Monday, February 23, 2015

To describe a character in a movie script

Most movie script writers know that you write the character’s name with capital letter first time of appearance. I also think it is common knowledge to keep color of hair and eyes out of it and it for most times is redundant knowledge what color the shirt has. Amazingly enough, brand of watch and precise age are both common traits it seems, especially among scripts from the yet not known writers.

Both are pieces of information you actually don't need to tell.

When writing a movie script it is easy to forget one thing: it is not a novel. Of course it is not a novel you say, and yes, I know you know it is not a novel. The point is that those producing the movie have read the script. When you read a novel you need information about a character early. When you meet a guy or a gal it is nice to get a fairly clear image of who it is and not halfway in learn that the fair boy you imagined is an old man. When you finished the book, you have finished the project as well. The story is ended and the book returns to its shelf. When it comes to a movie script the process has just started.

What’s the difference?

It is such monumental difference that I’m amazed that so few mention it. All those people making a film create the characters from the whole script! Those “JENNIE (43) enters in a blue costume” are close to irrelevant. The character’s age is interpreted based on what she does, her family situation and so on – the whole picture. If she is a parent she is probably over twenty, if she runs alongside a car, she is not likely past sixty. Unless it is a story about teenage parenthood or superpower at old age, any age between twenty and sixty could do just as fine. If not, probably other things in the story tell us what we need. To yell that the age is precisely “43” is only limiting in a way that is not for the good. Remember, the writer's excellence is with words and story – but leave the creation of the film to those who know the trait. It’s a movie script, not a manual.

Besides, is really the first thing you think about when a new person entering a room his or her age? The precise age!? Stick to describe what would be your first impression of the character, and only what is needed for the story.

This is where the brand of the wrist watch comes in. I don’t know my brands. If you tell me it is a… whatever brand, it doesn't tell me a thing. And the expensiveness of a brand can differ over the world as well so what is bought at Harrods in one place could be K-Mart in another (well, perhaps not, but you get the point). Use words that we can all understand, like “expensive” or “cheap” and leave the selection of brands to somebody else.

It is amazing how much you can cut if you only can leave your imaginary sense of control of the story behind you.

Remember that for the reader the project has just about begun when they finish reading. You've built a skeleton. If you have not covered it up in unnecessary garnish, its strong bones will show. Don’t draw the attention to the less vital parts of your story, and especially not with things limiting the options to get it sold.

Image from Pintest. Click on the image for more info.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Tools for the screenwriting process

Which tools to use for planning and writing a screenplay is a very personal selection and nobody but you can tell what is right for you. Don't trust any commercial telling you anything else. Especially those insisting to take care of the whole process for you.

Here is my selection of tools, and what I like and don't like about them.

The first thing I do is a mindmap in FreeMind. I use a template I have made to get started quickly. FreeMind is easy to use with the keyboard, which is a good thing for a writer. I write, move, delete, add, draw arrows, add icons without any trouble. The backside is that it is a file on disk. I keep it all in my dropbox, but I need the actual program to work with it. Usually not a big problem, but when I work with someone it would have been easier if it was available as an online tool. I have not found any online mindmap tool that has even been close to FreeMind.

When done with the mindmap I plan the scenes and this I currently do in SuperNoteCard. It is available both as a downloadable desktop program and as an online service. While FreeMind is completely free, SuperNoteCard is limited in its free form. As an online service you pay by year. I like the structure of the program where you handle "notecards". You can put them in stacks, add common referenses, like attach characters, and put them in one or more category. In the online version you can also add images to a card. It is simple to use and with complete freedom when it comes to contents on the card. It is however not a pin-board. The cards themselves has limited visual options when it comes to organizing. Export options are good and you can present your work in understandable written easily. How I wish I could connect the mindmap with SuperNoteCard!

And then SuperNoteCard with Celtx...

