Category Archives: The Short Film Experiment

A Short Film Experiment Update (#4)

So today I finally got round to actually scripting this chase film, after several weeks of ‘outlining’ (read: procrastination) and the realisation that I won’t have any idea what it’s going to look, sound, smell or taste like until I get the words down on the page – and even then it’ll only be a guess.

It’s actually been a pretty strange process this time around: usually with shorts I list all of the scenes then write all of the description or action that needs to happen in the first pass, and once I’m satisfied that everything’s where it’s meant to be, I take a run at the dialogue.

It’s not that I’m scared of the dialogue and writing it is like producing wine from my wang – quite the opposite. I love dialogue, actually, and often the problem is that I have so much fun getting the characters talking to each other that it completely derails any momentum that might have been built in the action until they opened their dumb mouths.

So I get the action in place as markers to essentially remind me THIS IMPORTANT THING HAPPENS HERE and that all the dialogue really needs to be is informative colour for each scene, rather than an actor’s showcase. So if I can’t see a sentence that runs the width of a page anywhere onscreen, it’s usually a hint that my guys are getting a little carried away.

This time, though, I wrote the first couple of scenes fully – chatter and all – then got scared of the middle and decided to write the end. After that it came to me that I wasn’t exactly clear on what my characters wanted to talk about (the plots of most chases aren’t particularly oblique, so the only expository lines that are needed are just to flesh out the world and characters, and can run almost separately to what’s on screen). So I opened up a scratchpad on Celtx and got Natasha and Clint – those are their names, FYI – yakking.

[I also made a playlist tailored to the genre for the first time. Have a listen if you like.* You can pretend you’re in my head and start pulling at the wires:]

Turns out the pair had a lot to say about things I didn’t know they would. Not too much, thankfully, but there’ll likely be fat to cut off as ever. Dialogue may well be my favourite part of the writing process, which might be a subconscious hint that I should think about seriously giving playwriting a go (though the lack of boundaries may result in a little overindulgence…).

Now it’s just a matter of deciding when they say the damn lines. More as it happens, but I’m hoping to have this first draft done by the end of the night, with my playlist to guide me.

*Oh, and if you have any suggestions for good chase music from movies or anywhere, I’d sure appreciate it.

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The Short Film Experiment #3

Today I was wondering what made me so interested in making a chase movie. Then I remembered that I watched Point Break last week:

Yeah, definitely taking a couple of notes from Kathryn Bigelow. Zero Dark Thirty would have benefited hugely with a scene where Jessica Chastain’s character chases Bin Laden through Californian alleyways.

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The Short Film Experiment #2 – Notions

So it’s a CHASE MOVIE.

Reasons to make a short chase film:

1. I’ve never seen a live-action one before, and I’d like there to be a really good one out there.

We should bear in mind that I am a criminal underviewer of short film in general and have probably seen >1% of all the short films out there on the interverse. But that said, I have seen a bunch, and none of them was a kick-ass chase movie.

2. Chase scenes in features are a) usually pretty damn cool and exciting and b) reasonably hard to pull off successfully. If I’m going to be telling you all about this process, I might as well make it a challenge. I’m not saying it would be necessarily easy to make a Coffee and Cigarettes-style dialogue-heavy vignette (for one thing it could be really boring, as per reason 3). But it’s certainly less likely to reduce more than half of the on-set crew to tears and/or fits of rage*.

3. More than half (made-up statistic) of all short films suffer from a lack of visual flair, which is sad and irritating because you’d imagine that with a significantly shorter running time than a feature you would want to pour every stylistic technique you’ve got into that single-figure timeframe.

Again, it’s not guaranteed that the film’s going to look interesting or be in any way compelling, but it certainly forces you into a situation where you know it will definitely look absolutely rubbish unless you up your game.

