Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Raindance Before the Snowfall

Britain has been hit by cold weather again, which despite the country being in the Northern hemisphere, always seems to surprise and upset those of us who live here. I'm tired of it already and it's only been a couple of days - I'm purposely listening to music whenever I'm outside just to keep the inside of my ears warm.

Just as the weather was turning I actually managed to have a productive weekend. Rather than sit about watching multiple episodes of Castle and/or Battlestar Galactica I fuelled the ol' creative juices and went to a one day Screenwriting course run by the friendly folks of Raindance Film Festival. I got the deal via Groupon, so it was extra good to have only paid £30 or so for it, instead of the usual £100+, and it was worth every penny. I learned loads about the screenwriting process and writing in general so if anyone reading this is thinking about doing it my honest opinion is: fantastic for newbies, or for those who have a script and want to learn more about the pitching process. If you can afford the usual price (i.e. it doesn't make your sphincter clench at the thought of spending that much money on a one day course) then go for it. If your budget is a little more like mine, than look out for deals on Groupon - they do them on a pretty regular basis. It's presented by the founder of Raindance, Elliot Grove, and he's very easy to listen to.

Apart from learning that I know more about screenwriting (and indeed storytelling in general) than I thought I did, here are some of the highlights of the day, without ruining the point of going along for yourself:

"Building a vocabulary of shapes"

This was one of the first points made in the day and really resonated with me. The story was around the artist Henry Moore and his habit of collecting small pebbles and bones which he would sketch. When asked why he did this, he explained he needed to build a vocabulary of shapes to keep his hand in, and to add to his experience. This is something I've started to do recently (though I wouldn't have phrased it so elegantly), with sketching and writing; working on smaller pieces to gain experience and to work out how to do certain things. For example, if you've ever tried to draw or paint water, you likely discovered how bloody hard it is to make it look right. Writing is the same; sometimes you know what happens in the story but you just don't know how to say it in the best way. These small vignette's or sketches are a great way to practise without the pressure and improve your techniques.

We even got to watch a few short films that have been
shown in previous Raindance Film Festivals.

How to avoid making all characters the same

I have to admit, this is a problem I suffer from - a lot of my characters feel very similar, and it's something I've been trying to work on. A great idea I got from the course was to list all the traits of the characters in separate sections; physical, psychological and moral. The three feed into each other too, and best yet once you have a few characters sketched out like this you can see what happens if you throw them into a room together; just play with the dialogue to see what kind of conversation they would have and you'll likely learn more about them then you would have from hours of outlining.

The Social Stage

If I'm honest I didn't entirely buy into this, but it's a useful way of thinking nonetheless so I'll add it here in case anyone else is interested. The theory goes that every film/story/whatever is set in one of four social stages and they are in a continuous circuit, going from; Wilderness > Village > Town > City > Oppressive City and then back to Wilderness again. Stories can take place in any of these stages, or can even be at the cusp of one changing into another. The key is to do with the hero types that exist in each stage: Wilderness heroes are Super heroes (gods for example), Village/Town heroes are classic heroes, City heroes are average Joe's and Oppressive City heroes are the anti-heroes. The heroes differ by how much they're changed by the story - the Super Hero is not changed at all by the story events but can wreak great change upon the society they're in, whereas the anti-hero will be completely changed by the events they take part in.

For example, "Alien" would be Oppressive City; Ripley (anti-hero) has to overcome the oppressive alien force as well as the conspiracy on the ship to save the alien, so that she can return to safety. "Avatar" would be the same thing. "High Plains Drifter" on the other hand would be Village (or a bit of Town) as the hero is a "classic" one, in that he has little to no personal development through the story - he ends exactly as he started. But the village/town is changed forever by his presence.

Like I said, I'm not sure I entirely buy into all of the above but it's a useful tool in the box when ideas are not flowing. And the good thing was Elliot Grove made it clear that all of the advice being given was just that: advice. Not gospel, not rules, just stuff you can try if you need a bit of help along the way.

The course was in Westminster University's Cinema.
I didn't even know they had a cinema...

These are just some of the high points - there was also a lot of stuff to do with screenplay techniques (which I think could work for prose fiction too) and budget/business stuff specific to the screenwriting world. It was a great day, and it was lovely to meet others also venturing into the world of writing and not really knowing how to go about it, but knowing they want this crazy writing lark to be a part of their lives. I was especially impressed by those who got up on stage at the end of the day and pitched their script ideas to a panel made up of Elliot Grove, a professional screenwriter and the MC for the day, who is also an actor. Maybe in years to come that will be me up there...

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