30 October 2008

About the Story

And it goes without saying if you read this post, you’ll spoil the ending…

After spending the past three years vowing never to be like “those seniors” running around, stressing out, begging for help with their thesis films, I’m slowly turning into one. (I’m not to the begging for help part yet, but hope not to get there.) The principal reason I’m in this spot is because of the story.

I had a viable thesis idea.

I wrote it in a freshman storytelling class and promptly took that and made it my second year film. (Viewable in two parts on Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOdCad3MZp8 and here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kscIBF1zKps) It was by no means a bad film, but in the long run I’m glad it isn’t my thesis. Way back then I figured I had plenty of time to come up with another story, but I didn’t know how long it would take me.

Well, it took me right up to the first August thesis deadline. I kept coming up with ideas but knew that they weren’t thesis material. There was a point I met with Howard about two weeks before the deadline and I was pretty bummed I still had absolutely nothing to show. He assured me “You’ll think of something,” and I believed him, but the specter of starting thesis year without a story was beginning to haunt me. For someone who had wanted to start animating at the start of the school year, I was pretty behind. Finally, one week before the deadline, I had the beginnings of what is now my film.

The game-changer here was that I limited myself to a single theme or idea, and I chose flight. Flight is one of myriad fascinations that I have. When I was very little I wanted to be able to fly, and to some degree, sometimes I still have that desire. And a film about flight or flying things is easily made in animation versus, say, live action.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the very first story idea was about a man in a boat. He was stuck at sea with no land in sight, no wind, no food, and no water. He sat back and watched the seagulls fly over head while the sun was slowly baking him. After awhile it all begins to get to him and he starts to go crazy. At this point, he took out a bag of tools (sure, he has a bag of tools, why not) and begins to dismantle his boat, building a giant pair of wings. What he doesn’t notice is that as he’s doing it, the weather is changing quickly. It has become very stormy, and right as he finishes making the wings, he is about to get sucked up into a waterspout. He does, and glides to land that he sees far in the distance. There was more to this story as far as payoffs and such go, but they’re not worth mentioning here.

The whole thing was really contrived, but it was the beginnings of a better story. I was excited and kept working.

In his initial critique Howard brought up a good point, that we didn’t care for the character enough. Even if he survived everything, so what? With that, the man was placed on land first. He was made older and given a young granddaughter, about 4 years old. His occupation was a kite builder, and early one morning he leaves on a trip. The granddaughter stays at home (I felt this was okay because it took place in a town and there were other people around) and waits for him. He travels for the day at sea but at night encounters a freak storm. Again, we’re at the point where he builds wings out of his boat, only this time he hasn’t gone crazy, he’s a kitebuilder, and he knows these things. He glides a ridiculous distance home on crosswinds and air currents and returns home, where from his granddaughter’s vantage point, he appears to fly out of the rising sun, right into the breaking waves on the beach.

Overall, this version was more dramatic, and at times, sappy. Now maybe the audience would care about the characters, but probably not in the way I wanted them too. On top of that, we still didn’t have a reason why he left home in the first place. And that point is what led us to the last version of the film.

Howard suggested to make the main character a lightkeeper (though he’d still be a kitemaker in his spare time). Another big point of his was to give the girl a dog. Every time the design and character of the girl was brought up, Howard would always say, “She should really have a dog,” and “you know, a dog would be good here.” It seemed like just one more thing to animate until I thought about it. The dog could be given a real reason for being in the film. With that, not only did the dog become sort of a comic relief and the token “cute” character, he provided the reason for the man to go out to sea: to get more food from the mainland.

From there, it’s basically the previous story all over again. He leaves the island, goes to the mainland, and on his return trip, encounters the storm and the waterspout. He builds his wings out of his boat and glides back to safety on the island.

The entire film is jam-packed with acting, and there is no actual dialogue. Writing this story in words will do it no justice, so keep an eye out for an upcoming post in November of a rough cut.

Next up—who’s that dog?

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