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Nick Russell as Jason in "Signs"

I wrote in my last blog that five minutes wasn’t enough screen time to engage in a love story. Thanks to colleagues on Step2CollaboTV I’ve been watching a cracking   short film called Signs Directed by Patrick Hughes(2008)  which proves that 12 minutes IS enough time. As I  watched the film , and realised that it was 12 minutes long, I got to thinking about the number 12 in Creative Screenwriting Theory, and of course it took me to Vogler (98).

I first met Chris Vogler in Sitges, Spain , coincidentally in  1998 . He was putting  the finishing touches to his book “The Writer’s Journey-Mythic Structure For Writers”. This book is itself  based on “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell . First published in 1949 this is a seminal work of comparative mythology, which Vogler then  adapted for screenwriters. (It’s interesting to note that Campbell was no slouch at the movies either. He sat at the shoulder of George Lucas through the filming of the first star wars movie and you can see his imprint throughout the film

Anyhow, back to Chris Vogler and Spain. We met at a month long creative workshop on screenwriting called PILOTS in the beautiful Catalonian town of Sitges.  PILOTS was the Programme for the International Launch Of Television Scripts,  an EEC  MEDIA scheme  to try to create an indigenous European TV industry capable of exporting our product around the world, in the same way as the Americans had been doing for years. Through this somewhat quaint and naïve initiative, I met such luminaries as Caryn  Mandebach (Roseanne, 3rd Rock From the Sun, Nurse Jackie), John Wells (China Beach, E.R , The West Wing) and uber script guru  Robert McKee (Story 1999). All of them gave fascinating insights into the world of the screenplay, but by far the most interesting for me at the time was the talk Chris gave and our subsequent discussions on his ideas about the 12 stages of the  “Hero’s Journey”. When I’ve been stuck in a rut or unsure of the way forward in a script, I have often consulted my well-thumbed copy of his book to see if I can find an escape clause.

So when I noticed that Patrick Hughes film was 12 minutes long, I wondered to what extent I could analyse it terms of Vogler’s stages of the hero’s journey. Now Vogler’s been around for a while now, and any number of attacks and critiques have been made on his work. Have a look at this link for an example.

Chris Vogler

But with that proviso take the next 12 minutes of and watch a Signs and then let’s see if we can shed some light on it’s internal structure with the help of Chris Vogler.

Ok, so wasn’t that a good movie? Wonderful acting, great design and cinematography. (If you don’t think so you might as well stop reading now as I doubt if my modest blog will change your mind ) Anyhow, let’s assume if you are still here that you did like it. The question then has to be….”How did it get to be like that? “  By accident? Did the writers, Hughes, Fleet and Worthington just happen on this way to tell that story? Well, maybe they did, and maybe they didn’t , but in hindsight I  can see perfectly how analysing the film through the prism of Vogler’s Hero’s journey  gave me, and I hope can give  you,  a real insight of why “Signs”  tugs the heartstrings and works for us as viewers.

Before I go through the 12 stages, A WARNING. Vogler’s theories are simply a tool to help the creative writer. Like any craftsperson or artist, the screenwriter should have lots of tools in their tool bag. Sometimes you need a jackhammer, and sometimes you need a scalpel. The trick is to know which one to use at which time. So…these are not principles, or rules, they are simply practical hints that just might  be able to dig you out of creative the cul de sac your writing could have taken you down. Remember, great writing defies the  rules, but we all might need just a little  practical help along the way before we hit the heights of genius. So, here’s an analysis of the 12 stage Hero’s Journey  on this short film .With thanks to Aristotle(1996), Field(1984) Campbell (2008)  and of course  Vogler (1998).

1) THE HERO IS INTRODUCED IN HIS OR HER  ORDINARY WORLD.

0’.0” –3’.11”  In the first three minutes of  “Signs” we  see our “Hero” Jason in his ordinary, banal, meaningless  world. He is bored and loveless, his job is uninspiring, and most importantly, he is lonely. We see him on an escalator, spotting a lovely girl going in the opposite direction, in a  park ,shyly  watching  another  girl, on a train watching lovers kiss, and  at work, alienated from his boss and workers. Jason lives a loveless life. Even his mum and dad don’t understand him.

