How do you piece together clips in a natural order?

LiamMrK2 Posts: 77
edited November 2015 in Practical Filmmaking

I'm having troubles visualizing how a video will turn out when I am writing a shot list.

When I am writing I begin to lose all meaning of the word "human" I forget how one would naturally do something, or how a sequence of events would naturally flow.

This is both on a clip level, for transitioning, as well as an acting level.

I know this questions isn't very specific, it is just something I have been struggle with for a long time now. I write the idea, I write a few things I want to occur in the video, but then the sequence of events doesn't work out, because I forget how to be human.


  • Triem23
    Triem23 Posts: 20,070 Ambassador
    edited November 2015

    Ok, let's focus on the writing first. 

    Remember the difference between plot and story: Plot is more-or-less "what happens," and can usually be broken down into a sentence, or paragraph. I.E. "A young farm boy saves a Galactic Princess from an Evil Warlord," or, "A teenaged boy is bitten by a genetically modified spider and decides to fight crime." Story is more complex, because this is where we get into character stuff. Story can take a while to summarize: i.e. "A lonely farmboy, who wants to get out of the backwater he lives in feels obligation to the Aunt and Uncle who raised him decides to postpone his application to the Imperial Academy for another year, hoping the farm's finances  will improve, until, one day...," and so on.

     The thing to remember about story is that a story is goal-driven. Every character in every scene in a story has something they WANT or NEED, and the story is built around how that character attempts to attain that need (or, how they choose to reject that need). 

    Sticking with Star Wars ("A New Hope.") for a moment, Luke's initial want/need is to leave the farm and attend the Academy. His initial tactic is to push this off for a year. His motivation is his sense of duty to the couple who raised him, who's finances are bad. This is Luke's background story. In each scene Luke has a goal; go to Toshii Station to "get power cconverters," (which is really "get out of the house and hang out with his buddies,") or "find that expensive Droid Uncle Owen just bought." Despite the momentary goals of each scene Luke's overall motivation is his duty to Owen and Beru. While fascinated by the hologram of Leia and intrigued by the stories of Obi-Wan, Luke is true to his sense of obligation--no matter what else is happening, Luke is determined to stay and help for one more season, even though this decision is making Luke miserable. 

    And then Owen and Beru get killed. Luke is free of his obligations, but it's only at this point where Luke discovers his goal has changed--now, instead of merely wanting to leave Tattooine for the Academy, he wants to discover more about his father and to become a Jedi. 

    So... When you write, you can come up with a plot (things that happen) but to keep it "human" you have to keep motivation and goals in mind, because that is what's going to determine how characters act and speak. 

    Another reason I use Star Wars as an example is because the biggest problem with the prequels is they are plot-driven, not story-driven. Luke's story in the original trilogy works because Luke is driven by wants and needs and his reactions are genuine. Annakin's story in the prequels doesn't work because he's being moved around a plot to get him to a certain point, but his goals and motivations (as well as those around him) jump all over the place for no damn reason. 

    Let's look at Episode III for a second: every fanboy has a "fix" for EP III, and here's mine. 

    In EP II we discover that the Jedi are celibate, do not marry and try to avoid emotional relationships. At the end of Ep II, Annakin and Padme secretly marry. 

    This is a great setup for Annakin to fall to the Dark Side: Annakin now goes to work everyday hiding things from the Jedi--basically he's lying all day, every day. Lying leads to fear, fear leads to hate, hate leads to anger, and anger leads to the Dark Side. All that needs to happen is to have Obi-Wan find out Annakin is married, Annakin to plead with Obi-Wan to keep the secret, Obi-Wan to decide his duty to the Council is more important, Obi-Wan to tell the Council, and the Council to kick out Annakin. Now Annakin has reason to be really, really angry at a seeming betrayal to turn to Palpatine. This would have been a straight continuation of what had been previously set up and everyone's actions would be goal/motivation driven. 

    What we got was "Annakin has a bad dream and loses his ****." Ep III lacks a "human" quality because characters aren't motivated by goals, wants and needs that flow organically from what went before, but from goals that come from nowhere to force the events of the plot to "Darth Vader in the Armor." The moment where Vader discovers Padme has died is the climax of three movies, and is supposed to break our hearts. Instead, James Earl Jones mispronounces Padme's name, screams "NOOOOOOOOO!" and, um... The audience laughs....? (Seriously, first night screening the entire theater burst into laughter.)

