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Old May 23rd, 2007, 03:48 PM   #46
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I've gained a great deal of information from this forum. All from people who unselfishly take their time to try and help those of us that are less experienced.

It would be a great asset to many of the members of this fourm to have a new addition, dedicated to scriptwriting.

Help us convince Chris, that there are many of us who would use the new forum and would find value in having it here, with the other DV forums where we get so much community support.
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Old May 23rd, 2007, 04:51 PM   #47
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Originally Posted by Barry Gribble View Post
Brendan's suggestions on observations ... help with understanding and creating character, and writing dialog.

There is a huge piece of screenwriting beyond that, however, that is about structure, development and plot. As much as we would like this to come from observations, there are also just a lot of tried and true techniques that work here. They are things that experience and exchanges of information and techniques can really help.
At night-school in middle-age (no, not in the Middle Ages) I was fortunate to learn from a great teacher about writing in English for most purposes ... I'm happy to share the little I remember with anyone interested ... it included a short list of rules called Al's Straight Six (for advanced students [advanced in depravity if you like] there was a collection of scurrilous limericks to be studied as examples of power-writing, nothing to do with script-writing, but illustrative of the power of Anglo-Saxon words in preference to words of Latin origin.) As a bit of background to that, it is rarely denied that the particular "brand" of English that evolved through the last 4 centuries in the USA was largely based on the language spoken by the Pilgrim Fathers and their immediate successors (coming from now-English-speaking Ireland I know that the standard of English spoken by the main migrant groups from here in past 3 centuries was generally weak and semi-literacy was common).

The outcome of all this is with us and with many north Americans today ... a great deal of language and literature around us is not as clear as it could be, not as easily understood as it should be, at times the literate seem to make a show out of using "posh" or obscure words and phrases as if that makes them superior to those who don't use such words. If you're interested in THAT angle of writing I have a bit to pass on ... but keep your eye on what Barry Gribble wrote above and get him to come forth and contribute ... what questions would you like him to explore for you? It is sometimes argued that the American language is different from English, full stop. That's not an argument. It's an excuse for not trying to make your language work for you and all your listeners.

... beware, at age 7, my siblings called me soapbox!
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Old May 23rd, 2007, 06:41 PM   #48
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Great stuff. I seem to have quite a lot of scenes, flashes or perhaps shots in my head (or written down by now). But I never really have gotten a feeling for a story (encompassing multiple scenes / shots etc.).

I'm wondering if this might be that I'm more "suited" for directing or editing? Or do I "just" need to find "my" stories in the elements that present themselves?

I am not sure if I can figure this out or how to proceed at the moment....

Personally I could care less about structure etc., at least for now ;)

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Old May 23rd, 2007, 07:28 PM   #49
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I'm in for this too, with a little twist...

What we do here, I believe, that isn't discussed as much any more on other fora, is not so much screenwriting per se, but iconography.

In other words, what a DVInfo person shoots, and how that person shoots it, is not discussed much at all, and IMO this should be the central spine of a thread, at least.

What we're seeing, more than what we're hearing.

Stuff like this needs, IMO, to have a home:

The problem with what we do is that we don't have an equivalent of a music score. We're using an imprecise method of description that's from another discipline, and run into grey areas where the outside interpretation of an inner vision becomes a hit-and-miss affair at best.

It's like describing a building with words. You can do it, (fifty foot high frontage, white pillars..etc) but a blueprint or a picture is much, much faster and better.

The storyboards we use are fixed in the forth dimension (they don't represent time passing) and the main tool that we do use to describe time passing (text in the form of a script) doesn't convey the actual pictures precisely enough so that people who aren't actually trained to read a script, can't.

On top of that, nobody knows how to write paced scripts any more. Used to be that not only does a page of script run for a minute, but it also takes 60 seconds to read through, plus or minus.

That means you have to use grammar, syntax, slang, punctuation, and all of that to get your imagery across in the time alloted. You had to literally slow your reader's eye down with long words and sentences, or speed things up by doing the reverse. In other words, control the pace of the story.

