It’s that time again when we gather together the most esteemed of our filmmaking experts and put them in the spotlight to answer your questions about our noble pursuit.
Filmmaking isn’t an exact science since the advancements in technology and ways we can capture and share or footage and the methods in which they are edited and presented are changing constantly, so it is natural that these changes will be a mystery to those of us out of the loop. Conversely, there are those tried and tested traditional practices that will never go away so learning about them from the past masters is always a boon too.
Whether you have a query about filming, sound recording, editing, or post production techniques out panel of brainiacs should have an answer for you and maybe open up a debate on the subject if there is a difference of opinion or procedure, which should be of benefit to all of us. We do ask however that your questions are contained to the subject of filmmaking and not about computers as seems to be the way these discussions head which ends up in heated arguments over what is a subjective topic.
These sessions are designed to help and not humiliate so remember there is so such thing as a silly question – we all had to start learning from the beginning. If you don’t ask, you don’t learn.
So get your thinking caps on, or make a list if you have to, and be at the meeting on Tuesday with your questions with you where our panel will do their best to answer them for you.
Time for another project for you all to flex your creative muscles and challenge your creative skills, and this one is a real challenge!
While the title suggests that a the end result is to be a guessing game for the audience, there is a twist to the concept – the film you will be making must be about ANOTHER club member, not yourself!! That would be too easy of course! 😉
The aim for this project is to encourage more interaction within the club members, perhaps bringing together people who wouldn’t normally work together, allowing them to get to know each other a bit better as well as encourage and engender a sense of teamwork which might continue with future projects, a positive boon for anyone who requires a helping hand with their films but is afraid to ask.
So, take a look around the club room when you next attend a meeting and see who you think might make for an interesting and ambiguous biography you can present to and hopefully baffle the rest of the members at the club meeting set for TUESDAY 30TH AUGUST.
Thanks for reading and good luck everyone!
At the August 2nd club meeting Jane expounded a little on her concept for this project. One idea she proffered was to film this like the “Mystery Guest” round on the long running TV quiz show A Question Of Sport, where somebody is filmed from obtuse and awkward angles, with close ups of their hands and extreme close-up of their less unique features like their ears, chin and such for the rest of us to play “Guess who?”.
Sticking with the TV show theme, how about a look round someone’s house a’la Through the Keyhole (with full permission of course)?Further to that, I suspect one could also use the technique they use on news and documentaries to hide someone’s identity – shooting them a a silhouette and distorting their voice. Or maybe you could write a poem or an ambiguous narration set to baby and archive photos or the like (with permission from your subject).
It’s brain cells at the ready for the next club meeting as we are required to bandy around ideas for films to make and enter for this year’s North vs. South competition!
The theme is “Out of the Blue” which is one of those wonderfully nebulous titles that lends itself to a myriad of possibilities and interpretations. And with the many creative minds we have in OVFM there is plenty of fertile ground to be cultivated into some great film ideas.
Similarly OVFM has the opportunity to work with a living breathing dinosaur! Well sort of… Our former chairmen Chris Coulson is now handler to a T-Rex named Dexter and has offered to allow our cameras to capture Dexter on film! If you haven’t guessed by now this means that we need some script ideas to give Dexter something to do whilst on camera.
Therefore tonight is a double whammy of brainstorming ideas and with two different subjects to ponder – or maybe we could combine them into one? (Hint: perhaps someone already has? 😉 ) – we should be in for a productive night!
Here we go with the second part of my Celtx demo. If you missed the first part or need a refresher, you can find it HERE.
On with the lesson!
WRITING YOUR SCRIPT
Presumably you have already written a synopsis and a treatment (a scene by scene telling of the basic story) and have your characters and other essential information all worked out and added to your Screenplay catalogue (such as props, locations, cast, etc) on your Celtx project which means we are ready to go.
The first thing to remember is that Celtx works on a predictive basis, meaning it is programmed to recognise and suggest which instructions you want to use next (eg: dialogue, action, scene heading, etc). This is very handy as it saves you much time in typing out names as well as guiding through the various stages of the scripting process.
Always keep an eye at the bottom left hand corner of the workspace as this tells you what function will appear if you are to press the “Enter” key or the “TAB” key.
