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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Wrestling with my short film screenplay

Before even directing an actual feature-length film, I feel I am becoming one of those tyrannical, egoistic, obsessive, power-mad and most of all, stubborn filmmaker desperate to do whatever it takes to preserve his own vision despite everyone else telling him to do otherwise (something like James Cameron... while making Titanic). A week has past since I developed the concept for my upcoming short film, its concept is, as I've mentioned before, loosely based on the three chapters of Tales of the Blogosphere I have written back in January (which, in turn, was based on a short sci-fi tale recommended by my archnemesis, BoingBoing).

As everyone's synopsis and treatment (basically, a screenplay written in story-form, but without dialogue, just description on what will happen and such) for their screenplays are shaping up during the screenplay workshop two days ago, mine is beginning to worry my course supervisor even more. After all, on paper, the idea of doing a postapocalyptic futuristic tale that involves the global populace going crazy after the fall of the Internet, and an epic quest to save the world would've sounded like a massive, sprawling sci-fi trilogy, despite my numerous reassurances that the short film will be fairly low-budget (just a few hundred dollars, I estimate).

After all, this is supposed to be a filmed like a mockumentary, where the plot is advanced by voiceover narration and a series of interviews with the protagonists (just three of them, which means that I didn't even exceed the usual quota for a typical short film). Epic scenes, action scenes (where our heroes have to duel with massively huge robots and armies of ninja assassins) are either implied, narrated or done via sound-effects. Everything will happen off-screen, I'm not crazy enough to choreograph complicated stunt sequences or action scenes of my own.

Is the story too complicated to be told via a short film? Is it so insane that even a feature film might have trouble presenting it? When asked about the stylistic choices I would like to make yesterday, during a group meeting with my course supervisor (where the rest of the postgrad diploma students have to attend), I said clearly that I would aim more for stylishness and minimalism instead of campy old Dr Who-style (and admitted that the reason I pitched it differently last week was just to generate some chuckles).

A black and white film, where everything's shrouded in shadows and cigarette smoke, I try imagine how would a director of the late 40s to 60s deal with such a screenplay, and that will be what I'm aiming for. Pretty similar to what George Clooney did with Good Night, and Good Luck. Although I said that my main inspiration was supposed to be Godard's Alphaville. And watching Errol Morris's The Thin Blue Line (one of the most critically acclaimed documentaries ever made, see the Wikipedia entry for more info) at the documentary class I snuck into today made me see how it is possible to tell a (nonfiction) story via simplistic methods like, well, a series of interviews and reenacted scenes (it's about how a guy was wrongfully convicted for killing a policeman back in the 70s, and how the police fabricated fake evidence and testimonial to put him into jail).

Of course, I do have some problems, and that is, does my film has to be a mockumentary? Mockumentary are pretty much fake documentaries, but do mockumentaries work only if they are mistaken as real documentaries? Hm.

One new postgrad diploma guy, Dave, who had some experiences in production and was hoping to produce some stuff this year had pointed out that my idea sounded more like drama than mockumentary. (he also commented that my idea sounded 'expensive') After all, there should be a 'twist' of sorts to add more 'punch' to such a short film, and most often, for mockumentaries. Of course, during the meeting, I was suddenly reminded of Citizen Kane, which was pretty much a movie with a series of interviews used to push the plot forward, and also for character development. Therefore, I suddenly winced when I realized that I might have actually been aiming for something that's structured like Citizen Kane.

An amateur Malaysian filmmaker who hails from a country where the indie digital filmmaking industry is relatively young, attempting to emulate the film that is voted as the greatest film of all time by the American Film Institute... I think I am a pretty crazy guy. Or maybe I'm just striving to be like good old Orson.

"But what is the theme of this story? Where is the heart?" Asked Catherine, the Peruvian.

Another question that left me somewhat befuddled. Theme? Obviously my film's a satire that kinda pokes fun at the Internet culture of today (the blogging phenomenon, the file-sharing phenomenon, the lack of actual social interaction between people due internet serving as the medium etc.), but other than that, it can also work as something that's sort of fun and witty, I'm aiming more for entertainment than presenting some stuff about social ills.

Of course, I am aware that this would make the film too, I dunno, geeky, hence the romantic subplot between the two protagonists of my tale, the girl leading the revolution just so that she can communicate via internet with her boyfriend again, and the documentary filmmaker who lives next door who has been secretly in love with her. The documentary filmmaker is meant to be the narrator of the short film, and the 'mockumentary' everyone's watching is supposed to be the end result of the 'documentary' he was making during the girl's quest to restore the internet.

The romantic subplot is not something inserted randomly, in fact, I am planning to do a love story of sorts with a weird setting (the post-apocalyptic futuristic internet-less city), although I want it to be subtle and understated, just by doing this, I am adding too many layers of story on a short film, which can be very chaotic especially when the medium does not really suit the telling of such a complicated story.

How to simplify it? Should I simplify it?

Ah well, I'll just start writing the treatment of the story and see how it goes.