The end of our first year film:
And the start of our first year:
On Tuesday 4th February, Steve Winter came to Central Saint Martins to brief us on our verbatim commission with the Old Vic and to address any of our concerns that we had. We were to interview the person we had chosen from the Housed auditions that we attended earlier on in the week.
In layman’s terms, Verbatim theatre is documentary theatre, where the writer uses the words of the individual and then goes on to edit it, in order to turn it into a piece of theatre. For our piece, we were asked not to alter or change anything our interviewee said. The challenge was to use the interview as it was and then to cut it down and make it interesting for an audience. This meant that in our interview we had to ask the right questions and find a topic that would create an enjoyable monologue/duologue.
The following Tuesday, we went to the Old Vic New Voices offices where we were to conduct our interview. Personally, I was petrified as I kept thinking about all the things that could possibly go wrong during the interview. The number one concern was that my interviewee would run out of things to say and I wouldn’t be able to draw conversation ending instantaneously. It is a big challenge to connect with your interviewee in such a short span of time and try to create a story with questions that don’t lead them in any way.
However, once I met my Kandy, my work had been cut out for me. The interview went off smoothly, no technical or verbal difficulties occurred and I genuinely could not stop myself from listening. The only problem I found was that there was too much information and trying to cut down an hour and a half of dialogue into ten minutes of entertainment would be difficult.
When I thought that the interview would be the most challenging part of this commission, I was proven wrong almost immediately. We had a week to submit our pieces to Steve Winter. Transcribing the interview was the bane of my entire existence. It literally took days to get it down, no matter how apps and tools I used to slow the recording down; it was just unbearable, fast paced and tedious. We don’t realise the words, hesitations, sounds and phrases that our common to our regular speech pattern when speaking to someone informally. The hard part is writing down all the common verbal ticks we have like ‘umm…hmmm…ah’ and many others. However, the end result was absolutely satisfying because once you have the entire interview on your screen it makes it so much easier to edit. And I found so many moments spread across the entire interview that were absolute gems that needed to be in the final cut.
I really enjoyed working on my verbatim project because I could not have written or thought of a story like that even if I wanted to. Real life experiences can sometimes be unbelievable, coincidental, exciting and powerful which make for some great theatre. I am really looking forward to next term where we will be workshopping our pieces with actors and a director.
On an early Sunday morning, we were privileged to be invited to an audition workshop at the Old Vic conducted by Steve Winter for their latest community play, Housed. Each audition was 90 minutes long with 40-75 people participating in each session.
The main aim of these workshops was to get people to work together and see if they were able to take direction. The session began with a very energetic warm up which played around with eye contact and pacing. Music and rhythm was an important factor throughout the process as it kept the adrenaline pumping and helped to keep the participants focused throughout. Eventually, they were made to form teams of five and had to come up with a commonality amongst them to create a name. There was a lot of playing with energy and character and people opening up to one another in the span of five minutes which is rare in real life.
It was a quick taster of what it would be like to be on stage and deal with what is asked of you when you are in that position. They were given some basic pointers on spatial awareness and reminded about audiences and what they perceive. The participants were not professional actors but they were able to pick up on reactions and responses in their interactions with one another.
Another aim of this audition was to find the person who would act instinctively without overacting that normally comes in when people are made to read certain texts like Shakespeare. They were given lines from songs and they had complete freedom to say it in any order and to think about space and the interaction that they had with one another. Some people would just react to the other person’s line in a very naturalistic way and created a “watchability” factor when certain individuals performed.
It was a really interesting experience to watch and see how anyone can perform if given the right direction and how some people just have the instinct to build on the direction given to them naturally. As a writer, it made me think about the complexity of lines and how powerful a line can be if it is simple and delivered with direct intent. . I recently graduated from the University of York where I had weekly voice and movement classes, where we had to perform and act like a team in order to reap the benefit from those classes. It was great to see how they incorporated the physicality and basic acting exercises in order to create a sense of comradeship between people who had just met. This allowed me to reminisce about when I was first made do workshops like these with people I barely knew at the time. I now understand the importance of the work that we did and with this opportunity I got to see firsthand the process and the result at the Old Vic.