To begin you’ll notice in the top right hand corner of your workspace, the action tab should automatically be set to “Scene Heading”.
Click in the document writing space and a grey box will appear. If your story is set in the outdoors you’ll want the “Exterior” note abbreviated to “EXT.”; conversely if it is set indoors your want “Interior” or “INT.”.
Click in the grey box and type the first letter of your location and it will offer either and E for “EXT.” or an I for “INT.”
Then type your location description after it followed by a “–“ then if it is “DAY” or “NIGHT” :
Hit enter and it will move to the next line. Notice the Action tab will now read “Action”. Start typing the first scene of your story.
When you come to a character’s name, it is possible that you will need to highlight them then click on the “Notepad” Icon on the small box at the left hand side of the workspace, select “Character” from the list then click “Add”.
This will highlight the character’s name in red to mark their first appearance in the script and will store it for the catalogue for writing dialogue.
When you have written your passage, you will notice in the option of continuing writing or if you press “Action” you can start a new scene, or you can press “Tab” to the first stage of writing the dialogue which is “Character”.
Type the first letter of the character you want and the full name will appear in a dropdown box.
Press “Enter” and you are ready type your dialogue. If you want, you can add a parenthetical (or a “wryly” to give them their professional nickname) by pressing the TAB key once.
If you don’t need a “wryly” then press TAB again and it will revert back to Dialogue.:
Just continue this process to flit between action, dialogue, characters (remember the names should always be capitalised) and scene headings. Usually the Scene Heading option will appear from the “action” mode, when it believes you have come to an end of a scene. Just hit “Enter” to start a new scene and follow the previous steps.
You can also add shots into your script by clicking on the action box at the top and selecting “Shots” (N.B – you will also find “transitions” and “text” options here too but I’ve not yet used them so I’ll skip them for now).
This again works on a predictive basis so all of the shots are stored so you just need to type the first letter for the options to appear:
While it will take some time, you will get used to the tab/enter way of working and build up a steady rhythm which I hope you will find much easier and convenient than having to keep stopping to change idents, capitalising and typing names and other formatting nightmares.
That’s the basics for writing your script. Next time I’ll look at some of the additional features that makes Celtx has to offer to make this a more inclusive experience as well as some of the functions for an aesthetically professional looking script.
If you have any questions please reply to this thread and I or anyone else familiar with this software will try to answer them for you.
N.B – Celtx has changed a lot since this article was first posted. In 2016, they moved their operations to a cloud based service to encourage online support and collaboration, as well as being able to push their subscription services since the basic version of the software was free. However, the free version of the software is still available from external providers, with the tiny caveat of needing to run it whilst connected to the internet for the features to work.
For a beginner and the basic level we are going to be working at, what the free version provides enough to cover this. And hopefully, the software hasn’t changed *that* much that the fundamental principles outlined in these articles aren’t still relevant.
Further to the recent Celtx demo I gave at the club meeting on the 12th of November, I figured that since there was a lot of information to impart at half an hour wasn’t long enough – plus my awkward presentation skills probably made it seem like a load of garbled nonsense – it would be more helpful to add a blow-by-blow guide to getting started with Celtx here on this site, for people to refer to whenever the need arises.
As before I will be concentrating to the absolute basics as there is a lot to take in and a lot of the functions available in Celtx probably won’t be used by many of us anyway.
On the front page you’ll see this download button:
Once the file has downloaded, run the .exe file and Celtx will be installed on your PC.
When you open Celtx you will see this front page with the various script options available to you:
Obviously we will be using the “Film” template but if you ever fancy ago at writing a radio or TV show or a stage play the option is there for you. There are also demo versions of each of the options for you to peruse to see how Celtx works and what it can do for you.
Once you’ve opened the new document you need to set the format so got to “Script” in the toolbar and select “Format Options”:
The best option is to select “A4” for paper size (as the US setting doesn’t print correctly) and you can select to have “one”, “both” or “none” of the scene numbers and dialogue numbers displayed. “Pagination” simply adds a dotted line at the bottom of every page of the script page to show you when writing where the page ends, This again is a personal option:
Now, to save time – assuming you already have your story and characters all ready worked out, you can “add” all your characters to the catalogue at the start of the process for convenience sake.
