Film Opening | Character Descriptions

In our search for the perfect actors, we had to write accurate descriptions of what our characters should look like:

 

Main character:

• Male, late 30s – early 40s

• Height – at least 1,80 m

• Well built, stiff, maybe a bit overweight

• Deep voice

 

Bartender:

• Male, 20s – 30s

 

Wife:

• Female, 20s

 

As you can see, the bartender and the wife aren’t very complex characters; that is because the bartender only appears in one scene and has a line of two words, while the wife (main character’s wife) only appears in two photos in the actual movie.

 

Representation | Race/Ethnicity in American TV Dramas

Race is a way of classifying individuals and groups on the basis of physical characteristics, predominantly their skin colour; ethnicity refers to the culture of people in a certain geographical region. Both these classifications are deeply cultivated in media of all kinds, but they are especially visible in TV dramas.

The extract I am going to analyse was taken from the American TV drama The Wire, which aired from 2002 to 2008. In this extract, there are three characters – all young black men. It starts with a fast panning shot, which turns into an establishing shot following D’Angelo as he walks to his friends, Bodie and Wallace. The scene is set on a vacant lot amongst many brick apartment buildings. Music is heard as if playing from a stereo somewhere in the scene, so it is a diegetic sound. It resembles early ‘90s hip-hop. All the shots in the extract appear to be handheld shots, albeit well stabilised.

As soon as the action begins, racial stereotypes come up every second. The three characters all wear clothes associated with African Americans: baggy jeans, hoodies and large dark-coloured jackets. One character is sitting on a broken chair, while the other two men sit on plastic crates. When D’Angelo greets the other two, Bodie hands him a paper bag with money earned from a drug deal – the drug trade is mainly associated, stereotypically, with black people.  Ar first, the three discuss their drug dealing business. The youngest, Wallace, has dreadlocks – another characteristic linked to their race.

Wallace and Bodie are playing checkers on a chess board, for which D’Angelo mocks them and offers to teach them how to play chess. This shows that he is educated to some extent, which society considers unexpected from a man of his race. However, he uses a few heavy swear words in the scene. He explains his friends what the chess pieces can do and what the purpose of the game is: “this the kingpin, a’ight?”, “he ain’t gettin’ no hustle”. This kind of slang is used all throughout the extract, which is another stereotype about the African American race. On one hand, the explanations D’Angelo gives are basic, as if he was talking to a small child, but on the other hand, they are molded to Wallace’s and Bodie’s understanding of the world from their position as drug dealers: the rook, or castle, is referred to as “the stash”. This draws the other men’s interest, as they make remarks about D’Angelo’s descriptions. He then gets to the pawn, “the soldier”, as he calls it after looking at it, reflecting for a second. When he talks about the pawns “fighting”, he slams the one he’s holding on the board, to make it clear that they are bold and courageous (“they like the front lines, they be out in the field”). Bodie refers to the pawns as “little bald-headed b*tches”, but following D’Angelo’s explanation, both him and Wallace start identifying with “the soldiers”. Wallace asks “how do you get to be the king?”, to which D’Angelo replies saying no piece can change what it is, except for the pawn – “he get to be queen” if it reaches “the other dude’s side”. Bodie keeps focusing on getting to the end with the pawn, although D’Angelo says that’s not the goal of the game. The former says “So if I make it to the end, I’m top dog.” Using the first person while talking about the pawn makes it clear that he feels like he is a pawn himself – just another soldier in the drug-ridden area they live in. When talking about “the game”, they might not be referring to the actual chess game, but about the drug game, their everyday reality. D’Angelo states that the pawns “get capped quick, they get out the game early”, to which Bodie replies, while shifting his position on a chair to a more imposing one – “Unless they some smart*ss pawns.” This is how the extract ends, the last line conveying the fact that Bodie wants to do more in life than be a low-life drug dealer, he sees the greater picture and wants to escape from the situation he’s been in, most likely, his entire life.

Panning and tilting shots are used all throughout the scene. Wide and medium dolly shots are used to show the three men during their discussion and many close-ups are used to focus on one character when he is talking. As far as sound is concerned, all sounds used are diegetic – the characters can hear them: car horns, police sirens and helicopters (most likely law enforcement) are clearly audible in the background.

In conclusion, the African American race is represented quite comprehensively in this extract, which manages to encompass a plethora of race-related stereotypes, while also showing that the pattern, the norm, can be broken.

