Project 1: Planning & Development

Brief: Develop your idea into a short narrative of 10-20 pages.

‘The Wonderful Things’ project was to explore how a child’s imagination can be inspired through their engagement with the natural world. How a child, inspired by a spark of knowledge gleaned in the classroom, can make imaginative connections between what she sees and experiences in the natural world. How her immediate environment can fuel her imagination in such a way that she too inspires others to join in her journey into the beautiful wilderness that is the natural world. I wanted to explore how important the nurturing of a child’s imagination is to their future growth as a person.

Planning

The premise came from earlier work I had done in Exercise 2: Analysis ‘if you nurture a child’s imagination, she will grow up to do wonderful things’ and combined it with information discussed in an interview with a science teacher I filmed earlier this year about using aquaponics to create a sustainable urban farm in schools.

From there I came up with the idea of an imaginative young girl who, inspired by the miracle of aquaponics, goes in search of the perfect fish.

Following the instructions from the course material, I outlined the protagonist’s initial state and the catalytic person who changes that initial state. From there I went on to outline the protagonist’s response to the problem and the antagonist’s response to the protagonist’s first challenge, thereby triggering a cause and effect sequence of events for the screenplay.

For the protagonist’s initial state and how I visualised it, I again drew upon my work for exercise 2. Taking the first of the three scenes I had written for that exercise, I began the story with the classroom scene and then moved on to the girl’s encounter with the Principal where, in response to his reprimand, she says ‘I need a fish’.

I went on to outline the way in which the girl attempts to resolve the problem of her mother’s reluctance to her having a fish, and further ways of frustrating the girl’s desire for finding the perfect fish, until, after enlisting the help of her best friend, the postman and a local farmer’s boy, she finally succeeds in her goal.

Scenes

Focusing on the quality of the scenes –  the problems, the solutions, the dialogue, the situations – was an important next step in the story development process. Here I compiled and listed a logical series of events required to tell the story.

Initial list of events:

  1. A girl is gazing out through the classroom window.
  2. She ignores her teacher’s request to stop daydreaming and get on with her work.
  3. She is sent to the Principal’s office, where she receives a stern reprimand for her behaviour. When asked what she has to say for herself, she says she wants a fish.
  4. At home that afternoon, the girl’s mother says she cannot have a fish.
  5. In spite of the girl’s surprisingly articulate argument why she thinks she should have a fish, her mother is adamant that she can not have a fish.
  6. The girl goes to her friend’s house and asks if she would like to help search for a fish.
  7. The girls begin by looking for a glass container in the garden shed.
  8. They walk into town and buy a small fishing net.
  9. The girls run out of town in search of a nearby stream.
  10. The girls are leaning into a stream, trying to catch a fish by dipping the glass jar into the water.
  11. The girl’s mother calls her friend’s mum to she if she with her.
  12. Meanwhile, the girls are ankle deep in water trying to catch a fish, but the water is too fast and the fish too quick to catch.
  13. The mums realise their girls are missing, get into their car and call the local police.
  14. The girls are found, wet but safe.

However, as I was looking for a story that focused on the ‘wonderful things’ within the story’s premise, I decided to change the end of the story. Rather than letting the narrative build up to an overly dramatic climax, I decided to focus more on the girl’s sense of wonder at the miracle of the natural world, and in particular the fish. To find a way of portraying her joy and wonder at the landscape and all it contains.

So, taking this idea further, I removed the events around the two girls getting lost in the wilderness and their parents calling the police to help find them. These events felt over dramatic and too conventional. So I replaced the final quarter of the original list of events with another series of events in which we see the girl enjoying the ‘wonder’ of the natural world and enlisting the help of several people to help in her search for the perfect fish.

This was an important stage in the story development process, as it revealed what I felt were the weaknesses in the initial story. It also revealed the need to be bolder and more experimental in my approach to telling the story. To allow the story to be more poetic in places if necessary.

Conscious of the three act narrative when reorganising these events, I arranged the scenes around a simple three act structure. In the first act, we see the girl in the school classroom. The dramatic event at the climax of the first act comes when the girl’s mother refuses to let her have a fish. Act two shows the girl and her friend search for the perfect fish, first in the pet shop and then in a small river outside town. The climax to Act two comes when, after all else has failed, a boy helps the two girls catch a fish.

Revised list of events:

  1. A girl is gazing out through the classroom window.
  2. She doesn’t hear her teacher’s request to stop daydreaming and get on with her work.
  3. The girl is sent to the Principal’s office, where she receives a stern reprimand for her behaviour.
  4. When asked what she has to say for herself, she says she wants a fish.
  5. At home that afternoon, the girl’s mother says she cannot have a fish.
  6. In spite of the girl’s surprisingly articulate argument why she thinks she should have a fish, her mother is adamant that they will not have a fish in the house.
  7. The girl goes to her friend’s house and asks if she would like to help search for a fish.
  8. The girls look for a glass container in the garden shed.
  9. They visit the pet shop to buy a fish.
  10. The girls run out of town and into some nearby fields in search of a stream.
  11. The girls are ankle deep in water trying to catch a fish. But the water is too fast and the fish are too quick to catch.
  12. Unable to catch a fish for themselves, the girls enlists the help of several people, including the owner of nearby shop and a postman.
  13. Finally, they receive help from a teenage boy.
  14. The film ends with the two girls walking home carrying a glass jar with a single small fish in it.

