone tells you ‘you will feel mostly this way during this movie’. I think it’s fine to vary the tone from beginning to end, but not to swing wildly across the emotional spectrum from one scene to the next.

A very silly scene about shoes which features a child-rape in the middle and finishes with a slapstick custard pie is jarring. And weird. And just generally horrendous.

I find keeping in mind the emotion I want the audience to experience helps weed out anything which just doesn’t belong.

128818881010962642

I’ve done that for a while, but what I’ve noticed recently, what I wasn’t aware I was doing, is that I also keep a second emotion in mind – the lowest point of the main character.

What will the she be feeling at the end of the second act?

SZRNx1

How does that contrast with how she’s feeling at the beginning or the tone of the film? Often I find the way she feels at her lowest point is the secret fear which drives her actions throughout. If I know act two is going to conclude with her feeling lost and lonely … then I use that as the fear which colours her decisions throughout.

These two emotions – the tone and the low point should be consistent throughout. That’s not to say the protagonist won’t have fun … but the fear of being alone will always be with her and cause her to make bad choices.

a2b9301fd2d6599d98418482439dd1bf

Take Woody in Toy Story as an example: he’s afraid of being replaced, of not being the top toy. The tone is lighthearted, family-friendly comedy – the audience laugh all the way through … but the underlying emotion is fear of being replaced. His low point comes when Woody realises he’s lost the thing he craves because of his actions.

I think.

images

To be honest, I haven’t really thought it through in any detail. I’ve just noticed it’s what I’ve been doing on the last few scripts to help me stay on target. You may already be doing it. You may think it’s silly and doesn’t work. Or you may think it’s a useful way of thinking about things and incorporate it into your toolbox … it’s up to you.

Yes, it’s a simplistic way of looking at a complex story … but sometimes the simple things help inform and support the finer detail.

When I started this post I had a pithy sign off in mind … but I can’t remember what it was … so here’s a baby eating bacon instead.

 


 

* Largely difficult because I’m relocating it from the UK to the US – I didn’t realise how much I didn’t know about America. I mean, it’s all very well knowing what something looks like because you’ve seen it on screen … but what’s it called? That guy who does the thing … what’s his job title in American? And so on. You don’t need to know the names to recognise/understand stuff on screen … doesn’t work in a script.

Categories: Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.