Category Archives: Narrative

Screenwriting – character outline for Lara

Character outline:
Lara
28
Primary school teacher, wife of a soldier (UN peacekeeper)
Having an affair with a colleague who showers her with romantic cliches and physical attention.
Questions:
Does the character have a nickname?
Only with her boyfriend James – Lulu
What is your characters hair color? Eye color?
Brown, deep and dark.
What kind of distinguishing facial features does your character have?
A biggish nose, which she is embarrassed about and tries to cover up with a fringe and short bob. Her brown hair is beautifully shiny and straight. Big and deep eyes.
Does your character have a birthmark? Where is it? What about scars? How did she get them?
A birthmark on her foot and scars under her chin from a bike accident when she was seven.
Who are your characters’ friends and family? Who does she surround herself with? Who are the people your character is closest to? Who does she wish she were closest to?
Lara has a sister that she doesn’t live near, but rings fairly regularly. She has both parents still, but they have an active social life and she speaks or now more frequently texts them once or twice a week. Her mum keeps up with her personal life via Facebook. She has a few friends from work who she has ignored recently, because she doesn’t want to talk about her affair with Phil. She has a couple of girlfriends from university who have babies and she has fallen out of touch with them. Rob is away for stretches of time and she is often by herself in the evenings. This regularly involves film watching, her cat and a glass of wine.
Where was your character born? Where has she lived since then? Where does she call home?
Lara was born in York and lived near the Yorkshire Coast until she went to university. She now lives near Bristol to be near army bases.
Where does your character go when she’s angry?
To bed, balled up in the duvet.
What is her biggest fear? Who has she told this to? Who would she never tell this to? Why?
Loneliness. She would never tell this to anyone, it just seeps out in her desperation for attention from James. However, with her husband Rob, she never lets on.
Does she have a secret?
Yes, the affair and the fact that she doesn’t actually like him more than her husband, she just likes the attention.
What makes your character laugh out loud?
Cat GIFs, old sitcoms, chatting in bed.
When has your character been in love? Had a broken heart?
Yes, twice and no, she has never encountered that. It has made her feel fragile as if she is continually waiting for it.
What is in your character’s refrigerator right now? On her bedroom floor? On her nightstand? In her garbage can?
Wine and neat food ready to make specific meals (some tuna steak, leeks, cream, filled pasta, a deluxe pizza). The detritus of this is in her bin. Her bedroom floor and nightstand are neat and tidy and have photos and a book, candle and radio on. Her clothes are tucked away neatly every night. She worries that people would judge, even though it is rarely entered.
Look at your character’s feet. Describe what you see there. Does she wear dress shoes, gym shoes, or none at all? Is she in socks that are ratty and full of holes? Or is she wearing a pair of blue and gold slippers knitted by his grandmother?
She wears neat tights for work and slippers and big socks and slippers when at home.
Your character is doing intense spring cleaning. What is easy for her to throw out? What is difficult for her to part with? Why?
There is very little to throw out as she lives sparsely as Rob doesn’t like mess. She continually chucks out clothes and buys new as a treat. She likes dressing well and neatly and prides herself in her appearance.
It’s Saturday at noon. What is your character doing? Give details. If she’s eating breakfast, what exactly does she eat? If she’s stretching out in her backyard to sun, what kind of blanket or towel does she lie on?
She’s making herself a brunch meal after a slight lie-in until nine. She’s about to meet a friend to go afternoon shopping with and have coffee. She read in bed for an hour.
What is one strong memory that has stuck with your character from childhood? Why is it so powerful and lasting?
Ruining her new, beautiful red wool coat by sitting down in oil. The tears and telling off.
Your character is getting ready for a night out. Where is she going? What does she wear? Who will she be with?
She wears dark denim jeans, high heels and a silky top with a cropped jacket. She’s going out for a meal with two girlfriends from work at the local wine bar. She’ll eat fish, drink some champagne and they’all gossip about work colleagues.

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Screenwriting course – assignments 1 and 2

These are the first two assignments for my screenwriting course. Any feedback is much appreciated.


Assignment 1

The Apartment (1960)
C. C. Baxter, a lowly worker from the masses is squirming his way in to the bosses’ favour by lending them his apartment for their dirty affairs. Miss Kubelik, the cute, damaged elevator girl, is the brightest part of his day. Unfortunately, she knows his home intimately. After cruel misunderstandings and lots of gin rummy, she finally sees the light.


My story:

The effects of war on a relationship. Josie has been married for 6 months to Rob, a UN peacekeeper, when he is blown up by a roadside IED. They go on a journey of recovery, which tests them entirely. Initially, this is physical rehabilitation, but the emotional and mental trauma is a more difficult challenge and they have to find and learn about each other again.


Assignment 2

A character that resonated with me:
I watched Amadeus at about 4 1/2 when I was meant to be tucked up in bed. I was completely engrossed in it and it led to me thinking I was Mozart for a while and wanting to be addressed as him. However, the character that intrigued me was Saliari. His bitterness and honesty were revelatory and his realisation of his own mediocrity was so brutal and adult.


A 1/2 page of my story:

As we see our protagonist Laura have a seemingly loving and sensual encounter, we cross-cut to a soldier being blown up by an IED in Afghanistan. Laura has decided that her six year marriage to an absent soldier is no longer making her happy after an intense liaison with a man from work. She leaves the marital home after writing a note and taking a final glance at the romantic image of how he proposed (candles, stones on a beach spelling out the question). The phone starts ringing as she shuts the door. As she kisses her new partner as he starts to drive her away, her mobile rings. Her husband has been seriously wounded.
At the airport his facial disfigurement is hidden until he gets very close. He is a shell of a man. They start the physical rehabilitation and she throws herself in to it to hide her guilt. However, the mental wounds are harder to heal and he is having continual flashbacks, nightmares and outbursts of anger. She is feeling increasingly isolated and pressured and is thinking of leaving. He finds the letter she wrote (in her panic she had just tucked it in to a book) and is devastated. He recreates the engagement scene in the garden, but with ‘I’m sorry’ and she realises that her husband is in there somewhere and starts a reconciliation.

