Friday, October 24, 2014

Telling Your Story on Film

In the last post I spent some time thinking about audience and the writing process. Assuming that because you are reading this post, you must be interested in making a film. So far in this series I have talked about thinking visually to tell a story on film and remembering to pitch the level of your script to a mass audience. That is not to say you should not write a fairly specialist documentary film, for an academic audience. Such a project would by nature be very specialized and would contain relevant technical terminology and discipline specific jargon. However, for the purposes of this blog, I will focus on projects aimed at a broad, general audience and in either case, the project should tell a story.

So with this post I want to write about the process of planing and crafting your story.  It might be helpful to explore the way my writing partner Andrew Devenny and I approached the scripting for America From the Ground Up. To begin with I created to project to tell a unique version of the American story typically taught in an undergraduate course. We initially planned to go up to the end of the American Civil War, but several compelling reasons led us to abandon that plan. Some of our reasons were artistic, and others purely practical. First and foremost, due to budgetary and time constraints we were unable to film in locations out West.  We also wanted to maintain the focus on the frontiers of Colonial New France.  I think that in the end the project was much stronger because of that decision. So in the end it was decided that the Civil War story would fit better in series 2 where we will focus on the American West, thereby allowing us to explore lesser known narratives of the Civil War in the West.

Which leads me to another point: every project has its strengths, constraints and these come in all types. Play to your strengths when you plan your story. In our case, Andrew has a PhD in History and I have one in Archaeology.  I have a background in Public History having worked in the museums sector. Andrew is a very good creative writer, better than I am at least. Our Director, Dan Bracken has significant experience in audio and video production. Dan was helpful in the process because as a non-specialist he was able to spot weaknesses in our story.  Use the strengths of your human assets.

Working through the project I learned that you write your script four times. Each at a different phase of the project.

  1. When you develop your initial story
  2. When you draft your shooting script
  3. In the field when you conduct your interviews
  4. In the editing suite

No one phase of the scripting process is more important to the final project than another. However, you have to be flexible and understand that change is necessary. In the field the people you interview will invariably give you more to work with if you ask them open ended, leading questions and allow them to reply in their own words: to tell their story if you will. As an aside, I hate scripted responses from an interviewee. Why bother with them if you already know what you want to say? But I digress... When all the filming is complete you head back to the studio and piece the video and images together. This is where the critical phase begins. It is in the studio that you craft the final narrative. Be flexible and use the best stuff you have, even if that means tweaking your story.

More next time.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you Monte for sharing these insights. I've always heard of the "pre-shoot" script and the "post-shoot" script. But you're exactly right that a documentary script is an organic and constantly changing document based on the new information gathered throughout the filmmaking process. Thanks again for sharing and best of luck in your future filmmaking endeavors!