To do this go to the “Project Library” box on the left hand side of the screen and select “Add Item”:
Then select “Character” from this list and simply enter the name of the character(s):
You can do this other items as well at this point if you so wish or you can add them as you go along.
Now, you are ready to begin writing your script which we will look at in the next instalment of this guide. Click HERE for that.
Over the past couple of years our entries for the annual North vs South competition, as well as the Coaching Evenings, has seen an emergence of club members starting to write their own scripts, which is encouraging as our drama/comedy output is somewhat dwarfed in relation to holiday, documentary and sundry films that don’t rely on a scripted structure.
However – there is always a “however” – it is evident that some extra guidance is needed on the actual mechanics of scriptwriting and more importantly the formatting of the scripts to make them better looking and easier for others to understand and follow. This latter facet may not seem important on the surface but trust me, it is.
Therefore we bring you this evening dedicated to exploring the world of scriptwriting further, looking at structure, characters, dialogue, description and direction notes and answering any questions you may have. And to make matters worse, your’s truly (yes me – the world’s worst public orator) will attempt to bring you a live demonstration of the wondrous (and free) script writing tool Celtx (which I have promoted elsewhere on this site) which hopefully will enlighten you to the benefits of using this tool over MS Word and encourage you all (well, some of you) to give it ago and produce a professional looking script for your future productions.
Hope to see you all there (or not, so I don’t have to embarrass myself in front everyone)!
A short time ago, Chris called on members of the club to try and film more drama. I thought therefore, that I’d put together some of the essentials that go into coming up with a story and writing it for production based upon my own experiences. While I’ve not had anything filmed professionally, I’ve always written for enjoyment purposes and have something like twenty-five years of scripts, novels and entire RPG environments sitting in my files at home.
While I’m not going to claim screen-writing divinity (let’s face it, very few people other than myself have even read my scripts), I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that my techniques were supported and reinforced by legends and tutors like Elliot Grove and Syd Field when attending their courses and visiting lectures, and my submissions of ‘homework’ were praised.
What I have not done in this article is delve into the deeper aspects of character development and such like – that’s for another article. This one is just about the story as a whole.
Types of document
You can probably get away with an idea scribbled on the back of a cigarette packet, but lets be honest: when an industry starts to use standard documents, formulated and improved over decades, there is usually a reason. They help planning, understanding and ultimately, quality of the final production.
There are essentially three types of document (not production) that you may write – these may be named differently in different countries, but their underlying content is consistent:
The idea can be as short as a single line, or an entire document containing facts and figures and intended purely to remind you about the fleeting, elusive and easily forgotten thought. For these, it helps if you carry a dedicated notepad around with you. This is the type of thing that you write down at 2:30am after eating too much cheese and pickled-onions.
The treatment is a first step in putting together a concise explanation of the idea and what you would intend to happen in the production. It has no waffle and tends to be from three to seven (an extremely long one) pages in length, stating very clearly what happens without details. It is usually designed to have impact, so exclamation marks and other attention grabbers are common. This is the type of document that you would give to a studio executive who intends to read your own and two-thousand others on the same day.
The script is where you bring it all together and expand on the actual happenings that take place in your treatment. Here, you ‘slow down’ and spell it all out in visual description of events (not details, you are not writing a novel) and all of the dialogue. An script formatted to industry standards equates to about one minute of screen time per page. You do not include instructions to actors (even parenthesis, which are accepted in some schools of thought, tend to be blocked out by actors before reading the script) or the cameraman*.
* Take these last two with a pinch of salt for our environment. In the amateur and independent world, you may be the actor, DoP, director and producer so you may actually have jumped straight to a shooting script for your own benefit right from word go.
It should be noted that this does not include the various type of script that you may write, each of which has a different purpose for different types of film crew in actually planning for the final production (e.g. script, shooting script, sound script etc.)