Gone now, mainly. People write a bit of description, a ton of dialog and call it a script. It ain't. Well, it is. It's called a master scene script and it is the most un-cinematic document ever, and it's mainly written, big surprise, to make a sale or budget out a film. In other words, it's a loose description of the content of a film for business purposes.

The shooting script? What's that? Most people shoot from the master scene script these days, and "cover".

So now we have a succession of stills photos mainly, because movement within the frame is implied by the text, but intraframe movement isn't described at all save in the most general sense (pan follows, tilt to reveal, so on).

So we have this massive body of work from one of the most developed nations on the face of this planet - and it all looks the same as itself.

I contend that if we wrote differently, it would look different. Even Stanley Kubrick reformatted his scripts (the action being centered with short lines, and the dialog being long, continuous lines) because he thought that this better represented the true flow of a script. His production department disagreed, because the script was harder to break down, and the actors couldn't find their lines as easily.

Well well. Talk about the tail and the dog...

Maybe the comic book format? I don't know. At least that format doesn't use "and the door opens, and the world's most beautiful woman enters. She's so cute that words don't begin to describe her", and all of the other literary devices that work for text but not for iconography.

I could go on. LOL!!!

As you can see, you've hit on a sensitive topic as far as I'm concerned. I'm all for original screen content, and not borrowed stories. I believe that the screen has its own language, syntax, grammar and lexicon that is growing stale because people aren't concentrating on keeping it fresh any more.

And that's because nobody's studying the form any more. Everybody's into story, because story, as everybody knows, it king.

There's a huge caveat in this. Story IS king, but stories from other places don't always work on film. It's like saying "hey, the Mona Lisa is a great painting, no two ways about it. Let's make a musical about it."

And people (usually uninformed ones) say "sure, it worked as a painting, why not?"

So a place to build that kind of sensitivity? Absolutely, right here where the filmmakers live, please.

The writers want to write novels, really. The players want to be on stage, really. Only the editors and the iconographers have nowhere else to go, since film is the center of those pursuits.

So let's keep it here, where it belongs.
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Old May 23rd, 2007, 11:29 PM   #50
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The problem with what we do is that we don't have an equivalent of a music score. We're using an imprecise method of description that's from another discipline, and run into grey areas where the outside interpretation of an inner vision becomes a hit-and-miss affair at best.

Interesting thread.

Part of the pressure for this is that, once upon a time, NOTHING got produced without major colaboration. Scripts, storyboards, et al, were just necessary communications tools to achieve some semblance of "buy-in" for concepts and ideas before the vast buckets of money started flowing.

It was left up to experienced team leaders, (the DP, the sound designer, the costume dept) to envision and make manifest what the script only hinted at.

Today, that collaborative process is under quite a bit of presssure.

A young "auteur", armed with a digital camcorder and an idea can produce a fully realized "work" with little colaboration required. So the concepts in his or her brain don't really need the same level of formal communication.

And no, you're right, this is NOT necessarily a good thing. And yes, he or she would likely HUGELY benefit from learning the discipline of pre-visualization.

But the reality is that no matter how much you might WISH to codify the asethetics of something as complex as a moving visual scene - when push comes to shove, the reality in the field will ALWAYS trump the written page.

One good thing is that the language of moviemaking is becoming commonplace in society as never before.

Today, I can sit down with a non-industry business owner and "talk" them through a series of shots, confident when I say "the shot of the barking dog slowly dissolves into the company logo" - that essentially nonsensical string of words will make sense to them. Because EVERYONE is now is expected to be at least somewhat "movie literate."

I agree it's important to talk about how "scriptwriting" is changing. And how it needs to evolve in an era where the script direction "the scene transitions to" can send a hapless young editor to an NLE menu where they have access to 10,000 relatively distinct "transitions."

iconography, story, motivation, conflict, the quality of the light falling on the roses on the table - perhaps it would be wonderful if we could codify it all to communicate better what the original writer imagines. Perhaps not! Since in doing so, we, to some extent, rob everyone else of their participatory contributations.

At the end of the day, the brains of the people involved in recording the pictures and sounds need to read, hear, see, interpret, and react. And communication about visual and auditory experiences - translated into ink on paper - will only ever do so much.

Good writing - and particularly good scriptwriting - needs to be honored.

