“The home so much more ideal than

“The
reason we go to the movies is to have an emotional response,” argues James Ryan
in Screenwriting From the Heart. The
most cherished movies we watch over and over again are the ones that strike a
chord within us, and elicit a sentimental reaction from the audience, or have
characters that are endearing and love-able. As we watch the movie, we almost
seem to bond with these characters, and they become our friends, our family,
our enemies. “Make it something every caveman (and his brother) can get,”
advises Blake Snyder. The success of a movie depends on the timelessness of its
characters, and how closely they represent the human experience.

 

While trying to come up
with an idea for the screenwriting assignment, I had recently moved in to a student
house, and was struggling to make my room habitable for the average human
being. I was constantly making comparisons to my family home, and apart from
the glaring material disparities, I was fascinated by what made my family home
so much more ideal than the one I was renting. This fascination (and
desperation) led to me hitting upon the idea of writing a screenplay about
someone in search of their dream home. To explore what made a dream home, I
centered the screenplay around this central idea and meditated upon it, coming
up with the initial, simple logline of Margaret
goes on a hunt for her dream home.

 

The fact that I had come up
with a plot before thinking about creating “the right” characters that “enhanced
the idea”(49) created the problem of plot-driven screenplay. The characters
were just there to “fill the mould” of the plot, and were flat and
uninteresting. In “personalising the character”(124), James Ryan asserts that “most
writers create their best characters when they are based on someone they know”(124),
which convinced me to try reinventing Margaret based off a person I knew
personally.

 

“You need a subject to
embody and dramatize the idea…a character
is who the story is about”(32). I needed to create a protagonist that
resonated with an audience. Margaret’s character is based largely on my
grandaunt May, who is a dementia patient, and can no longer recognise her
family members. May is an optimistic person, and has lived a life of little
regrets. Because of her dementia, she lives more in the past than the present
the older she gets. Hence, I married the idea of house-hunting, with the
knowledge of my grandaunt’s happy life in the screenplay, which now revolved
around the haunting questions of “what makes a house a dream home” and “is it
possible to find a dream home”. The answer to the second question is affirmative
for Margaret in Relocation as she
encounters her “dream house” which in reality currently belongs to her.

The philosophical central
questions my screenplay revolves around have been tailored to suit Ryan’s
belief that they should be “profoundly difficult, if not impossible to answer
with any degree of certainty,” (72) with their requirement for a subjective,
personal answers.

 

“Motivation for the hero to
succeed must be a basic one…because primal urges get our attention, survival,
sex, protection of loved ones, fear of death grab us” (54). Maternal love and
concern is one of the strongest primal urges of humankind. Margaret was the
prime pick to be the main character of Relocation
as she is relatable to mothers old and young in her search for an ideal
place to bring up her children. Her character is also prime for younger, single
viewers to project upon a maternal figure in their own lives, meeting the
dramatic aim to elicit an emotional response from the audience as “we have a
primal reaction” to characters upon whom we project our loved ones. “A strong
fictional character represents what it is to be human,” the audience
instinctively roots for and sympathises with Margaret.

 

The genre of Relocation is drama—more specifically,
family drama. I chose this genre as it demands a simple story that is attention
grabbing, and at the heart of the human condition—most  effective in creating a mirror emotional
response from the audience. Tropes of this genre generally include ambiguous
situations where characters do not completely reveal what is going on and the
audience is left with an unsettling feeling that all is not quite right. Characters’
slightly odd reactions (Anne’s heated discussion with Margaret about the
wallpaper, or Steve’s initial impatience) hints to the viewers that all is not
as it appears, and intrigue is created. Another trope is Margaret’s melodramatic
moan as she realises the truth of her situation: that she has discovered her
dream home, and that she is selling it to move into the nursing home the next
day. The plot twist in the third act: the grand reveal that all is not
what it seems as Margaret suffers from reverse culture shock when Anne grows
tired of playing along with her fantasy is also typical of the drama genre. In
deviation from the norm of the genre, the conflict between the family members does
not escalate into a break-up of the family unit, and both arguments in Relocation
are resolved quickly.

 

             “Don’t get caught up in the end result and
deny us the fun of how they get there” (156), warns Snyder. In initially coming
up with a plot-driven screenplay, I was focused on making the characters serve
the direction and resolution of the story that my characters may come off as
rather one-dimensional. Anne’s character does not undergo a transformation, she
remains harrowed and emotional throughout. “Make the bad guy badder,… making
the hero bigger,”  (148) Snyder also
advices. There is no true antagonist in Relocation,
hence support for Margaret cannot be garnered by pitting her against a
terrible foe.

