Monthly Archives: January 2014

Week 9 – 10 (by Julie Zheng)

In November we had a short session pitching to the directors of the Drama Center London, and I had learnt some tips of how to pitch your own scripts.

1. Picture and movement is what Directors see, so use the sentence like “Picture it, two people jumping up from the bed at exactly the same time, turning their head towards each other with huge horror and confusion, their eyebrow raised, eyes wide open, and the tension is there, woman thought the man is gonna kill him, out of self-defense, or “imagined” self-defense, she stabbed him using a knife she’s been hiding next to her pillow for a long time.” (*Use a lot of verbs and the objects, description of the face and parts to help Directors build the image that you wish to convey) And also could use the storytelling board, or other diagrams of structures, etc to better help Directors to have an image of your story.

2. Goal of the film. Everyone’s ambitious, it’s really a matter of enough teasing, if you mention “this film I have the goal of bringing it into the 2 minutes short film festival, Virgin Media short film festival”, they will remember you, and if they come back home and check those festival, and they will have the idea “I want to go to that festival as well”, and he will come back and contact you to team up.

3. Genre is SO important for professional people, because only when given enough genre studies, we know what the expectation of the audience is, hence we will be able to tilt all our techniques towards that part. Different shooting techniques will fit in different genre, color and tones will differ from genre and genre, so please be aware of your own genre for the story, and understand what’s expected from the Director who’s got experience working in such a genre

4. Directing Style, maybe for beginners this is a really scary topic as people think there must be supplied with enough skills to have style, not necessarily. Everyone’s living with one’s own style, like it or not, there’s always a way of “describing” your OWN way of doing this, it’s probably you are not REALIZING it, but it’s so important to work with people who understand their own style. Good example from Rory, he understands what kind of Theatre he love, complicite, he used a lot of adjective to share with me what’s his style, and I immediately get the point that ‘s his way of doing this, and in return I shared with him that I understand and I found my story fit in that style, and it will turn out to be obvious that this is the style gets us together working.

5. Role Models to bring closer the vision, usually people, in every profession, there’s someone who’s already achieving a lot and influencing our generation of creators, name them and show your enthusiasm and what have you learnt from those great minds, this will help people to understand your vision. Today I did a really good example of bringing the Butterfly Effect, Inception and Saw, because these are my favorite films in a way I believe people who understand these films will be able to understand my vision, as the genre, effect and story telling structures are quite similar. So I used this way to shorten our distance of vision. Bring these BEFORE you actually start to tell your story, will be tremendously helpful, please let’s use the halo effect in psychology.

6. No Experience? You can have no experience, it’s ok, but never mention you have NO experience, squeeze and leverage your past experience. You can even say, I have tons of experiences in theatre and I believe this will help in the film directing because…, to just cover your lack of experience in film instead of “exposing” yourself too much and dilute your own confidence. I feel I am able to work with people who are confident about their strengths and not shy to say that he loves to try in film. But I do not accept people who said: I have absolutely no film experience, maybe it’s risky to pick me. This is shaking my previously well-built confidence in them, which is not good. As a writer, if I am just starting, I do not want to mention I have NO film experience, I will say I have what experience and what can be leveraged in film, and I will even say I studied a lot of scripts and understand how those great works are made, and I intend to do the same work with that standard everytime I can.

7. Raise curiosity. Ask questions like “Have you experienced re-occurring dream?” How did you feel about it? Isn’t it mysterious? Is it? Wow, I know this is the idea you will love if you have experienced. “Wow you like surrealistic topics, that’s great cos I am really developing my direction in the surrealistic world and intend to bring my audience into that world, are you with me? So, the story is about…” So, ask a lot of interactive questions, and be a really really good listener about their answers, getting the vocabularies from their answers, and re-organize them to creat the feeling that’s actually they are TALKING about YOUR ideas. And they will understand your ideas much clearer because you’ve activated their central brain by supplying them with questions

8. Help towards completion. When story is almost finished, ask them to guess the ending, ask like “What do you think the woman will do?” “You can imagine how sad he feels, right?” “You see? This is coming back again? That dream!”, to allow the listener to complete the story themselves to put an end. And have those expectation answered, and sometimes their “continued” story-telling may surprisingly give you a different twist or ending, and usually that’s a good thing for writer

9. Ask for feedback directly, honesty is better than anything. How do you think about the idea? I believe you must have thought about similar 2 minutes ideas, do you think my thoughts give you a strong hunch feeling that you wish to see this through together with me? What more can I tell to complete your mental picture? Could you ask me some questions to help complete the mental picture together?

10. Seek for suitability check. If given a rating from 0 to 5, how much you would rate this idea? How would you rate my fitability with your style and vision? And scrutinize their facial expressions, you could almost tell how much they would love to work with you. Ask directly so that they could be upfront and face their heart, I feel it’s so important to seize the first chance as much as you can. Make the first impression really well, be beautiful and professional, enthusiastic about the others and your own idea, do NOT be TOO proud of yourself.

