Making a film on Paper Focus Group 2019/2020

From Media Design: Networked & Lens-Based wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

To get the most out of this group you need to be currently planning to develop and produce a moving-image work designed for the cinema or gallery. You need to be prepared to show material in progress to the group and discuss it and actively participate in the discussion of others’ work.

Why this Approach?

The work of making a film 'on paper' is a necessary stage in any production. It acts as a 'gateway' to making the final project. It allows you to rehearse and consider decisions while they are still open to revision, and it allows you to create material to involve others in the production: from backers of the project to the crew for production and post-production. It creates a flow of documents that form a low cost, flexible place to try out and test ideas.

This approach also allows you to create a practice that acknowledge that, as a filmmaker/moving image artist, you will generate more ideas than are finally fully realised. It creates a process where you can learn, and deepen your experience, prior to the actual physical production of a project.

Topics we will cover:

Each topic will be covered in two sessions: in the first we will outline principles and best working practices, in the second you will bring completed examples to share and review with the group. Sessions will look at the rationale for and the conceptual approach to the documents; as well as practical issues of organising and formatting documents.

Identifying your subject: the synopsis & the pitch document.

Identifying your approach: the treatment & statement of purpose.

Creating a road-map for filming: the script & character breakdown.

Creating a visual world for your filming: the mood board.

Motivating your shooting decisions: the scene breakdown / concept of intention.

Rehearsing shooting decisions: the storyboard or a plan view of each scene

Making it happen: breakdowns, budget & schedule.

Making a Film on Paper: Step One.

Synopsis Using a three-sentence synopsis as a tool for outlining at the most basic level the core topic and driver of your project. Three sentences – each identifying one aspect of your project.


Beginning - Protagonist: who or what is your project focussed upon. The main character or characters in fiction, the main character/community/situation in documentary, the main visual proposition/relationship to the viewer or audience in experimental work.

Middle - the conflict: what is the desire in your project? What is the resistance in your story? How do these two opposing forces meet and create conflict.

End - Resolution: How does the conflict between desire and obstacle play out.

Character, conflict and ending. All stories have this archetypal structure: if it does not have this structure it's not a story. The structure resonates with everybody because it represents an archetypal aspect of human experience through time. Human beings use archetypal structures to make decisions and to order and make sense of what they experience.


A more advance breakdown taken from


CHARACTER - every story revolves around a person or person-like thing.

CONSTRICTION - pushes the character from one line of action to another (Inciting incident)

DESIRE - with any human being there is desire - what is the protagonist's desire. Make it strong and clear to sustain through action.

RELATIONSHIP - what relationships positive and negative does the character enter into to further their desire?

RESISTANCE - what resistance, friction and hostility does the pursuit of this desire encounter?

ADVENTURE - how do the above throw the protagonist's life into chaos and disarray?

RESOLUTION - how does this chaos resolve in a way that answers (positively or negatively) the protagonists desires and how does the resolution help the protagonist resolve his fatal flaw? The story must result in substantial change - either a radical change, success and evolution or a radical stasis, failure and devolution.


Wired for story Lisa Cron

A brief and clear exposition of the basic psychological mechanisms that hook a reader into a story.

On the origin of Stories Brian Boyd

A ground-breaking academic work that explores the current developments in the cross-breeding between literary criticism and evolutionary theory. Asks the basic question: why has story telling proved to be a universal human adaptive mechanism.

Hero With A Thousand Faces Jospeh Campbell

theory of the mythological structure of the journey of the archetypal hero found in world myths.


We'll plan to meet bi-weekly on ZOOM - I'll send out invitations.

To help focus our online discussion I will use a past production of mine SHOCK HEAD SOUL as an example.

I can then find examples of each stage of the 'paper trail' of the film in my archive and share them with you for discussion. Each session will look at one of the aspects of making a film on paper as outlined in the intro above. To make this more concrete and hopefully useful I will post a viewing copy of the film on a private vimeo link and share the password with focus group members.

As a brief introduction to the project here is:

The trailer:

The website:

As we progress through the weeks I'll post relevant documents to each heading below.

