1. What is the story—the beginning, middle, and end—of this film in three or four sentences? In other words, what happens as the story starts, through the rising action, and as it ends?
I wrote a short screenplay for the idea I had. I’ll include a short synopsis afterwards if you’re pressed for time.
TITLE: The Deal Black screen. Gunshots. SMASH CUT TO: EXT. SALT FLATS - HIGH NOON PATSY stands, wheezing, blood flowering on his pale shirt. Suit and tie, cheap. Suitcase in one hand, handgun in the other. He looks like this is his first kill. We see his victim. He's still alive, barely. CLINE hunches over, taking the pain like a man. Suit and tie, cheap. Handgun in one hand. DEAD FRIEND beside him. CLINE You're gonna hang from your neck until you leave this sweet mortal coil, Pats. Patsy reacts. He turns and runs. It's more a stumble, a dead-man shamble. Cline follows just as sorry looking. We see: - PATSY STRUGGLES TO RUN, THE SUITCASE BANGING AGAINST HIS LEG. - CLINE FOLLOWS, STUMBLING AND ALMOST FALLING, NURSING HIS WOUND. - CLOSE ON BOTH FACES, DETERMINATION, ANGER, FEAR. - PATSY DUCKS AS CLINE SHOOTS AT HIM, MISSING. - CLINE FIRING EMPTILY, TRYING TO RELOAD AND CHASE AT THE SAME TIME. - PAIN IN BOTH FACES. - A WIDE SHOT, THE TWO TINY FIGURES RUNNING IN A VAST WHITE NOTHINGNESS. After much struggle, Patsy reaches his CAR. He fumbles the keys from his pocket. Drops them. Curses. Cline closes in. Patsy gets on his knees, aching, pained, trying to reach down under the car to grab the keys. Cline arrives finally, pushes him over, grabs his neck. They draw their guns at the same time. Handguns to each other's heads, this could go any way. CLINE (CONT'D) Was it worth it? Was it worth it, you scum sucking son of a-- Gunshot. Black screen. SMASH CUT TO: INT./EXT. CAR - HIGH NOON The suitcase sits on the passenger seat. The car is in motion. Someone is driving, we don't know who. We see nothing else. A radio crackles on. Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On belts out over the sound system. FADE TO BLACK.
The end of a standoff. Patsy has just shot someone for the first time – Cline, a thug in a cheap suit. Cline pursues Patsy, the two nursing bullet wounds, struggling for breath, until a climactic struggle over a briefcase.
2. Describe the backstory. (Not all of this information will necessarily appear in your film, but you need to know it.)
Who is each character? Give a brief description and backstory for each person.
What does each character want from life, and in this story?
Why do they want it?
Why is this happening to these characters?
Accountant. Not at all an action hero, or even a crime movie figure. A white collar criminal, he managed to siphon millions of dollars from one of his clients before his planned escape across the country. Unluckily for him, that client had some shady connections – a pair of thugs, one of them his own son, chase the accountant across the country.
He wants that cash, and he wants to get to Costa Rica, and he wants to never have to work another day in his life, dealing with people who treat him like trash. He deserves this money (he thinks), and even though he’s no killer, he’s been pushed and prodded to his limits.
Unluckily for him, the two thugs tracked him to a Motel in Salt Lake City. He agreed to meet and turn the money over, though he plans to put an end to this problem once and for all. Whether or not he’s got it in him is another story.
Son of Patsy’s robbed client. That’s his inheritance in the suitcase. He wants it back. He’s not afraid to kill if he needs to, though he’s more of a tough-guy poseur than an actual pipe-hitting criminal. This job is his chance to prove to everyone he’s a tough guy. It doesn’t turn out well for him.
Cline’s toady. They probably bullied kids together in elementary school. Lives off his rich friend. Takes a bullet from the accountant before he gets to do anything significant.
3. What is the theme or meaning of this story? What will you show to help the audience understand this?
This is a pretty straightforward depiction of the consequences of violence, and the actions that lead to that violence. We don’t show anyone getting shot, it’s all implied. We just see them struggling against the pain, bleeding, slowly dying. That’s the singular objective of the whole scene – they are in pain, this is the consequence of violence.
Look at the aftermath sequence after the first big battle sequence in The Revenant for an idea of what I’m trying to do – the depiction of pain and suffering immediately after a glamorized action sequence grounds us and awakens us to the weight of quick decisions.
4. List each essential narrative detail that you must show the audience in order for them to understand and emotionally engage in this film. (For example: The kitchen door is unlocked. A man sneaks through the back door. The babysitter does not see the man enter. The man hides in the pantry. The babysitter has eaten all her cereal. She wants more cereal. Etc.) How do you intend to communicate each essential narrative (not emotional) detail? You do not need to tell the audience the entire backstory and circumstances, however, they will need to know enough to become participants in what’s happening on screen.