For writing, I’d advise looking at a dedicated script writing tool rather than a word processor. I have used Word, Open Office and Pages in the past (this latter actually has a dedicated ‘script’ template, so it was very good), but at the end of the day a dedicated tool is a dedicated tool. They tend to offer lots of value added advantages over a more generic product. To get started, I’d always advise Celtx (pronounced Kell-Tex – it’s a accronym for Crew, Equipment, Location and XML) as it is desktop, mobile and web based, but most importantly, free.
Story and Plot
At a technical level there is a huge gulf between the idea of ‘story’ and ‘plot’ and yet these are two words which incorrectly get used interchangeably. When a cinema-goer comes out of a disappointing film and claims that the director ‘lost the plot’, what they usually mean is that they lost the story – the fact that the film started, had a middle and then ended with a conclusion means that the plot was actually [probably] OK.
The plot is the easy bit – this is essentially the actual words that you write down in your script including visual events, sounds that are heard, dialogue that is spoken etc. This is also the bit which utilises the traditional concept that you even learn in school: it must have a beginning, a middle and an end. Unless you are going really art-house, pretty much every film will have an understandable plot. The plot must also however, be the carriage for the…
The story can be far more elusive – the story is what the film is really about, not just what is happening on screen. Using a comic metaphor, the story is ‘boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl meets someone else, boy temporarily wins girl back before sacrificing himself for girl’s happiness with the other boy’ (or, if you a Red Dwarf aficionado, swap out boy with large green blob). There are literally hundreds of films with this same story (er, thousands?): some absolutely abysmal, but also some classics (there is a little known film called Casablanca which comes to mind here). They may all have the same story, but they are all still different because the plot tells the same story in different ways.
Just because your film tells a story however, does not mean that it needs to be easy to see. Some elusive stories get the audience returning year after year – they enjoyed the film, they don’t know why they keep going back, but they do: perhaps it is because each time they are getting ever so slightly closer to the truth (“I see something different each time”). I remember Elliot Grove admitting in regards to one film he used in a course example, that it took him fifteen years to eventually see one particular story.
Without trying to be too insulting to certain parts of the world, the final cut of a film often reflects the ability to actually see the story by fee-paying audiences. Films in Europe / the UK can be far deeper than those of the United States for example, where test screenings often get negative results because the audience does not understand the underlying story (e.g. at the last minute, the classic SF film Blade Runner had to be given a Phillip Marlow style VO to explain what was going on because of the reaction of US test audiences – you can’t get a more blatant story-assist than that).
Conversely, action films, while having a simple story (girl is kidnaped, boy invades small country, boy kills everything that moves, boy saves girl) relies almost completely on plot because the story is being worn on its sleeve.
The Four Tools
There are four tools which are used to craft an effective screenplay:
Dialogue (what the characters say)
Actions (of characters etc.)
Settings (the environment, and what environments do)
The screenwriters job is to take a combination of these four tools and stich them together in a seamless manner. Imbalance the stitching (e.g. have a character do or say something inappropriate to the setting) confuses the audience and reduces the effectiveness of the screenplay.
The Four Social Stages
Similarly, there are four social stages in which a story can be set. A warning should be issued here however, as while these four are the generally recognised social stages, what they actually compose of can vary between screenwriters. Some recognise the stage as purely consisting of social interaction (e.g. the social interactions of village life are obviously very different from those of a bustling city), but others also include levels of technology (e.g. a man hunting in the wilderness with a long-bow, would suddenly become City simply because he is carrying a mobile telephone…)
e.g. a man, the only hope, brings a divine revelation to society. A typical ‘superhero’ character story.
e.g. a small environment. One speaker, with social boundaries. The classic hero is an outsider who is considered a threat to everyday life. The hero, after completing the story, usually leaves alone.
e.g. a wide range of social classes. The hero tends to be ‘average joe’ who encounters or witnesses an injustice, and who then goes on to fight for justice.
e.g. often the hero is an anti-hero who likes to go unnoticed. The hero witnesses a crime by a person in power, or is alternately a bumbling and inept hero who stumbles into something he shouldn’t. A city environment, but where things have started to go wrong, possibly before a total social breakdown and loop back to Wilderness.
Wilderness, Village and City (and sometimes ‘Town’, a mix of the two) are reasonably easy to understand. The Oppressive City begins where the city leaves off and some elements of paranoia, untrustworthy officials and conspiracy begins. It could be argued that Chinatown, set in the 1930/40 period is City based, while the use of corrupt city officials means that it is actually Oppressive City.
