21 March 2012

Write. Shoot. Cut.: Film Night On March 12th & Ongoing Short Film Blog

It seems alumni of the short-film writing course I’ve just completed are in hot demand. One of my colleagues there, the film-devouring Ross McLean has already been snapped up as host of a monthly short film showcase called Write. Shoot. Cut.

Another alumni of the course, although this time from back in the day, was the writer/director of one of the six short films which made up the screening.

Gareth Peevers is the writer/director of Somebody’s Daughter, a project that was first written as the end-of-term project for the Writers’ Factory Introduction to Screenwriting Course.

The film is an intelligent response to the genre of American road horror. I was particularly interested in it because I’m exploring the idea of urban myths at the moment, and there are so many urban myths about lonely car journeys, hitch-hikers, and evil petrol pump attendants.

There’s something intrinsically horrific about car transport. The way the shell of the car is at once protection from the outside and a wall that stops you from seeing what it lurking in the car park. The way the ability to move means you can drive away from danger, but also away from protection. And that’s even before we start talking about service stations, or “cathedrals of misery” as Bill Bailey so aptly described them.

My favourite film featured was Office Romance 2.0, which is a romantic comedy about a lonely office worker and, ahem, a photocopier.

This is exactly the sort of film I wish I was writing am writing.

An interesting nugget gleaned from the post-screening discussion (each film had a representative writer or director that was interviewed by Ross) is that the script was originally written with no spoken dialogue at all. Apparently the director added some in – though quite why he did that I’m not sure.

Perhaps the actors needed speaking roles in order to get onto the IMDb?

Overall it was an excellent night, Ross’s interviews with the writers and directors were very interesting. I’ve suggested to the organisers that they consider making them available to non-attendees in some way, perhaps on their blog or on Soundcloud.

You may have noticed that this post is slightly late in the day considering the event was on March 12. I beg the StAnza Poetry Festival as my excuse.

If you’re liking what you’re reading you should learn about upcoming screenings and follow the excellent Write. Shoot. Cut. blog. www.write-shoot-cut.com The next Write. Shoot. Cut. screening will be on April 2 at the Banshee Rooms.

The Screen Academy Scotland, which is some complicated autonomous hybrid of Edinburgh Art College and Edinburgh Napier University, runs several courses that you should look at if you’re interested in writing for screen.

15 March 2012

7 March 2012

Does Alfred Hitchcock’s Theory of Suspense & Tension Actually Work?

In this wee post I look at what Alfred Hitchcock says about the principle of suspense and tension and how he applied it to the film Rope.

Hitchcock is generally acknowledged as a master of suspense. But it seems he has a rather counter-intuitive - perhaps even controversial - principle behind his techniques for achieving it.

Let’s hear it from the man himself...

So how does Hitch actually apply this to a film? A great example is Rope because he actually made a major change to the play in order to make it more suspenseful according to is theories.

Hitchcock edited the script of Rope so that the audience knows right from the beginning that there is a corpse concealed in the room. We see the protagonists put it in a chest at the centre of the room, from the top of which they plan to serve canapés to their friends. And the victim’s parents.

In the original screenplay, we don’t know until one of the characters figures out the puzzle if there is really a dead body in there.

The screenwriter Arthur Laurents seems to have been somewhat annoyed about the change. He comments in the making-of documentary on my Rope DVD:
I tried to make a character for this dead boy who you supposedly never saw. Of course, Hitch crossed me up because he had a failure of nerve. I thought the suspense would be “Is there, or is there not, a body in that chest?” Well here he eliminated that. Once you see it, you know they’re murderers, and they’re gonna get caught. And I think it took a lot of the tension out of the picture. It least it did for me.
Hitchcock was in charge, however, and the principle of “giving the audience full information before you start”* was at work. It's even at work during in the trailer:

* This quote comes from an interview with Pia Lyndstrom.**
** You may have noticed I've segued back into using footnotes even though I promised not to. You can blame Tom Moyser for that.

I love the idea of Arthur Laurents seeing this trailer for the first time and spluttering helplessly as his big reveal is pumped out into the cinema, maybe even weeks before the audience has seen the film proper.

So there’s no doubt that old Hitchey was committed to his theory of suspense. But as the New York Times so wonderfully wrote back in 1948:
The novelty of the picture is not in the drama itself, it being a plainly deliberate and rather thin exercise in suspense, but merely in the method which Mr. Hitchcock has used to stretch the intended tension for the length of the little stunt. And, with due regard for his daring (and for that of Transatlantic Films), one must bluntly observe that the method is neither effective nor does it appear that it could be. 
It’s possible the “method” referred to here is actually the use of continuous camera shots, but the quote nonetheless begs the question: does Hitchcock’s suspense principle hold water? Would Rope have been better off as a mystery film?

Well Rope as a suspense story worked for me. In fact, it’s one of my favourite films. But I can never experience what it would be like to watch the film without the knowledge that the main characters are murderers.

And now, I suppose, neither can you.