But no matter how many marginal notes or storyboards we create to help others understand what we're thinking, in the end, if we want our scripts to withstand the slings and arrows of interpretation - the only way I can see is to learn to write as well as, say, Shakespere.

Good luck in THAT quest.
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Old May 24th, 2007, 01:14 PM   #51
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I can't see how it's important or useful to talk about scriptwriting in this way ...

Problem about swinging out of Shakespeare is, the Pilgrim Fathers were puritans who denounced Shakespeare before they left home and spread their castrated English elsewhere ...

Writing for any audience is hard work, finding the right words, thinking them out, editing them to a minimum, seeing them convey the language of the message ... but if there isn't any message then we're just pretending that there is one and we deserve the audience we get [and perhaps to the joy of a commercial client "we get the audience we deserve"] ...

Dumbing down a script (or scriptwriting) is not a matter of writing for stupid people, it's an admission that we have failed to find a better way to communicate with our audience. I happen to believe that, stupid as I am in so many ways, stupidity is not to be encouraged ...
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Old May 24th, 2007, 03:12 PM   #52
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Well, I wasn't entirely kidding about the language of iconography.

I mean that even when we all know that we're shooting a medium closeup of a rose on a table, there's still a ton of room for confusion in between the writer, the director, the DP, the art department, the production designer.

And if we're all meant to be seasoned pros accustomed to collaboration and communication , don't we find that just a tad frustrating, from time to time?

Is there room to get this down to a more precise communication? Or are we stepping on people's creativity by closing down on their options?

I mean, a musical score defines the notes pretty precisely, yet still leaves plenty of room for interpretation. Whereas "MCU - the rose, on a table" is, to my mind, less than satisfactory.

Most people will take that and imagine what they think is a rose on a table. It's amazing how many different images that turns out to be. So then you go "remember the War of the Roses? When so-and-so puts the rose on the table?" - and you're slam bang back into the re-creativity camp, reproducing (even if as a starting point only) something that has gone before. Creatively, you've just shot yourself in the foot.

Moreover, if you're trying to show a rose on a table in a brand new (creative) way that nobody's seen before, ever, our descriptive language falls apart and we're back to "no, let me show you what I mean..."

whereas if you have a unique passage of music or dance that (hopefully) hasn't been heard before, the existing notation systems are still adequate to describe it.
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Old May 24th, 2007, 05:25 PM   #53
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Originally Posted by Chris Leong View Post
I mean, a musical score defines the notes pretty precisely, yet still leaves plenty of room for interpretation. Whereas "MCU - the rose, on a table" is, to my mind, less than satisfactory ...

Moreover, if you're trying to show a rose on a table in a brand new (creative) way that nobody's seen before, ever, our descriptive language falls apart and we're back to "no, let me show you what I mean..."

... whereas if you have a unique passage of music or dance that (hopefully) hasn't been heard before, the existing notation systems are still adequate to describe it.
I think I understand what you're saying Chris but I also think you're bringing up an old confusion by implying that language should be as easy to follow as music. Music, even when it has a lyric to spell it out, is usually communicating a universal feeling, love, loss, bitterness, infatuation, terror, uncertainty, wishful dreaming, happiness or whatever, but rarely a complex issue. Music may remind each of us of some personal secret agenda but it does not set out to do so, and it's only our memories that hold on to a file that pops up when we hear a particular tune.

Language is capable of being far more powerful, subtle, meaningful, thoughtful, hurtful, revealing, corrupting, descriptive, deceptive, direct and indirect than music. Musical notation does its best, leaving, as you say, room for interpretation. But put 2 musicians together and if they insist on individual interpretations of the tune, even in the same key, there could be chaos. Musicians have to agree the message. The conductor does the job for an orchestra. Language has a much bigger communication capacity.

We hide the real power of language from ourselves at all levels. Peer pressure from the cradle to the grave is the common means we all use to keep each other from "getting smart"... hey you, why don't you talk like the rest of us? And this peer pressure is turned into a whole industry by the smart guys and dolls in the advertising agencies who are carefully trained in the use of language to sell. It is in that commercial or political environment that language often is most seriously trivialised. There lies the common problem ... here I am scratching my miserable way through a short life and language, long regarded as man's greatest achievement, is being flung at me with intent to confuse me ... I must believe in this, I have to look like that, I won't make it in life unless I own such a thing, there's no point in being myself, I've got to conform to this or that train of thought. And so we evolve into cabbages ...

