The task was introduced at our first residential with a lecture that spelled out clearly the mantra we always hear but maybe don't always think about – "show, don't tell".
It focused on a close analysis of the opening 15 minutes of Witness and The Outlaw Josie Wales, demonstrating the density of the storytelling - how much information is given about the characters and their world through their actions and gestures, as well as the mise-en-scene and choice of imagery.
I can't remember exactly how the idea for my script developed. I think the original image was someone coming home to find an unseen figure or force had started a game of chess on the ornamental set in their house. To me, this represented the intrusion of chaos/the outside into a carefully ordered existence.
My first draft followed that idea, with the main character – a vile yuppie called Simon - becoming increasingly obsessed with the game and neglecting the rest of his life. As the game goes against him, his life spins out of control until he finds himself in checkmate - both in the game and in his wider life.
Somewhere along the line – we had two 30-minute tutorials – the chess game moved online, against the mysterious 'Nemesis2006'. Meanwhile, the game of chess reflected the battle he was having at work with his arch-rival in the sales department. I've published the final draft here.
Flushed with my enthusiasm for visual and aural flourishes, I loaded every scene and transition in the script with telling detail and motifs. I thought I'd probably overdone it a bit, but my tutor liked it: “This is genuine cinematic writing of an impressive standard - bold, confident and mixing imaginative elements with an eye for details.” Skill!
Thinking about the raging debate over the teaching of screenwriting, I guess this highlights for me the benefits of being given a guided education in film history and technique – especially in conjunction with the books I mentioned here. Before starting the course, I – like a lot of people, I guess – equated 'good writing' with zingy dialogue and complex plotting, rather than the use of visual and aural imagery to 'paint' a story.
Bonus feature! I've also posted the reading and viewing list we were given for this unit – I thought it might be of interest given that it moves beyond the obvious screenwriting stuff you might expect.