I have been taught to plan before doing. I am not claiming to always follow this philosophy, as I often surrender to impulsions; call me human. In those moments when I try to apply myself, however, I analyse, map, plan and only then execute; call me lazy, if I have to do something I would rather do it right and do it once. It might be because I was raised in Switzerland, where everything is discussed in great length before implementation. Or maybe, because my parents were and are involved in particle physics, and I have somehow learned the value of preparation before experimentations (you should see how prepared my father is when cooking, it’s a mixture of science, history and art).
Most, if not all, of my writing teachers and scriptwriting lecturers taught me to structure and plan my written work. The first sentence I have typed in this blog entry is now somewhere down bellow towards the conclusion. I wrote a short paragraph to explore the central idea of this post, rearranged it and broke it down into elements serving as the main points for the few paragraphs you are about to read. Planning gives me comfort. But, too much planning often leads to not ever writing. Is my over-planning the reason that script is still unwritten?
I often think about concepts. I hate myself for it. Concepts are interesting, but they are rarely compelling. I have had a couple stuck in my head for years, failing to truly understand what the concept could really and meaningfully be about. What is the theme that could be served by the concept? If I were to transform my understanding of a theme in a formula, it would look something like this: Mm= xT * C. The meaning(M) of a movie(m) is the variable(x) multiplied by the theme(T), multiplied by the commentary on the theme(C). Or in other words, it’s a film about something that says something about something.
What I’m trying to get to is the importance, in my eyes, of exploring a theme that will find its relevance in the audience minds. Whether it is a commentary on society or simply an exploration of subjects generating strong emotional reactions does not matter. It needs to matter to myself and others around me. A theme worth exploring.
I believe the theme and the central characters need to be strongly related. The characters need to have needs and wants, of course, and fears that can be exploited, indeed, but what makes a character ‘alive’ still eludes me most of the time. I try to stay away from archetypes but still create a character that people can relate to, be fearful of or simply be curious about.
These characters are one of the main reasons we watch movies and other video content, as reality TV and the cult of personalities can show. The plot should be generated from the character, hence my problem with working with concepts that can bind you to specific plot points and twists (I’m not disregarding that approach, it is simply not of interest for what I would like to achieve). The character arc, be it of growth, change, recovery or damnation, needs to drive the plot in a strong yet hidden way. The theme and the plot can be related or unrelated as your wish. Ask Mr Spielberg how many different ways of exploring a father and son relationship he can find?
The plot needs to achieve two things in order to keep the audience attention: it needs to entertain their intellect and manipulate their emotions. During my undergraduate studies I became obsessed with structure and the effect of timing. Everybody knows there is nothing worse than an amazing albeit poorly timed joke. I need to plan my beats, my character progression, so I can plant the seeds in early scenes. There is a need to understand whether the rhythm is right, where to place the comedy, where to place the drama. It all needs to lead to the right moment. I like endings. I know the destination is not as important as the journey. But, I can’t help it. I like great endings, twist or no twist.
It is important to know where I am going with my writing. For example, the ending of this post was written before its introduction. I need to know the ending before I can think about the beginning. It needs to deliver on the character’s arc and on the central theme. It needs to spark the discussion for after the film, or simply provide ‘satisfaction’, allowing the characters to share their achievements with the people that matter to them, in an emotionally rewarding way. So many possible endings, and we all like them for different reasons. What to do? How to solve it? Where to go with all this information?
We sometime hide behind the level of perfectionism a script requires to even stand a chance in the ‘expensive’ world of the film industry. I procrastinate. Play with index cards. Play with my web browser. I find it difficult to commit to the page until I finally totally believe in the project; until I understand it. Why spend hours doing something I find painful (I hate typing) only to erase it later.
I love storytelling. There is a search for a script to have a theme that would resonate in the audience. Something that would make them reconsider the way the see the world around them, big or small. We seek to have it inhabited by characters that are alive and meaningful, usual people doing unusual things with a strong internal driving force. Characters with whom we can embark on an immersive plot that would keep the audience attention and guide them through an emotional ride and a game of riddles. I dream of finding a perfect ending, something special for that moment the audience will keep and walk away with; the beginning of their discussion. Finally, I want my script to celebrate or at least emphasise what is good in us, in life; something that makes us feel alive and happy to be so.
I struggle with scriptwriting. What I need is dedication, self-discipline and perseverance. I need to feel inspired by Vittorio Alfieri, who got himself tied to a chair and had half his head shaven to ensure he would not leave the room and continue to write. “Volli, sempre volli, fortissimamente volli!” I want, always want, strongly want to write these stories. I need to sit down and type, get a first draft out and then get going with reviews and redrafts. I need to switch my internet connection off, unplug the TV, leave my phone in the car and lock myself in the study. Yes, ok now we can start.
I wonder what the cat is up to. I better go check.