... countless brilliant scripts have been written on this topic; I hope there always will be. So, scriptwriting can, in your hands or mine, be a means of trying to redress man's inhumanity to man ... who said that's simple or easy but it must be wonderful to bring it off, even for one minute
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Old May 24th, 2007, 05:31 PM   #54
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Excellent point.

What I mean is that pictures should be as easy to follow as music, and that language keeps on getting in the way of us making new and better pictures (not technically, creatively).

Iconography is what we do and we don't have a real language for it.
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Old May 25th, 2007, 03:19 AM   #55
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Chris, our screens are littered with evidence that what you say is true.

Our streets are littered with rubbish that shows we don't care for them ...
Our bellies are full of rubbish that shows we don't care much for ourselves ..
Our heads are crammed with images generated by people who are in the business of exploiting us ...

All we need to agree to is your proposition "Iconography is what we do ...
and the rest of the way is downhill. The pharoahs used hieroglyphs to record their glory and control their masses, so did some churches & still do, kings and masters have used iconography to rally armies to kill each other for 1000's of years. Now we use iconography to confuse and "consume" each other BUT NOT ALL THE TIME ...

Where do you want to begin? An American of Irish descent, Senator Joe McCarthy, tried and QUICKLY succeeded in using iconography to demonise good people; but then along came Arthur Miller, wrote the Crucible and SLOWLY educated many thinking US (&European) citizens into seeing that Joe was sick (with the same sickness that caused the English of the Pilgrim Fathers to flounder i.e ignorance).

Or would you rather go modern and take cartoon iconography? Consider The Simpsons. Do take the time to watch any episode with the sound turned off (= minus the script). Do you still insist that "Iconography is what we do ... ?

Or take a cute pop tune which one of my granddaughters drew my attention to last month ... called "I'm Hip" and sung by an old favourite, Blossom Dearie, who plays a cool piano too. Take the imagery in the lyrics of "I'm Hip" and look at how successfully they paint pictures, show us how stupid we are, show us how deeply we want to believe that all we need are icons ...

... we have to do better than iconography, Chris. Scriptwriting is not to be trivialised on this thread, without me opening my gob, while I can!
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Old May 25th, 2007, 07:56 AM   #56
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1. symbolic representation, esp. the conventional meanings attached to an image or images.
2. subject matter in the visual arts, esp. with reference to the conventions regarding the treatment of a subject in artistic representation.
3. the study or analysis of subject matter and its meaning in the visual arts; iconology.
4. a representation or a group of representations of a person, place, or thing, as a portrait or a collection of portraits.

What I hear being expressed, is a frustration that there 'isn't a language' to convey the pictures we have in our heads.

Well gee, welcome to the concept of 'art'.

How often is an artist frustrated because the image he creates, isn't interpreted by some, or even ALL of those who view it, in the manner he intended? Whether the artist's mental ICON is expressed in marble, paint, music or the written word... it is, at best, an imperfect expression of an inner vision. Sometimes the magic works, and it connects more or less as intended over an extremely wide audience. Sometimes it doesn't.

I'm not sure I understand what it is that's being sought. A fixed word for a fixed image?

Analogies and metaphors are slippery at best. I think the best metaphor for being a screenwriter is 'architect'.(As Chris mentioned earlier) The designer of the creation. The average person can't really decipher reams of architectural drawings, and 'see' the building. But a BUILDER can look at the drawings, and understand the designers intent and vision more readily. (Though again, perhaps imperfectly) And yes, it's a slippery metaphor - An architect often adds renderings to his designs, and a screenwriter adds synopsis, outlines, treatments - that give a rough guide to how the finished project will look.

Iconographers, would be those who communicate with ICONS, or images. Screenwriters, are those who create with words, to suggest ICONS to the minds of those who will create them.

The exception to that process would be those who write screenplays for their own use as directors/cinematographers. In that case, the screenplay will be 'perfect' because those intrusted with creating the ICONS (24 of them, every second) will understand what the screenwriter had in mind. Assuming of course, he can communicate that vision to the gaffers, actors, greenman, soundman, costumers and others that cannot read his/her mind.

