Exercise 10: Newspapers and magazines

For this exercise we were asked to scan newspapers, magazines, current affairs TV programmes and documentaries for three ideas, make unlikely connections between them and create a story out of them.

Looking through the online pages of RTE News, The Huffington Post and NBC News, I found the following three ideas:

‘Good Weather Sees Surge in Wild Fires Across Country’

At least 15 wildfires have been recorded across the country by the Irish Wildlife Trust since Friday 24 March. The conservation body said the surge saw fire service crews battle blazes in counties Cork, Kerry, Waterford, Galway, Mayo, Donegal and Louth. The fires coincided with a period of relatively warm, dry weather across the country. Eight of the fires occurred in areas that are protected for nature conservation. (1)

‘Woman Blames Car Crash On Bigfoot’

An Idaho motorist told the local sheriff’s department that a Bigfoot sighting caused her to crash her car last Wednesday night. According to Pullman Radio, the woman, who was not identified, told the Latah County Sheriff’s Office that she saw a Sasquatch chasing a deer on a stretch of US-95 outside of Potlatch. She said the creature was “shaggy” and between 7 and 8 feet tall, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News reported. The woman checked her mirrors to see the Bigfoot, but as her eyes re-adjusted to the road she hit the deer with her Subaru Forester, the newspaper said. Pullman Radio reported that the woman continued driving, picked up her husband from work then drove to the sheriff’s office to report the incident. Officers did not find any evidence of Bigfoot at the scene of the crash. The radio station reported that the 50-year-old driver suffered a “minor neck injury.” (2)

‘Secret Service Agent’s Laptop Stolen in New York’

A Secret Service agent’s work laptop was stolen in New York City, but officials said it did not contain classified information. The computer — taken Thursday in Brooklyn, according to one law enforcement source — has “multiple layers of security including full disk encryption,” according to a Secret Service statement. Law enforcement sources told NBC News that in addition to the encryption, the computer wipes itself clean after multiple unsuccessful login attempts. It can also be remotely disabled. Officials did not provide details of what information was on the laptop or the level of sensitivity. “An investigation is ongoing and the Secret Service is withholding additional comment until the facts are gathered,” the Secret Service statement said. (3)

Connecting these three ideas together, I came up with the following story premise.

 

Story Premise

A police investigation into the unlikely events surrounding a motorist claiming to have seen a Sasquatch running from trees and into the road, causing her to crash her car, leads a local sherif into the national park where firefighters tackling a wild fire discover the body of a missing secret service agent.

 

 


References

Dienst, J., & Winter, T. (2017) ‘Secret Service Agent’s Laptop Stolen in New York.’ In: NBC News [online] At: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/secret-service-agent-s-laptop-stolen-new-york-city-n734981 (Accessed on: 29 March 2017)

Mazza, E. (2017) ‘Woman blames car crash on Bigfoot.’ In: The Huffington Post, US Edition [online] At:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/idaho-driver-blames-bigfoot_us_58d887dae4b03787d359ad1b? (Accessed on: 29 March 2017)

RTE News (2017) ‘Good weather sees surge in wild fires across country.’ In: RTE News [online] At: http://www.rte.ie/news/regional/2017/0328/863146-wildfires/ (Accessed on: 29 March 2017)

 

 

 

Exercise 3: Conceptual and thematic ideas

In this exercise I made notes on two ideas to see how far they could be pushed in a conceptual way.

In preparation for this, I looked at two very different short films, Matt White’s Weightless (2008) and Helen Rosemier’s Getting Up (2014).

Weightless takes as its theme the artist’s own shifting state of mind through self-hypnosis. Filmed in one continuous shot, we see his facial expression change along with his state of mind, as he gazes through a window.

Getting Up adopts a more narrative approach in its depiction of domestic life for a man with a wheelchair. Filmed in a linear sequence of shots, we see the artist’s husband as he wakes, showers, dresses and leaves the house in the morning.

