Last week I had a visit from a colleague who worked with me about 30 years ago, and whom I had not seen since that time. We’ve kept in touch via the internet, (one of the few blessings it bestows), so neither of us was really surprised at how much the other has changed, at least to look at. Steve and I would recognize each other anywhere, I suppose. These kinds of visits are always welcome, if for no other reason than that they give all those memories we have stored away something useful to do. You realize however, that time has moved on, that you are part of a diminishing cohort. Visits like this remind us of the shortness of our future.
Usually when you sit down with someone you haven’t seen in a long time, someone you knew well once, you find yourself repeating stories, recalling events, thinking about times and people past. That part of the visit was reasonably short. About the only positive things that comes from these conversations is a realization that regardless of time, you are still here, still working, still (hopefully) growing. It is what prompts me to say, from time-to-time, that I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. For some reason I fail to internalize the fact that I probably won’t ever have time to figure that out. Still, it seems a good thing, to be looking forward more than I look back.
During the day that we spent together we visited a museum across the mountains, dedicated to photography (www.cameraheritagemusem.com). Since that is work we both had done, and my friend still does, it was of great interest to us both. I have donated equipment to the collection, including an enlarger I had bought from Steve, for my wife’s darkroom way back when that was part of the photographer’s tool kit.
In this short visit from my friend, we visited the past, the present, and then a bit of the future. Some of it is good, some tells us that we need to keep learning if we are to keep moving forward. In some ways the visit focused my thoughts how writing films has influenced my words-only work.
The essence of film writing is constructing a visual line that tells a story, and uses words to emphasize or underline or enlarge the story being told. That applies to non-theatrical as well as theatrical productions. Using film as a one-reel slide show, much like a computer-based presentation, is convenient but it isn’t "moving pictures."
One test of a film is to look at it without sound. Dialog or narration should be used to enlarge what can only be shown in bold outline. Part of my self-education as a screen writer was to look at productions with the sound off. I had to understand the basic message. If I couldn’t, then the production wasn’t ready for release. I used that technique to improve my own understanding of my craft. Looking at other people’s work silently (MOS in the jargon of the trade), I could more easily discover the bare bones of the production, see the skeleton before the meat was added. Sometimes I would find the bones so obscure that I would have to look at the production more than once, or at least with the sound on. No three stars for that one!
Now, focusing only on the written word, telling stories that may evolve from something I’ve read or seen, from a newspaper story or some obscure source, from things buried in my own subconscious, I try to write the scenes as if a director were going to set up the shot and tell the story in pictures. Description sets the scene, guides the players around the set, establishes the point of view of the scene and the story. Dialog advances the plot, gives insight into the characters, brings the many threads of a story together in a single, solid rope. And like a rope, it gains strength from the weaving together of the many separate strands.
When it’s right, we say "it all hangs together."