Sunday, June 7, 2009

Guerilla Learning, Part 1

Me on the set of the movie "This Sucks."

Me and the great director of "This Sucks," Sherry Cann.

This post is about two things: learning a lot in a BRIEF period of time and learning from doing something creative that is very different from what you've been doing.

For the first time, I participated in the i48: Idaho's 48 hour film festival. Teams of filmmakers receive a prop, a line of dialog and a character at 6pm on Friday and must turn in a completed 3 to 6 minute film by 6pm Sunday. Exhausting! Fun! I helped write the script, acted, did a touch of the filming, and a bit more of the editing.

What did I learn? First, how to think in action scenes. Since I've been primarily a fiction writer, I never thought that in order to show a story (especially in a film) it must be action. Talking heads are boring (this holds true for fiction as well). In a film, you can't rely on describing the character's emotions or their conflict, you have to show it by their behavior. Dialog can be used, but again, I learned that dialog must be brief and very strong. People don't want to watch other people just talking. Same is true, I suspect, of reading dialog, unless it's powerful. Finally, in the editing, I learned that it can be hard to know where to start a scene and where to end--when do you have enough information without having too much?

Those are the three main things I will apply to my writing ASAP!

Next post: the creative process in a group.


Swubird said...


That sounds like it was a lot of fun. I've always thought making movies would be a kick. The closest I ever came to it was when I first bought a video camera. Remember when video cameras were huge--say about 1983? I bought one and tried to a make a couple of short skits. Like you say, it was a real challenge. A friend of mine makes ten to twenty minute movies: writes, acts, directs, everything. His kids even play along and actually memorize their lines. Everything looks very professional. He says it takes him about a hundred hours to make a ten minute film. But I've seen a few of them and they are very entertaining.

I understand what you mean about trying another creative exercise to help your writing. Makes sense.

Happy trails.

Jim Murdoch said...

Talking heads are riveting. Action shots are distracting. As evidence I would point you to the two BBC series appropriately called Talking Heads written by Alan Bennett, in particular the one entitled 'A Cream Cracker under the Settee' which consists of a 75 year-old woman talking to the camera. Thora Hird won a BAFTA as best actress for her role.

I can't find a video of that one but you can catch the excellent Patricia Routledge in a few minutes from 'Miss Fozzard finds her Feet'.

Helen Ginger said...

What a great hands-on learning experience. Congratulations on participating and thanks for sharing with us.

Straight From Hel

Conda Douglas said...

A hundred hours to make a fun ten minute film sounds about right, Swu. And it's a blast making movies, but like everything creative, my, it's a lot of hard work!

Conda Douglas said...

A couple of examples which prove the rule no doubt, Jim. It so depends on who's doing the talking and what they're saying! Twenty plus years ago, when I was a documentary film editor, oh my, the struggles to make a droning, non-actor (often the person who'd commissioned the film and insisted on having his say the way he wanted to say it)interesting!

Conda Douglas said...

Thanks, Helen! And thank you for all the great info in your blog!

The Muse said...

Hi Conda!

Good point about action. I never thought about it this way. I wonder if this is the reason some books transfer to film well, while others don't?

Have a great weekend!

Lynda Lehmann said...

Sounds very exciting, Conda, although maybe a bit nerve-wracking! For me, it's harder to produce when under pressure.

One of the things I learned when I took two courses at The Institute of Children's Literature some years ago, was to SHOW the ACTION, not tell it.

You learned some good things to apply to your writing! Thanks for sharing them.

Dave King said...

I've never tried film, but I had a spell in Educational Television and I can agree with you about the points you have learnt. Impressive, that you've picked them up so quickly. I do think as well that much of what you can learn in a situation like that has carry-over into other creative spheres. Interesting post.

Conda Douglas said...

Hey Muse,

Yeah, that's right about some books not translating. Think of a book that has a lot of internal thought--only way to show that is in voice over on film. That can be watch.

Conda Douglas said...

Lynda, yes, it was nerve wracking, but it did also give me great ideas of how to SHOW!

Conda Douglas said...

Thanks, Dave. I must confess that some of what I learned was partly remembering--a few years ago (okay, a lot of years ago, decades in fact) I was a 16mm documentary film editor. But documentaries are slaves to their nonfiction subject, unlike this, my first fiction film.

Caryn Caldwell said...

That is SO NEAT!!! What a fun learning experience. I bet you met a lot of great people doing it, too.

Conda Douglas said...

Yes, lots of great people, that's part of my next post, Caryn!