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SUNK

Well, the second screenplay idea didn’t work out. I should have known better than to try to scrape by with a colour-by-numbers idea I wasn’t really invested in, but I was fairly disillusioned with the course at the time.

I ended up going back to my original idea – the surreal animation about the drowned man journeying towards the afterlife. I called it SUNK, because I felt it captured the essence of the idea without tipping it too much further into complicated pretentiousness. I was fairly happy with it in the end.

It’s probably a right mess according the criteria we were given for what makes a good screenplay, so I’m not expecting a good mark. I do feel sorry for people who mark screenplays – not only do they have to deal with all the subjective merits that the creative writing tutors do, but they don’t even have the finished film but rather a prototype for a film that might end up being good or crap independently or the quality of the screenplay. But I’m creatively satisfied, at least.

Anyway, I realise that I’ve been banging on about this module with no actual examples of what I’ve been working on, so I’ll add some below. Take this image as an idea for the visual aesthetic and tone I was going for:

(damn, I wish I’d found this image before, I would have put it in my reflective report)BLACK SCREEN

FADE IN:

SCENE 1: EXT. SEAFLOOR – NIGHT

Far away, a body floats some thirty feet above the seafloor. Anchored by a long chain, it forms a crucifixion-like silhouette against the vibrant blue.

Moving closer, SHAW comes into detail: early thirties with a castaway beard, average build, wrapped in chains and unmistakably dead.

Intimately close, the only movement is the stirring of his hair in the water and a crab crawling across his waxy cheek.

SHAW raises his head, and opens his eyes.

He looks around. His eyes widen, and he begins to thrash wildly, accompanied by a note of rising panic.

TITLE CARD: SUNK

SCENE 2: EXT. SEAFLOOR – NIGHT

SHAW sits on a rock, staring at his mottled, dead hands. His eyes are wide and shaking, and he does not blink.

Behind him is the anchor embedded in the sand, joined to him by a chain wrapped many times around his body.

Far away but approaching break-neck fast, a scrap of purple fabric is buffeted closer on the current.

It strikes SHAW, wrapping around his face. He stands and grabs it, holding it draped across his hands.

It is a faded scarf, embroidered with pale blue flowers and the faint words ‘forget me not’.

MATCH CUT

SCENE 3: INT. BEDROOM – NIGHT, FLASHBACK

SHAW stands in sailor’s clothes. He is shaven, healthy and alive, holding the same scarf, only new.

He looks up and smiles, with easy affection.

Standing opposite is LORNA, dark-haired and modestly pretty, smiling expectantly.

The surrounding room gives a snapshot of their life: a small bed, a threadbare rug, a rocking chair, a table with a lantern and a DOG curled next to a fireplace, all packed into one small room.

They embrace.

***

SCENE 10: EXT. GATE – NIGHT

Cresting the brow of a slope, SHAW comes to a wide vista.

A procession of drowned men and women follows a winding path along the seafloor, towards a gate and fence hewn from coral.

Where the line reaches the gate, a SEA DEVIL wielding a long trident sits atop a ship’s crow’s nest buried in the sand.

Closer in, the SEA DEVIL’s bottom half is that of an octopus and its top half humanoid but with a crab-like carapace.

It obstructs the DROWNED MAN at the front of the line with its trident and inspects him, menacing but impassive, before allowing him through the gate.

SHAW watches this process repeat from behind a rock, and then steps out and approaches.

To the side, he spots something – the scarf snagged on a piece of coral.

He picks it up, puts it on, and joins the back of the line.

***

SCENE 13 EXT. ABYSS – NIGHT

SHAW lies motionless on barren seafloor, the anchor a short distance away and the lantern lying further off, its glow fainter now.

SHAW stirs.

Blurry, the lantern comes into focus and SHAW stumbles toward it.

SHAW’s boot comes down next to a half-buried shell, setting off eddies of sand that swirl around it.

The shell un-buries itself, revealing itself as a HERMIT CRAB, which scuttles after SHAW.

SHAW reaches the lantern and picks it up.

Straitening up, he is startled as the lantern reveals a gruesome angler fish, uncomfortably close with nightmare jaws stretched wide.

SHAW holds the anchor as if about to swing at the angler, when a pebble strikes it in the eye. It darts away.

SHAW turns to see the HERMIT CRAB next to a small pile of pebbles, bouncing another in its tiny claw.

