• Charles Breach

Week 14 - Narrative Strategies and Story Adaptation

Thinking back to last weeks session, and 3 rules for making a good short film:

  1. Simple

  2. Economical

  3. memorable

I wanted to find more short films that could demonstrate the use of these rules, as well as perhaps deviation from them, or their own other ways of telling a story. During a hefty procrastination session, I watched some music videos, specifically animated, and realised they were all exactly what I was looking for. Music videos tend not to involve any character dialogue, and the split between those that follow the lyrics to audibly tell the story, and those that use the melody to set the mood, is pretty 50/50. The videos that use the melody do not follow any dialogue, meaning they must tell a story almost purely through visual means, and within the time constraints of the music, which ranges in the examples have between roughly 3 - 5 minutes, which is a very short amount of time in which to tell a story. In last weeks blog entry, I described that in creating a simple story, a short film will usually either focus on a moment, and play it out, or focus on a theme and play it out over multiple separate moments. The latter tends to be how music videos will tell their story, present a theme, and repeat that idea, which is more the case when the music follows the lyrics, as lyrics tend to repeat during a chorus, but again that's not always the case.

SIAMÉS "Mr. FEAR" [Official Animated Music Video]:

This is perhaps my favourite example of a music video short story. It starts with a wide, to mid, to close up shot sequence, that immediately pulls the viewer into the world of the music video, that in this case is alien, demonstrating the landscape, architecture, and species that inhabit this world. We see at the end shot of this sequence, a character putting something in a backpack, within their bedroom, utilising the synecdoche to tell the viewer, from what I can tell, that this creature is perhaps a student, or at least young. This is backed up by the next shot/scene where the alien walks off a form of public transport, pulling up their hoodie, which is more saturated in colour than the other, maturer looking aliens', more formal looking clothing. The alien then leaves the confines of their city, walking out into the desolate landscape presented to us in the initial shots of the film. They walk up to a translucent dome. The object the alien puts into their bag with their introductory shot seems to share some qualities of the larger dome: the translucent outer shell, and flora within the shell. There is a large amount of information missing here, for the viewer to figure out, raising questions for me like: is the dome related to the smaller object? is the small sphere a seed of sorts, that will grow into a larger dome/ habitat like the one he walks up to? Is this seed their effort of creating a flourishing planet, that is seemingly otherwise barren? We talked last week about how this omission of information engages the viewer, and makes it more interesting. They become the director of the story, simply fed stimuli by the film. I find this particularly effective within this short film, and already within the first 30 seconds, which may or may not have something to do with the sci-fi genre it follows being right up my ally, and has me conjuring up my own explanations, which is certainly appealing.

The camera cuts to another character, dressed in a poncho like garb, sharpening an arrow head, sat next to a bow. We see 2 tent like structures behind them, so seemingly she is no the only- what looks like a human around, within the sphere, which we can tell by the cut as the alien walks into the sphere, and the similarly coloured sky to the dome's shell. The initial move in sequence shows the viewer two objects being held by hands of similar colours to the two characters we have been presented. The red hand is, however, holding an arrow head, and the white hand, an orb similar to what we've already seen put in the alien's back pack. Seeing the arrow head again being sharpened by the human within the dome, coupled with our knowledge that each race will interact with the other's object through an unconventional cyclical kind of structure, tells us that the characters are related somehow. The human starts wandering, and spots a hare type creature that she chases, presumably to kill and eat. A chance to shoot it with her bow presents itself. Pulling back the string, she aims, but sees the alien, which we can tell through the dual window method of presenting this particular scene, and turns to fire at it instead. The arrow hits the alien, and it falls back through the dome wall. The scene then cuts to extreme wide shot of a giant creature destroying the city we had previously seen. This continues the cyclical structure of the film, indicating shortly coming events. The shot occurs during the chorus, and will reoccur again during the next chorus, the cyclical structure coming from the cyclical nature of songs, which makes the music video feel more concurrent, and relative to one another, as the chorus occurs throughout the song. I suppose this could also be the case because it would feel wrong to watch a less intense scene during the dramatic chorus.

