MA Writing for Script & Screen – Reflective Blog Week 7

The task is to reflect on the creative work done this week on our short film projects.

As I began to write draft 2 of my screenplay Death Penalty, about a corrupt football underworld, I realised that I had lost my 3 act structure.

I put this down to having adopted the new 19 step approach, which omits a midpoint, but focuses on development of the inner and outward journeys of the protagonist and choreographs each journey separately. I decided to go back to my step outline and 19 step journey and rewrite each, keeping the choreography of the 19 step structure but fitting that structure into 3 acts as taught by Michael Hague. I was partly inspired to do this after watching Shark Tale.

Shark Tale (Screenplay by Michael J. Wilson and Rob Letterman), like 127 Hours (screenplay Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy) adheres to perfect 3 act structure. The two films match in structural form minute for minute, as follows:

Act 1: 15 mins

Act 2: 60 mins

Act 3: 15 mins

Both have very clear midpoints which mirror the Act 3 climax. In 127 Hours the midpoint is Aaron’s consideration of using the knife. In the climax he uses the knife. Shark Tale’s midpoint is where Lenny tells Oscar he is a liar and asks him what would happen when everyone found out the truth? In the climax Oscar admits to everyone he is a liar and tells the truth. John Yorke calls the midpoint ‘a moment of supreme significance.’ (Into the Woods p58).

Further development of my script changed one of my protagonist’s opponents to a Chinese national. I received peer feedback which asked me what year was my story set it, as there is a video game element where a VR goalkeeper, which I described as a hologram, was able to physically interact in the real world. So I decided to set the short film in a dystopian future where this science might exist (a little like the creatures the games masters introduce into the arena in The Hunger Games). Actually, the feature script the short story is taken from is set in a dystopian future.

As a consequence I changed one of my opponents to Chinese speaking. The reason for this is 1) to be diverse and 2) China is a huge market, for both investment and distribution. I am also toying with the idea to changing my main antagonist from male to female as I’m feeling a little hypocritical, constantly protesting for more female lead characters yet, when the opportunity presents itself to write a short film, all of my characters are male. (Again, in the feature film version, Kora, the lead character is female.) However, in the short film I may keep the lead as male as I want to show that young men are victims of labor trafficking as well.

I now have two or three foreign languages in my short film. The young male lead, Isaac, is from Eritrea and speaks Italian and Tigrinya (the language of Tigray). (Eritrea was colonized by Italy and Italian remains a spoken language). One opponent speaks Chinese. The main antagonist speaks Russian, Punjabi and Chinese.

I began by writing the opponent’s lines in Chinese using google translate. Then I realised that if we were to do a table read of the script, unless we could read Chinese, we wouldn’t be able to say the lines. Even if in the film itself I didn’t want the lines to have subtitles (because I wanted the audience to empathise with the confusion the language barrier caused in the protagonist) it meant a table read would be impossible. The subtitles decision could be made later, with the director. So I googled how to write dialogue in a foreign language. I found this page. It gives different options on ‘how to’ write foreign languages in screenplays with examples.

To sum up, then, I didn’t yet go back and rewrite the 19 step outline with a midpoint. I did look for the midpoint on the page in my screenplay, and found that the midpoint was in the (almost) perfect position already. 17 page screenplay, the midpoint should be half way down page 8. There it was, my midpoint, halfway down page 8!

I had been very attempted to start again, combining the 19 step paradigm with 3 act structure. It would have been a lot of work. Perhaps it was time to trust my process. I had put in the initial work, developed the story from premise through synopsis, treatment, inner / outer journey / want / need and 19 step structure, so maybe I just had to trust that that early work would pay off, and trust that the screenplay would hit all the beats in the right places. Because when I watch a movie like Shark Tale or 127 Hours and see how precise the structure is to the minute, I think to myself, I want to do that. No, I have to do that. I need to do that. After all, if I can’t write a perfectly structured short film in 10 or 15 minutes, how can I do it in 90?

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