2) THE CALL TO ADVENTURE.

3’ 12” . It’s the moment when Jason  glances at  Tracey  through the window of his office. If this had been a heist movie it would be the point that  the robbers burst in , in a western, it’s the bit  where the trail boss offers you a job on the cattle drive, but this is a love story, and so it’s the point at which  boy “meets” girl. Field  calls stage two  “the inciting incident”. It’s where the movie starts “moving.” All that goes before it is setting up the ordinary world, and you can  get away with this set up for quite a while, if it is done with style.In a 12 minute movie,  Hughes waits 3 mins and 12 secs before that fateful glance. Structural Perfection.

3) THE HERO IS RELUCTANT AT FIRST

3’ 25” Jason  looks away once, twice, three times. He is shy. He doesn’t want to get involved. His life may be boring, but he is too set in his ways, too comfortable in his misery to break out of his comfort zone.

4) THE HERO IS ENCOURAGED BY THE WISE OLD MAN OR WOMAN.

4’.14”  OK so there’s no  Obi Wan Kenobi giving Luke Skywalker his father’s light sabre, there’s no Gandalph and there’s no older figure. You could argue that the words of his father about “girlfriends” are echoing in his mind but Jason’s real mentor in this movie  is Tracey herself. He is completely unable to engage, until her joke about the photograph gives him  “permission” to communicate. Jason is no Lothario, he is shy and introverted. The girl has to make the running,  and  we LOVE him for it.

5) THE HERO PASSES THE FIRST THRESHOLD.

4.19 . That smile means that Jason  is entering  the special world of his story for the first time. This is the point  at which the story takes off and the real adventure gets going. Where the wagon train starts, Apollo 13 blasts off, the Rubicon is crossed and the romance begins. Our hero Jason  is now committed to his journey… and there’s no turning back. It’s the end of the first act. Gulp.

6) THE HERO ENCOUNTERS TESTS AND HELPERS.

4’.25” Our hero is forced to make allies and enemies in this  special world. He has to surmount  barriers and face problems he has never had before . As Vogler puts it , these…. “ challenges that are part of his training. In STAR WARS, the cantina is the setting for the forging of an important alliance with Han Solo, and the start of an important enmity with Jabba The Hut. In CASABLANCA, Rick’s Cafe is the setting for the “alliances and enmities” phase, and in many westerns it’s the saloon where these relationships are established.” (Vogler 98)

In our film, the venue is the space between the two buildings, but the challenge is clear. Jason has to engage with and keep interested this vivacious, beautiful young woman. One wrong note and all is lost. It’s dangerous. If he gets caught, then boss will fire him. He is wary and scared, but he goes for it, getting more and more confident. In a good rom com this sequence can go on and on and on as long as we like the characters and can engage with the hero, up the ante between him and the object of his desires.

7) THE HERO REACHES THE INNERMOST CAVE

5’.12” Jason’s cave is the meeting room. Hey it’s not the death star and it’s not the minotaur’s lair but this is 12 minute short, not an actioner. Jason dares to message Tracey  in front of the boss. He would  never have dreamed of  doing  this only days before . He is turning from loser to bruiser, and risking his career, all in name of….luurve.

8) THE HERO ENDURES THE SUPREME ORDEAL.

5’.20 “This is the moment at which the hero is in deep jeopardy  physically. It usually occurs about half way through a narrative. Field says it was the discovery that “something happened” round about page 60 of a 120 page feature script that made him start thinking seriously about structure. (Field 84) Here, Jason risks all. He  faces the possibility of exposure, ridicule, the sack, and whatever else , and for Jason it takes place in the meeting room, where he is so intent on “messaging” his new love , that he falls backwards on his chair…but….

9) THE HERO SIEZES THE SWORD.

5’.37” ….Jason survives the fall, and rises up reinvigorated. He dared to rebel and survived. He now decides to take control with his new found courage.  The hero’s supreme ordeal usually grants him a better understanding of women, leading to the moment in a love story where he finally decides to make his feeling clear. It’s getting more and more daring…OMG did she REALLY draw picture of her boobs? Zowie this chick is HOT! And mysterious and everything else you ever wanted in a partner.