4. Chase scenes make perfect sense as short films to me. The goal of the main characters is clear: either they want to catch somebody (or something) or not get caught themselves, and by the end they either do or don’t. Some action movies just stretch this premise over 100 or so minutes and add nuances of plot and character amid varying action set-pieces, but when it boils down to it, The Bourne Identity is a chase movie, as is Vanishing Point – some would argue the chase movie – and I don’t think it’s too crazy a notion to suggest that pertinent points of either flick could be condensed into a killer chase short.

5. Chase scenes that drag on suck, as do short films. The lesson for both? Brevity rules. So that’s what I’m going for.

Good reasons all, I’d say. In the interest of transparency, here are the key ideas I’ve come up with for the story so far:

  • A couple.
  • A bathtub.
  • A clothesline.
  • Some nudity.

And that’s it. There are other, less clear images of running and yelling and falling but I’m sure you already saw that coming, you smart buggers.

I guess we’ll next talk when I have a clearer idea of who/what/where/why. I’m toying with the idea of writing an outline – a short (less than a page) prose synopsis of the flick which I sometimes like to do if the idea isn’t already crystal clear in my head – but I think I’d rather go from story ideas to the first draft to give more a sense of progression. And besides, writing chase scenes in prose can be really bloody boring unless you’re Cormac McCarthy.

‘Til  next time, folks.

(Yes, the rubbish title stays. For now, at least.)

*Actually that depends on how much of a Jim Jarmusch fan you are, I guess.

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Addendum

And I’ll definitely have to come up with a better title for the whole endeavour than what I have now. Or maybe I’m just already procrastinating by worrying about and changing things that have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH THE SCRIPT.

Yep. This is gonna go smooth.

The Short Film Experiment #1 – Schemes

It turns out the best way to motivate myself is to badger other people into setting goals for themselves and subsequently feel guilty that I don’t have a similarly worthy aim to strive for, thus leading me to create a punishment befitting my crime of laziness. Call it the sado-masochistic approach to productivity, if you will.

I’m in a weird place writing-wise at the moment because I have two screenplays currently in vastly different stages, neither of which I can actually interfere with at the moment. Scars is doing the feedback rounds for its second draft, and it’s best to let it cool for a couple of months before diving into a new one, and my as-yet untitled collaboration with another writer is currently being reworked at the treatment stage by my partner. There are other projects I’m nominally involved in, but I don’t actually have anything to do until either we have a meeting about it or they write the first draft of a thing.

And here I am, twiddling my thumbs and being about as much use as a vegan vampire. So I decided I’m going to write a new short film, which is something I haven’t done in almost a year.

I’ve been um-ing and ah-ing about whether or not to start something new what with all the upcoming projects I’m due to work on, but I realised that it’s dumb to be waiting on other people in order to have any purpose at all, and any time I could be writing and I’m not is time wasted. So I told my screenwriters’ group that I’m going to have a short to show them all at our next meeting (in two weeks) and, to prove I’m not lying when I tell you it was a rousing success and I received a standing ovation for my outstanding contribution to brevity, I’ll let you have a look at it too.

It might be fun to be transparent about the whole  process and post each part of the process as it comes – each draft, maybe an outline of the story and (if I’m feeling brave) even an unedited brainstorm between myself and the page – and if I (or someone else) eventually decide it’s good enough to get made then I’ll talk about that process too, so you can see what the production of a no-budget, semi-amateur, barely enough food to feed the crew production looks like from premise to premiere.

Unless it’s terrible, in which case it will most definitely be fun for everyone except for me who will be quietly (loudly) sobbing in the corner of the room.

And no, I don’t have any ideas yet. Of course I have ideas I could use (there are at any one time at least 9 short film/story ideas hidden away in my phone), but I’d like to go into this one completely fresh in order to share the complete process from start to finish, updating my progress on here on every (non-boring) aspect.

I don’t know if anyone will find it interesting in any way whatsoever, but I figure at the very least future bloggers will have something to link to when they want to discuss how not to write/make/exhibit short film.

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