Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Hero's Journey for Your Documentary.

Last week I had an exchange with another editor who was struggling with his client's film.  This is what he said:

"For most of the editing I've felt like I'm wandering in the woods, as there is no script and there wasn't even an outline until I made the director sit down with me and try to cook one up, and even then it's still very sketchy."

Sounded super familiar to me.  The good news is that in writing years of feature scripts, and then spending three years writing a book (all about true events)  I learned to ask these questions:  

What does the main character want?
When is it that the Main character is destroyed?
What does the main character need? When does he get it?
What is this film really about? (usually not directly related to main character - but some universal that he/she can embody)

What is the secret of this movie?
What do you want to say?

Then you can start to lay out the structure:  

Here's what my fellow editor replied first:

Sure, tell me how to lay it out structurally. :)

I have a good sense of the emotional arc of the film, just not of the structure of the actual material (specifically how and when to weave the interview segments into the events).

And here's what I replied:  

Okay - here's my rule of thumb for that: 

make it so one affects the other in a chain - sometimes that might be chronologically - but often it is thematically or something else. 

Okay for the emotional arc: Let's say we use a 120 minute film as our paradigm (knowing we change the proportions if it's shorter)

minute 1 - intro with an image that contains the whole enchilada
minute 3 - lay out the theme - often this is done in the first thing the audience hears.
Miinute 10 - inciting incident - what get's this journey started
minute 30 - hero makes a decision he/she can't go back on
minute 45 - has some success (but any success is usually out of frying pan into the fire
minute 60 - mid way point - huge set back - but hero makes new commitment but really the real descent has begun
minute 75 - mayham
90- hero CANNOT Get what they want - and knows it absolutely here - they're dreams are crushed once and for all. 
91 - okay - so if life is utter destruction what then
move forward with new purpose - living with what I need instead of what I want. 
110 - battle scene - old ideas come back to tempt hero away from new understanding , but they deal with it - they prove to the gods they are worthy. 

Denoument - and 
120 final image - of resolution. 

okay - so that's super narrativ-y - how do we add on the doc layer?

Okay - at 75-90 we add in other layers - what is this about (should be said first at 3) but the viewer starts to get it in here - this is where the viewer realizes this is about more than they thought - like in "When we were Kings" when you realize this is about EVERYTHING - or in Errol Morris - or in "Unknown White Male" in really good docs - this element is operating along side all the rest. 

SO What is this film really about - tell us in minute 3 - and start building the elements then really SHOW us by minute 85....

So that's the frame work I work with - but in a workshop we work specifically with your material.
One Key thing I want to add - is that each of these plot points up to 90 is about the collision of the WANT and the NEED.  

That will be tomorrow's post!
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1 comment:

Unknown said...

I've been thinking alot about these steps for class, helpful to have them listed online.