Kesti Morassi as Tracey

Jason finally decides to commit. Through a series of unfortunate events (heck it is  a romCOM.)   he is stopped from taking the final plunge and asking her out …but just when he goes for it….. horror of horrors, that moment that we’ve all been dreading…boy loses girl.  It’s the end of the second act. At 8’.28” the hero’s REALLY on the deck now. This isn’t a physical test like the supreme ordeal, this is mental. He has loved and lost…literally and metaphorically.  Normally this cues stubble chinned hero’s  staring at half empty whisky bottles, or lipsticked heroin’s  stepping  out with inappropriate partners,  and every other cliché you can think of…but  Hughes et al are too cute for that. They simply return Jason to that nether world of loneliness which he inhabited before staring at his lonely table with redundant sign 9’.08”

10) THE ROAD BACK.

9’.42” Literally a flash of inspiration. SHE’S BACK! Phew. Thank heavens for that! Not only is she back, she’s promoted and even more desirable, and along with her,  our new emboldened hero is reborn. He won’t need a second chance to ask the girl out. The going’s got tough and  the tough are about to get going.

11)RESURRECTION.

10’.25” It takes him an instant to suggest that they  meet. The timid Jason of Act 1 is transformed, and we love it ! He’s ready, she’s ready,  he emerges from the special world, transformed by his experience.

12) RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR.

10’.47” Our  hero comes back to his ordinary world, out in the street, framed in long shot in the crowds, with the power to heal the sickness in his past life. Here’s the thing…this is a love story, and the “secret” he is about to share   has been shared with audiences a million times in the past. There’s nothing new in this “secret” but if it’s served up well and  structured in a way we haven’t seen before, we’ll blubber and sniff just like we always do when a good movie tells us “ love conquers all. “

Hughes is smart enough not to give us the kiss cliché at the end, but leaves us with a question. Will they get together? Ever speak? Kiss? Is she deaf? I don’t know , and I don’t really care. The point is that  it all works, and even if none of the people involved in creating this wonderful short film never read the  work of Campbell or Vogler or Field, we can maybe use there theories on narrative structure  as a way of helping us to write movies that work.

Next time I’ll have a look at dialogue to die for. Any suggestions for good (and bad ) dialogue, gratefully recieved.

Aristotle (1996) Poetics,(trans Malcolm Heath), Penguin.London.

Campbell J (2008 ) The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Third Edition Pantheon New York

Field S. (1984) The Screenwriter’s Workbook . Dell

McKee R 1997  Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting. New York. Harper Collins

Vogler C (1998)  The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Michael   Wiesse,  Los Angeles


Glasgow city centre panorama from Lighthouse t...

Glasgow, City Of Film!

I am indebted to Linda Campbell for important news of a new Initiative from Write Camera Action in Glasgow. For more information email Linda Campbell at writecameraaction@hotmail.co.uk
A lot of Scottish Film makers have embraced the ethos of WriteCameraAction and gone on to form collaborations and get those ideas which were originally workshopped at WCA actually produced – Well Done! With the support of their host venue the CCA in Glasgow, Linda Campbell is now organising an event to showcase films that have been workshopped or have collaborated with WCA prior to their production. At this early stage what she is looking for is an indication of how many of these films are out there and a little of their history.

Please check requirements below and if relevant contact Linda at writecameraaction@hotmail.co.uk about your project with subject heading ‘WCA Indie Initiative’

The script of the work produced must have been workshopped either in whole or in part at WriteCameraAction in a monthly WCA or an advanced WCA workshop booked by Linda, AND/OR have some collaboration directly with WCA that contributed to the work being produced. It must be a no-low budget production e.g. not funded by a public body (no Student Graduation films) That’s it!!!

The rest is detail: You should say what the Title of work is, genre, duration, brief synopsis, and brief history of ‘idea to fruition’ e.g. Did you utilise the WCA mailshot, did you cast from participants cast during your workshop or seen at another performance at WCA etc. or not. Who were your crew and did you meet them through networking via WCA or not. Has it been shown anywhere else e.g. Film Festivals, GMAC, Youtube… That’s it. More than one entry is not only allowed, it’s applauded! No limit to the number of films you enter as long as they fulfill the criteria. If you have a work in progress send Linda the details if it’s likely to be completed in the next few months. Please note: Do NOT send any films at this stage. Linda expects to see varying standards of production values so don’t let that put you off – Write Camera Action is about supporting and developing Home-Grown Produce!!

