One of the main goals of the ttff is the continuous development of the local and Caribbean film industry. At ttff/14, a variety of panels, presentations and workshops are being held.
Last Monday morning a script development session for producers, hosted by European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs (EAVE), was held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Clare Downs, a script consultant from the UK, worked with the participants, introducing the main script development tools and seeking to strengthen their understanding of narrative principles.
Clare kicked off the session by establishing the importance of themes. She noted the following:
- Themes arise from the resolution of the conflict
- Themes reveal how a character has or has not changed
- The experience of the journey reveals the meaning and theme of the story
- Issues and ideas are not be confused with themes
One of the central points of Clare’s presentation was the importance of a note of intention for scriptwriters.
“Everybody in the development process should write out note of intention,” she said. “You need to establish why you want to make this film and what drives your curiosity. Ask yourself, ‘What is my film about?’ Not issues, but what do you think it’s about?’”
She advised that the producer should also write a note of intention; that is, why they are connecting to that particular story and what they think it’s about. During the process, one should always revise the note of intention, and it is important to see if these notes of intention between the writer and the producer match. Also, when you go to raise funds and submit your treatment and your script, an extremely good note of intention can make a big difference.
“That’s a good way to put yourself inside the development vortex,” she said. “Then ask the director to write their own note of intention. If they have a completely different take, then you decide if you want them or not.”
Clare also spoke about deciding how stories end; is the story being told a story in balance, or out of balance?
“I find that happy and sad endings are rather closed,” she said. “When you consider whether or not a story is in balance or out of balance and the main character can put things relatively in place or vice versa, the story can take on a different resonance, rather than having just a happy or sad ending.”
The importance of critical thinking versus analytical thinking also featured prominently in her presentation.
“There is nothing worse for a writer to say, ‘I don’t like that character.’ That is an example of critical thinking and it closes down a conversation. They are not being analytical. It would be much better to ask questions and use a Socratic method like ‘Why did you decide to do this with the character?’ and let your writer explain and have a real dialogue.”
She pointed out that rhythm is very important in a script and as a producer, you must read lots of scripts and utilize that analytic thinking.
“You can be more critical during brainstorming at the beginning of the development process, then the job is to be analytical,” she said.
Another concept that Clare introduced to workshop participants was the “white-hot first draft” which is basically the first version of the script.
“In this version of the script, writers are able to focus on what is compelling about the characters and the story and what raises their curiosity,” she advised. “Then, the producer can use it for the development of the treatment.”
Clare also broke down the method of building the story through sequences and rhythm, not scenes, a very important differentiation.
“There are eight sequences and every sequence has a function and the end of each sequence sets up the next sequence,” she said. “The first sequence is the routine of life, where you introduce the main character, other secondary characters and the antagonist, hidden or obvious. Exposition of the world comes through conflict, as the characters are revealed. In the first sequence you also set up the point of attack, also known as the inciting incident or the hook where something happens to throw the main character out of balance. Keep in mind that the point of attack relates to the genre.
“The second sequence is collision,” she continued. “At the end of the first act we have the main tension, that is, where we know what the main character wants, and the tension between what we hope that they will achieve it, but we equally have to fear that they will not get what they want. For us to fear, we need to plant the seeds of antagonism in our first act.
“The more you have an equal tension between hope and fear the better. Uncertainty is the great principle of drama and the viewer needs to be emotionally connected to the story between their hope and their fear.
“Then you have two sequences of rising action where the character gets closer to what they want at the Midpoint. Then you build point where they have the twist and the main character has two sequences of falling action where forces of antagonism are in control at this point of the story. At the end of the second act comes a twist where they are in crisis. They are faced with a new tension, where they now have, or have not, to address what they need. Then comes the climax, when the main character confronts the antagonist, and then finds a resolution. In a world in balance, they are able to get what they need and overcome the antagonist. In a world out of balance the antagonist is triumphant.”
Clare also encouraged participants to be sure to differentiate between the main character and the central character when developing scripts.
“The person who is the main character has the biggest amount of baggage to deal with,” she said. “The story turning points are based on them. The central character reflects more thematic concerns.”
She also pointed out that writers should pay attention to foreshadowing, planting and paying off to establish a strong emotional ending.
For her last piece of advice she encouraged writers not to be boring and predictable when creating the antagonist. Remember, we are ourselves are antagonists to those who desire what we want. Write your characters from the inside out. Plot emerges from character, not vice versa.