Ain't 'art' beautiful?
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Old May 25th, 2007, 09:16 AM   #57
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I'm not saying we don't use English..
I'm not saying we don't use text.

I am saying we do get whatever it is that we do use up to scratch.

We have set, prop, object, actor, costume, movement, gesture (or business, if you prefer) as major elements on the picture storytelling side.

Inside the graphic design aspects of picture we have emotion, lighting, texture, background, balance, movement and shape.

As for audio, as storytelling tools we have dialogue, atmospheres or backgrounds, foley or footsteps, production effects, canned or made effects, practical music and scored music as elements.

That's just my regular checklist. I'm sure there's much more, and probably better, but if the script I'm looking at doesn't address all of these issues, then I know I'm not firing in all cylinders.

Notice I'm not talking here about plot, subplot, arc, resonance and the like.
That's been discussed on all the major screenplay fora, and that's what we all should come to the table with a working knowledge of, if we call ourselves storytellers.

Yes, this borders on art.
But think on this - in the old days, not too long ago, the camera as so blinkin' heavy that it took three people just to move it.
So we had these nifty things called director's viewfinders because that made the director decide where to put the camera - before the guys had to move it there.
The lights were big and heavy too, and used a lot of power and were dangerous beasts to tame.
Now, these days are gone.
We have small cameras. Our equipment is a marvel of lightness and economy.
So we actually need less people to make our DV movies.

So, if we define art (or fine art) as that which tends towards the point of view of a single individual (with painting, sculpture or novel writing as being most towards fine art, therefore),
you can see that moviemaking on our level, or at least the vanguard of it, is in fact tending more towards a fine art.

I'm referring to the fact that two or three people with a DV camera and a couple grand can in fact go out and make a movie these days.
And if it's a decent camera worked with good knowledge (as this forum is all about, I believe), then chances are that it's a pretty good looking movie to boot.

Simply not possible, even a decade ago.

So now, how about a thread or a section devoted to upping the general ante on the quality of imagery we are responsible for?

Sure, as beginners, we learn by imitation. Monkey see, monkey try to do.
So we look at Sin City and think "gee, I wonder how they did that?" and we try to do.
And in the process we may stumble upon something else and call it a discovery.

Kinda stumbly, no?

There are two kinds of pictures, to my mind.
The ones found outside one's self, as as in documentaries and landscapes, and the ones inside, as in imagination and creativity.

With the former, one starts with the entire world, points the camera outwards and selects out (deselects) the things that don't go along with one's direction.

With the latter, one starts with a blank screen (studio) and selects in (builds, constructs, buys, places) the elements that do go along with one's direction.

Obviously, movies are a combination of both kinds of pictures. Most of our screenwriting tools are devoted toward the former, IMHO.

Because to dream up something from thin air is "art" and therefore best left to the "artist".

Which brings us to the fact that most of the product out of Hollywood isn't art at all, but craft.

Sure, I live here, and work here, and it pays my rent. But when I pick up my own camera and make my own statement, I sure hope that craft ain't all I have to offer the world.

I think you all can see that I can write reasonably well, and am even, some say, articulate.
Well, I should be, I've been studying and writing nothing but screenplays all my adult life.
I have the language part down, as do a lot of you guys here, and I'd just like to add to the art, a little, instead of producing one more totally obscure art house film that nobody understands.
Or worse, a fast-food commercial film that everybody understands.
Or a film that goes into the toilet of obscurity, or worse, comes back to bite you years later.

Brendan, I'm not suggesting that iconography is all we do.
I'm suggesting that we could do it better.

Because when we use a machine to make a succession of images over time, we're doing it anyway, aware of it or not, like it or not.
Better to be aware of it and like it, a lot.

Yes, to give a person with an unprepared mind the power of iconography over his or her peers is like handing them a loaded gun.
So now it depends on the person who's doing the holding, doesn't it?

