This week’s blog from the From Her Point of View programme features how to work with actors and write for the screen. Catch up with Kerrie, one of the young women taking part in the training who is also acting as Press Agent for the films…
Week Two: Working with Actors & Screenwriting
Now we all know each other, it was time to hit the ground running! This week began with a session led by Esther May Campbell: An Introduction to Working with Actors. A self-taught writer and director, Esther has some impressive and inspiring credentials. Her debut feature film ‘Light Years’ premiered at the London Film Festival in 2015, she won the Best Short Film BAFTA in 2009 with ‘September’, and has worked on shows like Wallander and Skins.
Working with Actors
The session began with Esther distinguishing between actors and non-actors, and how you would change your approach and style of direction depending on your casting decisions. This gave each production team food for thought and started the process of thinking about this in relation to their scripts. Esther also talked about scale of performance – the intensity you want a scene to have. To start this process simply, she encouraged us to think about it on a scale of 1 to 10. She also touched on the principle we will continue to hear about: Intention.
For a director, Intention is all about what you want the scene to do, and how you explore this within the wider frame of your character’s story. To tie this in with the idea of scale, she asked two of us (Rosa and Florence) to help her with a demonstration. The rest of us had to give a setting, and a beach was suggested. She then took Rosa and Florence aside and gave them an intention, without letting the other (or us) know what it was. Rosa and Florence then had to run with this and ad lib a scene, and play around with scale of performance.
Next, Esther gathered us all back around the screen in the main studio to watch some clips from a couple of films and see if we could identify the intention of the scene. The catch: the sound had to be muted!
This workshop was a real eye opener for me. As a lover of films who particularly enjoys watching an actor’s performance for the finer, more subtle nuances, it was great to gain a bit more insight into how their choices and director’s influence can affect the bigger picture. We’ll be lucky enough to have Esther with us again in a few weeks’ time.
The rest of the evening passed with each production team meeting to discuss their next steps, ahead of needing a first draft of their script in a fortnight. Both production teams also had a brief chat with Carrie Love about preparation for Art Department. We’ll hear more from Carrie in March at our production design workshops.
On Friday 3rd February, I felt I’d come into my element as our workshop was on screenwriting. As an aspiring writer and blogger who wants to get into the creative industry in some shape or form, I confess I had never thought about writing for film prior to taking part in this project, but I know I found it incredibly helpful. Film is a visual medium, so you show your audience, not tell them. I’d always thought of writing being the opposite of this, but I soon learned that you can translate many of the skills between the two disciplines.
The presentation was broken down into several principles, so here’s a brief run down:
Use your creative truth – Everyone’s voice is unique and will colour what you create. You will have a perspective that no one else has and can explore what is important to you.
Let your theme guide your plot – Think more widely about what you want your film to achieve and explore. Your characters will drive the plot and represent the themes in the action they come across.
Intention and Obstacle – Ah, our old familiar friends! We were briefly introduced to Intention and Obstacle in previous weeks. Intention is what your characters want and Obstacle is what prevents them from achieving this. Whatever else happens in your film, it will boil down to these two must-have elements. Everything else will hang on this, so it must make sense. The intention must be established at the beginning, and the simplest way is by having your characters say what it is, thereby engaging the audience from the outset. Remember that your obstacle does not need to be overcome and that the crux of drama will come from you pressing your intentions and obstacles.
Plot – What happens: setup, conflict resolution, beginning, middle, end. Choose an idea that you can do justice to within your time frame, focus in on a small aspect and infer the bigger picture.
Character – Your characters are fictional creations and therefore they don’t need to be real; they can just serve the purpose in your narrative. Your characters are defined by their approach to the obstacles that block their intentions.
Research – ‘Hard research’ is about specifics. If you have a character that has a particular occupation, for example, [details of] these things will need to be part of the narrative to make it convincing. ‘Soft research’ gets you closer to your subject matter and is more useful if you don’t know what exactly you are looking for. Think of soft research in terms of intentions and obstacles.
Writing technique – Show, don’t tell. Be economical with your words: ditch adverbs, adjectives are your friends! Give your audience just enough to understand your plot.
This gave us a flavour of how important a screenwriter is. One of the teams are about to learn this in relation to their project […] More on this next time…
This programme is supported by Creative Skillset’s Film Skills Fund, with BFI’s Film Forever National Lottery funds.