Week 6 – Going into Detail

“If I were able to summarize a film in three

sentences, I wouldn’t need to make it.“

Michael Haneke

This week we will start getting more into detail, i.e. we will be talking about specific items that can help to trigger your imagination.

As we’ve seen before narrowing the view or a limitation often helps to find ideas more easily. Because: if everything’s possible it is often difficult to find a starting point.

To start with a very abstract level of understanding you could say, that the cinematic creation launches three simple operations. We always should keep this in mind:

  1. Choice / selection – selecting things from the world around us, i.e. reality.
  2. Order / layout / arrangement – placing things in relationship to each other.
  3. Approach / procedure – deciding on the starting point or the perspective of the chosen and disposed things.

When it comes to choice / selection we have to ask ourselves: What are finally the main ingredients of an idea or a screenplay?

Linda Seger names five: story, characters, theme, images, dialogue. Places / locations are interestingly not mentioned here! Sometimes four pillars of a story are mentioned, the Four Ps: people, place, purpose and plot. Others like Steven Barnes speaks of a model to start with: situation, character, objective, opponent, disaster.

Sometimes the main ingredients can be found by a catalogue of questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? Or even: How does the whole thing start? What happens next? Who are these people? What happens next? Etc.

But often it is a single image, that is enough (for instance of a location or a place) to trigger our idea generation process. Composing a story around an image and discovering its significance through writing about it can be a strategy to ‘unpack’ the idea. In the end I would recommend to keep Guy Gallo’s advice in mind:

“There are many useful concepts to know and use when composing a screenplay. But the application of these ideas must be adjusted and adapted to the particular story being told. They must be treated as guidelines, not rigid rules.“

If you want you can immediately proceed to Week 7 – Locations and Places.