Saturday, June 30, 2012

Darkness - Light at the end of the tunnel

After a delay of over two months the short film Darkness recommenced shooting last night. I’m not across all the details – once I deliver the shooting script my involvement largely is one as interested spectator – however, there was a combination of key crew availability; coordinating the actors’ schedules; and issues to do with obtaining a key location that led to such a big gap between day two and day three of a five day schedule.

Caitlin (Hannah Hugessen) and Samantha (Jessica Hegarty) square off.
Suffice to say, I was happy to visit the location where a dedicated and talented group of crew and actors had gathered to complete our little film. There were some new faces – notably Director of Photography, Antony Webb who had come in for David Le May who was unavailable due to other commitments – and many familiar ones.

It’s quite humbling to see all these people working so diligently in somewhat difficult circumstances – it was a cold Perth winter night and the set was a cramped basement. I will tell you the ceiling was such that I had to stoop (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!) but you wouldn’t have wanted to be anything over about 5’10 for it to have been vertically challenging.

With a new DoP came a different camera which didn’t allow for a monitor for technical reasons beyond my understanding. This meant I didn’t get to see much of the actual shoot. Though the director, Paul Komadina, seemed in good spirits as our usual banter confirmed (I’m sure much to the bemusement of the rest of the crew).

Forced inside due to the cold, it was great to see the attention to detail with the make-up and costuming of the actors. Indeed, it was the only time I was asked a question in reference to the script all night to which I gave a very pragmatic answer re the look of one of the characters. To explain further would stray into spoiler territory. It was also interesting watching the actors running lines for their scene as they were being made up.

Debbie (Jessica O'Connor) - what's behind the red door? 
I jokingly had remarked that one of the advantages of being a writer on set with nothing to do was that I didn’t have to stay until the scheduled 1am finish. Nor did I – but I knew everything was in good hands. The shoot continues over the next two evenings and I intend to try and see the filming of the closing scenes including the somewhat intricate climax.

Jessica Hegarty as Samantha.
Special mention to actor Jessica Hegarty who came off a 5am start for the second day of a feature film shoot to back up for Darkness. Greatly appreciated, Jess. Also to Doug and Toby whose house has been invaded by a bunch of filmmakers for the weekend. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Thoughts on characters as people

The following quote was posted on a local film networking site recently that had me thinking:
‎"Characters in scripts are people...not artifacts to be shuffled and manipulated like cards in a magic trick, to suit the contrivances of plot. I think that if filmmakers could approach characters more as if they were people, we'd have much better movies." 
~ Judith Weston, The Film Director's Intuition

It is a timely reminder as the discussion continues to rage over character motivation and actions in Prometheus. Yet there is an aspect that troubles me a little.

Simply this, characters aren’t people. I know this as a screenwriter because of this one essential truth – I DO manipulate them from above, God-like in what is known as the holy grail of screenwriting – STRUCTURE.

The moment you use words like “inciting incident”, “turning point”, “midpoint”, “reversal”, any screenwriting term, you are imposing your will on a character. Whether you use the three act structure, the Hero’s Journey, or any other structural template. Characters obey the rules of good storytelling craft; people do not.

That’s even before we discuss the requirements and expectations of genre and yes, the needs of the plot.

I’ve heard writers talk about characters not knowing that they’re in a movie or television show, not knowing that there is an audience. Then in the next breath tell me that a character has to do something interesting right before the first ad break so that the audience stays tuned in… huh? And my personal favourite – the script “that writes itself” where the writer supposedly lets the characters do as they will.

Well, firstly, scripts don’t write themselves, especially not feature screenplays. They are agonisingly hard to get right at the best of times and require more than their fair share of blood, sweat, tears, prescription medication, therapy, a healthy bar tab, an unhealthy level of bloody-mindedness and a singular focus on the task at hand.

Secondly, I simply don’t believe the mantra “I let the characters do what they want” – that leads to a three hour masterpiece (probably in French with subtitles) about a teenager deciding whether to get out of bed or not. People can be irrational, inconsistent, lazy, passive, unmotivated, goalless and maddeningly stupid. Characters can be all those things until they are propelled on a journey of some description with clear goals and stakes and forces of antagonism. That journey invariably has a shape and the characters an arc where they grow and learn some essential truth about themselves. Some people never learn (yes, you know exactly the sort of person I mean).

Sure, I absolutely agree that characters should act consistently based on the strengths, weakness, flaws, wants, needs and goals established within the context of the situation the writer puts them in. But if a character is left to his/her own devices I fear there would be a lot of “refusals of the call” because it’s rare that people are truly heroic. And isn’t that why we go to the movies? To see characters larger than ourselves do “heroic deeds” (however defined) that we can only dream of?

Aaron Sorkin was asked in an excellent article published in “On Writing” (February 2003, Volume #18) if one of his characters in The West Wing would “…react to a situation differently than [President] Bartlet?” This is his answer which I find most instructive: 

Possibly. But only when I want her to. When it suits my purposes. If I want to tell a story about a woman reacting to the severe oppression of women in a certain Middle Eastern dictatorship, then I’m purposefully having C.J. react differently than Bartlet would. But if I wasn’t interested in telling that story and I was interested in telling a different story about women in the Middle East, I would have no problem having C.J. and Bartlet react the exact same way. In other words, I don’t sit there and think, oh shit, C.J. wouldn’t do this. C.J. would do whatever I make C.J. do. Don Scardino directed A Few Good Men on Broadway, and there was this moment during rehearsal one time when an actor came up to him and said, “I don’t think my character would do this.” And he just said, “I think you’re playing the wrong character.” Of course he would do it—it’s right there in the script.

So what do you think? Character above all else and treated as people or a happy balance between character and structure? Thoughts? Rebuttals? Would love to hear people’s opinions…

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Deadtime - Teaser Trailer

The first teaser trailer for the independent low budget feature production Deadtime out of Perth, Western Australia has just hit social media.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a big fan of Filmbites Youth Film School having worked with them on two short films that will see the light of day later in the year.

Deadtime stars talented Filmbites actor (and instructor) Jessica Hegarty; along with Rody Claude (also credited as co-writer/producer/director), Kenny Low and Paul Boucher with Kylie Claude as producer/co-writer. I believe there are also many familiar faces with other Perth actors involved.

Shot in Perth and Singapore it looks very slick so check it out!

You can find the Deadtime facebook page here and on Twitter here.