Like it or not, we have a group of talented, curious, intelligent (well at least we can all read, on this forum) people who all, or mostly all, have cameras.
Do they all want to demonize? Perhaps, I think not. Do they all want to demoralize? I don't think so either.
(Plus, thanks to people like Chris, this place is moderated, remember? There is a social filter going on here).

Me, I've proven to myself over many seasons of extremely popular network TV shows that drama doesn't have to be about people trying to do each other in.
That conflict isn't necessarily about argument or strife.
That big goals don't have to lead to huge explosions, or bullets fired, or fisticuffs.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
The shows I've worked on have had none of the traditional conflicts expressed in those ways, yet have consistently outrated the ones that have.
i.e. the world of primetime network TV changed. Or else the people were always there, always preferring quality over dross, if they could get it.
Hey, but that's just me.

Any storyteller has power over the people who are listening. That's the storyteller's contract with the audience.
In my mind, it goes without saying that if one is attempting to tell stories at all, that one should be aware of this power and that with it comes an agreement with the audience to keep them safe, not to harm them as they give their disbelief over to you.
I also believe that when it comes to being an audience, the US audience is one of the most sophisticated on the planet. They may not all know how to spell, but most of them certainly know when someone's trying to pull the wool over their eyes and will simply change channels or walk out if the story's doing them no good.

As more new cameras roll off the assembly lines, the amount of images they produce grows exponentially, and so the more good images we can make, the better for all, I believe.

Sure, there are plenty of people who make films today that I don't agree with.
I could give you a list right now.

However, I live in a democracy, I believe. I may not agree with the things they have to say, but I will defend, to the death if needs be, their right to say it.

So let's put it out there that we can make better stories, using all cylinders at our disposal, and leave this art/craft/communication medium a better place than how
we found it.
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Old May 25th, 2007, 12:46 PM   #58
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I appreciate what you're trying to do here. Generate a discussion of what screenwriting, or more precisely visual media production CAN BE rather than simply accepting what it HAS been.

It's useful thinking.

Particularly in a world where there's finally a chance for the individual to effectively use media for personal communications to a wide audience.

I suspect that - as with all art - the fact that more accessible technology has enabled a broader spectrum of practitioners will push our artforms in new, and hopefully unexpected directions.

What I hear you and other here concerned about is that too many will stay hidebound traditionalists, employing traditional moviemaking tools to make traditional movies. Perhaps. But I'm reminded of two things.

When I read quality writers (Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, comes to mind for some reason) I'm reminded that spare, careful "traditional" prose is still a VERY powerful communications tool. One that I don't use nearly well enough. And I suspect that can be said of the vast majority of writers, period.

And that change - particularly sweeping technological change like our industry is currently undergoing, entails a good bit of flailing around prior to settling.

Perhaps new descriptive standards will emerge from this era. Perhaps someone HERE will generate the spark that causes this to occur.

Or perhaps we find that the 26 letters we're using now are flexible enough to do the job.

Good thread, let's keep it going.
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Old May 25th, 2007, 01:01 PM   #59
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Look at all the brainpower we have going here, in this very forum.

The rate of acquisition of knowledge alone at the very least rivals any other method I've ever been to.
Don't know the answer? Betcha someone here does. And mighty quick-smart too.

Can you even imagine such a gathering, on a daily basis, at any previous time in history?

And thanks, Bill, for noting that I'm not for re-inventing the wheel. Let's use text, by all means, whatever works.

But let's build on the great movies that have gone before, and then go for something new, something better, further along rather than simply reproducing it.

CGI means that we can reproduce almost anything we can visualize. Actually, animation always could do that, come to think of it.

It's the quality of visualization we need to highlight, I think.
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Old May 25th, 2007, 04:04 PM   #60
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There are signs that this thread is being hi-jacked by people who want to talk about several aspects of video production other than script-writing ... anybody else think the subject is being changed? If the hi-jackers are reluctant to concentrate on scriptwriting that's OK; just start another thread.

Or before you disappear have a look & listen to this little film by a Norwegian amateur videographer who brings a lot of joy and insight to other members of DVInfo forum ... the script is sparse and spot-on ... it's worth taking a few minutes to download the HQ version

http://www.video-film.no/snutter/UWO...derness_lg.mov (67.2MB) Recommended!

Now go and offer your party piece ...
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