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1 Lecture 13: How do I Embed Themes Into My Story? Professor Michael Green The Dark Knight (2002) \Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, based.

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Presentation on theme: "1 Lecture 13: How do I Embed Themes Into My Story? Professor Michael Green The Dark Knight (2002) \Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, based."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 Lecture 13: How do I Embed Themes Into My Story? Professor Michael Green The Dark Knight (2002) \Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, based on as story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer. Based on Characters by Bob Kane

2 Previous Lesson The Function of Dialogue The Characteristics of Good Dialogue Techniques and Tips Writing Exercise # 11 Woman of the Year (1942) Written by Ring Lardner and Michael Kanin

3 This Lesson The Role of Subtext The Emotion Beneath the Lines Revealing the Subtext Writing Exercise #12 Yentl (2006) Written by Jack Rosenthal and Barbra Streisand Based on the short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer

4 4 The Role of Subtext Lesson 13: Part I It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) Written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett and Frank Capra with additional scenes by Jo Swerling. Based on a story by Philip Van Doren Stern

5 What is Subtext? Subtext is what is going on beneath the surface, the undercurrent of emotions and thoughts that truly motivates the characters to behave as they do. Most of the time subtext connects to the character’s needs. It can sometimes relate to what character’s consciously know and want but can’t reveal. 5

6 What is Subtext (Continued)? A story’s subtext reveals why characters act the way they do and say the things they do, before and after plot requirements are considered. Certain actions and dialogue must unfold for the plot to work, but the layer of meaning beneath the plot mechanics goes to the heart of who your characters really are, and why they find themselves in a particular story.

7 Writing for the Filmmakers Directors and actors bring a scene to life by determining the feelings, thoughts and motives that lie beneath the actual words and actions of the characters. Screenplays missing subtext will be missing purpose and power. Action will be on the surface, frustrating the director and actors’ task of realizing the scenes from the subtextual clues in the script. 7

8 Example Subtext isn’t what you write; it’s what you write around. It’s the deeper level of story that can’t be told so much in words but must be shown in actions. Pause the lecture now and go back and watch the clip from It’s a Wonderful Life. 8

9 Example 9 It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) Written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett and Frank Capra With additional scenes by Jo Swerling. Based on a story by Philip Van Doren Stern

10 Subtext and Life In real life, people rarely say exactly what they are feeling, especially if those feelings are difficult to deal with. More often, people try to hide what bothers them, their personal weaknesses and minor transgressions. They may also lie to protect loved ones or try to gain power or status. This often leads to conflict, as people try to get each other to meet their needs without being up front about them. 10

11 Drama vs. Life In drama, where art imitates life, we aim to show a version of this; the ultimate goal, however, is not to obscure, but to reveal and to create meaning. To this end, the screenwriter must know his characters better than they know themselves. Through subtext, the writer lets the audience see what the characters really need beyond what they say they want. 11

12 Subtext and Need Subtext is used to reveal what can’t be easily told in words; therefore, it has everything to do with need, or unconscious motivation. If a character’s unconscious need contradicts his stated goal, the scene will play differently than if conscious and unconscious minds are in total agreement. Need comes from a deep part of the character’s psyche of which he or she may well be ignorant.

13 Subtext and Need (Continued) The character’s need may be the real motivation behind everything else he does in the story. But to grasp this fact the audience must be shown it in a credible fashion. A way to understand this elusive concept of subtext is to see it as how the characters, while going after what they want in the story, end up with what they really need. Please pause the lecture and watch the clip from Arthur.

14 Subtext and Need (Continued) Arthur (1982) Written by Steve Gordon

15 Subtext and Exposition To understand a story, certain exposition must be overtly presented to the audience, and other pieces can be implied. Subtext complements exposition, conveying feelings, thoughts and motivations which may be too complex to tell in words, but which are crucial to understanding a story. 15

16 Revealing the Right Amount The screenwriter walks a thin line between telling too much and telling too little. Tell too much and you lost the audience’s interest. Tell too little and the audience won’t understand the story. 16

17 17 The Emotion Beneath the Lines Lesson 13: Part II A Christmas Story (1983) Written by Jean Sheherd and Lee Brown and Bob Clark Based on the novel “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” by Jean Shepherd

18 Feelings, Thoughts and Motives At times, the true motives and emotions of a character are the whole point of a film. Remember our discussions regarding Casablanca. If this information is clumsily handled or just dumped in the audience’s lap, viewer’s will doubt it’s veracity the same way you might be skeptical of a person who too easily tells you his life story. Exposition through conflict. 18

19 Feelings, Thoughts and Motives (Continued) A character’s motivation carries more weight if it’s closely guarded. Through subtext, the screenwriter allows the audience glimpses or hints of the protagonist’s and other character’s true natures. In this way, the audience is more involved in the story and has a richer experience. Pause the lecture and watch the clip from A Christmas Story. 19

20 Subtext and Theme Subtext should carry a direct relationship to the film’s theme. It becomes the vessel for getting the main ideas across when it wouldn’t be realistic to do so in dialogue. When we, as an audience, feel satisfied, something is working on a deeper level. Even if we can’t completely articulate what that is, we’ve been touched in some way. The story feels true. 20

