Go to a bar and listen to someone next to you, conversation and try and write it down accurately!
On Saturday 26th September I went to the Druids pub to do the eavesdropping exercise. Here I sat on the end of a large table of 9 people (my friends) who were playing a cards game called red and black. Each person was given a single card, and three of the cards were red, and the rest black. The aim of the game was for the black team to discover who the 3 people with red cards are, but the red team have to try and convince the black team that they are also part of the black team.
James: It’s Jake! 100.
Jake: What the fuck how can you say it’s me again.
James: Trust me it’s Jake!
Holly: Really? He can’t be red again surely?
Bianca: I don’t think it’s Jake
James: Why are you jumping to his defense are you red too?
Bianca: Noooo I swear I’m not
Ben: You’re bait Bee
Bianca: How! I just don’t think it’s Jake again.
Simon: I still think it’s Jake.
Jake: You snake, how is it me?
Simon: It just is I can tell on your face when you’re lying.
Milo: It’s definitely Bianca.
Bianca: Stop picking on me!
Holly: I don’t know.
James: Lets vote Jake, and if I’m right then Bianca is red as well.
Nathan: Yeah she jumped to his defense too quickly.
Jake: It’s not me but cool.
Ben: Yeah lets vote.
James: Put your hand up if you vote for Jake.
Everyone raises their hands, Jake reveals his card to be red. Everyone cheers.
James: I told you!
Jake: For fuck sake I’m actually so shit at this game
Simon: It’s so bait when you’re lying!
Holly: This is so funny
Milo: It’s definitely Bianca then as well
Bianca: Milo look at me it’s actually not me I swear
Holly: I believe her
Ben: Maybe its you as well Hol!
Holly: It’s not! I’m so obvious when I lie
Bianca: Why does everyone always pick one me!
James: Cos you’re shit
Ben: Yeah I vote Bianca
Simon: Are we voting?
Bianca: Vote for James for a change!
James: It’s obviously not me if I voted out Jake is it
Simon: Haha that’s so true
Ben: Baited! Bianca you’re out.
James: Everyone vote for Bianca
Everyone raises their hands again, Bianca reveals a red card. They all cheer again.
Bianca: We’re actually shit Jake
Jake: I know, worse team ever
Milo: There’s still one left
Holly: (laughing) It’s not me
Ben: Look me in the eyes and say it’s not you
Holly: It’s not me!
James: She’s lying
Simon: James has called it right so far
Ben: Yeah I think it’s Hol
James: Lets vote then
Holly: Oh my god
Holly turns over her card to reveal another red
James: haha you lot are so dead
Simon: that was the quickest lose yet
Jake: I actually give up. I’m just too honest to be good at this game.
I found this exercise very productive as it got me thinking about the different types of dialogue between people. In this above example, the group of people are close friends who have all been drinking, therefore it’s very casual dialogue full of banter and teasing one another. However, in my short film I am planning on including dialogue between two complete strangers, who differ in both age and gender, therefore the dialogue between these characters will be very different from the dialogue between a group of friends who are very comfortable with one another.
Homework for project development week 2:
For next week I’d like you to produce a short three paragraph three act structure for a 15 minute film idea. This can be one that you have developed in class or a new one entirely.
You should also have a title for the idea and find an image which relates to it.
Use this example:
Over one day in the depths of the idyllic Kent countryside, we witness the tipping point of a mid-life crisis as it goes into meltdown. When an orchard owner, faced with a failing crop and the birth of his second child, tailspins in all aspects of his personal life, it looks as if things may get dangerous in the family home.
His teenage daughter meanwhile, enjoying the unexpected brushing of shoulders with her father’s seasonal staff, takes the moment as a welcome distraction from an otherwise lonely summer, forging an instant alliance with a cheeky young teenager.
The father, prematurely awoken by the disturbing echoed shrieks of foxes mating, decides to take measures into his own hands by hunting them in the dead of night. His timing couldn’t be any worse, as his daughter, getting further acquainted with her new friend is out on a midnight escapade, through the languishing orchards.
Please bring these printed to class for us to look at, and bring a digital PDF that can be shown on the screen.
On a foggy October evening a man is seen jumping to his death off of Beachy Head. There are five witnesses, but each witness recalls a completely different account of what happened.
A young bearded man (Gabriel) is standing on the edge of Beachy Head, the crisp winter air causes condensation as he exhales deeply. On his face is an unreadable expression. He stares out onto the rough waves crashing into chalk white rocks below him. As the sun sets he slowly walks towards the cliffs edge, as if in a trance.
A few minutes pass before a frail looking old woman walks up behind him, she slowly walks to the mans right, and stands next to him, their shoulders touching.
They stand there together in silence, staring out onto the red sun drowning in the endless sea.
