Saturday, 30 June 2007

Writing Short Animations.

Jan Weddup, (scriptwriting lecturer) has often said that I should offer to write for the animators in the third-year -- because it’s a good way to get your name attached to a high-quality animated piece and make a contact.

I’ve always been interested in animation and writing for it. But when it comes to animated shorts (ha ha) I didn’t have a clue on how to write one and always thought that its something that a) I don’t have the comic-ability for and 2) the skill to write such a piece. The thought and prospect laid at the back of my mind for a good five months and then one day I began thinking about ideas.

BU animation-wise I knew what could be done by what I’ve seen and I knew what I liked story and character-wise. But when it came down to it I didn’t know where to start. So I started looking at a few animated feature ideas I have (which I know will only ever be dreams) and taking their concepts and seeing if I could condense their essence into an animated short. But that was just the beginning.

As I began to think in terms of animation it was only time until new ideas started coming. And i didn't have to wait long. An idea came out of nowhere and I ended up finishing a first draft pretty quickly. It’s four minutes and I see it as being animated in a pretty basic way. Basic is probably an insult but it doesn’t need to be photo realistic or anything.

Its the story of a mischievous fox who gets his last lesson in the ‘Book of Life‘. It can work on a basic animated level or in fine detail. Its features are; trees/garden scenery, inside two rooms of a house, two animal and one human character and object interaction.

It’s in typical animation comedy form - although subtle; I don’t like to consciously think about writing comedy because in my opinion (and perfectionist/mildly paranoid mind state) it ends up ruining it. It almost did for this although its more irony than actual purposeful laugh out loud jokes.

Although one stupid joke (that isn’t funny) still makes me laugh. But it needs to be there because what its based around is a link to the persona of the mysterious villain-hunter character. It’s the first joke (attempt) in the script and I think of it as what Dewy in Scream 2 refers to as ‘lowering peoples expectations to effectively manoeuvre within any given situation’. I’m a geek I know. It works visually that’s why I still laugh when I think about it. It’s the only stupid joke though.

The rest all felt natural to do so i didn't have to over think them. The main thing with writing it is obviously what I find funny but also bearing in mind other peoples expectations. But Book of Life is something that I would want to see and would enjoy. And that’s why we write.

After the Book of Life my short animated receptors (ha ha) were pretty much turned off but more ideas started flowing. At the closure of what I thought was a freak accident of a good idea wasn‘t so. I’ve now got four solid ideas that I will complete before the summer is up and more in the works. Its seems that a once closed door has now been opened as I can’t stop seeing short animations in everything. All the ideas are completely different in terms of high/low concept and content and I’m not really sure if any are good or appropriate. But I’ll be happy if at least one is liked.

I was worried about not fitting enough in to make the reveals and end sting in the tale work and I knew I only had a few minutes of screen time. This is where time apart really helped. Coming back with a fresh mind helped to add certain details and takeout what wasn’t advancing the story and only dragged it down. And that’s the main thing with writing just go with your instincts and your learn by your mistakes. I actually took some of my favourite things out but I’m always prepared to do that because in the end; its about writing the most effective story for the audience. Not for you. Another thing that I’ve learnt with writing animation is that its good fun. So I think everyone should try it and your probably surprise yourself. I did.

Tips I’ve learnt. (I know I’m no expert. But they might help.)

-Initially, keep it small and simple. That way you have room to manoeuvre and add depth and detail to make it appear more bigger than it is.

-The best comedic shorts are based around a situation, moment or moral tale.

-Keep in mind audience (and your own) expectations at every turn and try to beat/raise them.

-Character expressions. It’s what animators want when reading a script and its what the story’s all about. So make the main character stand-out and likeable. (At first I didn‘t have any reaction or personality with the fox in Book of Life- he was just a mischievous fox in his first appearance. But now his thick black eyebrows are his trademark. I should think of some more.)

-The character(s) is everything. At the heart of the story is the oddball main character/hero. So think about how vulnerable/likable and original he can be.