Identifying your subject:

Shock Head soul Research documents, Synopsis, Pitch document

Student Synopses for discussion

Please upload here the synopses and other early stage story documents that you want feedback on.


"A young man is tormented by a recurrent dream which story he can always recall in the morning except for one detail. As his obsession grows stronger for the missing piece of his dream, he devotes himself to the making of a machine able to record the images of his oneiric activity. Once the machine is completed, he undergoes the test and succeeds in transferring the film of his dream to the memory of his computer. The moment the object of his desire is at hand, the young man hesitates and find himself afraid of watching. Finally, the dreamer watches the video of his dream and sheds a tear."


"Big Jim was in the cabaret drinking his whisky, when Jack of Hearts entered the room. Drinking whisky - relaxed, looking forward to the show, exited about the show Big Jim was locking at the stranger and feel the powerfulness he has. Still Drinking whisky- but gets a litte bit nervous and hold strong the glass and emitted it pretty fast. Big Jim is a good looking and a rich man but he sees Jack of Hearts as a better one that himself. Jack of Hearts is walking inside - long and loud steps, he fells save and calm, he know it would be easy, he already did harder bank robberies . He is focused on Jack of Hearts when Rosly went in the cabaret. Rolsy come downstairs from drawing in her room. She was restrained while going to Big Jim to say she is ready to work. She recognized that Big Jim was not relaxed but didn´t take care of that. Rosly is the wife of Big Jim but is unhappy in the relationship. She also gets more curious in Jack of Hearts than in Big Jim. She is from a broken home and had a lot of unhappy relationships until she married Big Jim. Since then she has only one unhappy marriage. She married Big Jim at a age where she was really naiv and not aware what does it mean to be alive. She was a big fan of Patty Smith because she was so powerful and self-determinded and self-confident. Rosly felt like locked in this cabaret, which out Big Jim she would have nothing, she trough. She looked at Jack of Hearts and was directly interested in this person. She recognized something wired it in the air but she wanted to keep that to her. She felt like she has nothing to lose. The show begun, Jack of Hearts played like no one ever saw it before. Jack of Hearts was in his element, he loved to enchain the audience and to feel like in another reality. He even didn't´think about it what will happen behind him. Big Jim was looking at the show and focused on the Jack of Hearts. He drunk already his third glass of wine and watched the show of Jack of Hearts. The manager from the cabaret smelled something wired in the air but didn´t know what to do. The manager was also fixed by the show of Jack of Hearts. He was standing in the backdoor and though from here he still can intervene. Rosly worked behind the bar and served the guest with beer. She was so exiting what will happen and just hold her secret for her. She was the only one who know that something wired will go on but she just wanted to hold her secret for herself. She also herd behind the bar, that there are more people. She saw the Manager standing in the door and hoped he will not recognize it. He didn´t. The friends of Jack of Hearts emptied the bank safe without problems. On the way back they maid a sound but nobody recognized it, they tough. Jack of Hearts is a good actor and used that attitude to get the attention that in the meantime his boys could cleaned the bank safe. The show went to a end. He know it that the time is come where he has to run soon. Big Jim was impressed and wanted to impose the Jack of Hearts. He went to Jack of Hearts self-confident and just started to talk like he normally does when he wanted to impose somebody. The manager saw the Boys with riding fast away with there there horses. He recognized what is happened and also thought is was Jack of Hearts fault. He put out the revolver and amines to the Jack of Hearts. He recognized it and know he will use Big Jim for a trick. When the manager shoot the gun Jack of Heards moved place with Big Jim. Big Jim was bleeding on the belly very bad. Jack of Hearts just shoot back and went to his horses and ride away without problems. Rosly went to Big Jim, wasn´t surprised and saw his wound. She know that he will die. She thought this is her change to run away. End scene Rosly is sitting in the train She has a suitcase with her drawing and is on the way to New York. She felt happy and exited for the future. "

20200519_SESSION_Identifying your approach: the treatment & statement of purpose.