In term two, as part of the MA Dramatic Writing’s Year of Experimentation (www.theyearofexperimentation.wordpress.com/about-2/), we welcomed the latest of our Masters to the table. TV drama script-editor, producer and script-consultant Philip Shelley joined us for a four-week investigation into writing for television. Very exciting stuff.
Philip Shelley has worked on a whole raft of successful UK TV projects: from award–winning procedural cop series Waking the Dead (BBC), to feature length romantic crime drama A Good Murder (ITV), to the wildly popular and much-loved Inspector Morse (OMG!).
He’s also been tending to the blossoming talents of this country’s newest writers via his work teaching screenwriting, first at Carlton (now part of ITV), then at the BBC and nowadays on Channel 4’s well-respected screenwriting course. (http://www.script-consultant.co.uk/channel-4-script-submit/).
Over the four weeks with Philip we explored the contemporary landscape for drama commissioning in the UK, used creative tools for generating character and story ideas, and developed our own outlines for new TV drama series. We were also invited to present our thoughts on the TV programmes we most wanted to talk about. Philip featured our ideas on his weekly blog (http://www.script-consultant.co.uk/2014/02/28/screenwriting-notes-part-3/), which is a great resource for TV writers and enthusiasts.
At the beginning of the course Philip made clear the distinction between a TV series and a serial. A TV series is a show that has self-contained episodes, or a ‘story of the week’, whereas a serial is a bigger story told over several episodes. There is cross-over, for instance an episode of a medical drama series like Casualty will have a topical storyline but there will be serial elements as the characters’ relationships change and develop over time.
Watching and talking about television has always felt like a slightly guilty pleasure for me, as if in the middle of a lovely chat about the representation of women in Mad Men, some well-respected arbiter of taste might pop up behind me, prop my eyelids open with match-sticks and shout “That’s not real culture, watch Nymphomaniac forever and suffer”. During this course I was thrilled to find that we’d get to immerse ourselves in the art of TV storytelling, and for homework we’d have to watch TV.
In our first session we watched episode one of Alan Ball’s dark family business saga Six Feet Under, (HBO). The serial elements of the show are set up very quickly: the inciting incident in the car and the artfully staged first scene in the kitchen giving us a direct insight into deep and resonant family tensions. The introduction to this intense world takes place alongside the first ‘story of the week’, provided by the work of the funeral home. The introduction of a freshly deceased character in each episode serves to power the series story engine and create a driving force for episodes to come.
Our first homework assignment was to watch Inspector George Gently (BBC), which turned out to be so gently inspectorate that it served rather better as a tranquilliser than a gripping crime drama.
Next on the list was episode one of the second series of Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty (BBC), which got a much better reception, considered by almost all to be a pacey and tense example of masterful TV storytelling.
Choosing our own television programmes to watch brought a brilliant selection of TV to the table. We talked about the intriguing relationship between a philandering family man and recovering alcoholic in Nic Pizzolato’s super stylish, big budget cop drama True Detective on HBO (though continuing to watch this show I grow more and more frustrated with the egotistical masculine leads intermittently screwing and saving the female characters. For a crime story that puts women at its heart I love Jane Campion and Gerard Lee’s haunting serial drama Top of The Lake); a fictionalised version of the White House seen through the eyes of the complex, Machiavellian character of Frank Underwood in Beau Willimon’s House of Cards (Netflix);and the experimental new format which combines fictional storylines with the quick-fire filming methods and improvisation of structured reality shows in Suspects (Channel 5).
This creative and challenging investigation allowed us to try out our own ideas and explore what’s exciting about TV drama at the moment, with the constant guiding principle that drawing compelling, three-dimensional characters is the most important thing for writing good television. What’s burgeoning in the industry now seems to be the changing viewing patterns and commissioning models coming out of online distribution (legitimate and otherwise). For examples of this see the Netflix phenomenon in general, and what’s happening now with the Amazon Studios (http://studios.amazon.com/) ‘development slate’ model, where Amazon are opening up free discussion on TV concepts for potential development.
