School of Film and TV - Theses
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Writing dialogue: stance, space, and emotion
Writing dialogue: Stance, space, and emotion is a practice-led research project completed in 2017 at the Victorian College of the Arts. The thesis comprises of the screen play Dance Drama and a dissertation. This dissertation will explore how energy can be valuably conceptualized as residing within a writer’s body before becoming dialogue; how dialogue can be imagined within the framework of John W. Du Bois’ ‘stance triangle’, so that its power and subtlety can be developed; and how employing concepts proposed in the paper ‘How Emotion Shapes Behavior’ can inform characters. The accumulation and interpretation of these concepts aims to inform an imaginative process that places dialogue at the centre of writing a screenplay. The process is modelled to convey the power and utility that dialogue can possess in life, art, and film.
All you can eat TV
I am sitting iPad in front of me, my finger poised over the PAUSE icon. Should I watch another episode or should I go to bed? If I don’t watch another episode will my dreams be full of all the possible outcomes for Don Draper, Walter White or Sarah Lund? Will my imagination soar with possibilities or should I give into the gnawing, addictive urge to watch just one more episode? Will I enjoy it? Or will I, in a foggy state of addictive exhaustion, only take in half of the complicated plot points? If this is the modern conundrum for today’s viewers, then what does it mean for today’s screenwriters? How does this glut of instantly available serial content affect the way we write serial drama? In the last twenty years, there has been a revolution in viewing practices. Broadcast executives have been slowly de-throned as digital advances make viewing serial television a democratic, individualised, multi-platform and frequently illegal practice. My thesis will explore the relationship between these technological advances in distribution and viewing practices and the extraordinary rise in complex television serial narratives. As defined by Trisha Dunleavy in her book Complex Serial Drama and Multiplatform Television, complex serial television is by its nature serial as opposed to episodic, has a genuine diversity of settings and mileux, has transgressive primary characters, and has far more explicit content than would be allowable on broadcast television. 2 The question this thesis asks, is, whether this rise in complex serial television is the result of technological advances? Or whether it has evolved from an audience’s desire for more complex, challenging narratives? Or alternatively, perhaps the two are so inextricably linked that it is impossible to tell where one starts and the other begins? To begin interrogating this, I will look at television in an historical context, charting the seismic shifts in narrative storytelling over the past twenty years. This thesis will specifically investigate long form serial drama. Sitcoms, reality TV, web series and factual are all outside the purview of my research. Comparing pre-digital show Twin Peaks (ABC, 1990-91) with post digital Twin Peaks - The Return (Showtime, 2017) will offer an informative insight into both form and content in serial storytelling. How different is the narrative structure of a series when cliff-hangers, episode breaks, and lengthy narrative recaps are no longer de rigeur? As a practicing screenwriter, I am particularly interested in how these technological changes have affected the writing process. As a part of this creative practice-led thesis I have written a pilot episode and a bible of an original television series Overflow. In developing this series, I have consciously interrogated my own writing and development process. How aware am I of how my completed television series will be consumed? Does this affect my writing process? Indeed, does the knowledge of consumption methods (by which I mean streaming, binge watching, lack of commercial breaks, consumption on multiple platforms etc…) feed into the way I structure my narrative? As a writer can I remove myself from what eminent television scholar Jason Mittel calls “the historical contexts of production and consumption”?3 In his seminal work, The Medium is the Massage4, Marshal McLuhan decries that content is irrelevant and it is technological forces that dictate change. He suggests that, “Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication”.5 However, it is not form alone that this thesis is concerned with. It will also explore how the digital storytelling revolution has opened up television narratives to dark, complex characters and story worlds. Narratives that traditional ‘broad’ casting has been loath to explore for fear of alienating large sections of its audience. Despite the paucity of recent academic research in this field, I will frequently rely upon Complex TV, the seminal work of Jason Mittel, who coins the phrase “narrative complexity” to describe “a new model of storytelling … as an alternative to the conventional episodic and serial forms that have typified television since its inception”. 6 Television, which became widely available in the 1950s, has transformed from vaudevillian shows, to soap opera melodrama, to case of the week procedural drama and finally to its current popular form - long running, complicated, searing serial dramas. In Brett Martin’s 2013 interrogation of the ‘golden age of television’, Difficult Men, he claims that complex series television “had become the signature American art form of the first decade of the twenty-first century, the equivalent of what the films of Scorsese, Altman, Coppola and others had been to the 1970s or the novels of Updike, Roth, and Mailer had been to the 1960s.”7 Is television now at the peak of its own fifty-year cycle or is the revolution only just beginning?
