Friday, October 1, 2010

Working with the Frank Daniel Method

I was lucky enough to get to a Screen Training Ireland/Screen Producers Ireland course recently with writer and script consultant Martin Daniel. He’s the son of Frank Daniel, who developed the Daniel method (involves asking questions about a script to uncover the stuff within it).

Milos Forman, among others, uses this methodology for working on scripts and it’s equally useful for producers or writers.

Here’s some of the stuff I learned (a lot of this is common sense but insightful all the same):

  • Involve the audience in a feeling of tension. Make them active participants, involved in creating the story. Have them anticipating, projecting ahead, imagining all the possible outcomes.
  • A common-sense approach to story: do I believe it, understand it and care about it?
  • Whose story is it?
  • Who is driving the story?
  • What does the main character want? This has to be very specific. Not just “love”, but an embodiment of love for that character that the audience can latch onto.
  • Good antagonists are people whose drives we recognise in ourselves.
  • What does the main character need? Often they get what they want, not what they need.
  • Theme: people often try and pin down the writer early on and ask, “What’s the story really about?” And the writer doesn’t know! But you’re exploring what the theme is by writing the script. The process of writing it is what eventually reveals the theme.
  • Audience question: what are we hoping for and what are we afraid of? These feelings inform almost all of our encounters. You can use these questions for a script and for any scene within a script.
  • Sequences: must have a tension of their own within the overall tension of the story. Always think of how the audience is experiencing this in terms of tension. In most films, there are 8 or 9 sequences in total.
  • Key shaping tools: the “whose story is it?” question can help. Also: “who knows what about whom, and when do they know it?” Revelation and recognition: the revelation (to the audience) that Oedipus is sleeping with his mother, for instance.
  • Structure: we should meet a character in their ordinary life. Then their routine is disturbed and they are faced with a journey. Act 2, they embark on the journey after some discussion. Act 3, the reason they went on the journey may have changed. Will they succeed or not?
  • The context (set up by the view of their routine life) is what makes us want to watch a character. The specifics of character, place etc. Specifics versus general: a general human life is boring. It’s the individual human experience that makes it interesting.
  • Rewriting - write a one-page summary of the script. The problems will become evident.
  • What really happens in this script? Unravel the various strands and you will see what isn’t developed enough. Maybe the main story, maybe the B or C stories.
  • Step outlines – look at them on three levels. Does the scene feel like it can engage the audience? Does it reveal the characters, show us something new? Does it move the story forward?
  • Keep asking what the characters want and follow that all the way through. By Act 2, the main character should have only one option left (i.e. there should be no alternatives open to them). Remove the alternatives and start adding in obstacles!

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