Talk of the changes coming out of online distribution reminded me of a recent talk we had from guest speaker Matt Locke (http://storythings.com/about/ ), who I wrote about recently in my blog on our Digital Investigation (http://madramaticwriting.myblog.arts.ac.uk/2014/02/20/week-15-by-liberty-martin/). Matt has pioneered transmedia content around big Channel 4 shows Skins and Misfits, and spoke about how online sharing is changing the way audiences consume and respond to TV content. As writers it’s up to us to keep up with the current trends in production, but however TV is made and distributed, as Philip Shelley wrote in his most recent blog Characters and Story (http://www.script-consultant.co.uk/2014/04/04/characters-story/), writing good television starts with writing compelling characters.
Term two began with a four week investigation into Digital Media and Dramatic writing led by Nina Steiger, Associate Director at Soho Theatre.
Teasing out the difference between the digital and the non-digital proved interesting and surprisingly difficult. Is the opposite of the digital sphere ‘real life’? Can we say that? In a room where almost all of us had checked the internet before getting out of bed that morning, it felt like perhaps we couldn’t.
When your Oyster card uses RFID to convert electromagnetic waves into digital data, and misplacing it behind the radiator could mean you forego the chance to see your cousin off at the airport, perhaps your ‘real life’ can’t be so distinctly separated from the digital world. But, as humans are tool-using animals, maybe we can make a distinction between the kinds of technology we use to express ourselves, to work and to interact. If we think about digital and physical as separate things, then we can draw a line between digital and analogue information or signals. Here are some of my own examples of digital and analogue things.
Analogue Things: Record players, carpet, cassette tapes, traffic cones, photographs
Digital Things: Space Invaders, e-mail, Tweets, html, blogs, dating websites, Flappy Bird
Things that are Both: Danger, intrigue, longing, games, espionage, love, pictures of food, stories
As a group of writers the focus of our investigation was how to tell stories using digital media. The manner of our investigation was to interact with the Interesting List, a vast and growing collection of awesome stuff to do with telling stories digitally. From an Altered Reality Game like I Love Bees, an online mystery game with real life players, to The Beckoning of Lovely, a film project involving hundreds of strangers across the world, our Interesting List brings together examples of events created in the digital and physical world.
To introduce us to the world of cross platform story telling we met Matt Locke, who spoke to us about his work on multi platform projects around things like Skins, Misfits, the 2012 Paralympics at Channel Four, and his new company Storythings who consult with companies to create interactive projects like Follow Me with Pulse Films.
Verity McIntosh also joined us to give us a fantastic insight into the type of work going on at the Pervasive Media Studio at Bristol’s Watershed, where they’re investigating ideas like the Playable City, to create projects like Hello Lamp Post, where Bristol’s street furniture could text and have conversations with the public.
Our own project ideas during the investigation incorporated digital media to tell personal and political stories creatively across platforms. Our new vocabulary is informing our work to make a digital media project and event for the London International Comic Festival, Comica at the British Library this summer. This project will use Conductrr, a brand new software tool for managing cross platform story projects, to allow audiences to interact with the theme of Breakdowns in the digital and the physical world.
I went into Digital Media module thinking: what am I doing this for? I want to be a playwright!! I’ve a hunger for craft. Not storytelling for digital media!
I have this leading light of UK theatre, none other than Ms Nina Steiger: the Creative Director of the Soho Theatre, who has a wealth of experience in helping writers develop plays in workshops and she’s coming here, now, to instruct me on the finer arts of all this made up super tech stuff springing up on the web.
There is Nina showing us all the best bits in links from the net and I’m sitting there head in hand, heart sinking, thinking, Oh no, no!
I watch people running around touching hands and coming together happy, clappy style in some Californian city, probably San Francisco and Nina is waxing lyrical. Man this is not where I want to be! I’m sitting there in the class that first afternoon, reeling, depressed and frustrated.
Nina leaves at the end of the first day and myself and fellow writing student Annie blow.
But here is real theatre, here is decision, crisis and climax, here is us getting visceral, rebelling; there was something deep and primal in us yelling, but also a connection to the core of our creativity.
And low and behold, over the next three weeks, we opened up and psychology blown are engaged; its like some great hallucinogenic trip, no chemicals, just pure passionate creativity, mainlined from a great creative storytelling mind to open our minds over three of the most inspiring weeks of my life; there is real change and transformation.
