I was looking at the cool glass award statue that was delivered yesterday. It was for winning “Best Story” at a recent film festival. Since I’m always interested in how the award winners achieved recognition, I thought I’d share a few thoughts about creating a good story for film.
If you listen to how a guy tells a story at your next party, you’ll hear him share it cinematically. This is partially due to the times we’re in, but it’s more than that. We tend to jump from one thing to another as we share our thoughts. We piece together a series of individual things we noticed and share it in a like fashion.
Maybe he told it like this…
“The sun was really bright. I could barely see through the glare on my windshield. All of a sudden this guy bounced off of the hood of my car. He rolled into the other lane. The woman in the oncoming car slammed on her brakes and stopped within inches of hitting the guy. Then the man got up and walked away. I had no clue who he was or where he came from.”
This story was put together by taking different shots or things noticed, and stringing them together so the juxtaposition of the elements told a story. In fact, if the story were broken a part, you could create a cinematic shot list:
- Bright sun
- Glare on windshield
- Guy bouncing off hood of car
- Guy rolls into oncoming traffic
- Woman in oncoming car
- Brakes being slammed on
- Car stopping inches from guy
- Guy stands
- Guy walks away
There can certainly be additional shots added to the list depending on the director’s desire to show cutaways or reaction shots. He can also be creative in the angles of the shots or in the equipment used to capture the shots. However, the most important element is that the story was visual or cinematic.
By creating a cinematic story, we are telling it in a way that anyone can understand, as they would have told the story in the same way at a party. This film language is key to writing good film story, unfortunately, most screenwriters write stories that require narration and dialog, rather than stories that stand on their own.
The ideal film is the silent one that has been enhanced by some dialog. This allows the story to be understood regardless of the regional language of those watching it. They can fully understand the story, even if they can’t pick up on the nuances of sparingly salted in dialog.
The original screenplay for “Family Law” was 40% longer than it needed to be, so I cut it dramatically. The goal was to be able to understand the point of the story with the sound off. I believe it was accomplished.
However, since its release, I realized that the story could have been better served with more time analyzing and rewriting the scenes. After all, writing a story in one week and then filming it, probably wouldn’t allow the story to be at its best – But in this case, it was strong enough to be recognized at a film festival.