Settings Tell the Story

Why do filmmakers make the setting choices they do? I spent some time this afternoon at one of the locations for our upcoming short film, Street Language.

Why do filmmakers make the setting choices they do?

I spent some time this afternoon at one of the locations for our upcoming short film, Street Language. I am thinking of how this particular location, a miniature dollhouse shop, helps me introduce my main character and opening value of his journey. The opening value is a key piece of information you must give the audience; your protagonist’s journey depends on this starting point. Remember, a film is the story of a journey of change told through conflict, to quote a number of screenwriting gurus.

In our film I wanted a unique setting, something an audience won’t see every day, and something that gives me a visual way to establish aspects of my character’s mood, mission, etc. Playing against type a bit, I am placing Jacob, my Protagonist, in a miniature dollhouse shop. Jacob is a young man, and a street kid – not what you might think of as a dollhouse customer. But he works as a night janitor in the shop, which for him becomes a sort of refuge, a fantasy world of perfect homes. The opening value of my film is peace, found in this fantasy world, apart from normal human relationships. Jacob’s journey in the film is to discover the value of connecting with another person. At the beginning of the film he is isolated, alone, and unknown. By the end of our short film we must see him change, to open up in some way, or to close up further, if the story is a tragedy or dark vision of life.

So, today I’m storyboarding images that establish Jacob’s starting point – a peaceful fantasy world, isolated from real human relationships. I could have set the opening scenes in a warehouse, a deserted tenement, the desert, and accomplished something similar. But I like the visual choices and images that I can create in a miniatures shop. I hope the audience connects immediately and is intrigued to know and understand more about Jacob. In a short film I have to pull them in very quickly, so this is my plan.

You can learn more about the film – and even be a part of our team: Click here for our Our IndieGoGo campaign

Write Beyond The Screen

With our film, Street Language, I’ve been learning to take advantage of the opportunities that the web and other technologies present to extend the storytelling beyond the confines of the short film I’ve written.

When you write a screenplay you are creating a world in your mind that is rich and complex, full of both familiar and extraordinary characters, places, and action. But, as a screenwriter you must be incredibly disciplined to filter all of that complexity and richness down to the essential pieces that are needed to tell your story in within the brief, linear, constraints of the film medium. This is especially challenging with short films.

With our film, Street Language, I’ve been learning to take advantage of the opportunities that the web and other technologies present to extend the storytelling beyond the confines of the short film I’ve written. In a nutshell, I’m giving my audience new ways to learn about characters, follow their lives outside of the film, and connect with the themes of the film in ways that can affect the real world. I want to blur the line between fiction and reality in a way that has the potential to create change in the lives of my audience and their world in positive ways.

Street Language is our first attempt at multi-channel transmedia storytelling. We’re beginning small, with a few alternate channels where interested viewers can explore characters and themes of the film in more depth. For instance, we are creating social media presences for our two main characters that will give backstory and a timeline leading up to the events in the film. One character’s story arc before the film begins is quite interesting. It’s a trajectory that we can tell through common social media tools. So part of the release of the film will be creating linkages to social media channels where audiences can discover this deeper story.

Also, we can create a bridge between the fictional and real world in which our story takes place. Our film is set in an urban center, with our main character a street kid who lives alone in a ‘squat’ he has found for himself. With our non-profit partner organizations, we can connect audiences to real-world situations and people to help them further explore themes in the film. Most importantly, we want to help audiences engage in meaningful ways after they view the film. If anything, we see the film and the extended media story world as being entertaining catalysts to help viewers become part of change on behalf of the urban poor, homeless, and disenfranchised people in their communities.

Here are some bullets that capture the essence of what I’m saying:

• Multiple delivery channels give a screen writer the opportunity to communicate beyond the script and the linear, set, format of a film. These channels include social media, mobile devices, web sites, games, motion comics, etc.
• In my screenplay I often want to leave information out to help create interest, suspense, or to more deeply engage my audience’s mind. However, I can take advantage of different delivery channels to fill in gaps and fill out the world of my characters.
• If you are writing for film today I believe you must, at the very least, learn about transmedia, augmented reality, and other trends that are fully entrenched in the commercial film franchise world. In Hollywood, a screenwriter may create the script alone, but the additional story elements (mostly marketing-driven) are usually controlled by outside hired guns. In the independent film world, I think writers should create and control the story world of their characters beyond the film element. Those who write for multi-channel story delivery are truly transmedia storytellers.
• My personal goal is to learn and grow in this area so that I can continue to be the driving force in the creative story elements that accompany my films. I’m not saying that I’ll become an expert in game theory, social media storytelling, and all of the other ways we can work. I’m saying that I want to be fluent and competent enough to facilitate a team of experts from other disciplines who can collaborate to develop a full expression of our story world.
• I do believe that there will remain a place for simple, linear storytelling. We all like to be entertained and not work at it so much. However, I wonder whether that will become a smaller and smaller part of the visual storytelling world.
• This does not necessarily mean movies will turn into games where the audience ‘controls’ the world. People are trying to envision and execute this sort of new form of storytelling, where the audience is fully immersed as a character in the ‘narrative.’ However, there will be a place for well-told and structured stories. What I’m talking about is expanding the storytelling space beyond the screen.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts and experiences about expanding the storytelling space.

You Are Solving The Wrong Problem | UX Magazine

“Find a faster way to fail, recover, and try again.” Good words.

 It’s easy for me to get bogged-down with a big vision. Sometimes I respond to a great task or challenge with inaction. Maybe I can’t see the solution up-front, or perhaps I’m afraid to fail. Other times, I respond with a flurry of activity, creating a whole process and environment in which to solve the problem–but never arriving at a solution. This article talks about how important it is for us to clearly see the true problem, not the most obvious one.

It talks about Paul McCready, the inventor of the first successful human-powered airplanes, and his brilliant insight into the real problem to be solved; it wasn’t how to get a human in the air. 

There is some problem you are trying to solve. In your life, at work, in a design. You are probably solving the wrong problem.Paul MacCready, considered to be one of the best mechanical engineers of the 20th century, said it best: “The problem is we don’t understand the problem.”

Article here: You Are Solving The Wrong Problem | UX Magazine.

His bottom-line:

When you are solving a difficult problem re-ask the problem so that your solution helps you learn faster. Find a faster way to fail, recover, and try again. If the problem you are trying to solve involves creating a magnum opus, you are solving the wrong problem.

I was talking with my son recently about a college paper he needed to write. I knew that what he needed was to see the real problem, not the problem that had him stuck. He is hesitant to start down a wrong path. He wants to have it all together in advance so he doesn’t fail or waste his time. I encourage him to just get after it, write, outline, brainstorm. Encounter the hurdles, but do it aggressively, quickly. Sometimes the temptation is to finesse every sentence before moving on. That’s a killer.

The most successful projects I’ve done (and delivered on-time) are ones where I was not paralyzed by setting up the perfect system first or knowing that I was on the perfect trajectory from the beginning. I go after it, encounter failure of some sort, re-group and re-orient. That gets me there. I try (imperfectly) to apply this to my script writing, visual editing, presentations, and classes I teach. I am just as prone as my son to become paralyzed, to over analyze, and to never get started– even on something that means a lot to me.

“Find a faster way to fail, recover, and try again.”  Good words.

Ten Steps In Screenwriting

I follow this blog By Scott Meyer on Twitter and often find valuable and practical tips for screenwriting. Here is a series that gives a good overview of one writer’s process.

How I Write A Script at GoIntoTheStory

My personal writing process is much less thought-out, so I appreciate Scott’s way of defining steps, and the discipline and intentionality that is so important for a working writer.