Film Opening | Scouting Locations – Bar

Two locations are needed for filming the opening of our movie, Square One: an apartment (bedroom, hallway, kitchen) and an old-school-looking bar. We are still searching for a suitable apartment, but we found a couple contenders for the bar scene – two bars called O’Beer Irish Pub and Chelsea Cigar Lounge:

 

O’Beer Irish Pub

Chelsea Cigar Lounge

Film Opening | Script

After writing a plot for the entire movie, we developed the opening into a script that would cover the required 2 minutes. We wrote it in Celtx, using the industry standard format.


INT. BEDROOM

FADE IN FROM BLACK, CAMERA LOW:

MAIN CHARACTER in bed, alarm clock on the bedside table
showing 4:59 AM. A few seconds later, clock shows 5:00 AM
and the alarm starts beeping. MAIN CHARACTER reaches for the
alarm and turns it off within a couple of seconds.

NARRATOR (MAIN CHARACTER)
Every morning is the same. For 7
years, 4 months and 21 days, I’ve
been living a different life. A
life of solitude, perhaps somewhat
similar to that of a grizzly bear
by the frozen lakes of the Yukon.

WORM’S EYE VIEW:

MAIN CHARACTER gets out of bed and puts on his slippers. The
slippers were on the floor, perfectly aligned (right in
front of the camera).
Aerial shot:

He proceeds to make his bed.

 

INT. HALLWAY

MEDIUM, PAN:

There is a dusty, crooked cork board on the wall, with
cut-out newspaper articles (“MISSING”), receipts, and photos
of a woman in her late 20s. A handwritten note is in the
middle of the cork board. As the camera is panning and the
cork board disappears from the frame, MAIN CHARACTER walks
back towards the bedroom, with a bath towel wrapped around
his waist.

NARRATOR (MAIN CHARACTER)
The world is just a series of
flashing lights and static noise. I
can see it, I can hear it, I can
smell it. But I’m just a bystander,
not sensing the days going by. I’m
not there.
That rainy autumn day is when the
volume got turned down.

 

INT. BEDROOM

OVER THE SHOULDER:

MAIN CHARACTER is buttoning up his shirt, while looking in
the mirror. Looks himself in the eyes. He does everything
automatically.

NARRATOR (MAIN CHARACTER)
Two minutes ago, I got out of the
shower.

MEDIUM, PAN:

The camera is panning from right to left and we can see the
alarm clock behind the MAIN CHARACTER, showing 5:11 AM.

NARRATOR (MAIN CHARACTER)
In exactly five minutes, my toast
will be ready and I will sit down
to eat. This is just another
ordinary morning.

 

INT. KITCHEN

LOCKED-DOWN SHOT, WAIST LEVEL:

There is a toaster on the kitchen counter. As soon as two slices of bread pop out, MAIN CHARACTER walks into the frame, his back towards the camera, and picks up the toast.

CLOSE UP:

MAIN CHARACTER drops the two slices of bread on the plate.

NARRATOR (MAIN CHARACTER)
Perfectly crisp. I remember when
she used to bring me breakfast in
bed. Scrambled eggs. Bacon.
Pancakes. Lately, I had to get used
to the austere taste of salty
butter.

WIDE:

MAIN CHARACTER grabs the plate and walks to the table. A
wall clock is noticed in the background, showing 5:16 AM.

EXTREME CLOSE UP:

MAIN CHARACTER is spreading butter on the toast using a
butter knife. The sound of the knife against the
almost-burnt toast is clearly audible.

NARRATOR (MAIN CHARACTER)
Ever since she left me that note, I
fell through a black hole. After a
few months, I gave up hope. Today,
I breathe your oxygen, I eat your
food. I am very much like a
vegetable on life support,
witnessing life without
participation.

MEDIUM:

MAIN CHARACTER is washing the plate and knife. An old photo
of him and his wife is on the counter. His back is facing
the camera, and you can notice his arms moving as he does
the dishes. He then puts the plate & knife on the drier.

 

INT. BAR

MEDIUM:

The bar is empty, MAIN CHARACTER walks in and sits on a bar
stool. BARTENDER is pouring a glass of whiskey.

MEDIUM CLOSE UP:

MAIN CHARACTER
Single malt, neat.

BARTENDER smiles at him while cleaning a glass with a towel.

BARTENDER
As usual.

BARTENDER hands him the glass he previously poured. Right
when the glass hits the table, the screen goes black. The
title of the movie comes up on the screen, in red letters
resembling the digits of a digital clock. The letters are
flashing as a beeping sound (like that of the alarm clock)
is audible.

