Sunday, May 18, 2008

How to write a feature

Or, more accurately, how I write a feature. Specifically the Bohemian Project which I now have two weeks to write a treatment. If you're not sure what a treatment is sexy Blogette Lucy has explained over here.

To write a script you start with an idea. The idea might your own, or it might be something you're told to write about (as in the Bohemian project). Either way, it's the spark, the starting point.

What then? Plot or Character? Which is most important? What do you work out first?

That depends mostly on what your idea is. Ideas are usually ideas for a character or ideas for a plot. For "Une Nuit a Paris" I had a setting and concepts suggested by a song. So I thought about a plot, and characters that would fit that plot: What if a man is on his stag night in Paris and falls in love with a prostitute? Which led me to the character of the man, and the prostitute, thence the wife, the brother, the brothel madam, her son, the other prositutes and the antagonist.

For the Bohemian Project I had to use certain fictional characters, and the request was for a "character piece" not CGI action, something that will achieve critical acclaim. Plus it had to be written for specific actors.

But these characters require a certain type of plot. I researched, got some ideas, and started building a plot that would create the necessary interactions to make this a character piece while still representing the fictional characters.

But there's only just so far that this can take you, somewhere you have to start getting into the nitty gritty of the plot structure, scenes and so on. At this point you would have a good idea of the characters you're using, not necessarily all the details but a decent concept. You'll also have a pretty good idea of how the plot's going to work.

So when I reached this point with the Bohemian Project (this afternoon) I used a trick that paid dividends on the Blockbuster Project (although I didn't use it for Une Nuit a Paris) and it looks like this:

Name of character:
External conflict:
Internal conflict:
Fatal flaw:
Key scenes: (a) (b) (c)

You don't need any kind of fancy form, you can just write them down on a sheet of paper, 7 lines for each character. I'm not sure where I got all this from, certainly not one source, it works for me.

Drama is based around conflict, no conflict = no drama. The "External conflict" is the obvious thing that a character is trying to achieve which is being prevented by something/someone else. The "Internal conflict"and "Fatal flaw" go together, for example a character might have a fatal flaw of being unwilling to work with anyone else, but must work with someone else to solve their problem so, to overcome their internal conflict, they must overcome their fatal flaw. Ideally the fatal flaw/internal conflict should also relate to the external conflict. Bring them together.

A secret agent who always works alone, who cannot work with another because of their fear of bringing harm and because they've been betrayed in the past, is in a situation where they must depend on someone else in order to succeed and save world.

So what about key scenes? Think of three key scenes which exemplify the start condition, the point where things change internally, and where the character has reached their final emotional destination.

You do this for the protagonist, the protagonist's friends, the antagonist and the antagonist's cohorts. Of course possibly either the protagonist or the antagonist might not reach their end point because of the plot, just fill in what you can.

How many main characters have you got? For the Bohemian project I have four. Three key scenes each (oh yes, I make sure there is no overlap of key scenes, that's cheating) = 12 scenes, each of which is, say, 4 minutes long = 48 minutes. I've already written half the movie. (It might be suggested that 4 minutes is too long for a scene nowadays, but these are key scenes, with emotion and action.)

So that's my first step, in the next blog on this I'll go into how I use Jeff Kitchen's "Proposition, Sequence, Plot" to build action.

What's on the turntable? "Under the Ivy" by Kate Bush from "Hounds of Love" (extended CD)

1 comment:

Lucy V said...

"Sexy Blogette"? You say the nicest things Steven.

Word verification: fucvv

Good lord.