Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Movie and Prose - different approaches to description

I've just come back for a walk in some woods between Leicester and Loughborough. The first thing is to say that it was beautiful. Early spring under a blue sky. Cool air and bright sun. The first butterflies. Birdsong everywhere.

My goal is of course to be able to turn off my mind and enjoy the place and the moment. But that takes time for me. I have to slow down gradually. Walking helps. And as I walked, I was thinking about how I would capture the scene in prose and in film, in such a way that it would give an audience the experience of immersion in the woodland.

In prose, the task seems simple enough. First give a 'wide shot' - a general description of the whole place. Throw in some mention of sound, scent or texture. Then home in on progressively smaller detail. A strand of spider silk caught in the sunlight between the trees, for example. The job is done in half a dozen lines.

But I have often puzzled over how I would shoot such a scene in film. The range of light from dark shadow to brilliant splashes of sunlight. The 360 degree, all round above and below experience. The human eye and brain can take it all in. Harder for a camera.

Clearly the film approach would parallel the prose description. Wide shots and close up detail inter cut. The revelation that came to me today - probably obvious to most people - is how much easier it would be to film and edit if there was a person there in some of the shots. A person to turn his or her head, to observe the fine detail and the panoramas so that when we cut to them, there is the implication that we are seeing through that person's eye.

Of course, a person is there in the prose description. The narrator. An implied observer, taking in the detail on our behalf. Perhaps the two forms are not so different after all.

As for my walk - yes, today I did manage to slow my mind and really be there, vivid in the moment.


Niki M said...

I went for a walk too. Lovely out, innit? Very interesting comparison of the two forms. I'd love to hear more of your thoughts on that.

Rod Duncan said...

Hi there,

Is indeed lovely out.

I am on a steep bit of my learning curve when it comes to writing for the screen. That means I feel very ignorant when I look at how much there is to learn, and quite amazed when I look at how much less I knew a year ago!

When thoughts come or realisations hit me on the subject, I usually write them on here. So do call back from time to time.

One of the most important moments of revelation for me regarding screenwriting was when someone told me the obvious truth - that the vocabulary of the screen was developed in the era of silent film. I'm still unpacking that.

It has touched my novel writing too.

Pamm said...

Hi There,
I stumbled across your writing and blog on Hiten's blog the stuttering hib. I stutter, and am finally unpacking my emotioanl baggage as well. I loved the way you put that. I have been blogging for about two months, and also find such expressive ability in my writing. Your style is terrific - I love it. Perhaps you'll get a chance to visit my blog, and give me your opinion on my writing - I would love feedback from a published writer, as well as one who knows what's it's like to feel different from society's norm.
I will keep up with your adventures here on this blog.

Rod Duncan said...

Thanks Pamm, that means a lot to me. I'll definitely look in on your blog.