Story

The film opens in a small town school, where children are busily working away in a classroom. Sitting at a table on her own is 9 year old Aisling, who is gazing out through the window.  She is daydreaming, staring out of the window at the sky, while all around her, her classmates are busy with their tasks and talking loudly to each other. All of which she is oblivious. The teacher calls the students to order and everyone stops what they are doing and the class falls silent, all except Aisling, who continues to stare through the window. The teacher calls her name, snapping her out of her daydream and back into the real world of the school. She is sent to the Principal’s office, where she receives a stern reprimand for her behaviour. When the Principal ask what she has to say for herself, Aisling says she needs a fish.

At home that afternoon, Aisling asks her mum is she can have a fish. When her mum says no, she tries explaining why it would be a good idea to have a fish. Although her mum is sympathetic to her desire for a pet, says no again. Aisling decides to take matters into her own hands and walks into town to the pet shop, where she looks at all the fish to see if there is a suitable one for her project. The pet shop owner lists all the ones he has, but they are exotic tropical fish, none of which suit Aisling’s needs. She leaves the shop empty handed and disappointed, but not beaten. Rather than going home, she goes to find her friend Amy and tells her she needs to find a stream where she can catch a fish. Amy finds a glass jar for the fish.

The two girls head out of town in search of a stream. They enlist the help of several people in their search for a stream, including a local shop owner and the postman, who suggest one of the fields nearby. Finally, they receive help from a teenage boy, who shows them the best place to catch fish and helps them to catch a fish.

The film ends with the two girls walking through fields carrying a glass jar, in which we see one small fish swimming around.

When it came to writing the screenplay for this story, I found Christopher Riley’s book The Hollywood Standard particularly helpful in setting down on paper what I had visualised in the story in the correct format.

Reflection

This has been a demanding project. The task of developing and writing the screenplay took far longer to do than I had anticipated, as I quickly realised I needed to spend more time on my primary research before even thinking about writing the rough storyline for the screenplay.

I enjoyed the process of taking an idea and planning the story in terms of problems, solutions, dialogue and situations, which proved to be a very effective way of developing an idea into a finished screenplay. Creating a logical list of events to help organise my ideas into a sequence of scenes, which were then fleshed out with detail and written up into a rough storyline. Although I am quite pleased with the outcome, I do not feel as though the story is as fully realised as I would have hoped, due to my lack in both research and storytelling skills.

Action Plan

  • One of my aims when working on the next part of the course is to improve my storytelling skills. To see the script as a blueprint, a valuable element in the creative process of making a moving image. To this end I shall revisit the screenwriting techniques introduced in this project as I work through the next part of the coursework and when preparing for the second assignment.
  • I also need to develop a plan for my future research, to help plot my route through the research process when working on the next assignment, from research questions to end product.

 


References

Riley, C. (2009) The Hollywood Standard: The Complete and Authoritative Guide to Script Format and Style, 2nd edition. California: Michael Wiese Productions

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 7: Visual research and visual phenomena

Brief: Carry out some visual research by developing the ideas gathered in previous exercises, using either a stills or video camera to make images of a significant place, person or activity.

In preparation for this exercise, I looked at Paul Graham’s Television Portraits, Jonas Mekas’ As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty – Paradise and extracts from films by Nina Menkes. They offer three very different approaches to using still and moving images to visualise a person, place, situation or journey within their work.

 

Television Portraits (1986-90)

The images in Paul Graham’s Television Portraits (1986-90) depict children and young people watching TV. Photographed over a five year period, each image focuses on a single person, either sitting or lying down. In each portrait, the subject is in profile looking from left to right within the frame. As a whole, the short series of seven photographs can be seen as a subtle study in behaviour.

Paul Graham’s approach, within the context of visual research, shows how artists gather material on a theme over a period of time, before assembling it into a final piece of work. In this case a series of photographic portraits that visualise a group of individual people taking part in the daily activity of watching television.

Fig. 1 Paul Graham (1986)

 

As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000)

Jonas Mekas’ film As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000) offers a very different approach to the use of source material within an art work. In this case, the moving images themselves were the starting point for a five hour experimental documentary film in which the filmmaker re-constructs the previous 30 years of his life from home movie footage. Mekas’ voice-over in the film provides a commentary on and insights into what the viewer is seeing.

Fig. 2 Jonas Mekas (2000)

 

Nine images

Using photography as a way of visualising a significant place, I gathered a series of images showing the human and the natural along the bank of a nearby river. Having attempted this exercise, I can see the value in gathering visual data in the early stages of working on an idea.

         

See Fig. 3

However, although the images could be used as the starting point for an idea, I’m not entirely satisfied with the results. While the images record some of the things I saw while walking along the river, I don’t feel they engage sufficiently with the idea of the everyday having a natural narrative; with the ‘poetry of the everyday’ I found in Jonas Mekas’ film  As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000)The next step might be to use the still images as the starting point in generating story ideas relating to character and place. Alternatively, the next step might be to return to the river with a video camera to gather some footage that could be used in a moving image.

 


References

Television Portaits (1986-90) Graham, Paul. At: http://www.paulgrahamarchive.com/television.html (Accessed on: 1 April 2017)

As I was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty – Paradise (2000) Menkas, Jonas. At:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOwescpyMqQ (Accessed on: 1 April 2017)

 

List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Graham, Paul (1986) Television Portraits At: http://www.paulgrahamarchive.com/television.html (Accessed on: 1 April 2017)

Figure 2. Mekas, Jonas (2000) As I was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty – Paradise At:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOwescpyMqQ (Accessed on: 1 April 2017)

Figure 3. Salisbury, P (2017) Nine images of the Owendoher river [Photographs] In possession of: The author: Dublin

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: …