I've just started to use Celtx in its online form and it is to early to tell if I like it or not. It's desktop form was a dream, but so far the online version has not lived up to the same status. I miss the option to add any files or urls to the project and start them from Celtx.

I would also like a todo-list somewhere in all this.

In the desktop version of Celtx I had all files collected in the Celtx project, but as an online service, this is no longer possible. I want some form of basket to put it all, keeping a whole project together, allowing me to use my preferred tool. If you have some ideas for this, I'm interested.

Photo from Pintest. Click on the image for more info.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The importance of conflict in the story

A friend of mine wrote a book with a story that was too cute for my taste and in my opinion completely lacked of conflict. My friend pointed out that her characters were strong and secure and they could handle situations as adults - hence no need for conflicts.

I've been thinking a lot about conflicts in stories since then. Why is it important with a conflict in the story? You can't read anything about how to write a screenplay without having the importance of conflict written in giant neon letters. And why would I have thought her story better if there were conflicts in it?

First of all, conflict does not have to be verbal arguments, angry yells or fighting. A conflict could be as simple as two friends wanting to do different things on their day together - they will probably not yell, fight or get pissed of at another, but still they have different goals and one or both need to divert from it. A conflict.

Conflict drives the story forwards.

There can be a promise of a potential conflict ahead that makes you want to continue the story, but if that promise is never fulfilled you may feel cheated.

A story tells us who we are, who we could be, how we should (or shouldn't) act. By being right and doing right from the start, there is nothing to learn or understand. And since none of us are perfect, the flawless characters will not only be uninteresting but also hard to relate to. A lifestyle seminar always begins with telling us how we probably behave and live right now, what will happen if we continue this dreadful life and then finally tells us what to do and what will happen if we listen up and keep working on a change. It's not only that they cannot charge the price they do if they kept it down to five minutes, only telling us what to do, we would simply not listen if a mr or ms Perfect entered the room telling us all what he or she does to be perfect and then leave. We need to be seduced.

In a book or a movie we have the option a lecturer does not. While the poor speaker only can tell us his or hers life story and hope to win our hearts, we can show the tale from the beginning and let everybody see all stupid mistakes finally leading to the big, grand, and so very vital, change. That possibility is unbeatable.

On the other hand, doing as my friend did, you get a "yes, I've been through problems, but now I'm fine" and it truly were. Character after character told their life stories and although they all were intriguing and full of conflicts, most of them ended in "but now I'm fine", excluding what we just learned from the rest of the story. That is not exactly to use the media optimally. And it is not fair to the story to not successfully give it a change to seduce its readers, or viewers if it had been a movie.

When you are caught up in a story you live with its characters. None of us are perfect and it is easier to like someone who is like yourself or has treats you recognise. But perfectness has a nice ring to it, so by following our new alter ego we learn how to reach this as the character learns. And what is there to learn if the character was not exposed to conflicts? If she always got what she wanted, when she wanted it? And not only exposed to conflicts, but being right in the middle of them, forcing the character to act? Yes, you would probably shy away if it really were you, but if you for some reason could not, or if you one day should turn bold and brave, then what should you do? What should you dream about doing? That is why conflicts in the story are so important.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Captain Vivia

Monday the 26th I saw the two versions of ”The Kill”. Five days later, on the 31th, I had the opportunity to see yet another film for which I’ve written the script: “Kapten Vivia” (“Captain Vivia”), director Simon Jansson.

It was screened last in a group of other short films which had recived the same kind of financial support. Of the other films one was a bit fun and one had potential to be good, but the rest was close to an agonizing experience. And then came “Kapten Vivia” as an uplifting, liberating and incredibly beautiful ending. Yes, I know I'm biased, but I've only written the script; the beautiful photo, Ping Mon Wallén's outstanding acting performance and Simon Jansson's direction skills and the accomplishment taken by others involved are all beyond my control, and therefore something I feel I’m free to praise without a brag factor involved.