A young man contemplating suicide comes across an old woman who too is contemplating suicide. The short film consists of a conversation between the two lonely people, standing on the edge of Beachy Head, as the sun is setting around them. The young man ends up convincing the old woman that her life is worth living. He the comes to the realization that if this old frail woman’s life is worth living, then so is his.
The moral of the story is that compassion for other people can save yourself.
As the sun sets, engulfing the sky in a deep red, the man slowly walks towards the edge of the cliff. As he nears the cliffs edge he closes his eyes and the shot turns black. When the shot comes back into focus the young man is walking back away from the edge of the cliff.
- Film idea inspired from the high suicide rate at Beachy Head.
- Consists of more beautiful shots than excessive dialogue.
As I am part of a small 2 person group we were given permission to produce a shorter 5 minute film rather than the originally agreed 15 minutes. Therefore me and Nelly had a discussion and came to the agreement that we wanted to produce something very simplistic with a strong visual impact. We understood that to try and create a complex film idea wouldn’t work within the time frame of 5 minutes, so we chose to go with the second film idea rather than the first.
Writing exercises provided by Mary:
Dialogue Writing Exercise:
Write a scene where you and a friend of the opposite gender meet for lunch. The scene should last between 3 to 5 minutes. The scene can be quite everyday, it doesn’t need to be high stakes. Your objective in writing this scene is to make the dialogue seem as realistic as possible. Try and imagine the friend you are talking to in detail so that you can accurately make him/her speak like they do in real life.
Scene where Elly Moohan and James Barron go for lunch.
JAMES: So how are you feeling?
ELLY: Honestly still so shit.
JAMES: You’re an idiot you shouldn’t have gone to Manchester, I told you it would make you feel worse.
ELLY: I know, I know. You’re supposed to be making me feel better!
JAMES: I’m sorry. I’ll buy you lunch.
ELLY: You always buy me food, I feel bad.
JAMES: It’s fine, you’re a student.
ELLY: True. And you’re a hot-shot babysitter, or is it nanny?
JAMES: Fuck off.
ELLY: I can’t believe you forgot to turn up for that woman. I’d kill you.
JAMES: I know I felt so bad, I brought her round a box of chocolates though.
ELLY: Haha that’s fine then. You ruined her date, but she got a box of chocolates out of it. Now she’ll be fat and single.
JAMES: It wasn’t a date, she was going to the theatre with her sister.
ELLY: That’s even worse! Theatre tickets aren’t cheap. I hope you got her an expensive box of chocolates.
JAMES: They looked expensive, they were my dads I found them in the cupboard.
ELLY: Good old Dave, I’m sure they were expensive.
JAMES: He won’t be happy when he finds out I took them. How was Manchester then?
ELLY: So much fun James! But I’m paying for it now. Jake’s house was an absolute state. Did you see the picture Oskar posted in the group?
JAMES: I don’t have Facebook do I!
ELLY: Oh yeah, I keep forgetting what a loser you are.
JAMES: Shut up. What was the picture?
ELLY: Just someone’s sick haha.
JAMES: Nice. I would of hated that party.
ELLY: Yeah you would to be fair, you could of left early with Giulio though.
JAMES: Did he leave early?
ELLY: Yeah he had to take Holly home didn’t he.
JAMES: I can’t believe she came back that’s so funny. Did he come back too?
ELLY: No of course he didn’t.
JAMES: Elly get the tofu it’s so nice.
ELLY: Yeah I was looking at the tofu. My mum would love it here, I should bring her.
JAMES: Yes Mary’s a vegetarian too isn’t she?
ELLY: Yeah strictly veggie in the Moohan household.
JAMES: Does she make you nice veggie meals?
ELLY: When she can be bothered.
JAMES: Lets order. Are we going to the pub with Russ later?
ELLY: Yeah I want to see what the new Weatherspoon’s is like!
- You need to record a conversation with a friend (ideally the one you imagined you were speaking with above) over lunch. Record your conversation over the whole meal.
- Choose the best 3-5 minutes of your conversation and transcribe it into screenplay format
The Seven Elements:
(Excerpt from “Now Write! Screenwriting: Screenwriting Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers”, edited by Sherry Ellis & Laurie Lamson)
A film, by its very nature, is a visual art form. However, I’ve found that new screenwriters tend to forget that they’ve ever seen a film in their lives. Too often, inexperienced writers go right for wall-to-wall yakking when writing a scene or sequence for a movie. While verbal dialogue drives television scenes, you want to write dramatically effective cinematic scenes for a feature film.
An effective approach is to use The Seven Elements of a Scene or Sequence. Use them when you rough out scenes, but especially during the rewriting process. I’m often surprised that some writers do not know the definition of a scene or a sequence. In screenwriting, this is important to know because, unlike novels or short stories, your scenes ultimately will appear on film, translated by a director and production crew.