21 Emotion and Dialogue In a scene the emotion carrying the lines may: 1.Support the dialogue 2.Contradict the dialogue 3.Have little relationship to the dialogue 21

22 Emotion Supporting Dialogue When emotion supports the dialogue, the lines reflect what the characters feel. When someone is happy or infuriated, it is hard to suppress. These emotions affect attitudes and actions and these easily filter into conversation. If your characters’ emotional states find expression in dialogue, remember, there must still must be a progression of emotions within the scene. 22

23 Emotion Contradicting Dialogue When emotion contradicts dialogue, it forces the character to take action contrary to what she says. A character might feel fear and want to hide it or might be angry and be unable to show it. 23 Office Space (1999) Written by Mike Judge

24 Emotion with Little Relationship to Dialogue Sometimes the whole point of a scene is the emotion it contains. What’s actually being said has practically no bearing on the story at all. Rather than being revealed through dialogue, the emotion may be revealed through action, expression, the visual approach to the scene or information we know from earlier scenes. 24

25 25 Revealing the Subtext Lesson 13: Part III Akeelah and the Bee (2006) Written by Doug Atchison

26 Externalization In scenes, emotions motivate characters to act as they do. In most scenes, someone is in the grip of powerful emotion, positive or negative, and this emotion influences the scene, how he or she behaves, and how others react. The audience needs to be aware of the emotions and thoughts affecting the story (No mindreading!) the screenwriter must find ways to reveal or externalize them. 26

27 Dialogue Asking a few questions about the characters and the emotion in a scene can help insure the dialogue strengthens the subtext. 1. What must be said in the scene? 2. What can be implied? 3. What doesn’t need to be said at all? 27

28 More Questions 4. What is the key emotion motivating the characters in this scene? 5. How would their respective emotions specifically affect the characters? 6. Would the character have a conscious or unconscious strategy for dealing with emotion? (For example, would he use understatement or directly contradict his emotions with words?) 7. What is the source of the conflict or tension?

29 More Questions (Continued) Any or all of these questions should help clarify what is going on beneath the surface of the characters. Once the questions have been answered, you should have a better idea of the subtext and how a character might react to it. Dialogue might be the perfect way to bring the subtext out into the open. You might also use physical attitude, business and atmosphere.

30 Physical Attitude Physical attitude refers to a character’s outward disposition or mood representing his inner emotional state. Body language, facial expressions, clothes and gestures all provide hints to a character’s state of mind. Unlike a novel, screenwriters can’t rely on narrative to explain complex thoughts. They must reveal them through things that can be seen and heard. NO MINDREADING! 30

31 Writing Physical Attitude The screenwriter must describe the characteristics of what the audience sees and hears in the action and the parenthetical directions. Most of the description is of an external state. Remember, don’t direct the actors. Actions you give a character are like lines. “She slaps him” replaces a line. “She slaps him, palm cupped, with a smooth follow-through” is directing the actor. Say what, not how. 31

32 Example 32 CRAWFORD You see, the one we want most refuses to cooperate. I want you to go after him again today, in the asylum. CLARICE Who's the subject? CRAWFORD The psychiatrist - Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Clarice stops walking, goes very still. A beat. CLARICE (Worried) The cannibal... Crawford doesn't respond, except to study her face. CLARICE (contd.) Yes, well... Okay, right. I'm glad for the chance, sir, but - why me? CRAWFORD You're qualified and available. And frankly, I can't spare a real agent right now. He walks on again, at a faster clip. She hurries to keep up.

33 Business Business helps establish a sense of reality and makes a scene more visually interesting. Characters are also further defined by what they do in the scene. The business of doing relates strongly to subtext. A character’s actions speak more truth about her than her dialogue or the dialogue of other characters. 33

34 Atmosphere Atmosphere also helps to reveal the character’s inner state by reinforcing it. Weather, time of day, nature, etc. can all contribute to creating a mood that reflects the interior world of the characters. Using the external world to mirror the inner emotions felt by the characters helps the audience share the character’s experience. 34

35 35Assignments Lesson 13: Part IV Seven (1995) Written by Andrew Kevin Walker

36 36 E-Board Post #1 Watch the short film Black Rider and analyze the subtext. What is made clear even thought it’s not spoken in dialogue? What theme is the subtext communicating?

37 37 E-Board Post #2 Watch the clip from It’s a Wonderful Life, Arthur or A Christmas Story again. In addition to the examples discussed in the lecture, please cite two times where you can identify something going on beneath the actual words.

38 38 Writing Exercise #12 Pick out a scene from your script that is dialogue heavy and rewrite part of it using a minimum of dialogue to demonstrate the character’s inner states. Use such tools as visual and sound effects, atmosphere, business and physical attitude in rewriting the scene. Post both the new scene and the old scene for comparison.

39 End of Lecture 13 End of Lecture 13 Next Lecture: Taking Your Screenplay to the Next Level Meet the Parents (2000) Written by Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg Based on a story and an earlier screenplay by Greg Gilenna and Mary Ruth Clarke


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