-Watch short animations to get a feel for what you can do and where you can go.

Friday, 29 June 2007

Sports Drama Series. Second Post.

The forum‘s now set up, which is good. So hopefully we can start making some progress on research and even story-wise.

When thinking about ideas for this its hard to not go off on a tangent and completely explore the story and other characters and their stories. So what started off as one character is now effectively the main set of characters for the series and all their interrelationships and back stories. But I know that I can’t present that as a whole because we’re meant to be creating this together and its probably too early to have the main characters. So I’ll just split them up in their single characters and story and just use them and their connections as possibilities.

I’ve approached ideas for this in a different way than before. I started by looking at lists of the most popular sport films. I then underlined from a review- what makes each one special and what’s original about it. I then started to work these essential ideas and ways into possible characters and storylines for the series. For example; with A League Of Their Own, which is a great film. I’ve used the male (Tom Hanks) as the fish out of water in an all girl baseball team and turned it into a female, who has recently brought the (sport) club and has to earn respect from the all-male team and including the hard-nosed coach, her ex-husband. Other strong characters that stood out and were begging for representation were Maggie from Million Dollar Baby; her sheer determination for self-respect, which in a way is combined with the above character. Also the underdog that is Rocky Balboa, who’s father coaches the team and is often ridiculed by him because he has no interest in sport. But when they’re short of players he’s asked by his mother (new owner-from above) to fill in. So he does and although they lose he gains a moral victory and gains some much needed respect. This then changes the everyman into some what of a hero and creates a much needed role-reversal between his father (coach) and himself.

When you look at the series as a whole and start thinking about the certain people who’d live in the area it becomes easy to see who’d live there and how they’d all relate and bounce off each other. But my problem is I get carried away and write it before we’ve had the chance to sit down and actually write it. So I think its good to come up with characters and stories and cast designs early on. But also to keep in mind the likelihood of them sticking is slim. But overall it can’t be bad having too many ideas because they can be used for other things.

There are seven other people in the group so all will have their own characters/stories and self-satisfying agendas. So the trick then (for your own ideas) is to take a little bit of what everyone wants and put that within your main ideas. So they’re more likely to accept them. Compromise without compromising. Finding out what people want and doing it before it’s a conscious thing on everyone’s mind. The last thing I want is someone to be unhappy about something or feel left out. So I’ll try and include everyone’s own interests in each of my ideas.

It’s still to early to be thinking about characters and ideas in a time where research is the main thing at this stage. So I think I need to return to kind of research that‘s needed and will be presented in the series bible.

An invaluable source for this was the example series bible and assignment brief from last year on Media 2. This gave me a greater insight into what‘s needed and I now feel confident in how to go about achieving that.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Feature. Early Thoughts.

Probably way too soon to be thinking about it. But I have been. I’ve been thinking about the types of things I could do for it. It's a big undertaking and will need a lot; story and character-wise to carry the weight of ninety-minutes.

Initially, like I thought with the one hour drama, I’d do something different. Sinking (Narratives) and Marlow Road (Audiences) are in the family-drama arena (from the parents point of view) and I thought I’d challenge myself for sixty-minutes and do something in a different genre. But that didn’t happen - although the main focus in Requiem (One Hour Drama) is a teenager and only child. So something did change.

So now I’m thinking that for my feature I’ll do something different. But now I know I won’t.

Initially I thought: A feature. Cool, I’ll do one of my sci-fi films. I had one in mind, which is essentially a futuristic cop conspiracy/thriller but with a twist and is pretty straightforward. But then I thought: Sci-fi?

I know I want to write sci-fi someday but my main passion and one of the big things I want to write is the offbeat family drama or Indie drama as it may be better known as. The dysfunctional family is my calling. There's something quite remarkable about these films, which are essentially dramas but offer so much more about life and what it is to be human. Its often presented in black comedic form and that's the beauty of it.