Film Opening | Plot

A couple of weeks ago, we wrote the first draft of the plot for our movie. Since the main character has a psychological disorder, we consulted with a psychologist to find out more so that we could create a story that is as realistic as possible. From our audience survey, we learned that people enjoy adaptations of true stories; we couldn’t find a suitable one, so we set out to write a very realistic story ourselves.

The movie is entitled Square One, as it is a story about a man who almost broke from his PTSD-induced obsessive routine, but ends up right where he started after his mentor, his source of motivation suddenly disappears.

Here is the plot, with the opening in bold.

Character (male, late 30s – early 40s) has a very clear routine after his wife disappeared without a trace, leaving behind a note.
Every morning, he has a very strict schedule – he wakes up at 5 AM, always makes the bed, eats the same meal and heads for the same bar down the street.

One day, he meets a man (20-ish) at the bar and sees in him a younger version of himself.
As he spends time with the young man, he subconsciously starts breaking from his routine. A few days later, he leaves a few dirty dishes in the sink. Slowly but surely, he loses all of his habits. After a while, he acknowledges this and does his best to improve himself, to lose his old routine.

Right when he is about to kick all his habits completely, walking to the neighbourhood bar to meet the young man at their usual time, he finds a note. The young man is gone.

The final scene is exactly the same as the opening scene.

Film Opening | Target Audience Questionnaire Analysis

My colleague Ana and I created a short questionnaire using Google Forms to find out what movies people like to watch and how they watch them. We wanted to get responses from people with mutual interests to us, so we posted the survey to the /r/filmmakers and /r/6thform subreddits on Reddit. We got 133 responses from people all over the world, so we have quite a good sample. I compiled the results and put them into an infographic using a service called Piktochart.

 

Representation | Gender in American TV Dramas

The extract I am going to analyse is taken from Season 1, Episode 1 of the Netflix original series House of Cards, directed by David Fincher. This is an American drama that first aired in 2013.

Although it is barely a 4-minute extract, it shows 3 women in different positions: a self-confident, powerful woman who supports her husband in his career, a 20-something year old tomboy (girl who exhibits characteristics or behaviors considered typical of a boy), and a secretary who takes her position as a sex object seriously and accepts it.

The extract begins with a two shot of a man (played by Kevin Spacey) and his wife. They both sit on the backseat of a luxurious car which is crusing the streets at night. The woman gives the man fashion recommendations and gives him approval for his choices. Stereotypically, it is considered unusual for a woman to exert power over a man, but this scene breaks that stereotype. The two are seen as equal as they hold hands romantically. Piano music starts playing at that moment, which is a non-diegetic sound.

The scene that follows takes place in the newsroom of the Washington Herald. After showing two men in the office break room / kitchenette, there is a wide panning shot of a young, short woman (Zoe) as she heads towards the aforementioned break room. String music is playing throughout the beginning of this scene. Zoe waits for her boss, Mr Hammerschmidt, to walk out of the room to seem as though she unintentionally bumped into him. He doesn’t even remember her name, although she had been working there for some time. The other man, Lucas, bows his head, ashamed by the situation. Zoe proceeds to ask him, who also appears to be one of her superiors, whether or not Mr Hammerschmidt remembered his name at first: “Did it take him a year to remember your name?” Lucas disproved another gender stereotype when he answered “Longer.” People would stereotypically think that a boss who is so condescending would be more demeaning to women, perhaps not even acknowledging their existence, but the fact that he acts the same towards both genders put Zoe and Lucas on an equal ground.

However, Lucas still is Zoe’s superior, so when she asks to be given a different assignment, Lucas refuses bluntly. During their dialogue, some low-angle shots show Lucas in a position of power. This technique might be used to show that women cannot be powerful, which has always been a common stereotype in society. The fact that she speaks up for herself, demanding to be put on a higher level (to be moved to the online department of the publication – “my own blog, first person, subjective, 500 words”), together wth the strong language she uses at the end of the dialogue, shows that she is not satisfied with her current status and she wants her career to advance. Other than the low-angle shots, some medium close-ups are used throughout the dialogue.

The third and final scene of the extract is about a man, who appears to be a politician – or at least involved in a political party – and his relationship with his secretary. In the beginning, the man, who is tall and bald, walks into his office with his jacket and briefcase in his hand, and is greeted by his secretary with some papers. He is informed that he has an important guest, Mr Chapman, in his office and proceeds to greet him. This is all shot from waist level, with some panning used as the man walks, and some ambiental music is playing (non-diegetic). Mr Chapman seems angry that the man did not comply with some of his requests, while the latter is very calm and friendly during their conversation. Over-the-shoulder shots are used in the dialogue after the man sits down. His secretary calls and he excuses himself to take the call. He acts as if the President-elect was calling, news that change the expression of Mr Chapman from anger to respect. His secretary, on the end of the call, is sensual and sounds like she is sexually turned on, telling him that she “wants” him and describing sexual activities. A close-up shot is used when the woman is shown talking. Stereotypically, secretaries are frequently seen as sex objects, but usually men (their bosses) throw sexual advances at them, not the other way around. Therefore, this is not an entirely stereotypical scene and, once again, shows a woman being in control.