 

            One of
the revisions of the script involved writing off Jason, and replacing the scene
with an argument between Anne and Steve, revealing that Steve’s character is
more sentimental than he originally lets on, aiding in creating better fleshed-out
characters. Having fewer characters works better from a practical standpoint
too: one less actor to hire. With tight budgets for short films, my screenplay succeeds
in viability from a commercial standpoint. I also succeeded in utilising arrangement
and proportioning of material as Margaret moves further into the house with
every scene. Margaret’s home of several decades represents her life, and she
reveals increasingly personal emotions and experiences. “Like the visual
element, sound can tell the story, or lead the writer to a flow of more
story, character, and nuance.” (66) I have succeeded in using the sound of
draining water to link scenes 2 and 3, hinting that they are in fact the same
location. I have also achieved creation of both “physical and emotional action”
(89). Just before Margaret’s memory “catches up” to present time, when the
climax occurs during the revelation, Margaret moves quicker physically as she looks
for the dog. The combination of physical and emotional action creates the
effect of the story plot moving with increasing velocity towards the inevitable
climax. Margaret’s fantasy world collides with the one of reality, and she is
spun out of her imaginary control.

 

            I
believe that McKee’s image system is particularly effective in setting the atmosphere
of a scene, and impart non-verbal messages to the audience. One motif I have
included in every act is the property advertisement. Margaret clutching it when
she “visits the properties” implies how inaccessible (as she cannot even read
the flyer due to losing her glasses) the house, and all her memories created in
it, is to her now. Margaret’s understanding of the house is reduced to the
brief description on the advertisement—flat, and impersonal. When Steve takes the
flyer from Margaret, it is symbolic of the house being taken away from her. When
Steve pockets the “saved” advert, her children almost seem to be cashing in on
what is something very sentimental and personal to Margaret, which creates a
sense of sadness on behalf of Margaret, and also disapproval of her children’s
decision to sell the house.   

 

            I did
not fancy Syd Field’s 3 act structure. I felt like it takes away the organic
quality of a screenplay. Although plot-wise it might aid in development and
help solve the problem of “what happens next” in the story, strictly sticking
to the confines of the 3 act structure with its time limits for each act
ensures the plots characters are part of will be “manufactured” to be rather
predictable, which perhaps in some cases will take away the believability of
the characters, impeding the audience’s identification with the characters’
plight, negatively affecting the amount of emotional response from the
audience. Relocation does not adhere
to Field’s rules of designating a quarter of the screenplay for act one, half
for act two and the rest for the last act.

 

            I have enjoyed
watching a few short films as further reference and guidance in writing Relocation.  The first film, Past the second stage incorporates interesting use of diagetic
sound. Conflicting “on-hold” music over the phone with the visual storytelling,
creates a friction that breathes life into the protagonist’s emotional strife. Past the Second Stage’s character does
not simply remain sad and grieving over the loss of his brother, which would be
unrealistic and boring. I have incorporated audio cues into the unfolding of
the plot of Relocation, using the
sound of draining water to link both locations in scene 1 and 2 to each other,
hinting that they are one and the same.

 

            Stew
and punch, another film I watched was shot in just one internal location,
which aids to create a sense of raw reality of the film—in the mundane,
domestic location, viewers are drawn to the relatability of the characters, and
are able to “see” their friends in the other characters. This creates a genuine
emotional response in the audience.

 

Cigarettes and coffee has lighthearted
conversation that just dances on the edge of the more serious and tragic issue
at hand: the father’s unemployment, the mother’s critical bedridden state, as
well as their crippling poverty—all while the son is unmoved and unsympathetic
to their plight as he has moved up the social ladder. The close-ups of the
father’s face as he talks creates the effect of being alienated from his son,
and being lonely in his plight, thereby eliciting sympathy for the father
character from the audience.

    

            Overall,
I felt that it was useful to begin with the “the bones of a screenplay, as
constructed in the story beats”(68). This allowed me to write the screenplay
with more direction in mind. Syd Field believes that “the ending is the first
thing you must know before you begin writing.” Creating an opening image, while
keeping in mind the “‘after’ snapshot” (72) was useful in that it aided in
showing the original position of the characters in contrast with “how things
have changed”, because “a good screenplay is about change” (72). This way, I
could map the direction I wanted Margaret to develop in her character arc.
However, while preparing the one-page proposal, I felt that only character
outlines were useful because they provided a framework and context to a
character’s reactions and actions, allowing me to populate my script with more
realistic characters. The synopsis I thought was superfluous in the preparation
for the writing of the script because beat sheet and scene-by-scene outlines
were just re-iterations of the synopsis, except in more detail.

 

            In conclusion,
the purpose of my screenplay was to portray the alienation of dementia patients
from everything that should be dearly familiar to them—their homes, their
families—and create sympathy for the plights of these patients. In creating
Madeline to be a doting maternal figure who is devastated by the regaining and
then subsequent loss of her “dream home” full of happy memories of her family,
the audience is moved to sympathise with her, and root for Madeline. In doing
so, the audience sees through her eyes the distance that gaps in her memory
create between her and her loved ones.