New semester – new module!
In this module we have to formulate a short film from scratch, from pitch, to script to shooting. This is a first for me, having only ever operated a camera and documented what was happening in front of me. Home work for last week was to come up with pitch ideas and sell them to my fellow class mates:
- Black Box – A lone man in the box, it’s dark, hot and cramped, a CCTV camera blinks in the corner all of a sudden, a small hatch opens and a pair of eyes peer in and then the hatch snaps shut, but who’s watching?
Close up on the man in the box, sweaty and heavy breathing. No identifiable features in the space, except for the light on the CCTV camera. He is seated. Left with his own thoughts. Is he being tortured? Is he in solitary confinement in a prison? Is he in a sauna and being checked on by an attendant who is collecting towels? No dialogue?
- The Swing – A man is awoken in night by the sound of nursery rhymes, he goes down stairs to investigate.
It’s 3.30am, a man is stirred from his sleep by a sound. He gets his bearings in the darkened bedroom. His wife is asleep, so is his baby. He checks the room to locate the sound, it’s not the TV or the baby night light. Is it coming from outside? It takes a few moments to realise that the sound is coming from downstairs and that he recognises it – it’s the baby’s swing. Has his house been broken into and the thieves have set a trap? Has some evil spirit manifested itself in the living room and wants to swallow his soul? He creeps down stairs and opens the door to the lounge to see the outline of swing rocking away in the darkness…
I did find a article on the Art of the Pitch from the Rain dance website.
Ideas for the ‘Black Box’.
Feedback from the pitch session was very positive, I have decided to go for the ‘Black Box’ idea as I think it has more scope to develop the idea. Reference ideas include Plato’s Cave, The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, The Enigma Kasper Hauser by Werner Herzog and The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe. Below are some reference clips from research films:
Apocalypse Now – Marlon Brando
Panic Room – Jodie Foster
Buried Alive – Ryan Reynolds
Sauna – short film
BBC Panorama – CIA torture techniques
BBC Horison – 48 hours of total isolation
Areas of research:
Stockholm syndrome: is a condition that causes hostages to develop a psychological alliance with their captors as a survival strategy during captivity.
Abduction and imprisonment – https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/4x374p/why-sound-torture-works
CIA black sites and torture – https://www.mintpressnews.com/unsealed-cia-memos-provide-shocking-salt-pit-black-site-details/233067/
I think the feel of the film needs to be important, and is one of the main factors of choosing to develop this script. I was to convey the sensory overload of being in a space with no idea of where you are or what lurks in the shadows.
Outline for ‘Black Box’:
A man awakes to find himself in a darkened dimly lit space. He is completely disorientated and panics. His senses are dominated by the sound of his heart pounding as if it is going to burst from his chest. As his eyes adjust to darkness of the space he scans his surroundings to try to identify where he is, but is unable to work out where he is as there are no windows or openings. The room is hot, beads of sweat drip down his brow, his hands feel that is seated on small utilitarian bench.
He hears a sound and swings his head round to see where it came from and spots a red light blinking in the distance, suspended high in the air. He suddenly realises it belongs to a CCTV camera. The light blinks on and off and illuminates his sweaty face like a neon motel vacancy sign. Who is watching him?
More strange sounds come from the darkened corners of the room, taking his attention away from the camera. He tries to work out what they are, is it someone or something moving in the shadows or outside of the unseen wall? Is it his captor?
A small hatch snaps open and light streams into the space. The man shields his eyes with his hands and tries to see who is there, but it snaps shut before he eyes adjust. The man is temporarily blinded, once recovered he tries to find the hatch but fumbles around in the dark.
A door opens behind the man and a figure walks in with a torch and bag. Our character turns to face the visitor who is looking around the space. The new person puts down his bag and pulls something from it. He steps up the bench and fiddles with something in the ceiling. All of a sudden the room is illuminated by a light and revels the visitor to be a handyman who has come to fix the broken light bulb. The handyman nods to the man who nods back but stands in complete confusion.
A door opens behind the man and a figure walks in and turns on the lights, it is an attendant who has come to collect the dirty towels from the sauna. The man is revealed to be wearing a bathrobe/towel.
Treatment for ‘Black Box’:
A man appears in a series of abstract flashbacks of his life all from a point of view camera angle, like being watched by another person:
A child paying in a playground on the swings and a roundabout.