6. Joint 93rd – ‘Intolerance’

1916, D. W. Griffiths, starring up to 3,000 extras, but also Lillian Gish and Constance Talmadge (who I still have a thing against because she was the sister of Buster Keaton’s mean wife Natalie).  I watched this online and at school waiting for my French class.  I have to admit that I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to the three hour run time, but realise that it is a crucial film to help me understand the progression of film.  This is the only D W Griffith on the BFI list, I presume the distasteful nature of The Birth of a Nation made sure it wouldn’t make it.

Intolerance

This film constantly refers to itself as a ‘play’.  I’m not sure if that is because it considered itself a photoplay or that it added some more gravitas.  The idea of a play is continued in the stagey (if lush) sets and the mostly long-shot static camera (although excited to read the book I have just got on the cinematographer Billy Bitzer)  However, there are some great forward tracking shots (to create the zoom effect that wasn’t around until 1932 for film cameras) and close-ups.  I really like the painterly, soft-focus way that faces, especially the female faces have been filmed. I can see an enormous influence for F W Murnau in them. It feels like an ancient religious icon and you can see why people have classed this as a great piece of universal art, along with Beethoven’s 5th.  It does have a timeless quality to it, despite not being well-received initially.

The narrative involves four different plots, that of ancient Babylon, Jerusalem in the time of Jesus, Renaissance France and modern America.  I’m not sure that I would have spent my energy on all four as the modern day story is by far the most engaging because of the human interest.  The Babylonian one has some amazing sets and I love the slaves opening the enormous gates and some of the fight sequences, but the French and Jerusalem settings do seem to  be filling in time (oh so much time!) without adding much to the response.  I definitely think I would agree with David Thomson’s analysis:

‘The cross-cutting, self-interrupting format is wearisome…. The sheer pretension is a roadblock, and one longs for the “Modern Story” to hold the screen…. [That story] is still very exciting in terms of its cross-cutting in the attempt to save the boy from the gallows. This episode is what Griffith did best: brilliant, modern suspense, geared up to rapidity — whenever Griffith let himself slow down he was yielding to bathos…. Anyone concerned with film history has to see Intolerance, and pass on’.

Other key things I liked or noticed:
  • Griffiths creates easy pathos – ‘the little dear one’ and ‘brown eyes’ as names for some of the female characters.  It also means it is universal, but also makes sure the spectator is aware of the response they should be having.
  • Recurring theme of the cradle rocking to indicate universality.
  • Impressive editing – love the irising, the complex cross-cutting and cross dissolves
  • A lot of intertitles – have recently re-watched ‘Sunrise’ and am so impressed in the ability to not use them. Amazing matte paintings
  • The dear one reminded me of Emily Watson
  • Typical view of Jesus, liked the use of lighting on him
  • In the harem dancing sequences, I liked the more realistic female bodies
  • It is weird to think that this was going on at the same time as WW1
  • Gets really exciting towards the end when they are trying to stop The Boy’s execution. Loved the camera following the speeding train.

Creative ideas:

A list of my intolerances (probably not as serious or universal, but I have many…)

A picture in soft focus.

A moving image that focuses on the set.

5. Joint 93rd – ‘Un Chien Andalou’

Un Chien Andalou (1927) by Bunuel and Dali is a shocking, challenging and confusing watch.  I have taught this film at least three times and probably watched it twenty times so it is difficult to create an independent response and remember how I initially felt about it.  I actually used this film today, along with some art by Picasso, to explain Modernism, before we started learning about Post-Modernism.  It’s all high-brow around me don’t you know!  It isn’t a film I would watch this regularly if I didn’t teach it, but I definitely appreciate its place in the canon.

Watching it in class this afternoon

Watching it in class this afternoon

I really love watching this film with students and have used it as part of the showreel to sell film studies this year.  It quickly got around school that I was showing the most disgusting clips, which surely can only help!  The student reaction to the eye-cutting sequence is brilliant.  The most hardened horror fan will still squirm when the eye is cut in to.  I don’t think they expect it to really happen.  It’s amazing how quickly people forget that film is a construct and that it can’t really be happening.  On the viewing this afternoon one of my students sat open-mouthed throughout the entire thing.  Perfect.

Obviously, I love the initial eye-cutting sequence and all its references to the hypnotic and damaging power of mainstream cinema.  I also love the close-up on the beach sequence where the man’s hand is held up next to her face and she seems to stare at his watch.  However, my favourite sequence is the one that Dali seemed to be most in charge of.  I love the male character trying to drag the two pianos, two priests and two dead horses.  It’s such a perfectly visual image and I would love to imagine what it would look like in colour.  Although I love the grainy black and white generally, it’s nice to imagine this as a Dali painting.

Horses on pianos.

Horses on pianos.

This short film is clearly about a break with narrative structures and no matter how often you try to suggest to a class that there isn’t a clear plot and the narrative is deliberately confusing they won’t have it.  I love how it plays around with time, including the intertitles that say ‘eight years later’, ‘in the spring’ in an illogical way.  The changes in tempo are dramatic and unnerve the spectator, clearly a plan.

Creative:

A close-up on the eye.

A short film that disrupts time and place.

A chaotic written piece.