Both films take an idea and develop it conceptually through very different cinematic techniques.

One approach I would like to try is using some of the techniques of abstract and associational form outlined in Film Art (Bordwell & Thompson, 2017). However, taking an abstract, poetic approach to filmmaking is not something I have thought about or even attempted to do until starting this course.

I found Matt White’s approach to developing ideas for abstract and conceptual films particularly useful. His ideas ‘start with or evolve into seemingly simple and apparently pointless goals’ and lead on to the ‘collection of data (video, photographs, audio recordings, figures, documents) that are further developed into art works’ (White, 2017:28).

 

 

The idea of starting from an ‘apparently pointless’ goal and then going on to collect data was quite liberating for me. I took the idea about the colour blue from the previous exercise and came up with the ‘apparently pointless’ goal of wanting to know how blue the sky is, in the hope that it would raise questions I could go on to experiment with through the moving image. My initial notes included ideas about how we perceive colour, the physics behind our understanding of the earth’s atmosphere and how the ‘heavens’ have been perceived throughout history.

Rather than creating a film that presents a plot, I would create a film that follows a conceptual journey, in which it presents a series of images that will have an effect on the viewer. In a similar way to John Smith’s approach in his film Horizon (2012), in which each shot is a literal representation of the sea at the moment at which it was filmed.  To the viewer, John Smith’s Horizon (2012) could be seen as a documentary presenting the Margate seascape as it changes over a three month period, or it could be seen in terms of colour, composition, light and contrast.

 


References

Bordwell, D., & Thompson, K. (2017) Film Art: An Introduction, 11th edition. New York: McGraw Hill

Moving Image 1: Setting the Scene (2017). Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

John Smith on Horizon (2012) Mark Castro & Max Philo. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLjRk_EHI6k (Accessed on: 27 March 2017)

Exercise 2: Analysis

This exercise asked us to take an idea and fill out the basic details in the form of a mind map, first by looking for obvious relationships and common situations, and then going on to find a narrative that emerges from that idea.

After an abortive attempt at looking at the idea of family life from the previous exercise, I decided to carry out a thematic analysis of the second of the two ideas: the colour blue at 40,000 feet.

The initial ideas about individual characters and common situations were fairly straightforward. The first character that came to mind was a young child. Then, asking myself who some of the most important people in a young child’s life are revealed the mother and the teacher. It was obvious straightaway that the main protagonist would be the child. But then, as the initial idea was the sky, I also decided to be bold and make the second main character the sky itself. Sometimes the presence of a specific environment can be so influential to a protagonist’s journey within a film, that it too becomes a character within the narrative.

Moving on to look at the various settings for this idea, I asked myself where a young child spends most of their time. The obvious settings were the classroom, kitchen, bedroom and outdoors. From there I looked for ways in which all these indoor and outdoor locations relate to the child’s fascination with the sky.

Then, having arrived at the obvious relationships and common situations for the idea, I moved on to defining the central theme and identifying the causes of conflict within the idea. This was by far the most challenging part of the process, as it was not apparent what these could be on first looking at the details in the mind map. Also, in order for this to work properly, I felt it was necessary to define the theme first and then identity the causes of conflict that might arise from this.

It quickly became apparent that the theme was ‘Imagination’.

From there it was obvious that the conflict had to be based upon the way in which we ‘nurture’ a child’s imagination. As this is something a parent is often very sensitive to, I realised that the cause of conflict within the film should be between the child’s mother and the school. In this case, the school’s strict ethos, that crushes rather than nurtures the child.

Story premise I came up with for this idea was: If you nurture a child’s imagination, she will grow up to do wonderful things.