It's the comic relief from life that keeps us alive (mentally & physically) and no other film highlight that importance. Similar examples to my own aspirations are cult films like; The United States Of Leland, The Squid And The Whale, Imaginary Heroes, Igby Goes Down, Thumbsucker, Storytelling, American Beauty, etc. Although they're not exactly what I want to do they are the closest examples. (It's this type of storytelling that's missing from the small screen. Hello Mr. T.V Executive!)

Anyway, getting back to the point- I thought it would be more useful writing something in the vein of what I wanted to write feature-wise (after I left uni) than something that‘s limited to something that I want to try someday. So that got me thinking and a few existing coming of age-like features came to mind. There’s a main bunch that I’ve been developing over the years and I‘ll probably choose one of those. But by having to pick one (if it works out) I feel that I’m choosing ‘to lose it’ - because I know if I write it for the university then there’s no chance of it existing outside - not to say that it's amazing and will be sold. But it's nice to know that every idea you have has a chance.

But the way I’m looking at it is that a) it can be used as a spec-script and b) it will give me experience of not only writing a feature but one in the vein of some of the serious projects that I want to write in the future. So I hope it will give me enough experience and knowledge and push me to write the others. On the other hand I may not even choose an existing idea I might even create something afresh, which would be pretty cool. But I think it is worth considering testing and fully exploring one of them.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Soundtrack your script.

Something that I've done for my past three scripts - was create a soundtrack for it. A playlist of songs that immediately brings me into the overall or main emotions of the script; and that features specific songs to get me into a certain frame of mind for a character or mood for a certain scene. It gets me closer to how my characters are feeling and in the position where I am them. Then I can make choices.

But music isn't always the way to go. There are times when its a distraction. But overall its helped me. Mainly through pre-writing and the first draft.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Sports Drama Series. First Post.

I’ve started researching and have found some possible interesting sections of sport; i.e. Marketing and Sponsorship. I’ve also got an idea that would be set during the build up to the 2012 Olympics and would show the different sides and dramas of the people involved in its mammoth preparation. Each episode would be a countdown to the big day and show a different section of the preparation.

I made the choice not to work with friends on this because I didn’t want to play it safe. I wanted to be dropped into a new situation and have the challenge of getting to know new people (or people I vaguely knew, better) and work with them in an industry like environment.

The thing with this and what I’ve heard from people is everyone wants to pick their favourite sport, which I think is wrong and in a group of eight is never going to work. The way I see this and for me personally is: as long as we can create interesting characters and exciting stories then I’m not worried about what sport we choose. It can be anything. It’s all about the characters anyway and there’s no saying on how much the sport has to feature. People should be thinking of a place where there’s a number of distinct and different characters who are caught up with each other and clash on a regular basis. The sport can either be in the background or in direct relation to their jobs and everyday activity. I think the best way for the series to work would be to have the sport in the background and the characters and their lives (within the area) however connected in the foreground.

We had our first meeting today, which was good. The ball is now rolling. I presented my Oylmpic idea but we decided that a small and simple idea is the best way to go and what we feel the tutors want. Everybody presented different possible storylines and arenas so we have something to work from. We ended up with an (almost) final idea for the sport and its setting. But I still want to keep the door open on other possibilities for awhile and especially as two people didn’t turn up. So they’ve still got a chance to have input on the arena and we’ve got time if something better turns up.

We set ourselves a deadline to decide what sport/arena to go with, which is Sunday 15th July. I will set up a forum online for communication and idea posting over the summer.

Personally I think the sport/arena we have is the one we’ll end up going with. I’m not a fan of the sport and think there’s nothing to it. But the job now is to act on what I said earlier about creating interesting characters and pretty much turning the sport/arena’s ‘boring’ stereotype on its head.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Summer Project Unit [A Reflection]

Overview: To create a cross-platform media package that somehow relates to the three words; End Of Empire

The groups were made up of students from Scriptwriting, Television Production and Interactive Media. The purpose was to get us working in an industry-like practice to produce a product using our specific skills.