"Kapten Vivia" is about a girl who loses her beloved mother in a car accident, and to top it all she takes the blame for it. Therefore, she escapes into a dream world. But even there, she cannot forever forget what happened.

It is the third of my scripts that Simon Jansson and Sx2 Productions has filmed. The first was "A vital meeting" which premiered in 2010. In the autumn of 2009 I got in touch with Simon, who sought a short film script to turn into a film. I had just sold my first, to a producer in the US even, and Simon was thoroughly professional and I wrote and got paid unsuspecting that the buyer was fourteen years old. That's what's so wonderful with the Internet. A lot of prejudices never get a chance. And what movie he made of the script! Then as now, he gives me the feeling that he will become a well-known director.

Alla images belongs to Simon Jansson
and is used with his approval.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

GoKinema 2015 - Open Set and "The Kill"

Every year Gothenburg Studios arranges an event they call GoKinema. It is a meeting point for professionals and enthusiasts who want to see and learn more about making films. They have an expo and seminars and the very popular Open Set – making film in front of an audience. The crew has a day to film an about four page script. This is then repeated for two or three days, with different cinematographer and director, but the same script and set and most of the crew. This year they had held an international contest for the script and my contribution "The Kill"… well, it won.

Photo: Christian Holst. GoKinema Open Set 2015, stated as "Living room" in the script

So I had the fortune to see my script turned into no less than two films by established professionals (and yet another two made by film students – though these were not made in front of an audience and not with me present, and so far I’ve not been able to see the final cuts).

Photo: Christian Holst. GoKinema Open Set 2015 Ardalan Hakimi Fard and Ninja Thyberg

Photo: Christian Holst. GoKinema Open Set 2015, Dick Pope and  Cecilia Torquato

On the first day award winning Ninja Thyberg directed and the equally award winning Dewald Aukema was DoP, with Leif Edlund and Ardalan Hakimi Fard as the two characters in my script. On the second day Leif Edlund acted against Karin de Frumerie instead, with Cecilia Torquato as director and Oscar Nominee Dick Pope as DoP.

Photo: Christian Holst. GoKinema Open Set 2015, Dewald Aukema

The results were two different films, though based on the same script. And, in my opinion, both very close to its spirit.

What did I do on the set? Nothing but watching. And no one expected me to do anything else. Actually, most of the crew didn’t even know I was there. A moderator guided the audience through the day and one of them interviewed me between two takes, but other than that I kept a low profile.

Photo: Christian Holst. GoKinema Open Set 2015, Karin de Frumerie

One thing I learned when it comes to writing is to keep the image moving. If they had followed my script to the letter, much would have been like talking statues; a pretty picture with dialog. Fortunately the directors and cinematographers had better sense than that and made the images interesting and intriguing.

Photo: Christian Holst. GoKinema Open Set 2015, Leif Edlund

In the audience I got questions about which version I preferred and how it felt like to have my script altered. I cannot see it like that. It would probably been different if I didn’t feel that both versions kept the spirit of the script and became something completely off the charts, but now this was not the case. My goal was the script. That is the part I take pride in. To have professionals do a film on something I have written is sheer joy. It wouldn’t cross my mind to tell any of them how to do their job. Just the fact that my script – taken to the letter – would have been too static to be interesting says a lot about that a writer is a writer; No less part of the machinery, but still a part, not the all wise mind.

It was two day's I'll always keep with me in my heart.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

I'll be back

Yes, I'll be back here. Soon.

Yes, I'm still writing movie scripts. And yes, I am writing them in English. Just have some patience with me. Though I've worked hard for this look on the blog, I think a restart deserves a new look. I'm working on that now.

Yes, life moved on, and no, it has not moved back, it has just started in include something instead of exclude. Some things in life just stays to strong. Or it is just me with hubris.

But when I saw the sudden amount of hits on this blog, likely due to my winning of GoKinema contest, I realised that some things should not be neglected.