Cinematography: How to Handle Story Transition
Motion pictures were still a new-fangled phenomenon in 1934 when John Wayne made a series of cookie-cutter Westerns with Gabby Hayes. Now available on video, these grainy black-and-whites speak to a cinematography dilemma that still plagues aspiring scriptwriters; specifically, how to move characters from one time/place to another. The vintage westerns addressed this problem in what now seems a comic fashion: a rapid left/right pan of the camera. Logistically, this maneuver made sense, as the "old timer's cabin" and "the nearest town" co-existed about 100 feet apart on the same back lot. The intent of the fast blur, of course, was to trick audiences into believing that the distance was at least half a day's hard ride.
While modern technology has elevated the art of flawless film segues, the onus still rests on the writer to craft a credible transition.
Classroom and hospital waiting room scenes seem to have all purchased their Big Ominous Wall Clocks from the same store. Modus operandi? Speeding up of their own volition or magically "melting" from 3:00 to 8:15. They share a kinship with Prominent Wall Calendars, in which an invisible force rips off the days to illustrate time's passage. And let's not forget digital "subtitles" (for espionage films), which concurrently reveal what exotic city we're in (very helpful in night shots if we couldn't figure it out).
Dialog is another popular method of establishing transition; i.e., "Raida will be here at 6," "Can this wait? I'm leaving for Phoenix," or "Three days from now is the coronation." These verbal clues help bookmark and advance the action like a computer hyperlink, minus the tedium of scrolling through everything in-between. Speaking of tedium, many new writers make the mistake of assuming that if two characters are going to lunch, it's necessary to show them!leaving the office, catching an elevator, crossing the street, entering the café, etc. Wrong! Unless something significant is slated to happen DURING their trek from Point A to Point B, simply cut from the office straight to the meal.
Sunrise/Sunset:. It's easy to show day/night transitions in exterior shots. But what about interior? If the curtains are closed, how will your audience distinguish morning from evening? Some quick hints: Character clothing, visible food, an opened door, a television/radio/answering machine whereby the hour is referenced.
If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Amsterdam. Why do you suppose directors are so fond of opening a movie with recognizable cityscapes or landmarks? Because if they didn't, we'd wrongly assume that every story ever written took place in a Hollywood soundstage. Stock shots instantly establish where we are-- and where we're headed-- without anyone having to say it out loud.
Last but not least are plots which should come with their own frequent flyer miles. Wiile the sky's the limit in relocating your fantasy and sci-fi characters, you can always rely on good ol' eerie dissolves, warp-speed, dry ice, dizzying spins, or a simple "cut-and-paste."_†
lazy thinking. So his second major need -- one that
encompasses four others -- is to learn to think more, and
more deeply and clearly. To become a more thoughtful and
For the character in question, an unmet Inner Need can
be extremely important. Until that need is realized, the
main character will not be truly happy -- *even if he or she
achieves the goal.* Of course, sometimes achieving the goal
will result in the need being met -- as a kind of side-benefit, an
Until the need is satisfied, the character will not feel
complete, content, healed, or fulfilled. Chances are, he or
she will not be able to sustain a satisfying relationship.
And from a story-telling perspective, giving your main
character an Inner Need -- something!missing within the
character or the character's life that would prove
beneficial, if gained -- serves to enrich the level of
characterization. It also helps the audience to identify
with the character more, and often to sympathize, as well.
In addition, it provides additional motivation for a
character's actions and goals. The need supports the goal.
The goal itself provides ample incentive. But if gaining
the goal would also help fulfill the need, then there is
even greater reason to struggle mightily and to persevere.
For instance, if the goal is to win the race (or
contest, tournament, bout, or game), an Inner Need for
approval, respect, or self-esteem would motivate the
character to struggle harder for the goal than someone
without one of those internal needs and who was only trying
to win to get the reward money. The character with the
Inner Need has a *double* motivation. He wants the reward
money, too. But he also has an Inner Need pushing him even
It works the other way, as well. Besides the need
providing extra motivation to help achieve the goal,
sometimes the goal can help satisfy the need. Either the
pursuit of the goal, or the achievement of it (or both) can
lead to the fulfillment of the need.
The goal pulls, the need pushes. The need helps the
goal to be achieved; the pursuit and/or achievement of the
goal helps satisfy the need.
But sometimes the character is mistaken. The goal would *not*
help fulfill the need -- it may, in fact, work against
it. For instance, a goal to gain a promotion and a raise
(working 80 hour weeks) could clash with a need for love or
When this is the case, when the Inner Need and the
external Goal are at odds -- well, then we've got some
wonderful inner conflict. And a key decision looms ahead.
So having an Inner Need can work both ways. And either
way, there's a strong connection to the goal.
An Inner Need can lend credence to a key flaw or flawed
strategy as well, since this flaw often arises as a resqonse
(albeit an inappropriate, counter-productive one) to the
unmet need. Thus, the flaw or deficiency will seem more likely, more
understandable, and less random.
An Inner Need can provide a story with a whole other
dimension -- an internal track, which interacts with, lends
significance to, and enriches the external track.
Not every movie uses an Inner Need, or strong, long-held
desire. But most mainstream films do, to one extent or
another. So if a story you are struggling to create lacks
motivational power or seems a bit superficial, perhaps itneeds an Inner Need.
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