    It doesn't work, and it doesn't work because poor Lucas at that point wasn't writing a story about motivated characters living lives, but pushing pieces around a game board to hit all of the established plot points. 

    So, to keep your writing "human," remember that each character has a goal/want/need to pursue (or not), the actions taken in pursuit of the goal may create conflict if Character A wants Goal 1 and Character B wants Goal not-1. If Character A and B both want Goal 1, then you have an alliance. The Motivation behind the Goal might also bring up conflict: If A wants 1 to help C, but B wants 1 to HURT D, then A and B might work together to achieve 1, but, after that, A and B might not want to be around each other any more. 

    Story over Plot. If the needs of the Story start drifting away from the needs of the Plot, then change the Plot. Plot is easy. Story is hard. 

    New topic. Shot lists: Remember these are guidelines to help you make certain you have the footage needed to tell a story. Shot lists can be changed or ignored on a shoot day if you have to, but the shot list is actually determined by the same goals and motivations that drive the story. Diving back to Star Wars (New Hope), there's a sequence of shots from Luke, Obi-Wan and the droids discovering the destroyed Jawa Sandcrawler:

    Close on Luke ("That will lead them... Home!")

    Mid on Luke jumping in the speeder--his concern for Owen and Beru so great he leaves the hermit and droids behind!

    Long shot of Luke speeding home, panicked.

    Long shot of the farm, smoke rising... Something is wrong.

    Close on Luke as he pulls up--he sees trouble. 

    Mid, Luke running to the housing dome, he's still hoping he won't see... 

    Close, Owen and Beru--not just dead, but burned to bone. 

    Close, Luke's face crumples. He has (in his mind) caused the death of the people who acted as his parents, and not only are they dead, the skeletal remains imply one of the most brutal and painful deaths of the whole saga. 

    Long shot, Luke stands in front of the smoldering remains of the farm and family. The framing both isolates Luke, alone in the middle of nothing, but emphasizes that Owen and Beru were isolated. There was no one for miles around to see, hear, or care about what happened. This is the moment when Luke decides there is no reason for him to stay on Tattooine. This is when Luke decides to leave with Obi-Wan, to help the woman in the hologram, to become anything at all other than an isolated farmer... 

    And the shots are all determined by the story. 

    Focus on the writing, and much of the rest falls into place. Mastering the technical craft of camera can help, but, if your story is bad, no amount of technical polish can make your film better than OK. If you have a great story, it will still work, even if the visuals are mediocre. 

  • StormyKnight
    StormyKnight Posts: 2,722 Ambassador

    Nicely said, T23!

  • This example is superb and really helped!

    Hopefully I'll find time to film my new video this week!

  • Triem23
    Triem23 Posts: 20,070 Ambassador

    One interesting thing about Star Wars. Almost everyone is familiar with it, and it contains examples of doing almost everything right, AND almost everything wrong in one series. 

    Glad it was a helpful example. 

  • I liked the explanation but  remember you should give your secondary characters motivation of their own as well . don't forget them or they just become furniture in the scene. 

  • Triem23
    Triem23 Posts: 20,070 Ambassador

    I DID say "The thing to remember about story is that a story is goal-driven. Every character in every scene in a story has something they WANT or NEED, and the story is built around how that character attempts to attain that need (or, how they choose to reject that need)." ;-). 

    But, yes, I stuck with Luke and Annakin only to keep the length of the post semi-managable. Yes, every character has a goal, even the character who has one line in one scene. 

  • Stargazer54
    Stargazer54 Posts: 3,433 Ambassador

    @Triem23 Awesome write up on story vs. plot!

    I might add that we learn by doing.  The more you write, the more you shoot, the more you edit . . .  the better you get.  

    And don't be afraid to fail.  Nothing is ever perfect so don't expect it.  Do your best on each project, button it up and move on to the next.   Otherwise you never learn anything new.