A teenage boy playing sports with his friends in a park.
A family, mum and dad with young child, window shopping in an arcade.
These memories end in a cacophony of imagery and sound and snap to black.
A man jolts awake. He finds himself in a darkened dimly lit space. He is average 30/40 something. The room is hot and making the man sweat. The dreams seem to have disorientated him and distracted him from his current situation.
The black of his surroundings triggers a claustrophobic reaction and he panics. His senses are dominated by the sound of his heart pounding as if it is going to burst from his chest. His breathing is rapid and shallow. He tries to control it by taking three deep breaths.
His eyes adjust to darkness of the space. He scans his surroundings to try to identify where he is. There are no windows or openings, the darkens almost form the walls of the room. The room is hot, beads of sweat drip down his brow. He reaches out around him to explore his surroundings, his hands feel that is seated on small utilitarian bench.
He hears a sound from the darkness and scans around to see where it came from. He squints his eyes and spots a red light blinking in the distance, suspended high in the air. The light blinks on and off and illuminates his sweaty face like a neon motel vacancy sign. He thinks about going to investigate but doesn’t want to leave leaving the safety of the bench, he gets up but keeps his hand on the bench, he quickly changes his mind about letting go in case he gets lost in the shadows, after all he doesn’t know where he is or what lurks in the black box.
He suddenly realises the light belongs to a CCTV camera. The man questions if someone is watching him and who could it be?
In another room are a bank of CCTV monitors. Some are turned off, some are on and show empty rooms. One screen shows our character sat on his bench. A silhouetted figure moves across the screens. He is a man in his late fifties. The mystery man is seated in front of the screens smoking a cigarette, smoke drifts up his face as he takes a drag. His eyes aren’t visible as the glare from the screens reflect in his glasses, they are the only light source in the room. He watches the screen in silent interest.
Back in the room with the bench, the man’s interest in the camera is suddenly taken away by loud, piercing, strange sounds that come from the darkened corners of the room, they seem to swirl around the space disorientating him. He tries to work out what they are, is it someone or something moving in the shadows or outside of the unseen wall? Is it his captor? Is he in prison? Is he being tortured? Is he dead?
A small hatch snaps open and light streams into the space, punching through the dark. The man is blinded and tries to shield his eyes with his hands. He splits his fingers to try and filter the light to see who is there, but the hatch snaps shut before he eyes can adjust. The man is blinded by being plunged back into the dark, his breathing is heavy and his pulse is racing again. Once his senses recover again, he braves the darkness and tries to find the hatch, not being sure where it is as he is disorientated, fumbles around in the dark searching for the boundaries of the room.
Behind the man, the hatch slides gently open again and a pair of spectacled eyes can be made out looking in. The man inside freezes in terror, he doesn’t dare turn around. There is a sound of a door handle being operated and fumbled with, a door creeps open and the visitor is stood in the door way, his attention is direction of the handle and is mumbling under his breath in frustration and the door.
Our character turns to face the visitor who has stepped into the room is looking around the space. The spectacled visitor puts down a heavy bag and pulls something from it. Our prisoner is a few meters away and is frozen in fear. The visitor walks over and steps up on the bench and fiddles with something in the ceiling. All of a sudden the room is illuminated by a light and revels the visitor to be a handyman who has come to fix the broken light bulb. The handyman nods to the man who nods back but stands in complete confusion. The room is revealed to be a basement office with small windows with blinds drawn.
Reverse flashback to the dream sequence of the spectacled character being the person viewing our main character in each scene. He appears as a parks department/maintenance worker in each scene.
Script Report from Andi Reiss:
|Title: The Black Box
|Author: Kevin Rossin
|Read by: Andi Reiss||Page Length: 5|
|Genre: Drama||Time Period: Various|
|Budget: £5,000||Rating: 12|
Bruce comes to consciousness within the impalpable mystery of a dark and empty space.
|Overall: (A Short paragraph with overall impressions to include strengths and weaknesses)
There is an intriguing and thought-provoking premise at play, providing an opportunity for the reader to use their imagination. Many short scripts offer a twist, turn or surprise in conclusion, yet this doesn’t and thus in its ambiguity lies its intrigue. However this can also be unrewarding unless subtext is introduced.