In conclusion, this extract from House of Cards is not a traditional display of stereotypes, but uses some distorted versions of gender stereotypes about women, twisting them so that they might as well be disapproved.

Representation | Class in American TV Dramas

Shameless – Season 2, Episode 10 (click here to watch the extract)

The scene begins with Fiona storming into the room, while the father is sitting on an armchair that is flipped over, snorting what looks like cocaine and grunting. This is a long, handheld shot, that moves from the father to the young woman, as she walks in. A conversation between Fiona and her brother unfolds, both being angry. Over-the-shoulder handheld shots are used all throughout the conversation, some shots being wider to include the father, who is sitting beside the two. During their conversation, a few working class stereotypes are presented: the brother said he had to bail one of their siblings out of jail – frequent encounters with the police are thought to be common amongst lower/working class people. It is obvious that the father has drug problems, but he says he’s late to a meeting – the way he says it while walking out is condescending, showing that he feels he is king of his house. They also have money problems, the young man telling Fiona that Monica (their mother) had spent all the money they saved. When the yelling becomes more intense, showing feelings of despair or fear, the camera sometimes closes up on the face of the person who is talking. As the two walk into the kitchen, with the brother following Fiona, still shouting, the camera follows them, being out of focus for a second. The handheld technique used shows authenticity and, in a way, chaos. The kitchen is extremely messy, with dishes and various objects scattered all over the counter; the brother actually says, with great emphasis, that “the sofa is in the kitchen!”

When she finds out their mother tried to make Ian (their brother) enlist in the army, she runs upstairs to the mother’s room, with tears in her eyes. As soon as the dialogue between Fiona and her brother comes to an end, gloomy guitar music starts playing. When the woman enters her mother’s room, she starts shouting and blames her for what she had done. The mother rolls over in bed, not willing to get up, and starts crying. Fiona goes downstairs quietly and walks back into the kitchen. Right as she exits her mother’s room, a bird’s-eye-view shot is used to show both the mother in bed and Fiona walking out the door. When Fiona enters the kitchen, an establishing shot is used to show her walk in while also showing the clutter and the mess in the room. There are dirty clothes on the sofa, a newspaper, a laundry basket and some clothes thrown on the floor. The counters are again filled with dishes. A worm’s-eye-view shot is used to show Fiona walk towards the middle of the kitchen. A few cuts in rapid succession switch from this shot, to a couple of medium shots and then to a bird’s-eye-view shot. These shots appear to be a bit slowed down, conveying the fact that time is no longer of essence. Fiona starts kicking a washing machine while also crying and grunting, while another quick succession of worm’s-eye-view, bird’s-eye-view and slow-motion medium shots is shown. The kicking ends with a close-up shot of her shoes – fancy high-heeled shoes, another sign of her no longer being a working class woman. She cries while leaning against the washing machine. The music is no longer solo guitar, with a violin being introduced as the scene calms down. Fiona then takes off her jacket and starts cleaning up the kitchen, putting the dishes back into the cupboard. Again, slow-motion shots are used to show the fact that she has a lot of tedious work to do, which will take a lot of time. The camera slowly backs out of the kitchen, showing the entire setting from another room, ending in an establishing shot showing the living room in which the extract started. Once again, the armchair is flipped over, there are chairs on the table and a lot of junk thrown around. This shows the family’s instability and lack of control over their living environment.

The entire house has very warm, but low-key lighting, so it looks dark, eerie and perhaps sad. This, together with the sad music, ties in perfectly with Fiona’s display of emotions and with the family’s situation: a distant father who has a drug problem and always has something better to do than help his relatives, an angry brother who does whatever he can to keep the house together, a depressed mother who finds retreat in the loneliness of her bed, crying and not helping in any way, only making the situation worse (“she tried to convince Ian to enlist”, “you could’ve killed Carl”, “you promised me…”; she had to be bailed out of jail).

Fiona appears to be better dressed than her brother and father and she seems to not know what had been going on around the house, so she must have been away for a while, possibly to try to get our of the life they were all living. In this extract, she acts like the guardian angel of the family, having ascended from the lower class to gain a slightly higher social status.