  • Triem23
    Triem23 Posts: 20,070 Ambassador
    edited November 2015

    Speaking of "don't be afraid to fail," Looney Tunes Director Chuck Jones (the greatest animation director of all time. Period. If you disagree, you are wrong.) writes in his autobiography about an art teacher who once said, you have 30000 bad drawings in you, let's start getting them out now..."

    Same goes with writing and shooting and editing and all of it. 

    Art is never finished, only abandoned. Always strive for your best work, but learn to realize when it's time to move on. 

    It's also ok to shoot vignettes for practice. An action or dialog scene, not worrying about the full story, but figuring out how to indicate some in the scene. Like shooting a gratuitous fight/gun battle between a couple of guys. Motivation: revenge. One guy killed other's wife. Total cliche, but... 

    How many ways can you write lines to get that across that don't contain the phrase, "...killed my/your wife?"

    "Every night I hear her screaming in my mind from what you did to her!" 

    Or,  from the bad guy, "Was sending flowers to the service too much, Alan? I heard the look on your face when you read the card was priceless!"

    I won't say those are fantastic, but, you know. Quick and Dirty shorts are VERY good practice, Another good thing to do is check out some 48 hour festivals. You don't have to enter, but take the elements and build a film. You don't have to do it in 48 hours, but trying to build something with random elements is also great practice. 

    Arseny Syuhin's "Stalingrad" (VFX in Hitfilm Ultimate 2) has a great example of minimal dialog humanizing a character. The "Secondary" villain only has three lines. The first is a simple "Get out." The second is as he's being paid. $50,000 is placed in front of him. He says, "The deal was for 30," and that's all he takes. Just that tells you this guy is a pro with a strict code of honor. 

    I won't spoil his third line. 

  • Wow. It started out slow and weak but soon turned into something as good as any big budget movie of a similar genre.

    At first I thought the computer guy was acting in his own film. Then he started getting dressed up like a Dexter and it soon became believable.

    I can only hope to  create even a minute's worth of the skill shown here.

  • Triem23
    Triem23 Posts: 20,070 Ambassador

    Huh. I actually love the computer guy's video game speech. 

    Full disclosure: I actually rewrote the English subtitles. I was working from just the lines, and had about three or four back and forth revisions with Arseny to make certain everything was absolutely correct and that I kept all the correct meanings and subtext. The hardest line to get translated was what ended up being "Too bad."

    When I finally saw the whole film I laughed out loud at" I should have taken the 50."

  • Palacono
    Palacono Posts: 3,423 Enthusiast

    @Triem23 Great movie - loved the Chekhov's Gun/Monitor/Tyre at 1:11; but you/they missed a couple of things in the subtitles:

    4:18: But not [S]ci-[F]i; I like [it] when [they're] more like real life

    He was asking about games: plural. You could also have had "prefer" instead of "like [it]" and Sci-Fi needs capitalising

    4:24: That's why I play this one all [the] time

    Stylistically: Doesn't require "full stops/periods" at the end of lines

  • Triem23
    Triem23 Posts: 20,070 Ambassador

    @Palacono I admit I didn't catch the plural in "... [they're] more like real life." Good catch, and oops, my bad.

    The other things you note--I didn't type up the final files for subtitles, and noted a couple of those myself, but the director put the project to bed and has moved on to others. 

    For purposes of this discussion, I do think that Arseny here does give good examples of creating interesting character via dialog (this was his first film WITH dialog!). Particularly with the "The deal was for 30/I should have taken the 50," which really do tell the audience a lot about that guy. The video game speech is very weird and interesting and adds a lot of "What the hell?" to the scene, besides tying in nicely to the last speech in the film. 

    One subtle thing we tried in the subtitles was giving the "butcher" contractions when he's doing the video game/grandfather lines, then dropping them when he starts preparing his kill. Hopefully that's an indicator between "small talk" and "all business."

     To branch this talk out of story to VFX, Arseny also put up a VFX breakdown, which is notable because gunshots and explosions do stand out as VFX shots, but there are some very subtle VFX that I don't think anyone would notice (I didn't), like, replacing an actor's belt with a different one! 