The first shot, which we will dwell on, will introduce the character and his objective. It’s Patsy holding a gun, with a terrified, what-have-i-done expression on his face, an ID card hanging from his pants, and a suitcase dangling from his other hand. He will have a bullet wound on his shirt as well, implying that the conflict has already taken place.
The second shot will show us the other side of the conflict and establish the villain. Cline has a gun, his friend is laying dead on the ground beside him. Action has taken place. Patsy killed his friend. They’ve shot one another. His choked out threat to Patsy both establishes the tone of the scene as well as his character and roughness.
These two shots should tell the audience everything they need to know. We’ll dwell on them to let the viewer soak up the expository details.
5. What is the progression of emotions that you want the audience to experience while watching this story? Why? How, specifically, do you intend to do this? How will you use performance, camera, lighting, space, sound and music to create this emotional progression?
First emotion: Shock, fear. We do this through facial mirroring, our actor will cue the audience in with his own reaction. Flat, lots of bokeh, this is our entire focus. Nothing else exists in the world for these shots.
Second emotion: Anxiety, excitement. The whole of the chase sequence. Images of pain, of the briefcase being an obstacle and hitting Patsy’s leg, of Cline fumbling and dropping the bullets he’s reloading with. Everything comes with difficulty in this part of the scene. Nothing goes as planned. We’ll go wide and use depth to give the viewer a sense of the geography of this scene, of the distance between the two.
Third emotion: Fear, tension. Cline finally catches him. Standoff, but a decisive one. Something has to happen. We cut to black right in the middle of it. We want to see, but we don’t get to – the viewer is desperate to know what happened.
Fourth emotion: Confusion leading to satisfaction. Cutting right to the briefcase means we don’t know what happened, though we can piece it together hopefully through post-viewing discussion. The song provides the satisfaction. It’s a triumphant, base song.
6. What is the first image of the film? What is the final image of the film? Why are you choosing these specific images?
First image: Patsy, as described in question 4.
Final image: The suitcase sitting on the passenger seat. Song plays. Credits roll, superimposed on this image.
They’re both very efficient images that tell a lot of story without really saying a whole lot. This is a short scene, we need to use as much visual shorthand as possible, and let the viewer fill in a whole lot of gaps.
7. Why is this story personal to you? (Do not answer, “Because I’ve always wanted to make a chase scene!”) Write about one or more specific personal experience(s) from your life that this scene reminds you of.
I don’t relate to this as I don’t really commit crimes. It’s a genre piece. I can relate to Patsy’s disgust at his own actions – everyone has made mistakes and felt regret, though perhaps not so intensely as in this scene. I can relate to Cline’s anger – imagine being shot and still having the strength to take revenge. That’s kind of universal, though I haven’t been shot ever. Also, chasing and being chased is a pretty universal experience in terms of childhood play. I want to in part capture that excitement here.
8. List the 11 depth cues of space in Block’s The Visual Story (see p. 15-42). Discuss which depth cues you will employ in your film and how.
Perspective, Size Difference, Object Movement, Camera Movement, Textural Diffusion, Aerial Diffusion, Shape Change, Tonal Separation, Color Separation, Up/Down Position, Overlap, Focus.
We’ll use almost all of them except tonal and color separation. Perspective might also be tricky as it’s an outdoor shoot. Size difference will be useful, we’ll show Patsy bigger in the foreground and Cline smaller in the back. Object movement will be the actors chasing one another, though I see this mostly with static compositions – the characters inhabiting the same part of the frame generally. With camera movement, we’ll follow closely behind the characters as they run. Textural and aerial diffusion might not be feasible or useful for this one. Shape change will be useful, they’ll contort and stuff as they run. Patsy will often overlap Cline. We’ll use deep focus for the chase sequence.
9. Articulate the rules for your use space in this film. (For example, will one character exist primarily in flat space while the other exists in deep space?) For each rule, articulate why will you use space in this way. Be specific.
The opening sequence will be very flat. The world doesn’t exist in this moment, just Patsy, Cline, and the decisions they’ve just made. Bokeh like crazy.
The chase is an awakening – deep focus, depth, wide angles, everything. The world, their physical pain, the chase, all of these things are now painfully real, painfully present. Wide angles and depth create a sense of heightened reality.
Final standoff sequence will have depth, though less than the chase. We’re closing in on them, so the focus is closer, and things aren’t as wide and enormous. It’s not a huge struggle of wills anymore, it’s just two guys.
Last shot of the briefcase will be back to flat and bokeh’d. It’s all that exists. The fight is won.