This process begins with the writer properly formatting the page with scene headings that describe whether it takes place interior or exterior, the specific location, and the time of day. A scene takes place in a single location. A sequence is a series of scenes that tell a short story within the context of the larger story.
Here are the seven elements and the questions you should ask and answer for yourself:
- A protagonist. Who has the “most dramatic need” in the scene? In other words, what does this character want in the scene.
- An antagonist. Who opposes the dramatic need in the scene? Ironically, this has the same meaning as the protagonist’s—what does this character want in the scene? They should oppose in order to create conflict. If each wants the same thing, then they must disagree on how to get it. Otherwise, your scene will bore the reader (and ultimately, the viewer).
- Pivotal character(s). Who is for or against the protagonist and/or the antagonist in a scene? These characters have two purposes in a scene: keep the protagonist and antagonist engaged in conflict and/or provide a different point of view about the problem in the scene.
- How do the characters communicate with each other: through the spoken word, non-verbally (through actions, reactions or pure silence) or both? For example, a character can say “I love you,” then turn her back and, by her expression, reveal to the audience that she’s lying.
- Why is each character in the scene? Actors call it “motivation.” This is the driving force behind creating conflict in a scene.
- What emotions bubble underneath the scene? What is the scene really about? This element gets its cue from the theme of the screenstory.
- How does the scene relate to what came before it and what comes after it? This element gives the writer the ability to give the same scene intense suspense or create comedic tone without even rewriting it.
While these seven elements may appear simplistic, the viability of a screenplay depends on writing entertaining scenes and this approach can be an effective method to practice and improve the style and content of your screenplay.
Start with a single sentence idea. Here are some I’ve used to inspire scenes:
“A couple finds an old pair of wingtip shoes in an attic.”
“A family pet gives his/her owner a piece of his/her mind.”
“Infidelity in a marriage”
“Face to face with an alien being”
“A husband of 20 years is a serial killer”
“Love at first sight”
The goal is improve your ability to write cinematic scenes and sequences. Pick one idea (or make up your own) and write it in three different ways:
- The first approach is using only spoken dialogue. Keep it short, around two to three pages.
- Next, write the same scene using only actions and non-verbal dialogue. You need to translate the spoken words to recognisable visual actions and reactions.
- Finally, rewrite the same scene focusing on improving the visuals, but this time write a single line of dialogue to capture the subtext (theme) of the scene.
You can take this exercise to an advanced level by writing a six to eight page sequence based on the same idea. Each scene should use the seven elements and the overall sequence should use the seven elements. First, try it using only the spoken dialogue, then using a single theme-defining line of dialogue, and finally write a sequence combining spoken and non-spoken dialogue with visual action.
“A husband of 20 years is a serial killer”
ELENA: I don’t know what to say.
DAMON: I’ve been waiting a long time to have this conversation with you.
ELENA: How could you?
DAMON: El, I would never hurt you. You must know that?
ELENA: I don’t know what I know anymore. I need to get out of here, I can’t breath.
DAMON: I love you, I always will. Just hear me out, you can’t run away from this.
ELENA: Are you even capable of love? I don’t know you anymore.
DAMON: Don’t be stupid, you know me better than anybody.
ELENA: Do I? How could you keep this from me for 20 years.
DAMON: I haven’t kept anything from you, you’ve chosen to turn a blind eye.
ELENA: How can you say that? How can you turn this around on me!
DAMON: Calm down love. Just sit down.
ELENA: I can’t do this. This is too much.
DAMON: Sit. Think back, all those times you woke up in the middle of the night to find me washing blood of my clothes. You’d never say anything, you’d just go back to bed –
DAMON: You’ve blocked it out on purpose. Except this time, you can’t.
ELENA: You’re a liar. I would never condone anything like this. We’re good people, I’m a good person.
DAMON: We are, you are. This is my destiny. It’s something I was born to do. You understand, I know you do. You wouldn’t have stuck by me all these years if you didn’t.
ELENA: I –
DAMON: You don’t need to pretend anymore. We don’t need to hide what we are.
ELENA: No. I don’t know what you’re talking about.
DAMON: Sit back down.
ELENA: I don’t-
DAMON: You don’t have to make this difficult El. We’re in this together, we always have been.
ELENA: None of this makes any sense.
DAMON: You can’t block it out this time. It’s time to start remembering El.
DAMON: Stop fighting it.
ELENA: Who are you? You’re not my husband.
DAMON: I’m not going to tell you again El, sit down.
ELENA: Please stop, you’re scaring me. I don’t understand.
DAMON: If you can’t remember by yourself I’m going to have to show you.
ELENA: What do you mean show me?
DAMON: Shh. You’ll remember soon. I don’t know how anyone could forget, that amount of blood is unforgettable.
