Thursday, May 26, 2011

Another form of story generation

Last night I was invited to participate in Filmbites Youth Film School's Professional Partnership Program. This is where advanced actors work with screenwriters to develop short film scripts to be filmed at a later date pending funding. It was great to be asked and it was a friendly, supportive atmosphere in a cool little space in Wangara.

There were, as advertised, ten talented actors who were all incredibly positive and receptive as was the school's director. This was the first night of two scheduled workshops where scenarios, characters and themes are created through improvisation and scene work leading to a cohesive, self-contained narrative (well, hopefully!).

I've touched on where stories come from, for me, before and this was a different and unusual approach. The actors did some warm up exercises using techniques I wasn't overly familiar with - space jumps and the like. They then presented improvised scenes they had prepared beforehand (a concept my fellow writer and I pondered) before it was our turn to introduce some elements.

Now, my head is in rewrites and other scripts so I had no preconceived ideas about what sort of story I was looking to tell. I wanted to stay open to all possibilities and the collaborative nature of the process. We had, however, been asked to prepare some key words, character types and possible themes. So I had spent some time in my favourite writing haunt typing up lists of a semi-random nature.

For example, the first exercise was an improvisation based on any of three key words provided by each writer. Mine were 'deception', 'chaos' and 'haunted'. The other three words supplied were 'darkness', 'rejection' and 'potato' (cauliflower managed to wangle its way in here somehow as well - yes, there was a clear vegetable subtext going on). The actors indicated what word they would like to tackle and had ten minutes to improvise a scene which the writers then observed. We could also sit with them during their brainstorming phase and offer suggestions.

Next was character types. Same deal - actors to pick from the list nominated by the writers, spend ten minutes preparing (and eating pizza, an invaluable component of any creative enterprise) then play the scene. These were being filmed and I believe the writers will get to review all the scenes at some stage. Of my suggestions 'unstable office worker' was the clear favourite. Which makes me proud that my late, lamented corporate career has proven so useful!

Some really interesting elements came out of these scenes with a combination of powerful and charming performances. I should also mention the actors, on introducing themselves, nominated the type of roles they wanted to play. Some were tired of being 'nice' characters and wanted darker and meatier roles; others were nearly the exact opposite wanting more 'romantic' or nicer roles.

After each block of scenes there was general discussion and feedback. Again, positive and supportive.

Out of all this sensory input and pages of notes (mainly dialogue grabs) my screenwriting brain has started to whir away. Is it possible to link any of these scenes to create a self-contained narrative? How to involve as many actors as possible given the ensemble nature of the project and satisfy their role preferences? What themes or scenarios are evident?

The answer?

You'll just have to wait for Week 2! 

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