Wednesday, June 15, 2011

In Three


As embarrassing as this is, I haven't been able to fit in an interview since last week, so today, I'm just going to share some advice I gave to a friend who's hoping to get into BYU's film program.

Part of the application requires a three-minute film. This is by far the most daunting part of the process for someone trying to apply for the program, especially since this filmmaking venture comes before they've had a chance to make a lot of film-type friends to help them, and they've likely had very little experience up to this point anyway. Add onto that a dread fear of having an admittedly novice piece of work get judged by a group of very smart, very experienced professors who alone hold the key to entrance into the program, and suddenly a three-minute film seems more like the most important thing you've ever had to do.

The advice I gave him (edited down a bit below) will apply to anyone who is looking to make a short, three-minute narrative film. A lot of it is pretty basic, but it's often the very basic things that are most difficult to remember when you get busy with a project like that. So here it is:
  1. Simplify - as it stands, there's no way you'd be able to cover that much material in 3 minutes.
  2. Keep that core idea, and then figure out one simple question: What does your character want? Your three minutes will need to cover the following:
    1. What happens to the character in the beginning that motivates the want?
    2. What does the character do about it?
    3. How does the character try to get what he wants? (There should be several escalating actions/reactions/situations)
    4. Does the character get what he wants or not?
    5. What are the consequences?
  3. Be very specific and concrete in all of your choices--the setting, and exactly what happens in each scene, and why it's important.
  4. Depending on those concrete decisions about what, exactly, will be in your film (person, place, thing, etc.), the tone of the story will be either humorous, dramatic, scary, suspenseful, or whatever. I suggest a mix of humor and suspense. It's easier to pull off comedy in 3 minutes than drama or anything else. 
  5. Again, keep the concept simple. Try to boil the whole thing down to ONE THING. Person wants thing. Who is the person, and what is the thing? 3 minutes is shorter than you think it will be. Always. No matter what. That is the primary thing that hamstrings people when they set out to make a 3 minute film. Everyone, without fail, comes up with a concept that is too large, covers too much, and cannot possibly be told in 3 minutes. 
Maybe you're not working on a three-minute film, but most of the above advice actually applies to almost all of narrative screenwriting. So consider this the first of many screenwriting tips you'll find in this blog over time. 

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I want to tell you that Friday has some cool things in store, to in part make up for the somewhat dry nature of this post. So I WILL tell you that. Because it is true.

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