Monday, July 6, 2009

TFS- Story Development Process, Part 2

It's a tough fact that when you're working independently, on your own film, the only way to test a story's worth is to work away at it with all your heart and brain and guts, to believe in it, and push it... and see what happens.

With the concepts I wrote about in Part 1 (and many others concepts I developed during this time period), I did just that. I believed in them, I nurtured them... but through the process of development, they proved that they just didn't have what it takes. Maybe in the future, but not for now.

And of course, this leads us to economics (?!)

When you're working for money, for an external client, you develop something as best you can as per the deadline, then hand it over. But when it's your own "baby" and there's no real deadline breathing down your neck, you can REALLY test a story's worth.

This is a blessing and a curse, because although it allows you to develop confidence that your story is "worth" taking into production, it can also lead to literally years of tweaking and pulling and testing, without anything actually making it to screen.

I'll probably post more about this tricky balance, probably labeled under "story".

And so, as I continued to test various concepts, trying to find one that would be meaty enough (for whatever reason) to throw myself at for a year or two, the final concept that I actually went with almost literally "wrote itself".

Now- when I hear or read of someone else using the term "the story wrote itself," I usually want to commit homicide, because writing a story is so incredibly difficult, 99% of the time. And the thought of someone having such an easy time of it makes me grind my teeth. But the term also drives me nuts because I KNOW it can happen, and I wish it would more often, for me!

It really can be that easy, a story can feel like it literally assembles itself in front of you, piece by piece, until it's done, with no more effort on the writer's part than to simply play the role of note-taker, jotting the story down, easy-peasy. The process can feel like someone else is actually assembling it, or that it's been presented to your mind pre-built. It can tumble out of your head onto paper, done.

It's rare for it to happen (at least it certainly is for me), but it happens. For me, it's happened exactly once before, on a live-action film I made years ago). Now I can say it's happened twice, and I swear, it feels like winning the lottery.

But to win the lottery means LUCK was at work. I don't think that's actually the case with story. I think this final story that "fell out of my head" on to paper was only able to do that because I had been testing and refining and pushing the other ideas, as I searched for the "right" story to produce. At least I like to tell myself that, so it doesn't hurt the feelings of the "failed" stories too much ("story is a living thing," as Buchbinder writes).

Don't worry, the next story development posting with actually address the particular story I went with, specifically.

Hey, it's my blog, I can stretch things out as much as I want! And there's only two of your reading anyway- my Mom, and someone in in Kentucky who thinks my blog is about washing machine repairs.

Actually, my readership seems to steadily climb, which is quite a nice feeling.


Darkstrider said...

I think as independent filmmakers/amateur animators (speaking for myself anyway) we have one and possibly only one luxury the pros don't have... and that's TIME. We can really lavish time on a project, and on our own development. What we DON'T have (again speaking for myself) is the resources and expertise the pros have access to. So we need to utilize that time, but it's a balancing act... you don't want to go into limbo and never get anything accomplished.

I feel like very recently I've had some kind of breakthrough in my writing approach... i the past my film ideas have all been built around some concept either psychological or philosophical, and now I feel like that's sort of irrelevant and artificial to a film, especially one with no dialogue or little dialogue. I'm beginning to feel like ENTERTAINMENT is the main thing, and any concepts I include are more decorative than essential now... just playing with the ideas rather than trying to seriously espouse them. I don't know yet if this direction is going to stick, but it feels good to feel like I've reached a new level in my writing. And also that the films I'll be writing will probably be a heck of a lot easier to actually make than the more serious ones I used to write!

ChrisW said...

I completely agree, time (when you're indie) is suddenly this bountiful thing, like millions of gold coins in a box, that you throw in the air and shower yourself with- "Ha ha ha! Time! I have all the time in the world! Mwhaa haaaa!" But then the reality of needing to get something done sinks in, and you have to start setting deadlines.

I completely agree, you have to manage the freedom to keep tweaking with the desire to achieve the objective of getting the film DONE.

I was just talking with a friend to day, an indie stop motion film maker, Mike Weiss (you can see his stuff at, he's just finished a new 14 minute film called Debt he'll be premiering next week here in Toronto).

He was telling me that as he moves on to what will be his third indie film, he's realizing the importance of getting it made, getting it on the screen... and moving on to the next thing. He's determined to build a body of work, and learn as he goes, but NOT to get hung up on the tiniest of details.

Again, it's all about objective- if you're objective is to rework a 3 second piece of animation for a year, go nuts (and that's a totally valid objective, if it's one you are clearly attempting to achieve). But if the objective is "finish a three minute animated story that has 2 sets, 3 puppets, fancy lighting, nice costumes, wicked sound, all in time for a festival that is accepting films in 8 months, and I can only work on this in the evenings and weekends", well- you'd better get moving!

Mike Weiss agreed with me- you have to listen to that inner artist that steps back from something on a project and says "Hold on. You need to fix that" or "It's fine, all is well, just move on".

That voice only develops an ability to make a confident call like through experience MAKING something.

The more "things" (in our case, short animate films) you make, the more honed that inner voice that says "yea or nay" to a junction in a production becomes.

Thanks for your thoughtful posts, your philosophical approach in a world that's often ruled by cold hard bottom lines is SUPER vital to the online animation world...

ChrisW said...

I should add- Mike Weiss is a professionally trained animator, who's been shooting stop motion in pro studios in Toronto for years now. So when his little "yea or nay" voice says move on, he listens (cause it's so damned experienced).

I think this is also where "instinct" comes in- a strong artist has it, and trusts it.

An experienced artist combines instinct with wisdom, and proceeds accordingly...