Linda Aronson Workshop: Day 1

Image by ELLE RITTER from Pixabay

 I attended Linda Aronson's weekend workshop in Ealing. Much of it was based on her book, The 21st Century Screenplay: A comprehensive guide to writing tomorrow's films. As she was under strict orders not to upset her agent by sharing too much, I'll not go into great detail. Let's go:

Non Linear Narratives

This is Linda's expertise and helpfully, we were given a crib sheet to help us along. Non-linear narratives take many forms. For instance they can be anthologies or multiple stories that are woven together out of sequence. One of the most well known examples is Pulp Fiction. It is made up of 3 interweaving stories that have been edited so they are out of chronological sequence.    

Linda described how Jules's (Samuel L Jackson) story is the one used to form the spine of the film, the portmanteau. The other two stories, Butches' and Honey/Pumpkin's slot in, allowing Jule's story arc from non-believer to believer/assassin to redeemer to have the redemptitive arc. My own view, is that the scences as they are arranged better meet John Yorke's 15 stage character journey than they would if placed in chronological order. For example, Vincent's character fulfils the resurrection step. At some point, I'll map this out. 

My hypothesis does run counter to Linda's global view, somewhat but that doesn't negate the value in understanding the value in how best to structure non linear nattatives and the tools to do so. In essesnce, I suspect that just as when writing a multi protagonist show, you can pass the baton between characters in a film so that they each deliver a step in the 15 step transformation. In the case of Pulp Fiction, it may be via the 4 protagonists.

Multiple protagonists allow your characters to play different archetypes e.g. Instigator, Traitor, Outsider. In a group adventure, there needs to be arcs for each. You should also determine the relationships between them i.e. their past. 

Why use them?

An advantage of using the tools of non-linear narratives, is that it can maintain interest. For instance by starting with the Act Two Turning Point, or something in the future, you can generate expectation or tension early on. Chernobyl does this by showing Jared Harris's character commit suicide. We know that we're in for a tough ride after that. In addition, they also ensure that by having the disaster shown at the beginning, it's not repeated at the end during the court case and has it as the spectacular ending, answering the mystery of how it happened.

Non-linear narratives allow you to tell less conventional stories, such as double journeys. These are often different versions of the same character and oftern socio-political. Buddy movies are same journey stories.  In City of God, Rocket is the protagonist but he's not that interesting. He's a well behaved photographer. But by throwing him against his former school mate, Little Z, a gang leader, he's caught up in something exciting.

They also offer you the chance to redo a story in a different way. For example, if it was Cinderella, we'd start with her running down the stairs from the ball, losing her slipper. This might lead us to write a story of where she might go next instead of home.

Content dictates Structure

Start with your story. Only after this, consider using the tools that she describes in her book(s). 

The Hero's Journey is not a monomyth

James Campbell and even Simon Stephens both describe storys being in essence, a singular form. However, although this may hold true for most Western narratives, it's less true for others. A theory behind the dominance of the hero's journey in Hollywood is that the founding fathers took 2 books with them: the Bible and Pilgrim's Progress. Both of these have structures similar to a singular protagonist, on a self-empowered journey, facing obstacles with a final transfomative conclusion. But if you look at much of Shakespeare's work its not redemptive or transformative. 

The 3 Act Structure

Linda likes the 3 Act Structure, with the rising tension and plateaud finale:

  • First Act Turning Point: a surprise that leads to an obstacle that follows through to the ending. A short film can ends here, probably posing a question. Thought provoking. First Act Turning Points are happening earlier and earlier in films but always by 20 minutes. Must be unexpected e.g. the beanstalk.
  • Second Act Turning Point: links to inciting incident and is a low point. A short film ending here is a tragedy. Second Act Turning Points are oftern used to start stories.
  • Third Act: the resolution, is redemptive.

Using Red Riding Hood as an example, the inciting incident (disturbance in Linda's terminology) is being sent through the woods to grandma. The Turning Point/surprise is grandma being a fox.

Linda recommended the nine point structure by Smiley-Thomson.

  1. Normality (Act 1)
  2. Protagonist
  3. Disturbance
  4. Plan – actions in response to disturbance
  5. Surprise… which leads to …
  6. Obstacle (first act turning point)
  7. Complications, sub-stories (Acts 2 and 3)
  8. Climax (end of Act 3)
  9. Resolution (How the world goes on)

 

While looking for the list online I found David Siegel's:

  • Act 0: Someone Toils Deep into the Night. Opening shot. Maybe something not quite right with the world.
  • Act 1: Open with An Establishing Shot
  • Act 2: Something Bad/Mysterious Happens. A jolt of action. An incident that is seemingly unrelated to the protagonist and requires more investigation.
  • Act 3: Meet the Hero. Three bumps and a push to take the plunge. Joker does this well. Hero's want.
  • Act 4: Commitment. There is a cost and there is no going back.
  • Act 5: Go for the Wrong Goal. Apperars to be the right goal. Finding breadcrumbs. Trailer.
  • Act 6: Reversal. The seminal incident. Everything stopping so the hero can learn the history lesson.
  • Act 7: Go for the New Goal. Escape, final battle, rebirth, secondary character helps/dies, ticking clock. Spectacular.
  • Act 8: Resolution

 David suggests where there is only single goal (James Bond, single want perhaps) only 7 Acts are required. Nine Acts allow for reversals. He also suggests a third type, with little structure such as Forrest Gump where the character or premise is strong enough to keep our interest. He sugggests writing in this order: Act 6, 2, 5, 3, 4, 7, 8, 1.

Anyway, back to Linda. 


What's in a Film?

Film's are made of two things: a message/theme and a scenario. The scenario is made up of relationships and action.

Mentor Antagonists

These are characters in buddy movies who oppose the more conventional protagonists and by doing so, help them on their journey. So in Rainman, Raymond is the Mentor Antagonist, helping Charlie to find out the truth about his life.

Flashbacks

Linda has identified 9 types of flashbacks. Try to use them consistently, preferrably in chronological order. This goes against David Siegel's breadcrumb proposition. They should create their own story when joined together. Don't use to solve a flagging story. Use at points of high tension/cliffhangers. Flashbacks are a natural element of storytelling. It's used in Homer's Odyssey.

The Joy Luck Club

In this film, the 1st daughter provides the skeleton story within which the other daughters stories are told sequential, intercurring the 1st daughters.


Day 2 to follow