Towards a secularised - transcendental style in film
Towards a secularised - transcendental style in film is a practice-led research investigation that interrogates a religious style of filmmaking known as the transcendental style in film in order to determine what it has to offer for a secular, contemporary filmmaker. Taking American author and filmmaker, Paul Schrader’s (1946 -) book titled, Transcendental Style in Film (1972) as the primary source, this enquiry begins with the unpacking of Schrader’s theory, as it pertains to the work of French director Robert Bresson (1901-1999). Aspects of complementary theories, including parametric narrative as proposed by American film theorist, David Bordwell (1947-), and French philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s (1925-1995) theory of time-image are then drawn upon to help facilitate a new, non-religious perspective of the transcendental style in film. The resulting thesis is applied to the development, production and post-production stages of a short absurd-fantasy film, The Dream of the Songstress (Nathan 2018).
Reincarnation, rebirth, transmigration
This thesis sought to examine the common elements in reincarnation beliefs, as encountered in stories from world religions and cultures, in scholarly literature and studies, in films made from 1990 to 2010, and in the lived experiences of thirty yoga practitioners over the past fifty years. It then sought to incorporate these recurring themes into the screenplay and the final production of an engaging, hand drawn, narrative, animated film.
Explorative sculpture as a creativity support tool for developing characters and stories for animation
This practice-led research examines the use of explorative sculpture as a creativity support tool for developing characters and stories for animated films and video games. The process of constructing three-dimensional representations to visualise and catalyse ideas, is practised in a range of domains, including architecture, fine art and industrial design. These physical representations are sometimes referred to as sketch models, concept models, prototypes, mock-ups or 3D sketches and are used to generate and experiment with ideas during the early conceptualisation phase of the design process. As part of this study, I used explorative sculpture to develop the characters in a screenplay for animation called Kiddo. The resulting explorative sculptures and the story they helped to shape are the central artefacts of the research. The research findings suggest that while explorative sculpture has limitations as a creativity support tool, it also has unique and useful attributes which, when used in combination with other tools, may facilitate the creative process during the early phases of animation and video game development. This study aims to focus and refine my practice as a teacher and maker of animation and games. It was led by my longstanding and persistent proclivity for sculpting, which has been developed across twenty years creating sculpture for museums, stop-motion animation, puppetry, special effects and character design. It was also catalysed when, as a teacher, I perceived a problematic tendency for courses and texts on developing animation and games to privilege text-based approaches to generating ideas. The dissertation that forms part of this study, contextualises explorative sculpture by investigating its use by artists and designers. To examine the process of explorative sculpting in my own practice, I utilised Sullivan’s thinking and making research model. Specifically, I prepared video recordings of my explorative sculpting sessions, during which I verbalised my thinking and decision-making process (Sullivan 2010). I also discuss explorative sculpture considering the following themes: Practicality, Physicality and Touch, Chance, Roughness and Ambiguity and Practitioner Preference. The development of these themes drew on my experience using explorative sculpture as a creativity support tool as well as existing research on cognition, design and creativity. The findings of this study suggest that explorative sculptures are less practical than twodimensional sketching and less useful for rendering a large quantity of rough and ambiguous iterations. However, explorative sculptures, by virtue of their threedimensionality, can convey useful haptic feedback, material qualities and visual information which may facilitate creative responses from students and practitioners of animation and games design. Explorative sculptures also lend themselves well to the incorporation of found objects and the influence of chance. They may also be useful for students and practitioners who benefit from the use of kinaesthetic and visual creativity support tools. I argue then, that explorative sculpting can be a useful creativity support tool for developing characters and stories for animation and games, especially when combined with conventional ideation methods like writing and two-dimensional sketching.
