We are only two weeks in and my knowledge regarding the Oscars and film writing has improved infinitely. Especially as this week, I managed to figure out that there are two categories for writing – Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay. Let’s file that revelation away under ‘Progress Made’. In my unrelenting quest for writing greatness though I don’t want to stop there, and who knows maybe in another week or two I will figure out what on earth an ‘adapted’ screenplay is.
I think Best Original Screenplay is quite self-explanatory and that means all I have to do to win is make sure my screenplay is original (and the best, obviously). Having not studied writing at college or university I missed the class ‘How to write an original screenplay to win an Oscar’, which is really inconvenient considering my current goals.
So how does one do that? Well, I look at big-budget Hollywood movies and I make sure to do exactly the opposite of that. I have a vague recollection of someone saying that a screenwriter shouldn’t have to tell you what is happening, they should show you what is happening.* And given that big budget movies have enough exposition to fill 4 and a half Olympic swimming pools, I’m going to guess telling people what to think rather than showing them is certainly the easier option. But what fun is the easier option?
For those of you that don’t know what exposition is, it is when a character explains the plot of the movie as you go, often telling other characters things they already know. Meaning the dialogue is said not for the benefit of other characters but for the benefit of the audience. For example:
John: Hey Chris, how’s David?
Chris: My brother David? He is doing great, although his printing company is struggling.
John: Oh no, sorry to hear. Is that because of the storm last year which flooded the downtown area?
Chris: Yeah, that water came up to waist height and ruined everything, except my lucky baseball cards.
John: Is that the baseball cards you have been collecting since you were 5 years old?
Chris: Yeah those ones. But why are you speaking like that? You know all of that information already.
John: Well, I’m using exposition to get the audience up to speed on what is happening in this movie.
Chris: This is a movie? Why would anyone watch a movie about lucky baseball cards that survived a flood?
John: I’m glad you asked Chris…
And that is an exert from my screenplay. As you can see it is riveting stuff. So my aim is to take this idea of showing and not telling, to the extreme. I want to create a screenplay which imitates, proportionally, the emotions experienced throughout life. And to clarify that point I need to back up a bit.
The movie I am writing is a metaphorical look at the failure of people to fulfil their potential, through one large analogy. In other movies, and typically kids movies, life is shown to be wonderful and a lifetime of happiness that always ends well. Naturally, this is criticised for being unrealistic as we all know life is
a mundane slog with temporary highs, while the majority of the time we are doing things we don’t want to do in order to satisfy people we dislike or don’t even know. tough. So broadly speaking this is what I want to show, proportionally. For instance, what percentage of your life do you spend bored? Happy? Sad? In pain? Take those percentages and make the audience feel those emotions for that percentage of screen time. Or I should say, attempt to make the audience feel those emotions.
A commenter last week asked if I can give a synopsis of the film which was great because it reminded of another thing I don’t know how to do. So, whilst the core of the movie is as above, the actual story obviously doesn’t tell you any of this at all, because exposition can stay in Hollywood, or Soap Operas.
I can’t tell you if that idea is original or not because I’ve not studied film history, so I’m sure some film buffs out there will tell me how this idea is a direct copy of some obscure failed project from the 1950s (or a huge hit in the 90s). That is also fine because it is about execution. Many people try to use a genre or approach to get their point across, whether it be through music, writing, imagery or whatever, some people fail to convey their point in an engaging way, and some people succeed, even though they could be working in the same genre or on the same idea. It is about how you execute your idea.*
If you want further clarification on that point then look at the directors who attempted to make a Batman movie, they all worked towards the same goal but some did it better than others. So even if someone has done what I am trying to do before, that doesn’t necessarily mean I can’t succeed. Whether it is original or not is another question, however.
So in the last week I have written and edited about 4 lines of the screenplay, which doesn’t sound a lot but it is infinitely more progress than the week before. When I first began writing it, I broke the story down into 4 areas and each area has a theme and a set-piece of sorts. I wrote the shell of these 4 areas, and the aim is to go back and fill out that shell with dialogue and whatever non-dialogue is called. And it was at this point I realised just how difficult writing dialogue is.
So that is my aim in the coming week. I want to look into writers who take different views on dialogue. I don’t want any exposition at all – I do believe mystery is better than reality. I just need to figure out a way to project feelings onto the audience without them realising it – easy. I should also point out at this stage that in the whole movie there are only 2 characters and they are essentially in one location for the whole movie. So the pressure on the dialogue is enormous, as I can’t rely on other elements to engage or fascinate. Time to learn how to write dialogue I suppose!
*Almost certainly just made that up, as I don’t even know where I would have heard such a thing.
P.S Tips are always welcome.
working hard trying to get in touch with anyone who has been nominated or won an Oscar for writing so I can interview them for the blog. If you have won an Oscar, please let me know and I’d love to interview you.