Archive for the ‘short films’ Category

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Each year Film Independent, under the banner of Project Involve, brings together filmmakers from communities traditionally underrepresented in the industry. The program accepts Fellows from all disciplines and runs from October to June. Fellows participate in master workshops, classes on the business and craft of filmmaking and one-on-one mentorships. The cornerstone of the program is the creation of short films and for the past three years I have had the honor of being the story editor helping the writers/directors bring their stories to life.

The process begins with the amazing leaders of Project Involve, Francisco Velasquez and Jane Hwang, giving the Fellows a theme from which to develop a treatment for a 10 page short film. Francisco and Jane review the treatments and choose 8-10 projects to develop. Once the first drafts are turned in I join in. Over a series of weekly development meetings the writers, Francisco, Jane and I get together to discuss each script in depth.

This process echoes traditional story development meetings found at studios and production companies and requires the writer to  look at their script from every angle. We explore the theme, characters, structure and dialogue while ensuring the final piece will be producable given the budget and time constraints. Writers dig deep to find the heart of their story and explore solutions that ensure they will tell it succinctly and visually. Notes are given, implemented and rewrites turned in. Once the final drafts are submitted directors are invited to pitch and Francisco and Jane greenlight six scripts to go into production. Teams are assembled and after roughly a month of prep and one final story development meeting the projects start shooting.

The short films go through full post and the final versions are showcased at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June.

In six short months the Project Involve Fellows see their projects go from script to screen. As the story editor shepherding this process there’s no way to fully describe the pride and joy I feel when I see the results of all their hard work on the big screen in a packed theater. Many of these shorts have gone on to play at festivals across the country where they have won both awards and critical acclaim.

This year’s Fellows have just wrapped production and I’m looking forward to seeing their films at the Festival. They are an incredibly talented group of filmmakers and I know you’ll be seeing their work in the years to come.

 

 

 

 

 

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Last month I was in beautiful St. John’s, Newfoundland for the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival’s “Scene and Heard.

St. John’s, on the most Eastern part of Canada,  affectionately known as “the rock,” and a three hour flight from Toronto is home to an amazing group of incredibly talented filmmakers. I was fortunate to meet many of them during a workshop on writing short films and in a dozen one-on-one script consultations. I also moderated a panel on adaptations with award winning filmmakers Barbara Doran and Deanne Foley and novelist Kevin Major which led to conversations about what it takes to find the right project to adapt and the importance of emotionally connecting to your material.

I was also fortunate to be able to see a screening of selected short films by local filmmakers, pick up some truffles from the Newfoundland Chocolate Company and get a fabulous Scene and Heard t-shirt but skipped the cod cheeks (don’t ask!). St. John’s is a very special city with a wonderful, close knit community of writers, directors, and producers and I was truly honored to be part of this year’s “Scene and Heard.”

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I recently watched a wonderful short film that hit home the importance of a strong dramatic question that hooks the audience.

Mission directed by Mark Buchanan and written by Gregor Barclay opens with a young boy trying out for the soccer team. This is intercut with his father undergoing a rigorous series of tests in hope of being an astronaut on the next mission to Mars. Both are denied. Back at home dad’s unable to deal with the rejection and with the mission just a few short hours from blasting off builds his own space capsule in the living room. Leaving his son to fend for himself he holes up for the duration of the 200 day mission.

And with this we’re hooked into the story because we want to know what’s going to happen to both father and son. But even before this we want to know what’s wrong with dad, what he’s building and what he plans on doing once he’s inside the capsule. It’s not until the very final moments of the film that we come to understand what’s transpired to bring dad to this breaking point and the final voice over is particularly poignant. The piece is ultimately very moving and beautifully shot. But what makes it work as well as is does is the dramatic questions it raises that keep us fully engaged and invested in the outcome.

You can watch Mission on Vimeo here.

Dramatic questions are a vital part of a successful screenplay – whether short or feature length. So what is a dramatic question? Simply put – it’s the central question the story raises that we want to have answered. Dramatic questions hook us into the story and keep us emotionally engaged through to the end. For example in The King’s Speech we’re drawn through the story to find out how Albert is going to overcome his stammer. In Saving Mr. Banks we want to know how P. L. Travers comes to sell the rights to Mary Poppins. In Her we’re invested in the story to find out how Theodore and Samantha’s relationship is going to work out. In Argo we want to know if the hostages will make it out of Iran. In The Hangover it’s will they find the groom and in The Heat we want to know if Ashburn and Mullins will put aside their differences long enough to bust the drug ring.

Sometimes a story will raise multiple questions – external that drive the plot and internal which are part of the protagonist’s overall arc. For example in Silver Linings Playbook we want to know if Pat and Tiffany will get together but also if Pat is going to be able to stay the course and learn to manage his mental illness. In Midnight in Paris we’re invested in the story to see if Gil will leave his wife, stay in the past, find romance with Adriana and write his novel. In Up we want to know if Carl will make it to Paradise Falls, connect with Russell and reconcile the loss of his wife. We even see this in ensembles like Little Miss Sunshine where we want to know if Olive will make it to the pageant but also how our family will heal their disconnect. Mission does this as well raising several questions that escalate over the course of the story.

Establishing dramatic questions that drive the story forward is key to a successful script. They serve to hook the reader and keep them invested in the outcome ensuring their desire to know the answer will have them reading to the very last page.

June 24th, 2013  Posted at   film festivals, screenwriting, short films, story editing
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I was just at the Los Angeles Film Festival to screen this year’s Film Independent Project Involve shorts which we started developing in January. It’s a whirlwind process for the filmmakers who go from treatment to the big screen in just under 6 months. The theme this year was cultural celebrations and the writers explored an amazing array of ideas including Day of the Dead, sitting Shiva, a same sex wedding, Diwali, a Korean funeral, a family reunion and the 4th of July. As the finished films, all under 10 minutes, played on the big screen I was reminded of the power of short films to pack an intense emotional punch.

I love shorts and they’re finally being given their due. They’re screened at every major festival from Cannes to Slamdance, can be entered in several on-line competitions and are being distributed internationally theatrically. One of the reasons for this sudden explosion of short films is that digital technology and access to the web are creating a perfect storm that dovetails beautifully with shorts. Clearly audience’s viewing habits are changing and more and more people are going to youTube, Vimeo, and iTunes for content which they watch on their smartphones, tablet or computer – there’s even an App that streams short films from top festivals. Smaller scale narratives are perfectly suited to these devices as they offer a brief burst of entertainment without the time investment of a feature film.

With this kind of exposure short films can launch a feature film career, help filmmakers gain recognition in the industry, hone writing and directing skills, provide a platform for a feature script, and give filmmakers an opportunity to experiment with new ideas, stories or cinematic techniques. This is a great time for short films and I was honored to be part of helping these very gifted Film Independent Project Involve filmmakers bring their stories to the big screen.