Me like my fellow students all turn up tuned in; buzzing with adrenalin and nerve wracked to the final pitch for Nina and Verity from the Pervasive Media Studio, with the most stunning and out there array of digital storytelling ideas. Have faith in the process, believe and magic happens!
Thank you Ms. Steiger for taking us on the most mind blowing and inspirational storytelling trip of a lifetime and I’m confident I say this for all of the class of 2014 CSM / Drama centre MA writers.
Short Film and Animation blog.
Before we broke up for Christmas we had two very exciting opportunities to write short scripts and actually see our work made by other students at Central St Martins. The first project is a short 2 minute film, which is to be made by a second year student on the BA Directing course. The second project is a 3 minute animation which will be the graduation project for the students on the MA Character Animation. Both involved some of the scariest things we’ve had to do as writers – speed pitch our ideas!
2 Minute Film
We brainstormed and devised an idea that would work as a 2 minute film, ideally shot locally with the minimum of fuss as there is no budget. Once we’d polished our ideas and given each other feedback, we ventured into the directors’ rehearsal room and had to give a ten minute pitch to each director about our idea, and also sell ourselves. It was one of those exercises that you know helps you develop as a writer but it was pretty terrifying and once we’d spoken to all six directors we were exhausted and felt rather battered.
The directors then sent us feedback, and we said who we’d like to work with. We were then paired up, and the collaborative process began.
I met with my director and we had a very long chat about my pitch and our thoughts on how the script could go. Since I was working from a premise rather than a short story idea we tried out lots of ideas, before I took away all my notes and spent Christmas drafting various versions of it. I didn’t realize that writing a 2 minute film could take so long – I now have a pile of ideas and characters that weren’t quite right for this film but I could use in the future, and I am hoping that I will be able to write a second script for my director and film it at some point.
Many of us found that our directors had queries about our initial scripts, mine wasn’t what the director was expecting so I went back to the drawing board, mulled over all my ideas and rewrote it. We read out our work in class and got feedback from each other which was hugely useful, but by this point I had total fatigue with the script and couldn’t see what worked and what didn’t. So I took out the main plot points that were essential, put them into a five act structure then rewrote it without reviewing my original draft. I felt this made a much stronger, much more structured script. My director loved it, and apart from having to kill off one character and some dialogue in the monologues to make it a bit shorter there was little that needed changing. It’s currently on draft number 7!
We’re arranging now the filming schedule, casting is fantastic fun and my director has a wonderful eye for finding just the right people. It’s extremely bizarre to put so much into a script then sit in the Platform Theatre Bar having a drink with the actor who’s going to play your characters, it’s like being able to step into your script and chat to all the people you’ve created in your head. It’s been wonderful to work with some very talented people and to have all the directors, actors and filmmakers right in the same building as you.
We’ve been so excited to work with the MA Character Animation students on their 3 minute final project animation, and many of us have decided that writing for animation would be something we’d like to pursue as a career. As there are 32 animation students and only 10 of us we’ve had the opportunity to work with 3 animators each, either writing their whole script or in a dramaturg capacity.
We had a presentation on the history of animation given by Steve Roberts who is the Senior Lecturer on the animation course, we then discussed the initial ideas the animators had, and started to mull over who we’d like to work with. A speed dating event was then organized where animators were able to pitch their ideas to us, and we could discuss what we could offer. We then contacted the animators if we wished to work with them, and we all eventually paired up with animators who had shared interests.
I am working with 3 animators. One has a very clear idea of what he wanted to do so it was a matter of making sure his ideas and fantastic sketches fitted into a story structure, the second had some ideas but needed someone to help decide what worked and what didn’t and I put them into the five act structure to make a much stronger story. Finally the third animator had some ideas but since it was a project I was really passionate about I suggested writing a full script. Over Christmas I met up with my animators and wrote a very long script – at 12 pages long it needed to be cut down to about 4 pages – so I had a meeting with my animator and we went through it discussing which jokes worked and which didn’t, until it was much shorter. We then made it super simple for the animatic, and got feedback that it needed some more of the jokes put back in!
Once the animators were happy with a first draft of their story they then created their animatic. They presented this in class and got feedback, so now we’re currently reworking the scripts before the real animation work starts.
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.
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.