If in doubt of eligibility contact Linda for clarification. Enquiries on this event from relevant writer/filmmakers only. Once the Event is fully realised and dates and ticket prices fixed, she will send out an email to everyone. You know she will :)))


Jim Sweeney, Kolin Ferguson & Stuart Hepburn

I first  met screenwriter Kolin Ferguson on a rainy Sunday in East Kilbride about three years ago.We were working on a short film by Write Camera Action Director Linda Campbell called “Stub It Out”. I was acting, and Kolin  was holding a mike boom on what could loosely be described as a “Geurrilla Shoot”. In other words there were three of us! He told me that he was no sound assistant, but was  a screenwriter, and was developing  a 12 part TV Series about Glasgow Gangsters called “The Crews”. Not only was he going to write it, he was going to shoot it, with little or no  budget. Along with Director Colin Ross Smith, and actors Jim Sweeney and Robert Harrison, they had the revolutionary  notion  that if they actually shot the first two episodes, then they would be able to raise the cash to finish the project. The whole thing was to be shot in HD, with broadcast quality sound. Oh and they were going to nip over to Amsterdam for a couple of days to shoot there too.  I nodded and smiled benignly . I admired their chutzpah, but doubted their ability to carry it off. Nevertheless, later that year,  Kolin  and Colin came down to talk to our students on the Performance Programme at UWS and we watched their short film Sandwich, which also introduced me to their hatchet-faced co-star, Robert Harrison. I asked them how “The Crews” was going, and they told me they were going ahead with the plan. They had bought an HD  camera, and it was all systems go. They thought it might take them six months.

“But’, I said patronisingly, “NOBODY does it that way. It costs too much time and energy to do that. What you have to do is write the first episode, complete a one page synopsis, and punt it round the broadcasters. That’s what EVERYBODY does”. “We’re not everybody”  they said, and ignored me. I am glad they did, because these brave, creative innovators have  at a stroke,   re-written the text book on  TV Script Development. I know this because on Tuesday night, a full two years after our conversation at the UWS,  I sat with an enraptured audience at Cineworld in Glasgow and watched the completed first  two episodes. All proceeds from the 300 tickets (sold out)  were going to Spiritaid, and I was happy to be there for  the good cause. Because of the way in which The Crews had been developed,  I had prepared myself  to be in turns embarrassed, bored or  even  mildly impressed. What I was not prepared for was to be  completely blown away by the whole event.  “The Crews” rocks!   Using complex  techniques such as  fractured narrative, flashback within flashback, and a bewildering  multiprotagonist storyline,” The Crews” is ambitious, demanding and unsettling TV. Its the sort of thing we normally see on HBO or  AMC. “The Crews” is tailor made for BBC4 or Channel 4. It’s the sort of show  which  unfolds at glacial pace and with the cadence and  authenticity of work  such as Simon’s  “The Wire” ( 2002)  and Scheuring’s  ” Prison Break” (2005). The  joint creator’s bill “The Crews”  as “The Glasgow Sopranos” , but for me, it has more in common with David Simon’s televisual masterpiece from Baltimore. You thought Omar Little was nuts? Wait till you meet Stevie Turner.

Whatever it’s worthy progenitors, while it’s Glasgow through and through, what makes “The Crews”  unique is that to my uncertain knowledge,  no one in the UK has ever done anything on this scale before . It’s no exaggeration to say that if this makes it to the small screen, this impressive product out of Dennistoun by East Kilbride and Ayr  could prove to be one of the most important developments in the history of British Television making, and you can quote me on that.

At the moment, the finished DVDs are with the BBC, and STV, and the guys are planning to take on the States at some point in the future, to see if funding can be attached. I am a writer and actor and no expert on the distribution side of things, but it seems to me that they need a selling agent or exec producer to convince a broadcaster to come up with the development and production money. They have personally spent more money than they can afford to get this far, and when I look at the standard of some of the stuff on TV at the moment , and think of “The Crews”, there is no justice if it doesn’t get made and seen by a wider audience. Kolin has the detailed plans for the rest of Season one, and , wait for it, has sketched out a full five season 60 Episode Arc.