10. Using these rules, how will you use contrast and affinity within shots and from shot to shot to build intensity in your film? Keep in mind the progression of emotions you wrote about above and how contrast and affinity of space will help you achieve a building intensity.
There are three segments to the film. The first is the expository segment, and will contrast heavily with the second segment, the chase. I’ve described this in the previous question.
Wherever we shoot, we’ll find a location that will be relatively flat and empty, so there will be constant contrast between the characters and their environment. They’ll be the only things there, the only thing for our eye to focus on.
11. What focal lengths will you use and when? Why?
50mm for the first segment, with the aperture blown wide open.
From 24 to 14mm? (Maybe 18 if they have it) for the second sequence. Things get wider as the chase goes on. Reality is more and more excruciating as things go on.
35mm for the third standoff sequence. It’s a happy medium between the two preceding segments.
50mm again for the last shot. Back to normal.
12. In a bulleted list, articulate three or four potential production obstacles you may face in creating a successful film. How can you be prepared to overcome these? Be specific!
• The Salt Flats are wet during the winter. I’ll need to call and see if they are, because that will nix it as a location. Plus it’s a 4 hour round trip. We can shoot at the lake or find a parking complex instead if necessary, they’ll work just as well.
• We need prop guns that can reload. How do we get those?
• Weather will be a big obstacle. We need sun with a little cloud cover.
• Costumes, props, travel – this will cost a little bit of money to put together. I can put the money in, but don’t want to spend much if anything.
Overall response (2-3 paragraphs):
Write an overall response to your film in 2-3 paragraphs: Were you successful at achieving what you set out to achieve? What are you proud of? What would you do differently if you could remake this piece? What did you learn?
I think the film turned out pretty close to how I’d envisioned it previously. I like that the costumes landed — I was concerned that the whole getup would feel like a contrived student film trying-to-be-edgy but based on the response, it seemed like they weren’t a problem. I would definitely make sure we had better sound equipment and would pay more attention to sound if I had the chance to redo the film. That’s my big takeaway, as is the necessity for firmness in directing.
Briefly discuss the following:
What, specifically, did you want to communicate? Were you successful? Why? Why not?
I wanted to talk about pain as an emotional concept — I didn’t write with a theme in mind, just a visceral feeling instead. I don’t know if it worked, as I got a bunch of different perspectives on what the theme of the film was.
How, specifically, did you try to communicate this?
Every single shot from the beginning of the chase to the end of the film includes an element of pain or obstacle — struggling against pain, fumbling vital gun parts, falling over, dropping keys. It’s supposed to be an exercise in anxiety.
What did you learn about storytelling:
You can get away with being extremely economical. One shot to establish the character and his goal, another to establish the main villain and his goal, one line (what have I done?) to establish the emotional struggle of the sequence. By using and leaning on archetype, we get that visual shorthand, and the viewer fills in all the gaps. They’re smart.
What did you learn about working with actors and getting performance:
Be willing to push them! The pain of hurt feelings receiving notes is temporary, the pain of seeing your performance and it being less than you’d like on screen is eternal, or as long as the film is around. If I care about them, I care more about the product they will put out there, not their short-term moods.
What did you learn about blocking the camera and actors?
Handheld is viable! Blocking is less difficult than I thought it would be, but we had a large open space with even light all around, so we had a lot of leeway.
What did you learn about visual elements such as lighting, composition, framing, etc.?
Sometimes less is more — it’s not necessary to use every single depth cue, and it can even be distracting. Instead of being extra and trying to use all of them, just use one or two and do it well with those. Too much excess becomes noise.
What did you learn about design and art direction?
Art direction really makes the movie. It’s where all the money should go. The key to getting a great image is great light and great production design. Everything else, there is some space.
What did you learn about the Production Process such as pre-production, collaborating with crew, securing equipment, etc.?
I could have communicated with them all better, and I did almost everything myself instead of having crew take care of things like organisation and wardrobe. It was stressful, and I think I prefer being able to focus on the performance and the creative side solely, rather than the logistics of it all. I also pushed very hard on moving quickly and finishing ahead of schedule, which was probably stressful for everyone, although we did finish slightly ahead of schedule.
I wrote the shot list the night before although I’d had it down in my mind only for a while at that point (which is bad, I know!) Doing it earlier would have been better for the crew. Rehearsals would have helped a great deal as well.
What was it like to watch your film with an audience? Did they understand it? Miss the point? Why did they respond the way they did?
I’m really glad the story communicated! I should have not mentioned the sound and taken the notes, although I was already pretty frustrated myself with it. I honestly hated the movie the night before, after editing, thinking it would not work in any way, and thinking that it seemed juvenile and unrealistic. I’m grateful that our class was so kind and charitable with their feedback, and that they seemed to enjoy it.