Exposition is overly written, repetitive and quite poorly constructed. Reading narrative direction becomes a little irritating when the sentences are carelessly penned. Don’t be frightened of the Full Stop; the simplest of punctuation marks to use.
|Synopsis: (No more than a paragraph breaking down the screenplay from beginning, middle, and End).
After a series of historical flashback sequences, we find Bruce coming to consciousness within an unreal dark and empty space. Darkness is an adjustable phenomenon, and in time Bruce manages to identify certain characteristics of his surroundings, although nothing seems to make much sense until he focuses on a flashing red illumination. It has a taken a while for this to register, thus giving the impression the space is vast, perhaps even infinity.
Upon realising the illumination is a part of a CCTV camera, Bruce is somewhat comforted by the idea he is not necessarily alone, although the figure behind the camera is nothing if not ominous, and a fear of foreboding ensues. The Bespectacled Man is eventually identified as a maintenance worker, who enters the space through a hatch in the door.
A series of flashback sequences, similar to those at the beginning, identify the character as having been an integral part of Bruce’s past, although from whence he came, and for what reason remains a mystery.
Specific Comments: A few sentences on each of the following topics:
|Concept is very promising; the idea of a character waking up/coming to consciousness in an alien environment is nothing new, but there’s plenty of scope for originality in the plot and ultimate explanation.|
|There’s a linear structure in that the action is bookended. This could be worked upon, perhaps with momentary flashbacks during Bruce’s initial investigation of his environment, adding texture to the storyline. Playing with time, in such a script construct, might disorientate both protagonist and audience so as to create intrigue as to just where he’s found himself.|
|Bruce is simplistically written, and the character could be expanded upon. Take another look at Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’, and Christopher Nolan’s ‘Doodlebug’. They may give you some inspiration to embellish Bruce’s character, in the context in which you have set him. You might also think about some Faustian premise, although this might mean re-thinking the flashback sequences.
Bespectacled Man might not necessarily be identified as a handyman. He could remain elusive, ambiguous and compellingly disturbing simply as ‘a silhouette’; an emotionless entity that we become aware controls Bruce’s fate.
|..is minimal, although an idea in the second draft might be to add some dialogue to the flashback sequences.|
|Playing with time, in the context of your story, might help to impart information in a more alluring way, since pacing is critical to keep an audience intrigued. By revealing the flashback sequences differently i.e. if they pan out after we’ve gauged the claustrophobic predicament Bruce finds himself in, you may engage the reader in a more emotive way. It might also help to create a necessary subtext; i.e. what emotions bubble underneath the scene?|
|This short screenplay, albeit not cinematic in a conventional manner, is potentially film festival worthy. Everything depends on the needs of the scene, so this has cinematic potential if the premise, subtext and reveal are thought through.|
|Any Formatting Comments:
Spelling, grammar and sentence structure could be corrected.
If you’ve never written a short screenplay before, you’ve created a premise with a lot of potential, as it affords an audience opportunity to imagine the story, and how it might play out, themselves. However, despite being surrealistic it must be very clear that this could be a real story, and a circumstance that any of us could happen upon.
I think you’ve tried to convey your story in the barest bones of action and dialogue, with nary an adverb or adjective in sight. Description must be succinct, speech (if any) must be snappy, and importantly the tension must escalate. You do have the very basis of all of this, but it might be better if you consider playing with time and adding subtext; without it, it’s all surface.
Information taking us completely out of the story is unnecessary.
An extended metaphor, that runs alongside the main character or plotline, can carry a great deal of the story load, so this could be expanded upon.
Perhaps consider the idea that Bruce might have inadvertently arrived in purgatory, so the final act (the last four pages) can explain, both to him and us exactly how he’s got there. What might be interesting would be to discover, or at least discuss, whether Bruce is the perpetrator or victim of his circumstances.
Script Report For Xin Wang’s ‘Misconception’:
Below is a link to the script report I wrote for Xin.
Script Draft 1:
Script Draft 2:
Script Draft 3:
Script Draft 4 – Final version:
The whole process of developing ideas and concepts for films was a completely new area for me, having not come from a traditional film production/studies back ground. If I’m honest, although I have enjoyed the whole process, I have found it hard at times to come up with ideas. For example, I was only able to come up with two pitch ideas. Also, I found it hard it hard to over write my script to edit it down, instead I had to come up with extra ideas to add to the story.
