Last night my screenwriter friend Susanne Freund told me that she had been member of the jury of Max Ophüls Festival in Saarbrücken many years ago. There she saw a short film called DOBERMANN. Many years later she saw the movie THE LIVES OF OTHERS, and the name of the director sounded familiar to her. It was Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, the director of the short film DOBERMANN. Now she found the film on Vimeo, and I want to share it with you.
There are so many things happening in my life right now, I hardly have time on my hands for writing blog posts and such. But now I caught a cold, it is Sunday and it is raining outside. So I can tell you a little bit about what happened in the last weeks. (This is gonna take a while, so why don’t you grab a cup of coffee and have a seat?)
Being a tutor I did not want to do an “academic” lecture, so I wrote a sort of manifesto, compiling 8 principles of storytelling that I encountered over and over again during the last ten years in my job as a script editor. These would be things like “keep your ego out”, “What is your story about?” and so on.
And I think this strategy worked perfectly, according to the feedback I got. Maybe one reason is that these principles are universal, no matter if you work in film, web design, advertising or photography. And many of the 30 attendees (by the way: 27 men and only 3 women? We clearly have to work on that :-) did not originally come from the field of filmmaking or attended a official filmschool. But these 30 people were young and old, extroverted and quiet, and they came from lots of different cultural backgrounds (we had people from 14 nations, how cool is that?). I cannot remember when it was the last time that I met so many great and interesting people that went from being strangers to friends in one way or the other within only three days.
But actually I wanted to tell you about the Masterclass: On day 1 we had an introduction round and then a little bit of theory. After a hands on on the equipment, provided in part by Marcotec and Vitec, the attendees split up in groups and created stories for short films. The starting point for everyone was “Someone picks up a postcard”. On day 2 it was time for shooting with professional actors, and day 3 was editing day.
One of the big moments for me was the end of day 3, when we came together for the screening of the finished short films. The attendees even managed to come up with different edits within the groups. But what I found really great was the fact that a bit more than 48 hours before this moment we had nothing – no ideas, no stories, just a room full of 30 creative people. Two days later there were real movies with stories, emotions and everything you need for storytelling. After 10 years in this job as a script consultant and script editor this is still a miracle for me: out of nothing stories appear, and ideally these small points of light on a screen are moving me deeply. This never gets old, and I still find it fantastic every time I see a movie.
But back to the masterclass: We have our own Vimeo Channel, where you can see all the movies – have a look at the different edits, it is really interesting what you can do with almost the same material. You can also see what was going on behind the scenes in this video by Roy Gabrielsen:
Footnote: I always tell people that the gear they use and the effects have to serve the story and they should never be used to satisfy one’s “gear fever”. Because no one pays for the latter at the box office. But for the former you will. But I have to confess that this Segway by the Marcotec guys is uber-cool – you steer it with your knees and have your hands free for the steadycam…
When I am reading a screenplay there is one tool that is frequently used by writers, but I did not know that there is a specific word for it until now. This word is “callback”:
It works like this: A character has a specific line in his dialog. In the end the line is repeated, but it has a different meaning and is loaded with emotion. Maybe it is a line that is said by a minor character to the main character, and in the end it is repeated by the main character himself (who has finally understood what the line really is about, emotionally). Or the line is repeated by the same character. In any case it is a very effective tool for emotionally charging an important moment of the story, especially aaround the break into the third act or in the third act.
First, there is a massive heat wave in Vienna, second there are a lot of screenplays on my desk to be read, and third I am preparing the lectures for the Filmmaking Masterclass in Majorca. I hope you excuse my absence in this blog.
To entertain you in this short intermission I recommend for all who have seen MOONRISE KINGDOM this wonderful video on (fictitious) books that play an important part in the movie. I hope this will be an uplifting experience for you. See/read you soon!
For those of you interested in comedy series, watch this one hour interview with some of the most acclaimed comedy showrunners like Liz Meriwether (NEW GIRL) and Paul Lieberstein (THE OFFICE).
I have some more video links in store, but I guess I better keep them for some other weekend. After weeks of cold and rainy weather there will be finally lots of sun here in Austria this weekend, and I guess you rather want to go outside than stay inside and stare at a screen for hours, right?
I have subscribed THE NEW YORKER for several years now. Often I only find time to skim through the contents, but when I am sitting down for a few hours to read one of the long articles it is always a great experience. Not only because the dramaturgy of the articles is great, and also the writing, but I always have the feeling that I get really close to the portrayed characters (actually like you do when you are watching a really good documentary).
One of these articles is the portrait of Frédéric Bourdin. Writer David Grann gets close to this man who is a notorious lier and often transforms himself into peronalities of missing children. But different to most con-men his aim is not his victim’s money. Instead he seems to be driven by the need for attention, love and wanting a real family. Which boundaries he crosses and how his path suddenly interferes with the family of a missing boy (and what crime seems to be behind that) you can read here.
But why am I writing this here on Scriptalicious? Because when Bourdin describes how he is creating his “characters” it reads like a “how to” article on character development for screenplays.
One day when I was visiting Bourdin, he described how he transformed himself into a child. Like the impostors he had seen in films such as “Catch Me If You Can,” he tried to elevate his criminality into an “art.” First, he said, he conceived of a child whom he wanted to play. Then he gradually mapped out the character’s biography, from his heritage to his family to his tics. “The key is actually not lying about everything,” Bourdin said. “Otherwise, you’ll just mix things up.” He said that he adhered to maxims such as “Keep it simple” and “A good liar uses the truth.”
Apart from some good ol’ writing tips like “keep it simple” (and somewhere between the lines “write what you know”) the whole article is a psychological thriller with a real crime story as a B-plot. I really recommend reading it.
By the way: I asked myself why no one has made a movie from this story yet, but of course that already happened. There was a feature film in 2010, and a documentary will premier this year.