Caveat Emptor! I can’t enthuse too much about this as I am a cast member too . The silver-tongued KColins managed to cast me in a small role. (In fact, the banner above is a still from ” The Crews”  taken by the Show’s make up artist, Yvonne Lynch. Yes, it was that sort of shoot!) On top of my cameo as DCS Watt, about 10 of our  Performance BA Students were involved in the project, with special mention to great performances from  Martin Haddow and Suzanne Morrison, and if you look very carefully you will see that quite a few of the locations were shot at our UWS Ayr Campus. Does this make it sound like some sort of an amateur profit share film? Possibly, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. “The Crews” is professional in all but name, take it from me. David Hayman’s another cameo player in the mix, and he shares my opinion that this work must be seen by a wider audience, and all the professional actors involved are of the same mind.

The point is, will the industry listen? My hunch is that middle of the road  TV exec  types  will  probably look on “The Crews”  with mistrust . Why? Because this is a done deal. The talent is in place, the roles cast, the director decided, the first two episode shot and edited. Conventional Producers and Broadcasters( in Britain at least)  tend to defend and implement  their right to make major creative decisions over the heads of the real creatives at the cliff face. Will any of them have the stomach to  put their money and reputation  into something as left field as this which has been created by a bunch of  virtual unknowns from Glasgow? Only time will tell, but I for one won’t bet against Colin and Kolin  making it against all odds. All it will take is one broadcaster or commissioning editor, one cable company or distributor  with enough courage   to back them.

You can get an idea of the show from this interview on”  The Culture Show” , if you go to 17 mins and 15 Secs , or have a look at this trailer on Youtube.

If anyone deserves a break, it’s the  KColins and all those who backed them from the start.

If you want to support them, please forward this blog to anyone you think  may be able to  help get this on screen.

The UWS Crew. Anna Barclay, Suzanne Morrison, Garry Hogg,Kirsty Bagan, John Quinn & Evelyn Caputa


FILMCAMP 10 Glasgow at the GFT: FilmCamp 10 (Glasgow): Digital Innovation & Moving Image

Tuesday 28 September (2.00 – 6.00), free to attend

With a line-up of leading speakers and presentations from programme and film-makers, game developers and web designers and people behind emerging creative digital media technologies, this event explores the future of moving image, multi-platform content and the increasing convergence of technology. Aimed at freelancers in broadcast and digital industries, as well as final year students, programmed commissioners and editors, FilmCamp 10 is an event inspired by the spirit of BarCamp (www.barcamp.org) – a free, ‘un-conference’ designed to facilitate the sharing of ideas in an open environment. The event will end with an opportunity for networking and refreshments.

FilmCamp 10 has been developed by New Media Corp and GFT, in association with Glasgow: Scotland with Style.

Further information: http://www.gft.org.uk/content/default.asp?page=s61


Michael Cera, canadian actor (MACBA, Barcelona).

Why Not Cast Him?

"It's about this kid who has a sledge called 'Rosebud' "

Over the past five  years I calculate that I have workshopped, tutored or just plain stuck my nose into a minimum of  300 short film projects. The figure is probably nearer 500 but who’s counting. The point is that again and again  I have sat with  creative clients of some sort, in a creative environment of some sort,  in order  to change a wonderful idea that a writer is passionate about in their head,  into a short film which they hope will make the world just as passionate about it too. I call this the “alchemy of film ideas.” That magical fantastical part of  the creative process which has to do with transforming  the original nugget of creativity into a new , expanded and shareable film experience for the viewer. Put simply, if you had an idea that made you cry with emotion, that’s what you want the film to do to the audience. The same goes for  laughing,  smirking, or most importantly thinking! That’s why we want to make films in the first place, in order to share our emotions and thoughts with the world.

The trouble with this  alchemic process is that between that nugget of creativity you originally  had  and  the tear jerking movie you want to make, lies a whole prosaic , practical, TECHCNICAL  process of change, in which there are a  thousand chances to make decisions which will distort, or even destroy the final product. That’s why making good films or TV is so difficult. That’s why as William Goldman says “nobody knows anything” about what makes  films successful.1.