Week 6 – 8 (by Dan Horrigan)

The MA Dramatic Writing Group has been going into Radio.

Here are some highlights of our fruitful investigation:

In the opening minute of a Radio piece you should look to establish the important people we will be travelling with. There should be a clear idea that hooks people into the story, and you should engage the audience with a dramatically powerful opening. This held true to the examples we researched – Radio apparently has the fastest turn off rate (in a theatre if you are eating your hands with frustration you can run away at the interval, in a cinema you can console yourself with nachos and coca cola) – so hook em in! You really want to put what is unique about your piece out there in the opening minute. The idea needs to generate intrigue and excitement, draw us in, arouse our interest. Radio is a bit like film – the audience is painting pictures in its mind – in your opening you have the chance to smash naturalism and take us on a real romp.

We spent some time thinking about what we would find exhilarating in a Radio piece (for example I have a long held desire to direct a stage play where it really rains on stage) – you can draw up a list of things that would really excite you about the possibilities of Radio and deftly thread them into your story (a piece I am working on has the blood of a victim turn into a bird and narrate the story leading up to the incident). We also spent some time thinking about what we want to write about in Radio and why – we chose one and spent some time elaborating on the theme (mine was housing so the setting is a block of flats – each level has a different feel and sound is crucial) we then thought about a character and what would be the most exciting thing that could happen to that character at the top of the play (mine was a woman being bounced out of her home in London and began with bailiffs knocking on the door).

Alongside out own ideas we were checking in on the BBC writers room to read scripts in their library and listen to shows. This was to help us establish our own ideas – taking a character and deciding what they wanted. We were specific about different tools for telling the story through Radio – transitions (again sound is crucial here) – numbers of characters in scenes (less is better for differentiation and following the story) – sounds, music, and themes associated with characters and the interplay of sound with the story telling. We listened to Moving Music the story of Philip Glass and Steve Reich’s friendship – which had a wonderfully playful opening between two clearly differentiated voices in counterpoint to the music that was playing. It was a great example of music moving the story forward and taking us on a journey.

Looking forward to creating our own characters we thought about things that would make them memorable, listing those things. We thought about why we would care about them – again making a list of things that would hook an audience into them (alright you don’t have to care necessarily but you certainly should have an interest in what happens to them!) and we though of ways to keep them fascinating and not boring! We thought about what makes them tick as characters, who they talk to and what they know, how we understand their viewpoint – the importance of their inner story and what they are feeling. We decided that the story would need rules, that it was best to establish these (conventions) and stick to them. We spent time thinking of exciting or impossible goals. We experimented with an inner and outer voice for our characters (a strength of Radio) – we thought about where we position the listener in relation to the main characters goals – share the journey? Root for them? Hope they fail? Wonder how they’ll ever get there? We considered the rule that every scene should have an effect on the main characters journey. We put this alongside Sue Roberts exercises on character – especially useful was formulating answers in the voice of the character. We spent a lot of time getting inside our characters and fleshing them out – and then turned towards creating a pitch.

Taking something unique to us we had developed a pitch for a Radio play – we had an opening scene and we shared pitches. Our pitch included details of: the inciting incident, pursual of goal, complication, adaption to complication, and final battle. We then turned our pitch into a treatment with a log line, story, and USP.

We then spent time thinking about the importance of sound in Radio – we wrote a scene where the dramatic action is propelled by sound. We watched videos of sound engineers and actors at work using sound in the performance. This was for me a very liberating exercise that helped me focus on storytelling moving forward through action and only what was really really essential to the story.

To round off we spent time going through the advice the BBC has for its writers in respect to writing for Radio, from the craft of writing through to the process of pitching. By this point we had created a series of scene outlines for our radio piece 5-7 scenes for a 15 minute piece or 15-20 scenes for a 45 minute piece. We had amassed rather a lot of information and even more material – and we had something we could pitch. Not bad going.

Week Five (by Charlotte O’Leary)

Having recently arrived back from our day trip to Birmingham to see Caroline Jester’s latest production Europa at the Birmingham Rep, it was thrilling to have her in the Drama Centre teaching us her collaborative writing technique first hand.

Before Caroline’s arrival we had a glorious morning of researching the history and stories behind Kings Cross and the area. It has only recently been regenerated and it was fascinating to find the history behind the place. Everything from Boudicca being buried under platform 9 or 10 in Kings Cross to a primatorium (ie an ape house) in the local Scala building to the doodlebug bombs dropped during the war and the fire in 1987. Many of the students remembered Kings Cross for the clubs from the 1980 and 90s, and it was wonderful to have real life stories told about the place. We’re extremely lucky to have the Kings Cross Visitors Centre which provides a history of the place actually in the Granary building.

We brainstormed a number of ideas and stories we had, before being unleashed out into the open. We tootled off with our notebooks and went scouting for locations outside of the college, as well as watching people to try to get inspiration for our characters.

