Saturday, August 2, 2008

Mise-en-Scene in the Yukon

The Yukon Film Society led by a dynamic guy named Ross Burnet has added me to the list of instructors coming to Whitehorse to help documentary film makers there make their first short film dramas. The training program is called Mise-en-Scene. Having never been to the Yukon, it's impossible to resist this opportunity!

If you're interested in seeing who else is teaching--and it's a pretty impressive group--check out THIS LINK.

I'll be working with the film makers first, so I get to ruin them for the rest of the instructors. (Just kidding, I hope.) In fact, my plan is to give them a crash course in going one or two steps back in order to go one step forward. They've submitted a first draft of a short film script, which has gained them entrance into the training program. I haven't read them, but even if I had, I'll be asking the students to go back to first principles and start examining their story--and the concept of story in general--from the ground up.

Once they've discovered basic principles for themselves, they'll have a much easier time of knowing WHAT TO DO in taking their script forward into production. But, as always, it's first things first. And that, for me, means asking the big question: What's a story? Once you understand that basic question you can begin to answer it consciously and craft your story in such a way that an audience will respond to it.

In the past, I've used music to illustrate this point. Some day, play something like oh, The Beach Boys' "Surfer Girl" and then play oh, Mozart's piano sonata in C major. Two incredibly recognizable pieces of music that for some reason, we humans tend to respond to. At least enough humans did to make this music live in the collective consciousness of western civilization. (I have had students claim that either the Beach Boys suck or Mozart does--I guess they need to feel superior. But that doesn't change the point of the exercise, which is to discover what they have in common and therefore, why they work for audiences.)

I don't want to steal my own thunder by revealing this here--what will I say up in the Yukon, if I do? But, it's a way of making students understand that their job is to create something that appeals on some level to an audience and in the case of cinema--a MASS audience. We respond to music collectively--and we respond to story similarly.

Just a sample of what I'll be doing up in Whitehorse in the beginning of September. I know I'm looking forward to it!

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