Test your scenarios with your mobile phone

4 March 2019. Published by Benoît Labourdette.

A very simple use of the mobile phone can speed up the scriptwriting work.

In many fields prototypes are made, which can also be called drafts, diagrams, wireframes, mockups... The prototype makes it possible to partially simulate the functioning of the future object. In the case of a scenario, paradoxically, even though it is a temporary object that can be modified at will thanks to computer technology, it is very rare (except in the field of cartoons) to make it a “functional prototype” before the final production of the film. We write, we rewrite, but we always remain at the same technical level: we only manipulate text.

Yet when you work on a script, it’s not a script you write, it’s a film you project, before it comes into existence. A scenario is a mental object. A film, on the other hand, is a very particular material object, made of space, sound and time. Its nature is essentially different from that of a written document, even though it is a script.

Thus one of the scriptwriter’s great difficulties consists in the way to envisage this future reality of the film, in movements, sounds and spaces. And this is all the more so since a scriptwriter is not necessarily a director. He therefore does not necessarily have a keen awareness of the impact of a shooting angle, camera movement, light, editing rhythm, etc.

The writer needs the film that doesn’t yet exist, it’s a utopia

It therefore seems “to make sense” that a scriptwriter, in order to clarify his writing technique, should be confronted with the making of the film he is writing. I will be able to object that a scriptwriter sees films, so that he can anticipate from his knowledge as a spectator. Of course, the work of the eye is at the heart of the work of filmmakers. But looking at other objects is not enough. Indeed, the work of making the image reveals in itself potentialities that cannot be perceived from the outside, as a simple spectator. The scriptwriter is a filmmaker, not a spectator. He therefore pulls “strings”, invisible to the viewer, but key to the author. And many of these “strings” have no literary equivalents, they are strictly cinematographic. They cannot therefore be discovered in writing, but only in the confrontation of image and sound with reality.

For example, try to imagine and describe a dancer’s movement before anyone dances in front of you: it’s almost impossible. While an improvising dancer makes your artistic choices of staging and narrative tangible, sensitive, concrete, deeply human, that is, irreducible in words. Anticipating cinema is the same kind of challenge.

In this utopia, only directed by certain filmmakers (for example Charlie Chaplin for the production of the film City lights in 1930 or Alain Cavalier for the shooting of the film Libera Me in 1992), the traditional problem of the scriptwriter was the absence of a budget, which did not allow him to test scenes by himself by filming them. And yet we can only agree on the potential great scriptural utility of being able to do so.

Taking action, digitally

But since the digital revolution of the early 2000s and the democratization of filming tools, it is possible, without any budget, to test many things: dialogues, people’s movements, ways of filming a set, capturing a light, restoring a sound, a noise or a music...

Whether the scriptwriter dares to test, with his simple mobile phone, ideas he is trying to write, whether he makes friends improvise on a theme to get ideas out of it, whether he captures atmospheres with no apparent purpose that can, by their intrinsic cinematographic nature, give him ideas for scenes or even entire scripts, he has in his hands on a daily basis the very tool of cinematographic creation, which can allow him, at certain key moments, to go faster, further and deeper in his writing work.

I know that some people have been using this type of method for a long time now to feed their scriptwriting. And I also know that others may find this type of approach very anecdotal, without nobility, without critical distance and consider it quite naive, “not serious”. In my opinion, it is just a form of fear of ridicule, a fear of risking one’s life, because the image is powerful. My answer is: do it for yourself, test this technique without taking yourself seriously. And above all, then take the time to look at (and listen to) your images in good conditions, multiple times, yes, multiple times. Feel free to look at your images ten, twenty, a hundred times, and let yourself be inspired, they will give wings to your writing.
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