The narrative that emerged from within this idea:

  1. The protagonist – an introverted child in a single-parent family
  2. The situation – a rigid school system
  3. The source of conflict – between the mother’s desire for her child and the school’s crushing ethos

Developing on from this narrative, I assembled the following shot list:

FADE IN: Girl sits at a table in a primary school classroom. She is daydreaming, staring out of the window at the sky. It is a perfect blue sky. All around her are her classmates, busy with their tasks and talking loudly to each other, to all of which she is oblivious. We hear the teacher shout an instruction calling the students to order, the students stop what they are doing and the class falls silent, as everyone turns their attention to the teacher who is standing at the front of the room. The girl continues staring through the window. The teacher calls her name, snapping her out of her daydream and back into the real world of the school.
FADE OUT:

FADE IN: It is now afternoon. Girl sits strapped into the back seat of a car. She is daydreaming, staring out of the window at the blue sky. Her mother is driving and her older teenage brother is in the front passenger seat. Her mother is talking to her brother, who is more interested in his mobile phone and only afters the occasional grunt in response her questions about his day. The girl, still staring through the window at the sky, is oblivious to their conversation.
FADE OUT:

FADE IN: It is now evening and the family is about to have dinner. The girl is sitting at the kitchen table drawing a picture of a landscape. Her mother is preparing the meal. Her brother is reluctantly helping to set the table for dinner. The girl, oblivious to the activity going on around her, is busy adding one final colour to her picture: blue.

CUT TO: …

 

 

 

Exercise 1: Ideas from your life

Search, practice, discover, gather!

The starting point for this exercise was to generate ideas from my own life: the people around me, the places I am connected to, the social or philosophical issues I am passionate about or inspired by, my dreams, imagination and visions.

Curious to see where this would lead, I began by making a quick-fire list of ideas straight off the top of my head and noting them down in my notebook. It’s difficult not to self-censor yourself when doing something like this, so I decided to write down whatever came to mind, however mundane or unusual the ideas seemed. The result was a mix of ideas from ‘my family life’ (no surprise there) to ‘the colour blue at 40,000 feet’ (where did that come from?). Other ideas included homelessness in Dublin, the Northern Ireland peace process, my interest in fairy tales and Greek drama, and a quote by Andrei Tarkovsky that could lead anywhere.

The exercise required me to find two ideas and develop them into no more than 250 words. Again, I tried not to self-censor my choice and go with my gut response to the list of ideas. So, after glancing through all the options on the page, I decided to play it safe with ‘my family life’ and go off the wall with ‘the colour blue at 40,000 feet’ (yikes!).

 

‘My family life’

My family has expanded greatly since moving to Ireland ten years ago. I now have an Irish mum, sisters and brothers, nephews and nieces, who we see at various times throughout the year. My wife and I are both self-employed and work from home in our newly-converted attic space at the top of the house, lined with poetry books and journals. One of the benefits of working from home is that during the summer months we can have lunch together in our garden. We share our house with a very sweet border collie, who takes us for walks two or three times a day and entertains us with his squeaky toys, often in the middle of business calls.

 

‘The colour blue at 40,000 feet’

If, when I die, I was invited to take one image of my time on earth with me into the next life, I would choose the sky. Seven and a half miles up. Where, from here, the troposphere extends out towards the edge of space, and, confined inside this small pressurised cabin with two hundred fellow humans, I imagine my hand reaching out beyond the perspex window, touching the fringes of the colour blue. The pale blue, through which we travel west across the Atlantic, hanging by a thread on aerodynamic laws; and the dark blue, beyond which other worlds like ours exist, governed by laws we know nothing about.

 

I found this a very helpful exercise in developing ideas. As a strategy, starting out from my own life is clearly an effective way of searching for and discovering new ideas. In this initial exercise alone, I jotted down eleven possible ideas, two of which I went on to develop above. As I was writing up these two ideas, I became aware of the emergence of several potential characters and locations.

My new mantra? ‘Search, practice, discover, gather!’