Caroline joined us after lunch and we tried out an exercise to see how our stories could link together. We all stood up with just one person sitting down who explained their story about the area, when another student felt their story could flow on from it they would sit down, the other person would stand up, and they would tell their story. As we grew more and more confident we moved faster and faster, some people sitting down several times as their story evolved. It was a very helpful technique and by the end of it I felt it would have made an interesting play just as it was – with us constantly standing up and sitting down, telling nuggets of stories that all interwove with each other.

Caroline then gave us an exercise to create our character, we had a list of questions to ask them so we very rapidly built up a complete person. These were then listed on the board, and we took a vote as to which ones we killed off so we had a smaller number to work with. It was rather exciting and very liberating to kill off someone you’d only just created.

Then we divided up into small teams and were shown a fantastic bit of technical writing kit called REPWrite. This is an online application where you create a play online, each writer is assigned a character and you can simultaneously write a play online so you don’t even have to be in the same room/building/town/country as the rest of the writers. Our task was to choose a location, decide which characters we liked the most, then work out what their want was at the beginning of the scene we would write using the new technology. We had a quick play with the REPWrite (we discovered it was a bit like internet dating, everyone too scared to write anything in case everyone else laughed) but once we got the hang of it we were ready try it out for real in next week’s class. We’re going to try writing our play with all the writers in different locations, and Caroline as our dramaturg online in Birmingham. We’re very excited to see whether it is possible to collaboratively write a play online without physically being able to interact with each other.

Week Three and Four (by Philip Jones)

The writing game is a tough one to come too especially late in life. I rolled up at Central excited, but now three weeks in the doubts have set in and the uphill struggle ahead looks like a very massive mountain range. The Himalayas are coming to mind, in Kings Cross. Can this be right?

Revolution: we are coming to the end of the first drama writing module; the Alligator collaborative creative process has been enjoyable and very positive. A monologue on the theme of revolution.

‘First how do I go from one minute on the page to five!’ ‘Come on Amman that’s a tough challenge?’ Amman’s our co-tutor with Jennifer for the Alligator Club process,

‘You must be kidding?’ ‘No I’m not’. ‘Don’t worry, it will come’. And Amman was right. It did!

It’s been an amazing collaborative experience and first dip into the drama writing craft process. I think we all agree. Even if in some cases we’ve come to it kicking and screaming. Writers? Collaboration? That’s a paradox in itself. Writers usually like to work on their own, well don’t we? Us lonely souls.

Soon my one person monologue about control, new love, relationship breakdown and what freedom means to one individual was turning into a four person monologue. Great!

But then, I can only do that if I can re-cast the actors fro the other Revolution monologues, Oh no, it won’t work!

So back to the drawing board and re-write. A great new writerly experience, on the nursery slopes of drama writing, week four, four re-writes in the end in fact in the same number of weeks.

Eureka, I can do it, with one voice, but telling the story of all these voices going around in my characters head including her own, it works!

It’s there, but not quite, one more session to go and another pass and one more rewrite making it first person. But then in true dramatic style for us un-thespian, thespian egos, we are true to type, as the final bell tolls on the Revolution monologue writing, at last we have our own first revolt against the established order. Praise be for art mimicking life, mimicking art.

Godspeed colleagues for the second module: Radio, as we’ve chosen a tough mountain path, or field to furrow, whatever it might be?

But all believers whether writers or not must follow one thing, their own heart and passion for what they must do and aways: what all will be what will be.

Week Two (by Julie Zheng)

Structure in practice

 

In the second week we discussed structure and how to improve our monologues by adopting the techniques used in the Alligator Club by Amman Brar.

 

A week after reading David Edgar’s excellent book How a play works, we gathered again to learn about our next craft – structure. His book had given us an insight into audience, action, character and scenes, and now we were to take one of Aristotle’s theories from his Six Principles of Drama and try to structure a story about one of them. According to Aristotle: ‘every tragedy must have six parts, which parts determine its quality, namely, Plot, Character, Diction, Thought, Spectacle, Song’ [1].

 

So after 2 hours of individual writing, we shared what we’ve written. I wrote a series of small scenes that focused on the new structure of Jo-ha-ku, the Japanese theatre play structure of “begin slowly, speed, up and end swiftly”. Some of the other students developed their play by adopting different time lapse, pan in/pan out, and urgency (a train is approaching for example), as well as end-start-reconnect. It was interesting to see how every individual added in their own voice in the development of their play, and how we are very different in the styles, voice and characters. But is there a general theory that we as writers could adopt to create a better play structure?

 

We debated over this structure.We discussed the examples in classical plays such as Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet. We had a really passionate discussion about different approaches. Jennifer encouraged us to explore different styles and to find our own approach to structure a story.

 

What are the other ways of approaching the “perfect” structure for our own story? Jennifer mentioned an interesting technique about patterns, we could use symbolic structure to better guide our creations. There are examples of progression everywhere that we can use, for example using the concept of Spring to Winter or a meal from starters to desserts.  Changing the time and place also helped us unleash our imagination.

 

I can’t wait to go back home to try out these different techniques and continue my search for that perfect structure.

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Poetics, Aristotle,