I want to embark on a group project: as I think we can work our way through the paper trail of Shock Head Soul — but we badly need a collective endeavour to work on together - to get the discussion in the group going. Hopefully something that can be fun and spark discussion.

So the plan is to write the documents and develop a screenplay for a film - an adaptation of an existing story - each of you creating your own version of the same story and sharing and discussing them in the group.

I thought it would be interesting to choose that most archetypal of film genres: the Western.

So take a listen to the the source material:

and read the transcription: Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts WRITTEN BY: BOB DYLAN

Here's a PD we can use collectively during the session

The festival was over, the boys were all plannin’ for a fall
The cabaret was quiet except for the drillin’ in the wall
The curfew had been lifted and the gamblin’ wheel shut down
Anyone with any sense had already left town
He was standin’ in the doorway lookin’ like the Jack of Hearts

He moved across the mirrored room, “Set it up for everyone,” he said
Then everyone commenced to do what they were doin’ before he turned their heads
Then he walked up to a stranger and he asked him with a grin
“Could you kindly tell me, friend, what time the show begins?”
Then he moved into the corner, face down like the Jack of Hearts

Backstage the girls were playin’ five-card stud by the stairs
Lily had two queens, she was hopin’ for a third to match her pair
Outside the streets were fillin’ up, the window was open wide
A gentle breeze was blowin’, you could feel it from inside
Lily called another bet and drew up the Jack of Hearts

Big Jim was no one’s fool, he owned the town’s only diamond mine
He made his usual entrance lookin’ so dandy and so fine
With his bodyguards and silver cane and every hair in place
He took whatever he wanted to and he laid it all to waste
But his bodyguards and silver cane were no match for the Jack of Hearts

Rosemary combed her hair and took a carriage into town
She slipped in through the side door lookin’ like a queen without a crown
She fluttered her false eyelashes and whispered in his ear
“Sorry, darlin’, that I’m late,” but he didn’t seem to hear
He was starin’ into space over at the Jack of Hearts

“I know I’ve seen that face before,” Big Jim was thinkin’ to himself
“Maybe down in Mexico or a picture up on somebody’s shelf”
But then the crowd began to stamp their feet and the houselights did dim
And in the darkness of the room there was only Jim and him
Starin’ at the butterfly who just drew the Jack of Hearts

Lily was a princess, she was fair-skinned and precious as a child
She did whatever she had to do, she had that certain flash every time she smiled
She’d come away from a broken home, had lots of strange affairs
With men in every walk of life which took her everywhere
But she’d never met anyone quite like the Jack of Hearts

The hangin’ judge came in unnoticed and was being wined and dined
The drillin’ in the wall kept up but no one seemed to pay it any mind
It was known all around that Lily had Jim’s ring
And nothing would ever come between Lily and the king
No, nothin’ ever would except maybe the Jack of Hearts

Rosemary started drinkin’ hard and seein’ her reflection in the knife
She was tired of the attention, tired of playin’ the role of Big Jim’s wife
She had done a lot of bad things, even once tried suicide
Was lookin’ to do just one good deed before she died
She was gazin’ to the future, riding on the Jack of Hearts

Lily washed her face, took her dress off and buried it away
“Has your luck run out?” she laughed at him, “Well, I guess you must
    have known it would someday
Be careful not to touch the wall, there’s a brand-new coat of paint
I’m glad to see you’re still alive, you’re lookin’ like a saint”
Down the hallway footsteps were comin’ for the Jack of Hearts

The backstage manager was pacing all around by his chair
“There’s something funny going on,” he said, “I can just feel it in the air”
He went to get the hangin’ judge, but the hangin’ judge was drunk
As the leading actor hurried by in the costume of a monk
There was no actor anywhere better than the Jack of Hearts

Lily’s arms were locked around the man that she dearly loved to touch
She forgot all about the man she couldn’t stand who hounded her so much
“I’ve missed you so,” she said to him, and he felt she was sincere
But just beyond the door he felt jealousy and fear
Just another night in the life of the Jack of Hearts

