Tuesday, 8 November 2016

SCREENWRITING FUNDAMENTALS #8 POV

 I do a lot of coverage of screenplays these days. I see a lot of common mistakes.

The following are a series of concise screenwriting tips.

#8 POV

This is a really important one today.

POV - point of view is something that a lot of screenwriters and directors know little about.

Let's start with the basics.

What is POV?

It's the character through which we experience the film. 

Sounds simple enough right?

Let's look at WHY POV is important.

For a film to be successful there needs to be a vicarious connection made between the main character and the viewer.

Why just one main character? Why not several characters?

Simple, each person watching the film is ONE person. 

Your job is to get your viewer to identify with the main character.

It is much harder to get your viewer to identify with multiple characters. 

That said - it is possible to have multiple protagonists - watch Paul Haggis' CRASH. (2005). This is a film with multiple protagonists with whom we identify. 

But here's the thing - Paul Haggis is an incredibly talented writer - so he's able to pull this multiple protagonist story off - the majority of multiple protagonist stories don't work simply because the viewer doesn't know who they're supposed to identify with.

UNTIL you're an uber-successful writer - stick with trying to create a connection between your viewer and your main character.

A key way of doing this is by telling your story through your main character's POV only.

What does it mean to write a scene from one character's POV?

Start by imagining the scene from an omnipotent POV. 

You can see everywhere and everything. 

Play the scene through in your mind.

Okay - good start.

NOW - imagine that very same scene - but as your main character would experience it. 

There are certain things that your main character (MC) can see, and certain things they cannot. There are things they can know, and things they can't know.

You're already starting to create a POV.

You create a POV by EXCLUDING information and visual elements that your MC can't see or know about.

That's step one. 

How to write the scene to create a sense of POV.

If you have three characters in a scene (or however many you want) - you start by introducing your MC. 

EXAMPLE...

Let's say MICHELLE is our MC.

In this scene, Michelle meets DONNA and MIKE and argues about a party that went awry last night. 

Here's how NOT to write it ...

EXT. PARK - PARK BENCH - DAY

Donna and Mike sit on a park bench. Donna has a black-eye that she holds an ice-pack on. Mike sips from a hip-flask of vodka, still drunk.

Donna and Mike watch Michelle approach, they whisper to each other.

DONNA
(whispers)
Shit, here comes the drama queen.

MIKE
(whispers)
I can't stand her, after what she did last night, I don't even want to talk to her.


Let's leave the scene there and look at what's wrong with it.

This scene is told from Donna and Mike's POV.

Why is that?

Because we introduce Donna and Mike first. The camera is with them to start with. It is Donna and Mike watching Michelle approach.

2) We can hear what Donna and Mike are whispering. If this scene were from Michelle's POV - we wouldn't be able to hear what they're saying. 

3) Location - we're at the park bench in the park, where Donna and Mike are. Not Michelle.

NOW... let's write it from Michelle's POV.

EXT. PARK - DAY

Michelle walks through the park, toward a park bench where Donna and Mike sit.

Donna has an ice pack on her black-eye, while Mike sips from a hip-flask, still drunk. 

As Michelle approaches, Donna and Mike whisper to each other, what they say is unheard.

Let's leave the scene there.

Here're the notable changes that make this scene told from Michelle's POV.


1) The change in location. We're now in the PARK with Michelle. The camera has changed position. We're following Michelle as she walks toward the park bench. 

2) We DON'T hear what Donna and Mike whisper - (exclusion of information).

3) We introduce Michelle BEFORE Donna and Mike.

It is possible to write an entire film from your MC's POV. 

The best film that does this is MY WEEK WITH MARILYN. 

In this film we come to meet Marilyn Monroe through the eyes of a runner on a film set. 

At first we see Marilyn across a crowded room.

Then later we move up to saying hello to her within the company of several others.

Then later we have a private audience with her in a public place.

Then later we end up having a private audience in a private place.

We then go skinny dipping with her. Just us and her.

We then fall in love with her.

We then have out heart broken by her.


This is a very general summary of the progression of that film - but the story is made all the more real because of the progression of the POV. 

We - the audience - meet and experience Marilyn through the eyes of the MC.

There is NO SCENE in that film where the MC is not present.

Even when the MC is passive and it's other characters speaking, the MC is present, and we the audience HEAR the others speak from the MC’s POV.

So there's a lesson for you.

If your MC is passive in a scene - that's okay - just don't exclude them from the scene - include them and tell the scene from their POV - simply listening to what others are saying. 

The more you maintain POV - the stronger your script will read.

It's not always possible for your MC to be present in a scene. 

It's not always possible to tell a scene from your MC’s POV.

The only time you should switch POV is when you go to your SHADOW'S POV to see what they're up to. 

Look at DIE HARD.

We often leave McClane's POV and go over to Hans Gruber's POV. 

This is fine - as it would be logically impossible to show Gruber's scenes from McClane's POV. 

As a rule of thumb - try to tell 80% of your film from your MC's POV.

ONLY ever switch POV when there is no logical way to tell the scene from your MC's POV.

THE TAKEAWAY

Go to the script you're working on now.

Go through scene by scene and make sure that you tell each scene from your MC's POV.

Secondly - go through the scenes where your MC is not present and ask yourself - can I re-write this scene with the MC present without it being illogical for the plot. 

If you can get your MC into that scene - even if they're passive and just listening - do it.

Your script will read much stronger for it.