A Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Image by Erik Tanghe from Pixabay

A quick blog post on the Bafta talk by Céline Sciamma. The link is here. It's part of a great series of talks that are usually part of the Bafta Guru series, asking screenwriters to talk about their methods. In this talk, called The Rising Tide, Céline discusses her 3 step method with examples from A Portrait of a Lady on Fire. I'll try to summarise.

Step 1

  • Write a list of 5-6 scenes that demonstrate the desires of your character(s). These may not be immediately apparent in terms of their role or the exact nature of the desire but somehow convey it. E.g. when the dress catches fire and she is too sick with desire to care.
  • Write a list of all the scenes you need to tell the story. 
  • Now, move each scene from the Need list to the Desire list, once they incorporate the/a desire. 

Step 2

  • Write the dialogue and the scenes in full
  • Her characters have no past, no surnames. They exist purely in the moment in this narrative, living for their desire.

Step 3

  • Find how your character's desires relate to a greater desire
  • In APLF, this is the choice of whether to live in the moment (as a poet) or not

By focussing on desires this makes each sequence less about conflict. If you remember, we discussed that in Game of Thrones, each scene/sequence was treated as a fight with a winner and loser. In this instance, both sides are equal and therefore, its a negotiation where two sides are bargaining. This still has tension and surprise. I'm sure there are some scenes in GoT that also do this.

This final step, fits reasonably well against my sequence template:

  1. Setting
  2. Opportunity (to persuade, fight or seduce)
  3. Options
  4. Action
  5. Conflict
  6. Result

as I give 3 possibilities for opportunity, with persuade and seduce suggesting non-conflict alternatives. 

It's a great talk with a short Q&A at the end.