No one knew the circumstance but they say that it happened pretty quick
The door to the dressing room burst open and a cold revolver clicked
And Big Jim was standin’ there, ya couldn’t say surprised
Rosemary right beside him, steady in her eyes
She was with Big Jim but she was leanin’ to the Jack of Hearts

Two doors down the boys finally made it through the wall
And cleaned out the bank safe, it’s said that they got off with quite a haul
In the darkness by the riverbed they waited on the ground
For one more member who had business back in town
But they couldn’t go no further without the Jack of Hearts

The next day was hangin’ day, the sky was overcast and black
Big Jim lay covered up, killed by a penknife in the back
And Rosemary on the gallows, she didn’t even blink
The hangin’ judge was sober, he hadn’t had a drink
The only person on the scene missin’ was the Jack of Hearts

The cabaret was empty now, a sign said, “Closed for repair”
Lily had already taken all of the dye out of her hair
She was thinkin’ ’bout her father, who she very rarely saw
Thinkin’ ’bout Rosemary and thinkin’ about the law
But most of all she was thinkin’ ’bout the Jack of Hearts


© 1974 by Ram's Horn Music; renewed 2002 by Ram’s Horn Music


"In the backstage of a rowdy saloon, Lily was playing cards with the girls by the stairs. The gentle breeze coming in from the open window next to them framed the flaunted graciousness of her bearing she had meticulously built up over time for the occasion. The moon-pale tone of her skin, the natural-like gold of the hair, and her cherry lips served the masquerade well. If the savage twinkle at the bottom of her blue eyes hadn't suggested otherwise, no one could have ever said that Lily was anything but a harmless, though eccentric creature. Everything was silent except for the drilling in the wall.
Lily had two queens and was hoping for a third one to match her pair. As she was contemplating them, a spooky flash coming from her ring finger captured her attention. She had no regrets. She did what she had to do. Coming from a broken family that crushed any naivety she could have had as a kid, a wild surviving instinct had always accompanied her in every decision she made, including accepting that ring of inestimable value. She never loved Big Jim as she never really loved any of the men she had stories with. On the contrary, she had a seething hatred for him who reminded her of her long-dead father way too much. Though she had always been the one to pilot her life ever since he died, she couldn't get over the fact that she always needed a man to do so. Men inevitably affected her life. They affected it when she was a child and they affected it still as she was trying to emancipate herself from men. No, she had no regrets but neither she would have accepted her condition without the last fight. She reached out to the deck with a hand and drew up the Jack of Hearts.
As she smiled maliciously, the Jack of Hearts himself walked in and asked a toolmaker at what time the show would have started. Lily caught eyes with him in the mirror and watched him leaving again. That was the signal she was waiting for. She then knew that Big Jim had made his entrance together with Rosemary. She gave another look at the two queens still in her hands. The drilling in the wall kept up but no one seemed to pay it any mind.
She dressed up quickly to welcome Big Jim backstage while the actors, now hysterical, rushed towards the stage. It all happened pretty quick. The show began, the crowd became louder, Big Jim fell dead on the floor with a knife stuck in his back, Rosemary was standing there emotionless, Big Jim's blood still on his right hand. That blood won Rosemary her crown but Lily still needed to win hers.
In the meantime, two doors down the boys had finally made it through the wall and cleaned out the bank safe. They ran away on their horses to the place where they would have hidden the loot until the Jack of Hearts' return. Lily still needed to win her crown. She left the dressing room together with Rosemary now shining in hers.
The show ended, the actors returned backstage and screamed aloud at the sight of Big Jim's dead body. No one helped but an unsteady drunken hanging judge under the mocking stare of the Jack of Hearts. He had wished to see that sack of stinky luxury dead for a long time, since the day he collaborated with the law to catch him a few years before then in Mexico. Now, the very last person knowing his true identity was not a problem anymore and the Jack of Hearts left the saloon with a satisfied grin on his face. He knew nothing about the crown Lily was after. If he had known, he would have never left that place in peace.
Lily and Rosemary followed him to the place where the boys had hidden the loot. As Lily watched him opening the security box with a key drew out from his pockets, the desire for her crown grew stronger. She stood right behind him and shot him in the middle of his back. He didn't look much different from Big Jim now. That bullet won Lily her crown.
Rosemary walked towards her, towards the woman who she had once hated among all, the woman she had always been second to, and who finally won her her freedom.
They split the loot and departed one another forever."


