Sunday, August 13, 2017

Telling a True Story

By Kasie Whitener

My stories are always true and always fiction:
·         My friend’s high school sweetheart died in Afghanistan.
·         Thick sexual tension hung between me and the tattoo artist when I went for my cover up.
·         A derecho racked the resort at Wintergreen, ripping branches out of trees, one of which landed on a car.
I take that real thing that happened and fictionalize it for the story. Real life is messy and funny and sad and frustrating and it rarely fits inside 3000 words. In stories, real life is confined to a bounded space.

When fictionalizing real stories, ask yourself these five questions:

What is the most important moment?
Is it when someone discovers he’s been cuckolded or when his wife confesses? Isolate the most important moment of the series of events and then magnify it for the story. In the best stories, the author has magnified a moment that is unexpectedly poignant.

Richard Ford’s “Grand Central” focuses on two men, the husband and the lover, becoming aware of one another’s presence in a crowded place. The lover’s choice of whether to approach the husband is the drama of the story.

What are the stakes?
Find a pivot point. After that moment, the character’s life will go off into one of several possible trajectories. Even if the moment is small, like deciding to ignore a painful truth, that choice will impact the character’s life.

Why does this story need to be told?
I’m always encouraging my friend, Jodie Cain Smith, to write down the stories she tells. They are funny, unbelievable, and so beautifully told; it’s her gift. There are plenty of decent stories and then there are those that MUST be told.

When you fictionalize a real event, ask yourself why this story needs to be told? The answer to that question creates the sense of urgency that pulls readers in at the title and through the final punctuation.

Which character should tell the story?
Even if the story is in third person, it must have a central storyteller. That person can be witnessing the main conflict, experiencing the main conflict, or causing that main conflict.

Think of selecting a perspective like a film technique: putting the camera on each character’s shoulder to see what he or she sees. Which viewpoint is the most compelling?

In “Choose Life,” I deliberately chose the character who only witnessed the tragic loss of an ex-boyfriend, not the woman who actually lost him. I wanted the distance that creates perspective and grief would cloud that.

Where can you use creative license to make the story more compelling?
Anne Lamott said: tell your stories; if people wanted you to say nice things about them, they should have behaved better. The life you have led should be the trunk from which you pull your stories. Fictionalize them to make them compelling, more interesting, even more useful.


Real life is boring but the stories we write about it remind us of what it means to be human.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Writing a Documentary

By Laura P. Valtorta
                                               

Whenever I watch a documentary film, the credit for writing takes me by surprise. How can anyone write a documentary, since it’s a recording of real life, and unscripted experiences?

While making my sixth documentary, “Mehndi & Me” (completed today, July 27, 2017 – Yahoo!) I finally figured it out. I was the writer, because I was piecing together the “script”: a list of film clips typed up in the order they should appear in the final product. With “Mehndi & Me,” a portion of the draft script, with inexact times, looks like this:

                                                Mehndi & Me (short film)
                                                Summer 2017

Version 1 – 07.08.2017 Laura P. Valtorta
Clip #
Description
Beginning and end of clip (dialogue)
Music & special effects
Beginning and end (seconds)
GoPro 168
Six bare hands in circle

Laboni’s music, instrumental
0:00 to 0:07

(7 seconds)
GoPro 172
Hands in circle, painted

Laboni’s music, instrumental
0:12 to 0:25

(13 seconds)
Laura’s shot, outside of law office
Shaky shot proceeds from side of building to sign


9 seconds





MVI 134
Lynn’s shot
Laura introduces theme
“I’m just glad to be here in Columbia, SC; and I can get mehndi from a real artist from Bangladesh.”
First time this is said, NOT repeat
0:16 to 0:27

(11 seconds)
MVI 130
Lynn’s shot
Silent shot of Laboni

Laboni’s music with singing
0:11 to 0:21

(10 seconds)
MVI 122
Lynn’s shot
Dianne, Laboni, Laura, & Kimberly at table
“I would love it if you got 2 designs…more balanced”
No music
0:10 to 0:17

(7 seconds)


This is my personal version of a documentary script. Others might use a storyboard with pictures or drawings. Sometimes I begin with a storyboard after shooting and proceed to the written script. In any case, writing a script is the step taken before editing, when the film is actually cut.

Before putting together a script, the director must first shoot the film (the most joyous part of the process) and then review hours of clips, making a complete list of what’s going on in each clip. Reviewing the raw footage is tedious. The Editing Decision List (EDL) that results is a giant list of clips with times and descriptions. These are the ingredients used to assemble the script.

For a documentary, the middle process is something like this:

·         Plan the shoots
·         Shoot the film
·         Review the film clips and prepare Editing Decision Lists (EDLs) ugh!;
·         Choose elements from the EDLs to write a script;
·         Edit the film and promos; add music

Before all this, after conceiving an idea for a documentary, I secure the music and music rights. Music must be available during the editing process.


For me, making a film is teamwork. I could not make any of my films without the help of either Genesis Studio (owned by Cliff Springs), or the indomitable Lynn Cornfoot, who works at South Carolina ETV.