  • Palacono
    Palacono Posts: 3,423 Enthusiast
    edited November 2015

    Excellent breakdown too! (stuntmen[s]), Really impressed with the particle and smoke behaviour - even if the massive quantity was a bit 'old western'. They also did things as VFX you'd imagine would be easier as practical: such as the blood on the jeans and hand in the kneeshot, but it looked perfect. I didn't notice the blood flowing down the spun monitor on the original movie (I was more concerned that the cables might break and leave him weaponless), but the VFX of that looked spot on too.

    The moving of the left wall at 4:27 answered a question I had while watching the movie, which was: how did the actor do that with his head? In fact there are so many excellent, subtle tricks there you could study it for hours; and I probably will.

    I'd be surprised if he was using the bundled Mocha for some of the tracking though, because it's just not that good.

    Storywise: the only major unanswered question (lots of small ones but...movies) was: "Why was the bad guy still hanging out after he was paid?". He didn't seem the 'socialising' type. Discovering a flat tyre on his car as he was leaving might have explained his presence better. Coming out, seeing it, swearing, waving at one of the goons to fix it, etc.

    Just watched the Teaser Trailer and glad I hadn't seen it before as it showed the monitor in use and several scenes not in the final movie and the subtitles tell a different story to the final version. Spoilers and misdirection. :( That's annoying in Hollywood trailers too and can ruin your enjoyment of a movie, which is why I rarely watch them.

    But... subtitles are easily edited in YouTube, so he could still go back and edit them. 

    I'd imagine people are going to be looking back at his work for years to come and it's just like having a typo, or 'should of' on your CV; or using 'lol' in any written communication if you're over 10: it just...needlessly disappoints.

    The missing [the] at 4:24 was probably the most jarring (I had to translate a games manual from Rushlish many years ago and they didn't seem to use 'it' or 'the' either) so that's an easy fix. The rest you could let slide as style.

  • Triem23
    Triem23 Posts: 20,070 Ambassador

    I always figured he was hanging out because he was intended to dispose of the remains. Heh. 

    I know Arseny did some tracks in syntheyes, some in mocha, some shots in AE and some in Hitfilm with the final grade in Hitfilm, but I couldn't tell you the full breakdown. 

    Agreed on the subtitles, but, ultimately, not my film, although I am glad to be a very minor part of the final tweaks. For the director's second film, first with dialog, it's amazingly well done, and his future work will be even better. From a production standpoint it shows how good looking a project can be with near-minimal resources. (That was shot on a Canon t2i)

    The one thing that really jars for me is the Willheim scream--yeah, yeah, sound editor "in joke." It's been overused, so, unless you're Ben Burtt, stop it. 

  • Palacono
    Palacono Posts: 3,423 Enthusiast
    edited November 2015

    Hmmm... that would work, I guess, but I don't like making up my own story for a character; I like the Director to do it for me.

    Looks like I edited in some more text while you were replying, given the timestamps on our posts; so if you have any influence: advise him to not give so much away - or so differently - in trailers. It's a bad habit to pick up, and watching that first would have ruined the movie for me on several levels.

    I didn't catch the scream on the first viewing, and had you not said anything, I wouldn't have noticed, so...of course I had to go and look for it. You've ruined it for me now!  Everyone will have their own triggers and I guess your enjoyment or otherwise of a movie depends on how sensitive to them you are.

    I wish I'd never been made aware of the approximate time the 'inciting incident' occurs in a movie as I now find myself checking my watch...

    Question: It's mentioned in the comments that someone else basically remade this, shot for shot, with his semi-permission, but doesn't say who and I'm not reading the entire 800+ comments to see if they're mentioned by name elsewhere, but do you know who they are to compare their efforts to his?

  • My point about the beginning  minutes was based on my perception and not as an insult, though I can now see it could be taken that way.

    It just seemed different than the rest in that I started with the notion it was going to be just okay so I was over-analyzing everything.  Then it quickly drew me in and I just watched it like any Bruce Willis flick, never once noticing a single typo or oddity.

  • Triem23
    Triem23 Posts: 20,070 Ambassador

    Palacono, agreed on the trailer. We'll see if his next project has a better one. 

    No, I didn't know there was a "semi remake." Interesting! 

    Farscraper, no insult taken. :-) 

    Incidentally, there's a mini tutorial in his feed on how he did bullet shells. The principles still apply, except in HF 3 or 4 you would just use a shell-model instead of a prerendered particle source.