Week nine study diary – Advanced Creative Writing
This week’s subject was film making and scripts.
It’s been a tough week for me. My elderly cat went missing for a day and a half. He’s back now, but I suspect it’s only to live out his final days in comfort. He won’t allow anyone near him and hides under the stairs, but he is eating a little and drinking, and we’re keeping him warm. I also found out that the repeated pattern of receipt of housing benefit over winter months (I’m a seasonal worker) is no longer available. We have applied for the dreaded Universal Credit and await a decision on our fate. Oh and I got asked not to post on the tutor group again (along with a second active student) so that’s fun. In spite of this I kept working on my next assignment, although I won’t be able to share anything about that until it is submitted and marked, and I’ve kept up with the study schedule albeit with slightly less enthusiasm than usual.
So here is what I learned this week -
Film are almost entirely about visual impact and the dialogue is a distant second in importance. When writing a film script it is best to write as little as possible while ensuring the story is told. I worked on a film script for The Venus Virus, or at least a few scenes from it. The Venus Virus is a novel I have recently finished that is due to be published by CHBB early 2020. With this script I reworked and rewrote it four times for four exercises, gradually cutting more and more of the dialogue. In this version (see below) only four lines of dialogue are left. The script should cover five minutes of film time.
Films should centre around change and transformation, or so this course tells me. I revisited episode 7 of season 4 of Mr Robot and looked at how that self-contained theatrical episode revealed the origins of Mr Robot, a personality of Elliot. The transformation here is one from naivety to awareness. I made a note of a quote by Cheever -
“All that is asked of the dramatist is that he show the beginnings of some one particular change, that he trace it through its natural turmoil, and that he brings the contending forces into different, though not necessarily perfect, balance. Things were one way, now they are another; we have seen them move.”
Beats are units that make up a scene in the same way that sentences make up paragraphs and paragraphs make up a chapter. Film and television are fast paced with scenes of only 2 ½ minutes on average, made up of these different beats. Shifts of location (even within the same set/location) and a variety of camera angles are essential to holding interest. A montage or juxtaposition of shots (usually without dialogue) can be used for quick exposition, can indicate the passing of time, and can give a cumulative implied wider meaning. Mamet (1991) said that the juxtaposition of unrelated footage can -
“give the viewer the idea of alertness to danger.”
The Venus Virus
EXT. TRAIN STATION. NOVEMBER. LATE MORNING
Electric train pulls into station, two others queue behind it. The trains are about 20 years old and not particularly clean. There are no advertisements on the trains or at the station. Everything is functional and utilitarian. Each train has ten carriages full of football fans. All are working class adult men. Most are white. About 10% are people of colour. All behave as equals. Faces pressed against windows as the train pulls in. All have short hair or shaved heads. They present in a traditional masculine manner and wear sensible clothing with the occasional flash of colour in scarves and hats to represent football fans.
Carriage doors of first train slide open. A steady stream of men pours from the carriages. Once empty the train moves off and another pulls up behind to allow the next group to alight. The atmosphere is one of tense excitement. There is not a single woman in sight. The men do not touch each other, but feel comfortable in the company of their fellows.
On the edges of the crowd there are guards who carry guns. Some stand still while others attempt to herd the crowd out of the station. The guards are dressed in black militaryesque garb and look smart and proud, but ready or even excited to intervene in any fighting. There is a general atmosphere of threat and anticipation of violence. Around the station we see a city with apartment blocks and supermarkets utilitarian in design and identical straight streets, forming spider webs around useful central points.
INT. GENTLEMEN’S CLUB. 11AM.
Interior, an exclusive and expensive looking club with armchairs and mahogany tables. There is an analogue clock on one wall and an area to hang coats near the door. The bar is well stocked with expensive looking bottles of spirits. The lighting in the room is intimate and designed to relax the men who frequent it. Tasteful artwork of nude women adorns the walls. There are no patrons within, only staff.
Five women, including Gloria (who is beautiful with auburn hair), are wiping tables and brushing chairs, one vacuums rugs. All are dressed in sexy hostess outfits designed to appeal to powerful men, high heels and carefully applied make-up. Not one of them looks over 25. Gloria glances up at the clock. There is a hint of nervous excitement in her expression. The women are watched by two male bar staff who leer at them as they bend over to work. Gloria notes their interest but reacts as though it is normal and returns to polishing a table. She pulls her skirt down as much as she can at the back, which isn’t very far.
INT. FOOTBALL STADIUM, EARLY AFTERNOON.
Interior football stadium. Recently built. The crowded stands contain men only who are dressed in the colours of the two football teams. Around and about more the guards stand with guns ready. No adverts on display.
Players enter the pitch and the crowd cheers.
At the top of a set of steps stands Cerys. She is dressed in beige and grey as if trying to merge into the background. She wears glasses and has short dark blonde hair cut in an unflattering style. She grips a large sports-style holdall to her chest as if it is a shield. She looks terrified. She descends the steps to the first seats. Two men turn towards her and indicate the bag. She approaches. The closest one reaches out and touches her thigh. She looks as though she wants to be sick but stays where she is. She unzips the bag and pulls out an airhorn in Chelsea colours. The man who touches her is Man 1. His neighbour is Man 2.
Hey Mouse. What have you got in that huge sack?
Cerys shows him an airhorn in Chelsea team colours.
Cerys holds up five fingers and attempts a smile that looks more like rictus.
I’ll take one.
Goods are exchanged and Man 2 squeezes Cerys’s fingers tightly, we can see she’s in pain but doesn’t cry out. She doesn’t attempt to squeeze past them to others further along the row, but instead approaches the men seated on the other side of the aisle.
INT. LABORATORY. DAY
Interior laboratory. Women in hazmat suits filling the Chelsea airhorns with an unidentified gas. On the walls are vintage feminist posters from the 1960s and earlier. Close up to one poster with a Frederick Douglass quote. Hold for long enough for quote to be read.
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favour freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.”