Bob Gillen on Storytelling

Month: February 2017 (Page 1 of 5)

Keep your film dialogue short

For filmmakers and script writers, here’s practical dialogue advice from screenplay expert Michael Ferris:

Keep your film dialogue short.

computer keyboard“A script is not a play – your goal is NOT to have dialogue that looks like a bunch of monologues. Try to keep 95% of your dialogue to 3 lines or less on the page. Clever dialogue is found in quick back and forth exchanges, not prose-y speeches. Think about one of the best screenwriters known for his dialogue – Aaron Sorkin. Have you ever watched a scene from The West Wing? It’s not a perfect example, but it illustrates the point that if you keep it snappy, it keeps it moving. And a fast moving script, like a fast moving story, is entertaining and – sometimes – it can move so fast that you don’t have time to realize whether it’s great quality or not. You just know you’re entertained. So, use it to your advantage. Keep the dialogue short, quick back and forths, and you’ll reveal plot and character just as quickly.”

The quote is from my ebook, Filmmaking Basics: Finding Your Creative Voice.

This place of uncertainty we’re in

As with most other professions, we storytellers suffer often from anxiety. It can be merely a nuisance. It can be severely crippling. Zen habit expert Leo Babauta offers solid advice on dealing with our anxiety.

After outlining common causes for anxiety, Babauta suggests how to work with it:

  1. “Face the physical feeling. Drop out of the story that’s spinning around in your head, that’s causing the anxiety. Instead, just be mindful of how your body feels.
  2. “Stay with it & be curious about it. Don’t run, just stay with the physical feeling. Instead of rejecting it and wanting it to stop, just open up to it and see it with curiosity.
  3. “Smile at it. Develop a feeling of friendliness towards the physical sensation of this anxiety. See it as one of the fundamental realities of your existence, and learn to be friends with it. See this as a chance to work with something that will be with you for your entire life, an opportunity to get comfortable with this discomfort.
  4. “Open to a bigger space. Our normal way of relating to this feeling is wanting to reject it, because we’re stuck in a small-minded, self-centered way of seeing it (I say this without judgment, it’s just something we do). Instead, we can start to touch the wide-open space of our minds, like a big blue sky, not a small space but expansive. In this open space, we can hold the anxiety like a cloud against the backdrop of the blue sky, but not be lost in the cloud. We can see the anxiety but also see that like a cloud, it’s temporary, it’s not that solid, it’s not all-encompassing, and it’s just floating by. This wide-open space of our mind is always available to us.”

Blue sky with cloudsBabauta concludes, “Once we start to touch on this anxiety, face it with courage, stay with it like a good friend would … we start to realize it’s not so bad. It’s just something that comes up, like a ripple in a pond, like a breeze in a field, and it will go away. We don’t need to panic, we don’t need to run, we can relax, invite it to tea, and see that nothing else is required. Instead, we stay, we give it love, and see that this place of uncertainty we’re in is absolutely perfect as it is.”

Compelling advice, isn’t it? Anxiety is a fundamental reality of our (writing) existence. Learn to be friends with it. We can use it in our writing exercises. Probe the anxiety in our characters. Touch the wide-open spaces of our own minds.

As always, I think of writer Natalie Goldberg’s powerful advice. Writing practice. Do it daily.

Read Leo Babauta’s full blog article here.

YouTube’s push into kids programming

Opportunities for creating story continue to grow as YouTube joins the cast of companies now developing their own original online content. Yvonne Villarreal, in a recent article for The Los Angles Times, says, “With rising competition for eyeballs, YouTube can no longer rely on amateur videos and user-generated content to generate traffic and advertising revenue.”

She continues, “So the  Google-owned video site has begun investing in and distributing original shows targeting young viewers — starting with teens and young adults — who are increasingly bypassing traditional television and movies. The push into kids programming is an extension of that strategy.”

Image of Fruit Ninja Frenzy Force for YouTube programming

Credit: Variety

Variety confirms, “The video giant has greenlit four series from top creators on the platform that will launch this spring and summer, available to subscribers of YouTube Red.” The four series are: HyperlinkedDanTDM Creates A Big SceneThe Kings of Atlantis and Fruit Ninja: Frenzy Force.

“One advantage for YouTube,” says Villarreal, “is that it already has the attention of youngsters — 81% of 6- to 12-year-olds  say they use YouTube, according to an annual study on kids’ digital behavior from market research firm Smarty Pants. What’s more, YouTube has unparalleled reach, with more than 1 billion unique visitors monthly.”

Creating story was never more possible.

Read The Los Angeles Times full article here.


Using your iPhone camera to capture good video

A while back I interviewed filmmaker Choice Skinner about his short film A Second Thought. He shot the two-minute film on a two-hour bus ride through city streets.

Choice Skinner

Choice Skinner

Skinner says, “I decided to shoot it on an iPhone because I knew I would be stealing shots and shooting it on a bus without permits. I also didn’t have the money or the resources to do what I normally would have done, which is hire a crew and shoot on the Red Epic or Canon 5D.”

Check out these tips from ProEditors for using your iPhone camera to capture good video.

And see Choice Skinner’s IMDb page and his filmography.

Showcasing your characters

Donald O’Connor’s physical comedy number Make ‘Em Laugh is one of the most engaging scenes from Singin’ in the Rain.

According to Mental Floss, the 1952 movie was conceived by producer Arthur Freed as a vehicle for showcasing songs he’d written.

It’s said that song-writer Irving Berlin would conceive a movie idea by assembling a playlist of some of his own songs. With about 1500 songs to his credit, that’s a lot of material for making movies.

Writers have the same opportunity. Creating characters is a mainstay of fiction writing. Pull together a list of all of your characters. Write up extensive profiles for each one. Then play with them, shifting them around, pairing them with one another, looking for combinations that lend themselves to conflict and harmony. Create stories by showcasing your characters.


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