Dumbstruck: lessons in silence
I write and make silent films – the kind where trees fall silently in the forest whether you are there or not. This practice-led thesis, DUMBSTRUCK: Lessons in Silence, examines the creative possibilities that this anachronistic practice offers contemporary filmmakers and screenwriters, arguing that taking away synchronous sound encourages authors to re-imagine cinematic story space as a physical, even sculptural place, not one driven by text-based tales alone. Through the presentation of a feature screenplay, a short film and an accompanying exegesis, DUMBSTRUCK: Lessons in Silence will investigate what it is to write ‘silence’, what it is to shoot ‘silence’ and what it is to critically consider ‘silence’. And how might the anachronistic practice of silent filmmaking offer contemporary filmmakers and screenwriters new ways to imagine cinematic story space and foster different ways of knowing?
Dissenting fiction re-righting law: practice-led research into biopolitics, women’s rights and reproductive justice in Ecuador
Through a feature-length screenplay and accompanying dissertation this creative practice as research project addresses questions of biopolitics, women’s rights and reproductive justice. The research focuses on my own country, Ecuador, but alludes to a broader Latin American context. In this research, the practice of fiction screenplay writing configured my own understanding of the addressed issues. Based on this understanding, in the dissertation, reflecting upon “The Ladies Room” screenplay, I formulate an explanation around these issues. The first chapter of the dissertation focuses on the legislative context of “The Ladies Room” story. The second, third, fourth and fifth chapters articulate the possible world the screenplay proposes, relative to our four protagonists, respectively. The first chapter juxtaposes Ecuadorian Constitutional and Criminal Law, and public policy, against international human rights instruments with regard to women’s rights. Through the screenplay’s character of Isabel, the second chapter interrogates reproductive coercion and access to safe abortion, the notion of potentiality (not) to, the institution of motherhood and the practice of mothering. The third chapter revolves around Marcia, and how this female character embodies forms of biopolitical power that discipline the body and regulate the population; this chapter also reflects upon the family as an institution and the differential valuation between productive and reproductive work. In the fourth chapter, I understand Alice as a gendered configuration of Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer, and it is through her that the screenplay investigates the possibilities of speaking and been heard, the historically conflicting appearance of women before law, and contemporary forms of thanatopolitics. The fifth chapter interrogates the notion of “unwanted” children, articulated by the character of a little girl, Karlita. This proposes a reflection about a child, any child, as a being-after-birth, the pure possibility of a life, that is a life-to-be-mothered, characterized by a constitutive relationality. The dissertation’s final chapter argues for the necessity of beings-after-birth to create another form of biopolitics, one that is no longer a technology of power over life, but of power of life.
Hurdy-gurdy: new articulations
The purpose of this thesis is to expand existing literature concerning the hurdy-gurdy as a contemporary musical instrument. Notably, it addresses the lack of hurdy-gurdy literature in the context of contemporary composition and performance. Research into this subject has been triggered by the author’s experience as a hurdy-gurdy performer and composer and the importance of investigating and documenting the hurdy-gurdy as an instrument capable of performing well outside the idioms of traditional music. This thesis consists of a collection of new works for hurdy-gurdy and investigation of existing literature including reference to the author’s personal experience as a hurdy-gurdy composer and performer. It will catalogue and systematically document a selection of hurdy-gurdy techniques and extended performance techniques, and demonstrate these within the practical context of new music compositions created by the author. This creative work and technique investigation and documentation is a valuable resource for those seeking deeper practical and academic understanding of the hurdy-gurdy within the context of contemporary music making.
Chaos, order and uncertainty when writing narrative for animation
Advocating rules for inventing stories circumvents the complete experiences of writing. How can the writer best embrace uncertainty, draw on the known and expose their work to enlivening spontaneity? This research examines four animation projects written under different conditions using different approaches to making the narrative. Each work gradually leads to a direct approach, bringing the writing experience closer to the act of animating.
