Wednesday, 3 October 2012

BFI : Script Doctor Surgeries / What's a MacGuffin?

On 29th September I attended 'Whats a MacGuffin?' Educational session at the BFI Southbank.

The information handout read;

 'Join us for an epic scriptwriting day at BFI Southbank, and get some crucial writing tips from the master of suspense. Experts from Euroscript will be giving an illustrated masterclass showing just how Hitchcock made his films so tense and gripping, explaining techniques like the infamous 'MacGuffin', and revealing why Hitchcock's methods remain the best guide to creating an exciting screenplay. We're also delighted to welcome special guest David Freeman, who worked on Hitchcock's final (unmade) film, who will be discussing his work with the Master of Suspense.'

'Euroscript is a script training and development organisation. We run practical courses and workshops on every aspect of scriptwriting, and offer a wide range of feedback services helping writers move their stories onto the next level.'

Ian Long heads Euroscript's consultancy services and teaches workshops in writing horror, science fiction and thrillers, as well as a special seminar in Creating Fear in Cinema. He recently completed an epic animated feature and is currently writing a supernatural film to be shot on location in Italy.

Gabriella Apicella is a freelance writer who has had short films, experimental theatre pieces and prose for an art installation commissioned. She is co-founder of the UnderWire Festival which, with support from WFTV, BEV and Euroscript, aims to promote the raw talent of women in the film industry. Gabriella teaches Screenwriting, Creative Writing and Literacy at organisations including Birkbeck College and the Lyric Theatre.

Script Doctor Surgeries

I booked a session with Gabriella Apicella to talk about script writing.
I asked her if she had any golden nuggets of advice, any book recommendations and any good story development tips. This is her response;

"The vast majority of screenwriting is visual storytelling, that is one of the things at the beginning when we start to work with writers. We find that people tend to overwrite, they put so much dialogue in and they aren't detailing anything in to do with the story and they don't necessarily have a clear idea of what's coming up on the  screen and what the audience is actually looking at. The thing about rolling ideas through is when you've got your main characters, a lot of it is to do with empathy for his characters as we see in Hitchcock's films and a sort of understanding how they would behave in a given situation. Often people will come up with some quite convoluted plot and they won't be happy for that character to just be going to the supermarket for example, they say something like 'oh no that's boring' and discard it, but actually if you have got that character in an uncomfortable situation, that's going to show a side of their personality that is then going to move the story on and that's going to take it to somewhere they might have an unusual reaction to it. 

So an interesting character at the core of your story, and putting them into scenarios and seeing that they behave in an extraordinary odd way, it then becomes interesting and you then have a story rise out of that. So lets say for example you've got somebody in a supermarket, and they might be somebody who in that scenario they're being frightened, then you can find out why they're frightened, what led up to that. When they're frightened how they're going to behave. The other people that come across them, how do they react to them? Before you know it you've got a little scene happening there, you've also got if they're perhaps going to do something violent or completely submissive, you've got 'what's going to happen next' then and you can start from something quite simple, just a person, an emotion and it's a very sort of normal everyday location and just sort of play with it. How would that look to somebody looking in on that? What about the manager of the supermarket he sees somebody behaving like that in his store, how is he going to react? Is he going to get angry? Is he going to be sympathetic? Is it going to bring up issues for him? Has he got something going on... ? 

As you can see it's almost like playing with toys really you used to when you're a kid. Like what if Action-man did 'that' to Barbie, what would she do then? In a way that's the sort of playfulness of writing, thats where the joy of it can come out because you literally are just mitigating as characters. Having a sense of playfulness with it, and not having that kind of pressure on yourself to produce something thats extraordinary straight off the bat. 

One of the books I'd suggest, the writer has this wonderful idea about putting your characters out of their comfort zone, you give them all these different challenges, and by doing that you get to see all these different sides to them. She says about how because the brain is a muscle like any other it has muscle memory, so it will automatically recreate the cliche , the dull scenes that we've all seen a billion times, but actually as a creative your job is to go through that process and through all of those, but then beyond it, and accept that your first ideas will be cliches, they will be stereotypes. That's not because you're crap, that's not because you can't do it, that's because what you've already seen is just imprinted in your muscle, your brain, and it's just going through what it already knows, like when you ride a bike you know easily how to do that and that's just how we're designed to do things. The more you push your brain outside of it's comfort zone the more unusual and interesting ideas you will have. Part of that process is going through the motions a little bit and not discarding those ideas as they come to mind, because actually they're there in the same way that you have a filtration process. You've got to go through all the crappy bits before reaching the kind of beautiful, clear thing at the end. 

You don't have to be particularly elegant in your prose, you don't have to use convoluted language, it's just the simplicity of it, actually some of the best screen writing is the most simple and the clearest, and it's just selecting the appropriate word rather than making up some beautifully elegant sentence.

I'd advice reading as many screenplays as you can, there's a website called 
Simply Scripts, it's really useful if there's a sequence if you're not sure how to write because of the formatting, then you can think of a film where you might have seen something similar before, look it up and see how they're done it and go 'oh ok that's how you write that kind of scene' so it's a really useful resource."

Live Script Reading of 'The Lady Vanishes'

After the Script Doctor Surgeries there was a live script reading session of 'The Lady Vanishes' held in the BFI's new Library, this was brilliant. Very entertaining. I will post a video of this when I'm sent the file.

Also, I took an audio recording of the 'What's a MacGuffin?' event, I shall post that soon too.

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