Reflection on Part One

Part One has been filled with many new challenges, from carrying out visual research to transforming ideas and concepts into moving images and a screenplay. I have learnt new ways of finding and developing ideas and concepts into moving images that I will continue to use in future projects and assignments, and beyond.

I am aware that I need to be more experimental in my approach to creating moving images. Although this is something that does not come easily to me at the moment, it is something that I am already embracing whole heartedly in both my research and practical work. The course material on experimental film, for instance, inspired me to carry out further research into several experimental and avant grade filmmakers, in particular Jonas Mekas and Doug Aitken, whose work I find particularly interesting and relevant to my own moving image practice.

In his feedback to my first assignment, my tutor advised me to adopt a rigorous approach to research. This is something I have taken on board. Though, I am aware that I need to develop my visual research skills in order to get the best out of the research I am doing. I have found the guidance on learning logs and reflective practice in the OCA student guide ‘Introducing Learning Logs’ particularly helpful in this respect.

Since starting this course, I have been using notebooks for gathering ideas and research material. This is something I have never done before. At the moment I’m using two notebooks: a Moleskine lined notebook for my Logbook, and an A5 artists sketchbook for my Research Journal, in which I gather images, information and personal observations on moving image practitioners. These journals have become invaluable in my studies and will continue to be so. In the coming months, when I start working on future assignments and the final film, I am thinking of using larger spiral bound A4 artists sketchbook as my Project Journals, as this will enable me to keep all my primary and secondary research materials relating to individual assignments together in one place.

I’m finding the learning blog very challenging. The practical side of setting up and organising my learning blog was quite straightforward. It is the actual writing of posts that is proving difficult, as I don’t yet feel confident in what I am doing with this.

One of the most striking things I have realised about myself since starting this course on the moving image, is that I feel like I have been given ‘permission’ to be creative again. To feel free to explore and experiment with my own ideas and on my own terms. To follow wherever my imagination takes me. Something I have not felt for many years.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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

Reading: Classical Narrative Techniques

Basic techniques of progression, clarity and unity

  • a narrative is a chain of events occurring in time and space, linked by cause and effect
  • basic principle of Hollywood cinema – a narrative should consist of a chain of causes and effects that is easy for the viewer to follow
  • clarity of comprehension is basic to all responses to films, particularly emotional ones
  • most Hollywood films tend to be easier to understand than art-house films; they lack the ambiguities and symbolism that make art-house films  fascinating
  • strength of Hollywood system is its ability to allow writers and directors to weave intricate web of character, event, time and space that can seem transparently obvious to the viewer – unobtrusive craftsmanship
  • Hollywood favours unified narratives – a cause should lead to an effect that in turn should become a cause for another effect; an unbroken chain of cause and effect across the film
  • effect does not always need to immediately follow cause – the ‘dangling cause’, information or action which leads to no effect or resolution until later in the film (e.g. Witness – John Book remains hidden on Amish farm; Book learns his partner Carter  has been murdered and must save himself and the Amish family from the corrupt cop; Carter’s investigation acts as a dangling cause that eventually results in his death; that effect causes Book to reveal himself to police; the line of action initiated by Carter has been put on hold until needed); a typical dangling cause; stitches classical narrative together
  • ambiguous, open endings often characterise art-house films
  • Hollywood films achieve closure in plot-lines and subplots
  • unity and clarity require everything in the film to be motivated, whether in advance or in retrospect (epilogue) – each event, object, character trait, narrative component should be explicitly or implicitly justified by other elements within the film
  • lack of justification – a plot ‘hole’ – distracting; runs counter to narrative linearity and unity
  • generally, the characters provide most of the motivations in a film – these motivations are based on character traits; these traits last throughout the film, the characters act consistently
  • if character behaves contrary to their traits, the classical narrative will offer an explanation (e.g. Jaws – chief Brody is scared of water, yet he goes out as assistant in Quint’s boat and ultimately kills the shark; the implication is that he does something uncharacteristic because of his strong desire to protect his family and community; his fear of water is still present; during the shark hunt is more afraid than the shark hunter Quint and scientist Hooper and does not enter into the fight with the same level of delight as them)
  • characters with sufficient traits to be interesting and sustain the causal action of the film are central to Hollywood filmmaking
  • in most cases, the main character in a classical Hollywood film desires something, and that desire provides the forward impetus for the narrative
  • Hollywood protagonists tend to be active, to seek out goals and pursue them rather than having goals simply thrust upon them
  • the protagonist’s goals define the main lines of action; there are usually two lines of action, making a double plot line another distinctive feature of Hollywood cinema
  • Romance is central to Hollywood films, so one line of action follows that; the other line deals with another of the protagonist’s goals; the goals are usually linked (e.g. Tootsie – Michael Dorsey’s first goal is to get work as an actor, so as to earn money to produce his friend’s play; winning the love of a woman is the second line; The Silence of the Lambs – Clarice’s two goal are both professional: first, she wants to become a special agent for the FBI, specifically with Crawford, second, she wants to catch the serial killer before he murders his next victim; both goals are tightly intertwined, in that we assume he success in saving the victim will ensure her the job with Crawford)
  • goals may not provide the main forward thrust in all films – some films set up a series of questions, in which the protagonist does not know what they want until well into the film (e.g. The Graduate – the whole thrust of the story is for Benjamin to find a goal); but such protagonists are very rare
  • most protagonists have two goals, maybe equally important
  • some films are use another strategy, not goal-orientated – European art cinema; characters often act because they are forced to, not because they want to (e.g. L’Avventura – protagonist has goal but seems unable to pursue it actively; involves both a search and a romance, but the film concentrates on the psychological inability of the characters to follow through on these goals)
  • one thing that sets art-house film narrative set apart from classical-style films – the protagonist is under little time pressure to accomplish their goal; in Hollywood films, both forward impetus and temporal clarity are provided by the inclusion of one more deadlines; the deadline may last across the entire film (e.g. His Girl Friday – the opening scene reveals Walter Burns is under pressure to obtain a reprieve for Earl Williams before the execution the following morning), or only a brief while (e.g. Alien – at the end of the film when Ripley sets the spaceship’s self-destruct mechanism and has only ten minutes to escape)
  • Hollywood films tend to convey information about deadlines, character traits and other story factors redundantly – i.e. the same event or character trait may be mentioned or reiterated several times, so viewer can absorb the information and follow the plot