Successful character, story and theme, when writing a multiple protagonist screenplay: as investigated in the writing of the screenplay The Three Lucias
Sandra Sciberras who examined the challenges of audience engagement in writing a multi-protagonist film screenplay. Through writing and interrogating her feature film script, The Three Lucias, Sandra’s research explores how the multi-protagonist film can utilise a unifying thematic arc to promote strong audience engagement with a film’s characters and story.
Voiceover narration and audio-visual imagery in non-fiction film
This project investigates the relationship between audio-visual imagery and voiceover narration in non-fiction film. This thesis examines that relationship as a particular case of the broader relationship between perception and language in human cognition. I review arguments that the meanings of language are grounded in concepts acquired through perception and action, through embodied interaction with our environments. Despite this dependence of language on perception, cognitive science research shows that language exerts a significant influence over perception. For example, language has been shown to modulate visual processing at an early stage, affecting what we consciously see and remember, and attenuating bottom-up cognitive processes. I argue that the audio-visual (AV) imagery in non-fiction films is perceptually realistic, since it addresses a subset of the same perceptual abilities we use to perceive our environments. We might therefore expect the influence of voiceover narration on our perception of AV imagery to be similar to the influence of language on perception more generally. Several film theorists, including Michel Chion and Bill Nichols, have noted such an influence in their writings. My creative works are concerned with a number of issues raised by the philosophical and scientific study of the mind. I have experimented with the form of these video works, separating AV imagery and voiceover narration. The resulting form diverges from the most widely used structure in non-fiction films, the expository mode, in which AV imagery serves to illustrate the narrative content of the voiceover. The evidence presented in this thesis indicates that separation of these content streams will diminish the influence of language on viewers’ perception of AV imagery. The resulting epistemic independence of AV imagery in my video works emphasises the act of perception as central to questions on the nature of cognition and consciousness.
Looking again at Maya Deren: how the 'Mother of Avant-Garde Film' was a socially conscious 'Judaised Artist'
Russian-Jewish filmmaker, Maya Deren, known as the ‘mother of avant-garde film’, lived and worked in Greenwich Village, New York, from the 1930s until her death in 1961. Deren produced experimental films, wrote for a variety of magazines on her philosophy of art and civilisation, lectured around the United States, Canada and South America and established the Creative Film Foundation, a pioneering organisation that supported independent film-makers in America. Beyond being an educator and interested in film-art, Deren’s oeuvre revealed a strong social conscience. Leading up to her career in film, Deren’s poetry, photography, her Masters Thesis in English Literature, and her role as assistant to anthropological dancer Katherine Dunham and to prominent political activist and writer, Max Eastman, all evinced strong social components. I argue therefore that Deren is more than an experimental film-maker; she is a socially conscious artist. Following Deren’s immigration to New York with her family at age five, to escape anti-Semitic pogroms, she continued to spend her childhood and teenage years both escaping forms of anti-Semitism and on a continuous search for belonging. Deren’s work was coloured by this search and desire to navigate social and cultural alienation, resulting in an endeavor to create and promote morally responsible art that enabled civilisational progress and, most significantly, unity. This was to be created by the morally responsible ‘artist’, who Deren established as being a self-constructed and socially reflective figure that evolved with the socio-cultural context. By exploring Deren within her early to mid twentieth century American environment, I reveal that Deren’s use of ‘the artist’ parallels the use of ‘the Jew’ as a cultural symbol, through which ideas of inclusion or exclusion from social and cultural life can be navigated. Deren, I therefore argue, must be read within the wider context of ‘Judaised’ discourse in America, in which ‘the Jew’ was a symbol through which to approach larger ideas of integration, assimilation and Americanisation. My study explores the history of ‘Judaised’ discourse in America in the twentieth century, its use by an array of artists, including Deren, as well as closely analysing Deren’s theoretical texts and films in order to understand Deren and her oeuvre in a nuanced manner and to cement a place for Deren within both ‘Judaised’ history and twentieth-century America.