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The Invisible Story

Posted by Mark W Travis on Saturday, November 26th, 2011

Dear Friends of Hollywood Film Directing,

Welcome to our new Blog site where we will be sharing with you ideas and insights into the world of film directing.

Since my area of expertise is the Story, the Script and the Actor, I’m going to start with Story. Every film is an attempt to tell a story. That’s a simple concept. But before we launch ourselves recklessly into the world of film directing we need to look at what constitutes a story and a screenplay.


The Invisible Story

One of the curious and annoying things about writing screenplays is their limitation. Yes, telling a story on the screen is very exciting and full of possibilities both real and imagined. You would think there were no limitations – and you would be right. The possibilities seem endless and the limitations are few. But, we’re not talking about movies right now. We’re talking about screenplays. We’re talking about those 90-120 page documents that are attempting to describe what will be on the screen. And, just as the script is not the story (we’ll get to that later), the script is also not the movie.  The script is, by its very nature a reduction of the story and the potential movie to its most basic elements. What it is saying is: “Here is what you will see and here is what you will hear.” That’s it. And we can define that even a bit more. A screenplay has four basic elements: Location, Character, Behavior and Dialogue. That’s it. In every scene you are limited to: here’s where it’s happening (location), here’s who is in the scene (characters), here’s what they are doing (behavior) and here’s what they are saying (dialogue). That’s it.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Wait a minute, there’s a lot more. There are all those parentheticals, all those descriptions of emotions and feelings, hopes and dreams, disappointments and despair!” Of course, you’re right. Any self-respecting screenplay writer is going to infuse the script with as much description of the emotional journey of the characters as possible. And there are hundreds of clever tricks and tools that can help you do that. And in many ways it’s necessary to do that so the reader can be guided to experience the story the way you want.

Experience the story? So why can’t location, character, behavior, and dialogue alone convey the story? Why isn’t that enough? Well, it’s not enough because it’s not the story.

Okay, now we need to back up a bit. We’re back to ‘what is the story’? Not, what is a story, but what is the story you are trying to tell? And if all this description of characters, behavior and dialogue isn’t the story, then what is?

The story you are telling is beneath the story you are showing. The story you are telling lives within the characters. The story you are telling is invisible, it is silent – unseen, unheard. Your story is sequestered in that cave called Subtext.

In future blogs we will explore how to find and expose the subtext of your story.


Mark W. Travis