March 31, 2016

Weeks 1 and 2: How to Come Up with Ideas for Feature Films

AIB First Draft is a six-month writers' residency programme where a select group of aspiring writers from all over India are being trained in the craft of screenwriting. I feel thrilled to head this project and design and conduct the course. This post is a part of the series that chronicles all that happens at the course. Click here and read from bottom upwards for all posts related to this.

Objective: The students were required to come up with original ideas for feature films, write them down in 100 words each and get at least two of those ideas approved during these two weeks.

Three screenwriting lectures were held during these two weeks - each 4-5 hours long. These involved topics like: How to Ideate Stories for Feature Films; Introduction to the Format of Screenwriting, Script-Writing Software, and the Language Screenwriters Use; the Concepts of the Archetypal Story, the Three Act Structure, Inciting Incident, Act Breaks, and Climax; and a Discussion on the Dialectic Approach of Writing versus the Didactic approach.

Screenplay Reading and Movie Analyses: The students read the screenplays of 'Witness', 'The Matrix', 'E.T' and a yet-to-be-produced film and followed each with four-hour group discussions. Each session was moderated by one of the students and the discussion involved the overall reaction to the script but also going into the details of characters, conflicts, structure, tools of screenwriting, scenes, dialogue, themes and image systems, and the style of writing. A week after reading 'Witness' the students watched the movie, comparing what has changed from the script to screen followed by a one-hour lecture illustrating how the director has narrated the story using tools of cinema. The students also watched Dibakar Banerjee's 'Khosla Ka Ghosla' and created a Beat Sheet of the entire movie.

We also had a lecture on 'Introduction to the Visual Design of Film' that talked about use of images to tell a story, how a filmmaker uses color, light, and camera to affect our emotional response and how depth and balance is used to add meanings and aesthetic richness to visuals. Zhang Yimou's 'Hero' (China/ 2002) was screened after the lecture as an illustration of these concepts.

The students also had four big-screen experiences of latest movies: 'Zootopia', 'Kapoor and Sons', 'Eye in the Sky' and 'Batman versus Superman'. The British drama 'Locke' was also screened to them followed by a discussion on the same. They wrote brief plot outlines of two of these movies. They also spent two evenings watching professional theater performances - 'Sidhus of Upper Juhu' and 'I Don't Like It As You Like It' at St. Andrews Auditorium, Bandra. They then brainstormed on how and if these plays can be adapted into a movie and wrote and submitted a report on the same.

These two weeks also involved three field-trips:
1. In groups of three, the students were asked to discover five locations in Mumbai which are drastically different from each other. Each one of them was supposed to click ten photos at each of these locations, thus clicking at least fifty during the day. The condition was that each of this picture should be, for the photographer, a new perspective or experience - in terms of content, theme, or presentation. In the evening, the students selected five pictures each and presented in front of the batch, sharing what inspired them to click those.
2. The students were sent to different shopping malls. They had to spend 3-4 hours at the food court and observe people. And then they had to write a five-page scene from what they observed. They were not allowed to use their imagination, only observation. After writing, they read each others' scenes and provided feedback. Then they rewrote their scenes, but this time using imagination to make them better.
3. Two days after the lecture on 'Visual Design of Film' the students spent another day clicking pictures. This time all of them were sent to South Mumbai and had to click at least 35 pictures to practise the tools that were discussed in the class. The improvement in the aesthetic value of the pictures was remarkable. In the evening, the students selected 7-8 of these pictures but they were not asked to make the presentation. Instead each one of them presented one of their batch-mate's pictures, commenting on what tools of composition have been employed and how these pictures could have been clicked better.

The students were also made to read a few pages from screenwriting text-books. Most importantly, they were made to write at least one page of a non-dialogue scene every single day, without any exception. During the lectures, feedback was offered to them with respect to the format and the language to use.

Despite such a hectic schedule, the students managed to meet the target of the week and each one of them got at least two good ideas approved, and most got four or more. These ideas were presented in the class and the students responded to them so that we could find patterns in the ideas that are more universally loved.

An all-consuming first two weeks, sleep deprivation, and incessant hard work. AIB First Draft has kicked off with a bang!

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