ELENA: What the hell are you talking about? There’s no blood you’ve just strangled her.
DAMON: I know, this one wasn’t as fun as the others. But blood is messy.
ELENA: What others?
DAMON: You know this isn’t the first one.
ELENA: You’re crazy.
DAMON: Me? I’m not the crazy one. How about the wife of a serial killer, who gets off at the sight of blood and then plays dumb for 20 years.
ELENA: I hate blood, you know I do.
DAMON: Don’t move. I’m getting the photo’s. I’m not doing this anymore. You need to stop pretending. It’s not normal. We need to embrace what we are, we shouldn’t have to hide it, not to each other.
ELENA: What photos?
DAMON: Just stay here.
Using Props to Get Started
Objective: Give props extra emotional power.
Exercise: Write a scene (3 pages) in which a prop is used in two drastically different ways. The prop should originally be given as a gift or good-will gesture. Then, at the end of the scene, it is reversed and used to express anger or a change in sentiments.
Remember: Props should be visual, hand-held items. Hints: Be creative. Select an unusual prop and us it in an original manner.
A Simple Timed Exercise
Set your timer for 5 minutes. At the top of your page, write The scene that needs to be written is . . . and see where it takes you. Don’t stop and certainly don’t edit, just write and write and write. Don’t try to make it into anything, especially not a scene. Don’t try to control it. Even if it sounds like complete nonsense, just ride it out!
The scene that needs to be written is the one where Tibby witnesses the murder only I’m not sure if the murderer IS her father or her father gets murdered. Which is worse? To watch your father kill someone or be killed. Tibby’s dad is involved in the water controversy, whatever it is it has to be big, unethical, taking of water from the people who can’t afford it like Ben and Bruce and Danny. The densers are being ripped off but why can’t they unite and complain and who would do anything about it and how is Danny’s mother involved? I know that water matters. I know that clean water matters in this. I know there were water wars… ETC
When that 5 minutes is over, go to the MIDDLE of that piece of writing and pull out a sentence. Use THAT sentence to start your next timed writing and this time make it for 7 minutes.
Repeat this again, drawing a line from the middle of your 7 minute writing, and setting your timer for 10 minutes.
After you have completed the 10 minute one, write the next scene of your script.
You’ll be amazed what can happen when you just let yourself go like that with no commitment, no inhibition, nothing to prove. It it not only a great tool to warm up for the day, it’s a great tool when you feel mentally blocked. Just go on your gut.
If you are short on time, try it in 3, 5, and 7 minute increments.
25 Prompts – Just getting words on to the page
The goal of this exercise is to just get you writing. There are no rules. Write a poem. Write a short story. Write an essay. Choose 1 of these prompts. Start writing. Aim for about hundred words (or more if you like).
- You’re digging in your garden and find a fist-sized nugget of gold.
- Write about something ugly — war, fear, hate, or cruelty–but find the beauty (silver lining) in it.
- The asteroid was hurtling straight for Earth…
- A kid comes out of the school bathroom with toilet paper dangling from his or her waistband.
- Write about your early memories of faith, religion, or spirituality; yours or someone else’s.
- There’s a guy sitting on a park bench reading a newspaper…
- Write a poem about a first romantic (dare I say: sexual) experience or encounter.
- He turned the key in the lock and opened the door. To his horror, he saw…
- Silvery flakes drifted down, glittering in the bright light of the harvest moon. The blackbird swooped down…
- The detective saw his opportunity. He grabbed the waitress’s arm and said…
- There are three children sitting on a log near a stream. One of them looks up at the sky and says…
- There is a magic talisman that allows its keeper to read minds. It falls into the hands of a young politician…
- And you thought dragons didn’t exist…
- Write about nature. Include the following words: hard drive, stapler, phone, car, billboard.
- The doctor put his hand on her arm and said gently, “You or the baby will survive. Not both. I’m sorry.”
- The nation is controlled by…
- You walk into your house and it’s completely different — furniture, decor, all changed. And nobody’s home.
- Write about one (or both) of your parents. Start with “I was born…”
- The most beautiful smile I ever saw…
- I believe that animals exist to…
- A twinkling eye can mean many things. Start with a twinkle in someone’s eye and see where it takes you.
- Good versus evil. Do they truly exist? Are there gray areas? Do good people do bad things?
- Write about your body.
- Have you ever been just about to drift off to sleep only to be roused because you spontaneously remembered an embarrassing moment from your past?
- Get a package of one of your favorite canned or boxed foods and look at the ingredients. Use every ingredient in your next piece of writing
WRITING EXERCISE TO DO: WRITE IN THE STYLE OF ANOTHER WRITER
EXERCISE: look at scene from a film and count the props
Steps in pre-visualising:
- How do you imagine the scene?
- Where are the lines on tension?
- What type of point of view?