There was also an element of getting to know my course mates, as this was the first time I have joined them in a class, due to studying the MA part-time. The way Clifton taught the group allowed for open and honest conversations between everyone. I did find that the delivery from the Power Point slides probably suited a large lecture theatre filled with undergraduate students, rather than the small group of seven Masters students. The talks and exploration of the off-topic questions proved to be more beneficial at times. Picking Clifton’s brain on the ins and outs of the script writing industry was both interesting and at times entertaining.
The course was broken down in to multiple sections including, Pitch, Outline, Treatment, Initial Script and Rewrites. Using these stages allowed the script to be conceived and developed into hopefully a short film ready to be shot. Because of the time constraints, the course outcomes were altered by Clifton to focus on working on the script writing process rather than rushing through it and producing a poorly made film from one of the submitted scripts. This was a very sensible idea as there would have been only a couple of weeks to shoot and edit the film with zero available budget.
Developing the characters was one of the most interesting parts. As you can see in the first draft of my script, the main protagonist was the character I called Bruce, named after one of my favourite actors Bruce Campbell. His antagonist, albeit unknown to Bruce, was the Bespectacled Man. As the drafts developed, I actually thought Bespectacled Man became more of the interesting character compared to Bruce. Why was he stalking Bruce? Who was the person on the end of the phone that seemingly had a hold over him? Why was he a presence in the flashbacks on Bruce’s life? These questions were left unanswered, which leads me to the plot.
Clifton explained the formulaic approach to plot development that mainstream TV and films follow during class, including the two examples in the diagram above. I am not a fan of films that are overly predictable, painting by numbers shall we say? Also, we had already started to develop our outlines and first drafts at this point, so I felt that my script had already taken on a format of its own. There is no resolution in my story, no neatly tied up ends to who they are or why these two characters meet. From reading the feedback on the script report that Andi wrote on ‘The Black Box’, he wanted to have these questions answered. Additional feedback from Clifton was positive in the direction I was heading, which just confirmed that I was happy with my choice. I also think that my plot works well with the open world that the group project created. The questions raised in my story can be transferred onto the characters in Andi’s bridging script.
I had the pleasure of writing the script report for Xin Wang. Her story was an interesting tale of jealousy and body snatching. Breaking down another person’s script was a beneficial process and something I would recommend to any aspiring script writer. I think it makes you analyse the work of others and read between the lines and you can learn a few things that will strengthen your own work along the way. Andi Reiss wrote the report on my script. My initial reading of the report ended in disappointment as it was seemingly quite harsh and didn’t pull any punches. A second, more detailed reading, resulted into taking the criticism on board and working on the script to remedy some of the problems, although as I have mentioned previously, I didn’t agree with resolving the questions I had raised.
The language of script writing is can vary between writers. I found that my script was very heavy on descriptive terms, painting the scene as I imagined, this is probably due to my photographic background. I wanted to convey some of the cinematography, being careful to allow room for the creativity of director, actors and director of photography if the film was made (in theory). I was reluctant to include any dialogue in the first draft, as the visual language was conveying the mood and tension of the story, closely supported by the soundscape. I was worried that as I had never written any dialogue before, it would weaken the visuals. However, as the script developed, I found the courage to add lines for both the characters’ whist keeping the dialogue minimal to retain the mystery of the plot.
In summary, I have really enjoyed the whole process. I think I have produced a reasonably well formed and rounded script for a story that is both visually strong with an intriguing narrative, not bad for a first attempt, but let’s leave that to Clifton to judge maybe? From reading the scripts of my course mates, I believe we have made a package of short films that have an overarching narrative of human nature and its weaknesses, that work well together. Using ‘Harvest’ as the main structure to carry the viewer through the diverse stories that seven different writers have devised was the correct decision that I fully agree with. I don’t think I will be rushing to become a script writer anytime soon as the industry seems to a tough one to break into with no guarantee that your work will even be made into a film. I would like to keep the option on my script to make into a short film at some point in the future as I would like to see it on a big screen.
The other individual scripts from my course mates can be viewed on their own blogs listed here.
I will upload the collaborative script to this post when available.