Goldman was talking about commerciality, of course, but I think it’s true on an aesthetic and creative level also. Experience has shown me that it’s virtually impossible to predict what the correct decisions should be at any stage in the process. Given this, it seems to me that the best  thing you can do is to take a series of steps which will help to minimise the distortion, and maximise the chances of your original idea surviving the brutal process of taking it  to the screen. Original ideas are not robust, and need nurturing , so if you want to become a successful film or TV writer, hold on to that idea you have , because its going to be a bumpy ride taking it all the way to Production. So what I plan to do is create a series of short blogs with a modest aim. How to limit the possibilities of failure by   making  as few mistakes as possible in bringing in your five minute film to life. Lesson 1. has to do with the simple  idea that  “Size Matters.”

Regular readers will know that I spent the weekend at Sabhal Mor Ostaig on Skye speaking to 30 new Screenwriters who are developing ideas through the FilmG Short films competition. As we trolled through the writers  ideas one by one, I realised that just like my previous 270 odd workshop clients, by far the greatest challenge which these tyro film makers  had in bringing their ideas to the screen was that the scale and size of their original idea was way out of line with the needs and demands of a five minute film.

People rarely have too few ideas for a short film. Time and time again, they have too MANY ideas for a short film. Of  the 29 short film ideas I was handed at the weekend, I wrote the letter “F” beside about half of them. “F” stands not for failure, but for Feature. Again and again, new writers have an idea that they think is about a short film, when in fact it is an idea for a feature. So my advice (caveat scriptor…what the heck do I know, you might be a genius ) is  forget about large casts of characters, complex backstories, groups of friends, convoluted  plots and love stories combined with gothic horrors.In my experience, a short film can just about take on board the problems, experiences inner thoughts  and development of one character. It can further just about cope with one mentor/friend/enemy/ character who can help the main protagonist to understand the need to change. And that is it. You want to show a guy who meets a girl, falls in love, loses her and then finally wins her back against  the exciting backdrop of the world tree felling championships? Great.Go get 3 million dollars and make the low budget  feature. You might even be able to cast  Michael Cera and Ellen Page, and raise 30 million on it,  but it  it certainly isn’t a short!

So, based on all those past workshops, and all those brilliant ideas,  the first piece of advise I have  in scriptwriting a short film is, SIZE MATTERS. Small is beautiful.Keep the idea simple, keep the protagonist’s journey short, keep the cast list down to two, and if you can’t express the totality of the film in three sentences, then it’s not a short film.

Next time I’ll talk about structure in screenplays. Do we need it, does it matter, and what the heck does Aristotle know about movies anyway?

"Hey, my mother loves my script!" FilmG Creatives on Skye

Here’s a fine example of a short film which knows it’s limitations, and explores it’s subject matter with emotion, and economy. Its called Historia De Un Letre . Is it any good? I don’t know, but it made me cry, and in five minutes, that’s not a bad outcome.   Enjoy.

1.Goldman, William (1996). Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood (2nd rev. ed.). Abacus. ISBN 034910705X.


CREW CALL

Whodathunkit Productions are currently looking for a full crew for their debut feature Humble Players to begin shooting at the end of July. The shoot will be taking place on weekends only for a period of 8 weeks in and around the Glasgow / Cumbernauld area. Although no payment can be made available catering will be provided.

This feature will be taken to film festivals internationally in 2011. An excellent chance to expand your cv and have your work seen by an international audience.

The following key positions are available (please note, while having own equipment is advantageous, it is not essential)

Camera Operators
Sound Engineers
Editor
Composer
Make up
Production Assistant

Any interested parties should email a cv, along with any links to examples of their work and a little information about themselves to

whodathunkit@live.co.uk

Could all interested parties also state in their email whether they possess their own equipment and the specifications of that equipment – Again this will not guarantee automatic interview, merely to allow the company time to source any relevant equipment for successful candidates.
Interviews will be taking place in Mid July.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Derek & James, Whodathunkit Productions
CONTACT derekbamer@hotmail.com

If you are successful in becoming part of the production, please let me know.

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