SYNOPSIS A story document centred around the theme and the investigation of the theme through the characters and key actions of the story. Always the synopsis locates the story in relation to the deep purpose (theme) of the story. Open a synopsis with a general statement of theme : and how the story reflects that theme. Describe the protagonist only and constantly in relation to the theme of the story. Describe his/her desires and actions in relation to the deep concerns of the story. THE STORY SYNOPSIS ALWAYS KEEPS IN FOCUS WHAT IS AT STAKE IN THE STORY : as this thematic question is what’s at stake for the audience and so guarantees their engagement. The core question is not how in detail does this story but WHY does this story work.

Questions to ask at this level. What is it about? Is that pressing / contemporary relevance? Why would the main characters fascinate us? What is the basic emotional map of the characters? How do the main characters communicate? Beat by beat what are the emotional interactions of each character? What does the audience feel about each major development in the plot. What does the audience feel at the end? What in each role makes it special and unique for the actor?

Strategies you can try: Flip events and characters: re-assign actions to other characters as see how it affects the dynamics. HOW the story is told - which character it follows - what emotional moments - is a separate stage from deciding the bones of the story.

STEP BREAKDOWN It's important, after making a list of plot points, to make a STEP BREAKDOWN. This is a list of scenes, as they will be seen in the film, rather than a list of basic events. See Paul Schrader notes.

Here's some other links if you wish to explore the approaches of Schrader: one of the great screenwriters of the late C20th

A TREATMENT Is a selling document - you want to excite the reader - make them want to see the film/read the screenplay - it is a synthesis of the two above documents.

THE SCENE A scene is a fractal miniature of the rules of the whole story. A protagonist has a want/need that can be formulated as a challenge or question. They have the desire to answer this want/need by the end of the scene. They will express this need through action, but they will often express this need indirectly. Stating it obviously kills the scene. At the end of the scene the (the “answer’ to the protagonists challenge or question) will be not a definitive answer: that is then the end of the drama. Rather, it will be a re-framing of the question.

You can use a Scene Breakdown Chart to help you analyse a scene.

Check each scene for turns External plot beats Internal / emotional character beats The co-incidence of the above two create KEY SCENES Thematic Stakes – what does the scene mean to the writer’s themes Audience Stakes: - Are the audience ahead of the character (fear and hope) (which character) - Are the audience behind (surprise and shock) Whose scene is it? Does it make the reader/watcher want to to answer the ‘re-framing of the question’ that the scene led to. IE. Do they want to know what happens next?


Scripts are written in a very conventional format to assist producers in comparing and judging them. Irrelevant formatting differences are removed to facilitate this. The standard format includes writing in 12point Courier. Courier is a monospaced slab serif typeface. In other words it does not use kerning - the micro-adjustment of spaces between characters to make it easier on the eye. The reason is that readers of screenplays want a neutral representation of the amount of words in a screenplay IE the amount of material that needs to be filmed. A rough page count for a screenplay is a minute per page.

The formatting of a screenplay is very rigid. There are whole books on the subject. The bible is: The Hollywood standard by Cristopher Riley.

Most screenwriters use it’s quite expensive

But screenwriter John August has developed HIGHLAND the basic version is free

Here’s a short QUICK START to screenplay formatting in Word.

Creating a road-map for filming: the script & character breakdown.

20200623: We'll talk today about writing with images. How to loop together different film languages and images to create different or less conventional forms of cinema.

And look at two examples of taking a scene and planning to transform it into images.

Relevant files are:

Creating a visual world for your filming: the mood board.

Motivating your shooting decisions: the scene breakdown / concept of intention.

Rehearsing shooting decisions: the storyboard or a plan view of each scene

Making it happen: breakdowns, budget & schedule.