Keeping the narrative progression clear:

  • one potential source of complexity – the medium’s ability to move about freely in time and space
  • intercutting may link characters who are widely separated; locale may shift in the instantaneous change provided by a cut; an interval of time, whether a few seconds or many years, may be elided in the same blink of an eye
  • most modern drama consist of over 800 shots or more; faster action thrillers can include over 2000 cuts – this creates challenge for filmmakers to maintain clear, comprehensible, causality, space and time within a film
  • the form of a film is not a continuous entity, but an assembly of blocks represented by shots and scenes; the filmmaker must search for connecting elements within the story in order to avoid interruptions to the continuity
  • narrative disruptions can occur either within a scene or at the transitions between scenes
  • stylistic devices – to achieve clarity – include placing a distant framing of the action (establishing shot) early in a scene to establish the locale and who is present in it
  • the analytical editing system – breaking the space into closer framings makes the action more comprehensible by enlarging the salient visual elements
  • matches on action – at the cuts – to promote a sense of temporal continuity
  • compositions – usually centre the most important characters or objects, ensuring the viewer will notice them
  • shot/reverse shot conversation – characters are often balanced in a gentle sea-saw of slightly off-centre framings
  • design techniques – bright clothing or staging calls attention to moving characters

Recent changes to classical Hollywood style:

  • fast cutting and occasional jump cuts
  • lighting and tonality tend to be darker, even outside the realm of film noir
  • dissolves to soften scene transitions have disappeared; fades only used to mark a few important scene changes
  • startling sound bridges are common
  • special effects are more prominent
  • however – shot/reverse shot still used in conversation sequences; the axis of action obeyed; faster editing accompanied by simultaneous simplification of composition, to keep shots legible

Other issues and techniques:

  • spectators are most likely to lose track of time, space, or the causal chain during the progression from one scene to another – one reason why the establishing shot is crucial for maintaining a clear sense of locale
  • most basic source of temporal and causal clarity is the dangling cause
  • one simple technique is to leave a cause open at the end of one scene and immediately pick it up in the next; such a transition is known as a ‘hook’
  • frequently at the end of a scene a character will mention what they are going to do and them will immediately be seen doing it early in the next scene – the ‘dialogue hook’
  • another means of providing temporal clarity from scene to scene and across stretches of the narrative is the appointment – the appointment may act as a dialogue hook that reveals the time interval that the next scene transition will pass over
  • a film can achieve overall unity and clarity by means of motifs – auditory or visual

Key points for me

There is a clear distinction between European art-house films and classical Hollywood films, each one employing their own variations on progression, clarity and unity.

Classical narrative technique is an effective means of visual storytelling, though lacking the ambiguity and symbolism associated with art-house films.

As a means of cinematic storytelling, classical Hollywood cinema uses tried and tested techniques designed to create a unified narrative capable of weaving an intricate web of character, event, time and space that can seem transparently obvious to the viewer.


Thompson, K. (1999) Storytelling in the New Hollywood: Understanding Classical Narrative Technique. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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.




Dienst, J., & Winter, T. (2017) ‘Secret Service Agent’s Laptop Stolen in New York.’ In: NBC News [online] At: (Accessed on: 29 March 2017)

Mazza, E. (2017) ‘Woman blames car crash on Bigfoot.’ In: The Huffington Post, US Edition [online] At: (Accessed on: 29 March 2017)

RTE News (2017) ‘Good weather sees surge in wild fires across country.’ In: RTE News [online] At: (Accessed on: 29 March 2017)