In the first tutorial I came with a treatment for a short film and its tie in website. Initially I wasn’t going to pitch it because I wasn’t confident enough and didn’t think I’d be able to get it all across. But at the last moment I went ahead with it and must have pitched it well because everyone got it and liked it. I wasn’t completely in love with it but we ended up making it anyway. But from that pitch it made me think that if I’m passionate and confident about an idea then I shouldn’t worry. People will stick with me if I’m initially nervous because I believe in what I’m talking about.

With the script: the clear problem was that there was a lot to get across. But I believe I did the best job I could (in my input) and managed to help put across the right/necessary information. This was a new experience for me; having to work with someone to write a script that would be shortly made and presented to a large audience. I valued my experience and learnt how to compromise more. I also feel that I was able to draw on my previous directing/editing experience when writing this script. I believe it helped me to visualise it more and get down its essence to what’s needed and in terms of what can be shot.

Main flaw: the best short films are the simplest. Ours in comparison was a little complicated. But in our project’s defence the complete experience and understanding is through the entire package and not just in the film. Our story is told over the 360 degree platform.

Before this project I had certain technical and group work experience. Also this year I had helped produce a 6 minute film, which refreshed on my experience and taught me a few new things. I brought this to the table for this project. But I soon learnt that this group/project was far more professional and advanced than what I’d previously been involved with.

In our subsequent meetings and during production/post I was being asked questions about the script and had to deliver a quick answer. I soon got used to this and became confident at offering ideas and answers.

In post production I was able to expand on my editing skills and worked closely with the director and editor on the final edit of the film. This collaboration was extremely gratifying and proved to be a good thing. The quality of the complete product was to a standard that I didn’t think was achievable. Its made me re-focus on the quality of my own work and professional attitude if I’m to stand a chance in the industry.

Awaiting Mark.

Thursday, 7 June 2007


We have our new assignment. The one hour drama. We only have to have two outlines by the new term. But i want to take full advantage of the time we have and get started straight away.

Initially I thought about breaking away from the family drama of my previous uni scripts and try something new and challenging. Also I knew that I couldn’t top the tragic pain of Christine and her final actions in Sinking (Narratives) or the paralysing guilt and mourning felt by Jason in Marlow Road (Audiences). But it’s a genre I’m drawn to and feel strongly about so I decided to proceed into the new challenge.

The initial title was Godspeed and is based on a one situation-short story I wrote. The character of Logan and the situation will form the basis and opening for my one hour drama.

I’ve begun initial development on the characters and certain revealing scenes: human affection, revealing hidden emotion, universal messages on being human etc. - They are what a character in ‘Waking Life’ refers to as ‘the holy moments’ in a film. They are what I see first in a story or a particular character from initial conception and then I create everything around it that precedes and follows. A script/film is all about those moments. About being alive and knowing it.

After initial development on Logan and his story, I began to think about his parents. Once I knew where they were both coming from and where they’d end up I had a problem; because now they are competing for centre stage. All three characters stories and character arcs are just as powerful as each others. This then led me to rethink the title and change it to something that not only reflected the state of Logan but all of the main characters.

That’s when Requiem was born. This then inspired me to create a premise for each main character in relation to the title. What I found was that the three of them are each dying from something different. And it’s within this combined tragedy that I hope to create something far more dramatic and unlike anything I’ve ever written.

The amount of time we have before we officially get this assignment is too good to waste. So I hope to have a scene by scene breakdown (at least) by the start of the new term and a first draft by Christmas. This will leave enough time for a second maybe third re-write and final draft revisions before the deadline in April/May 2008.

Something that I didn’t really do on my previous scripts and that I will do for this is research. At the same time as developing the story and characters I will do as much research into their world and themselves as I can. My arena for Marlow Road wasn’t very strong and for a story of this length I think that arena and equally character research is just as important as what happens.