The social stage may seem irrelevant, but it again comes back to what the characters are doing and saying, and the effects of the environment upon them. Have any of these aspects not meet the defined social stage (without good or explained reasons), and confusion ensues once again. At the same time, mix social stages (e.g. placing one hero into a different social stage) correctly and new stories arise – the key is believability.
A standard approach in trying to establish the premise of a story, is to try the ’25 word’ approach (this is not exact, it really just means ‘short’). This dates back to the US TV guide which essentially stated that if you can’t summarise your program in 25 words or less, you would not be included in the TV guide listings.
The basic (loose) format for writing your Premise under these conditions is:
This is a story about [who, or an occupation?] who [what they want to do, the goal] but [the obstacle] – [the final outcome].
For example, if we were try and summarise Casablanca under these conditions, it might go something like this.
This is the story about a bar owner in Casablanca who wants to sit out the war quietly but whose life is turned upside down by a returning old lover hunted by the Nazis – his only thought is to get her to safety.
My view is that this actually says far too much for a TV guide (remember our discussion on story and plot – we are talking about the US here) and gives away a good part of the story, but it is a good jumping off point in the creation of a story. Using this example, we can examine each section of the statement and write up a list of all of the conditions which would need to be in effect for these things to exist or progress.
For example, see how many of these are answered by your previous knowledge of the film, but are questions that you might logically try to answer based upon this short premise:
This bar owner – what’s he like? What is is history? Does he have friends, colleagues, employees?
What is he doing in Casablanca? What brought him here? Is he running from something?
Why does he want to sit out the war quietly? Is he a coward, a deserter, a criminal? Why isn’t he being patriotic?
What prompted the old lover to reappear? Why is she being hunted? Who is she, what is she, what is her history with the hero?
Why does he want to get her to safety if she is a past love? Does he still love her? Is that in fact why he is in Casablanca?
Setting wise, what is it like in Casablanca at this time? Are there any key historical issues to consider? Are there elements of the story which are only plausible (or are implausible) in this setting?
As you can see, it does not take much to get the ball rolling, yet every one of these questions is directly related to a single element of the premise statement.
What came first, the story or the plot?
Almost exclusively in amateur or independent screenwriting, the story comes first. It is the story which the plot is ultimately intending to tell with each of the events that occur to the characters.
There are situations however, where you will have some of the plot, or at least a clear definition of the environment, already established into which you must shoe-horn a story. In these situations, it is usually because you are writing into a defined story environment (e.g. a long running TV show) , or an actual, factual set of historical events (e.g. Blitz and Bananas). Regardless, you need some sort of ‘bible’ – these are detailed documents in the former case, and simple historical fact in the latter.
What do I write?
The big question which really comes down to you. There are two points I’d make about this however:
First, there is no such thing as writers block. It’s all about confidence. Put something down on the page, even if you don’t use any of it in the final piece. The important part is to get a page that has something on it – it will gradually build as you start to think.
Second, don’t be afraid to experiment. You’ll have two dozen ideas before something takes shape that seems feasible – try the final exercise and see what you come up with.
Write about something you know…
Never was a more misleading statement ever made. To quote a Raindance promotional paragraph, “If everyone only wrote about something they knew, we’d be inundated in teenage angst stories…oh, hello Hollywood“.
While the statement is true, you’d be amazed what you actually know. Don’t artificially restrict your boundaries to your immediate experiences (which is the big, misleading result of this statement). Take a look over your past, your skilled knowledge, your hobbies, the skills of your friends and family which you have been peripherally exposed to and expand. It’s amazing how much you do ‘know’ even without needing to do a few months intense research.
Get the newspaper, preferably something local with people stories rather than the headline that another European country is about to go bankrupt.
Go through it quickly, page by page, and ring people stories regardless of their importance.
Choose two stories and try to combine them – you can do this by swapping characters, events and locations.
Can you add an additional element which ties the two together, and starts to build a story that you film as a drama?