SHAW smiles weakly, before the scything beam of the lighthouse sweeps overhead like a searchlight.

SHAW turns, gives a whole-body sigh, and pauses.

He begins pursuit, hefting the anchor onto his shoulder once more.

As SHAW walks, the DOG is momentarily walking beside him in place of the HERMIT CRAB.

Screenwriting Inspiration

song-of-the-sea-ben-tells-saoirse-to-go-away

I feel like I was a bit harsh on my screenwriting module last time I wrote about it. I’m still struggling with it – I find everything about the format very restrictive – but it has still been a very productive experience to write within a very new and different mode.

One of the fun parts has been the research, going back to favourite films and unpicking them to try to find the elements that made them work for me. Within the narrow scope we’ve been given, I’ve decided to work on a story about children, specifically the way they understand the concerns and pressures of the adult world, and how it relates to their own lives.

Initially my idea was much more abstract, an animation about a drowned man making his way across the sea floor to the afterlife. However it quickly became clear that I was thinking too much like a poet and needed to find something relying less on symbolism and go for a conventional dramatic structure. I’m not too bothered about this – its good to have another fairly well-formed idea (very visual too, makes me wish I could illustrate). I’m sure I’ll find a use for it.

The inspiration for the second idea was mostly drawn from Coraline and Song of the Sea, both surprisingly smart kids films that negotiate (even if in a background way) issues like stress and grief from a child’s perspective. Both include outlandish, imaginative stories that end up being the key to these issues, and both have interesting family dynamics.

We’ll see how it works out. Right now it could very much go either way. But its already been a useful process, if only because I now know the basics of screenwriting sufficiently to write a functional script if that’s ever a necessary part of any project I’m working on, but also that as a career option, its probably not for me.

 

Screenwriting rant

Tldr; passive-aggressive vagueing about narrative structure being haaaaard

Screenwriting has been interesting so far. I picked it because I wanted to expand my writing skills a bit, because I thought I would like it more than stage scripts and because it might be relevant to any attempts at games writing/narrative design I make in the future. I don’t think its too early to say that its achieved all of those pretty well already. I’ve already learned a lot about the format, about screen directions and plot structure (reading the screenplay for the Night Manager was a really helpful exercise), but there are some elements I’ve struggling with as well.

Namely, dramatic structure. The good old ‘who’s our protagonist, what do they want, why can’t they have it’ formula, with 5 main plot points starting with the inciting incident and ending with the character changing in some way, maybe getting what they wanted, but never in the way they thought they would get it. That one, as reductively misrepresented here.

On the one hand, I’m definitely not claiming it doesn’t work. I can’t claim better than the combined history of cinema and television, which both seem pretty sold on it. Learning it and sticking to it is almost certainly going to serve me very well in future projects. But right now, as we’re pitching our script ideas to our tutor and plotting out our screenplays, it feels like satisfying all the demands of narrative structure in a novel way is more or less the only metric of whether or not a script has the potential to be any good.

Which makes sense, I suppose. A script has to be pitched, directed and produced, after all, and I don’t pretend to be an avant-garde genius that knows a better way of banking on the narrative potential of a piece of writing. My complaints are probably all fairly typical prose-writer-y complaints: I do feel a bit naked with all my precious backstory exposition and internal character voice stripped away.

It’s not as if I don’t like my current dramatic-structure-approved screenplay idea, but it is definitely a few numbers down the list of ideas I’m excited about working on. The others were all beyond the scope of what we get to do on this module or just didn’t fit the narrative structure well enough for me to convince my tutor they’d be worth working on.

Which is also reasonable. It’s not as if I’m going to try something that actively goes against that formula, if only because I lack a compelling reason to do so. I can keep my less dramatically-satisfying ideas for other projects. But it would be nice to get something more than a working understanding of screenwriting and colour-by-numbers screenplay out of this module.

There definitely are scripted narratives that rely on elements other than dramatic structure in order to be good. But that doesn’t get me anywhere, unless I’m in a situation where I can surrender the burden of making-the-thing-good to animators or graphic designers or software engineers.

Who knows where I’m going with this rant. At the end of the day, this has already been a great learning experience. But even if a colour-by-numbers screenplay does end up happening to help me secure a decent mark, I’m going to see if I can’t find a way to bend this piece of coursework a little bit more to my purposes, one way or another.