 

Exercise: Telling a story

Narrative: Telling a story with key information

A film needs to contain enough information within its individual frames to allow the viewer to understand the bones of the story being told. In this exercise we were given the task of identifying the key information within a fairy tale and telling the story in just five frames.

The Story

Jack and the Beanstalk

An English fairy tale that first appeared in 1734 as ‘The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean’. Anthropologist Dr Jamie Tehrani argues that the ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ fairytale has its roots in a group of stories classified as ‘The Boy Who Stole Ogre’s Treasure’ that could be traced back to when the Eastern and Western Indo-European languages split more than 5,000 years ago. (1)

Jack lives with his widowed mother and their dairy cow. When the cow, their only source of income, stops producing milk, Jack’s mother tells him to take it to the market and sell it. On the way to the market Jack meets an old man who offers him some magic beans in exchange for the cow. Jack agrees to the trade and returns home. His mother is angry that he has retuned with no money, throws the beans on the ground and sends Jack to bed without dinner. Next morning, Jack wakes to find the beans have grown into a giant beanstalk. He climbs the beanstalk and finds himself in a land in the sky, where he discovers a castle and sneaks in. The castle belongs to a giant, who returns home and senses Jack’s presence. Jack waits for the giant to fall asleep, steals a bag of gold coins and escapes down the beanstalk. Jack climbs the beanstalk twice more, each time stealing more of the giant’s treasure and escaping while he sleeps. On the third visit, the giant wakes and chases Jack down the beanstalk. While climbing down the beanstalk, Jack calls to his mother for an axe. He cuts down the beanstalk before the giant reaches the ground, and the giant falls to his death.

 

The Necessary Information

The bare bones of the story can be summarised in the following eight plot points:

  • Jack’s mother tells him to take the cow to the market and sell it.
  • Jack meets an old man who offers to exchange the cow for some magic beans.
  • Jack’s mother throws the beans onto the ground and sends Jack to bed.
  • Jack climbs up the beanstalk and discovers a castle belonging to a giant.
  • Jack steals the giant’s treasure and escapes down the beanstalk while the giant sleeps.
  • Jack returns to the castle a second time and steals more treasure and escapes while the giant sleeps.
  • Jack returns a third time, but the giant wakes and chases jack down the beanstalk.
  • Jack chops down the beanstalk and the giant falls to his death.

In order to tell the story in only five frames, the first plot point, in which Jack’s mother tells him to take the cow to market, could be left out, so the film opens with Jack traveling to market with the cow, and Jack’s three visits to the castle could be reduced to just one, in which the giant wakes and chases him down the beanstalk. The remaining five plot points still present a complete and coherent narrative for the fairy tale.

 

The Five Essential Images

Drawing is not something I feel confident doing. So, attempting to sketch a five frame storyboard proved quite difficult because I was unable to put on paper the ‘images’ I had in my mind’s eye.

I settled on the following five frames.

1. Jack meets an old man on the road to the market who offers to exchange the cow for some magic beans.

2. Jack’s mother throws the beans on the ground and sends Jack to bed.

3. Jack climbs the beanstalk and discovers a castle.

4. Jack steals the treasure and is chased down the beanstalk by the giant.

5. Jack cuts down the beanstalk and the giant falls to his death.

One of the main challenges of this exercise, other than the drawing, was compressing the whole story into just five frames. I needed to select five key moments within the fairytale which were essential to the story and construct an abridged, but effective narrative for the fairytale.

What this exercise clearly shows is that storyboarding is key to the filmmaking process. Whether or not the images within the storyboard are filmed exactly as drawn is not as important as the process of clearly outlining the film’s storyline, identifying which information is necessary within each frame and which information can be left out of the frames as the film’s story unfolds on screen. Although I do not feel able to fully realise on paper the images I see in my mind, storyboarding is something I will continue to do, however rough it might look on the page.


References

  1. BBC. “Fairy tale origins thousands of years old, researchers say”BBC News. BBC. [Accessed 22 March 2017].