An example from a course I took used the London Evening Standard. One story was about a business man who was killed by a lorry driver using the hard-shoulder while he was changing a wheel; the other was about a dairy closing down in Dartford. We ultimately came up with this:
This is a story about a recently redundant lorry driver who deliberately runs down his ex-boss at the side of the road but is wracked with personal guilt while the police hunt him – how does he uphold his own morals while caring for his young family?
Links to Craig’s other articles from the Raindance Technical Certificate course :
I’m always on the lookout for ideas for films, and we’ve all seen a number of brilliant short 1 minute joke films, by Basil & Pete, and by Barbara Walker, to name a couple of our filmmakers.
Now I’m thinking, what’s the next step up from a “1 minute joke to a film”? My thoughts are leading me in the direction of short stories. Colin Jones is a whizz at writing short stories from a filmmakers point of view, and you only have to read his latest story for the coaching evenings to see his particular talent. Unfortunately Colin’s back catalogue isn’t freely available to browse, although I’m sure you could ask him for ideas.
This morning, I’ve been traversing the entire internet looking at short stories. Some of them have been really interesting, and inspiring, and others have involved police cars, or spaceships, or large crowds, or simply impossible locations. So it’s not that straightforward to write a story that can be made into a short zero-budget film!
Here’s a list of criteria that I’ve thought about off the top of my head for writing a short story that’s idea for us. Maybe we can approach a writing club or something to write us a story?
Short Story Criteria
less than three main characters
simple every day locations, like a lounge or a residential street, and as few as possible.
no exotic props – Ferraris or Spaceships are generally difficult to source (unless you have one, and are offering it for our use)
no exotic costumes, (Also, unless you have one and are offering it)
short story, less than five minutes in length – 5 minutes would take approximately a day to film.
long conversational dialogue is great, but don’t think that’s all we want! (unless it’s VERY good)
I think that should be enough information for a story writer to work with?
Can you think of any other criteria that would help a story writer?
PS, if this topic has inspired you, don’t forget, the club still has a SIGNIFICANT FUND OF CASH** to offer anyone who would like a budget to make a film.
**come on…. of course there are *some* stipulations!
Here are some links to a few interesting things I’ve found.
Greetings dear readers (and you less expensive ones). For the benefit of those who don’t know me, as I’m a relative newcomer to OVFM, my name is Lee, the writer/director of the multi-award winning film “Writers Block”, and the big ugly brute in black who is usually blocking the view of short people at the club meetings. For those of you who do know me, I hope the nightmares have stopped now.
Anyhoo, I write this article to raise awareness of a wonderful piece of software that maybe of some benefit to the scriptwriters of OVFM, which enables one to create a professional looking, multifunctional script. This fantastic little programme is called Celtx (pronounced either Kell-tex or Sell-tex as is your wont) and best of all it is FREE!! (that got your attention didn’t it?)
So, what can Celtx do? What can’t it do? Well, it can’t cook, fly to the moon or make you more attractive to women (in my experience at least) but it does make the whole scriptwriting process a much easier one. First off, it automatically formats your script to whichever medium you are writing film (eg: film, TV, radio, stage play, etc.) which spares you the time and agony of setting up indents and markers in Word.
Lengthy character descriptions in your main script can be removed as there is a separate function to create a complete character biography – which also applies to props, scenery, settings, etc. You can create a storyboard which can be viewed as a slideshow, while a newly added sketch feature allows you to lay out the blocking for each shot/scene.
Want to add small computerised Post-It notes to the script? You can do that. Need to work out your shooting schedule or keep a record of your cast and crew? You can do that too. And while you can export your scripts in PDF format for others to read, if they also have Celtx you can share the entire project – storyboards, notes and all – with them.
It may sound too good to be true but trust me it isn’t. Granted, many of projects created by OVFM may not require the use of all of the features Celtx has to offer but they are certainly great to have regardless. And even if it is used solely for scriptwriting this remains an indispensable programme to have at your disposal, which has been endorsed by no less an august organisation than the BBC!
Now the important bit: where to get hold of this miracle software. That’s easy: it’s free to download at www.celtx.com (although you will need to sign up to the site first but that too is FREE!) where you will also find plenty of information about the software and its many functions.
Thanks for reading and I hope this information has been of some use to you.