The scene cuts back to just after the human has shot the alien. The human walks out of the dome, seeing the barren alien world, and sees the alien, laying on the ground with the arrow in their shoulder. She cautiously approaches the alien, who pulls out the arrow, and gets up. The alien drops the sphere, and it rolls over to the human, who picks it up, and returns it to the alien. The alien then seemingly tries to share it with the human. Their hands touch, causing a jolt. The two react to this and pull back. They curiously touch hands again, with a fuller contact, which causes them to turn into a giant creature, like the one we saw earlier, but with different features. The creature drags itself towards the city, and tries to hurt some of the law enforcement outside just outside the city wall. The human part of the creature tries to squash one of the guards, but the alien part resists this urge, tearing apart the creature back into the alien and human forms. The two are arrested, separated, and imprisoned, as the 2nd chorus ends. The slow, dramatic music, reflects their despair. The alien gets up, feeling the wall, perhaps searching for the human. The human notices something that isn't visible, and gets up. The human starts running around searching. We see the alien appear behind her, both turn around to see each other, and run towards each other. We know it isn't possible for the two to have physically seen each other in their separate cells, at least that's what logic would dictate, yet somehow they are able to reach each other. This is again, more omission of details, left for the viewer to infer. Conceivably it is a mental link they had gained in forming a singular being, which could be evident in the background change as the human gets up, transitioning from the colour of the cell, to a darker, cooler colour, representative of an extrasensory experience. As the two touch, they transform into the same creature we see in it's first appearance, details and all. The same scene is played out, except where the scene previously had been enclosed in smaller windows, the scene now takes up the full screen, with interjections of the two characters struggling inside the creature. The creature is out of control, the two separated by walls of flesh. They try reaching out to each other, in an effort to bring the giant under control? The creature is bombarded by the law enforcement, and eventually splits apart. The two characters, lying on the floor, still trapped by flesh, try reaching out to each again, the enforcement preparing to fire on them. One of the guards fires, the character's hands touch, and for a single frame, we see a singular frame of something like the warped transformation process they have been through before, and the shot cuts to black, just as the song ends. The ending is left open, up to the viewer to ponder, part of the memorable aspects to making a good short film like we had discussed in last weeks session. This ending is left particularly open, the viewer is left no clue as to what becomes of anyone in the short film. Did our two protagonists escape? Were they shot before they transformed? Is everyone dead? who knows! And that, for me, is particularly effective. I don't think such an ending would be adequate for everything, but in this case, so much is left up to the imagination, I'm left thinking well after the short film has ended, wanting to go back watch it again in search for an answer.

Stuck In the Sound - Let's Go:

This short film takes a slightly different approach. It is similar to the previous music video, in that it doesn't follow the lyrics of the song to help describe the story, and rather follows the tone of the melody. We don't start in medias res, but follow the main character from the very beginning. However, in this case, I find it doesn't subtract from the story, or spell the narrative out too much for the viewer. We see the protagonist as a young boy, and a drawing made by him, of himself as an astronaut, standing on the moon. The astronaut in the drawing, without knowing what the label pointing to the astronaut meant, would be pretty much indisputably the boy, but if there was any doubt, the label, in Chinese 我 (Wǒ), says 'me'. And in 6 seconds, and 4 shots after the beginning of the music video, we have been introduced to the main character, and their goal, as well as their nationality, and location. As the music reaches a peak, shortly thereafter, a montage of the protagonists life leading up to him accomplishing his dream ensues, over the course of about 30 seconds, where we see him on a rocket to space. The montage is short, but we see the lengths the character goes to to achieve his astronaut status. A particularly effective shot, in my opinion, is when he rejects the girl who was interested in him, demonstrating just how serious he is, letting nothing get in the way of his dream, not even the most fundamental human needs/wants. The protagonist lands on the moon, and sets up a camera to record his accomplishment. As he gets into position for the video, Earth behind him in the shot from the camera's POV, we see the Earth explode. He turns around in awe of what he's witnessing, and gets back into his spacecraft. After comprehending what exactly has happened, he realises everything he has lost, and everything he will never be able to pursue, lost to the efforts he placed in getting to the moon, love, parenthood. After briefly going berserk, the protagonist receives a video communication from another, seemingly female astronaut, who we see is in a nearby space station when the character looks out the window of his moon lander. He scribbles on his astronaut drawing, a female astronaut, and a child, holding hands with both, which has become his new goal, to have a family. He tries to take off, but is thwarted by debris from earth colliding with the lander. After going through extreme efforts to make his way to the space station through the debris, the protagonist is pulled into the space station by the astronaut he saw in the video communication. Once inside, both take off their helmets, and our main character is devastated to find that the other astronaut was, in fact, male. He realises he now, truly can never again experience all that he lost with Earth, his new goal becoming an impossible dream, punching the other astronaut in a fit of rage and disbelief. The astronaut does not retaliate, peeved that he's been punched, but seemingly understanding of our protagonists reaction. After the other astronaut floats off, we see a game controller float back to the main character, who sees the astronaut sitting in another room, preparing a video game. The protagonist, after a brief pause and realisation, wipes away his tears, and goes to join him. The two float off into space, as the screen fades to black, another open ending, but less possibilities come to mind than the previous music video. There's only so much that can happen at this point to the two astronauts, with a limited supply regarding pretty much anything, but I find myself still wondering if they could somehow survived, when I realise that there's no possible way they could survive relying on anything from Earth, I resort aliens, or perhaps omnipotent beings coming to their aid, anything to make the ending less tragic. Whatever anyone chooses to believe, no matter what could possibly happen to them, there's no way to know what eventually happens, so I find myself sticking to the more fanciful ideas of aliens saving the two stranded astronauts, after all, why not? And that is the power, I have come to find, of open endings.

This short story did not really omit information the same way other short films do. The only thing you are left to decide is why the character acts they way they do, you must decide why they end up having a break down on the moon. From what I saw, I chose to believe it was because he regrets focusing solely on his goal to reach the moon, but this could be up for debate. Everything else seems to be pretty definite, but that I think is a testament to the creators. In such a short film, they were able to create a backstory for the main character, create their ego, and, for me, evoke a range of emotions for their situation. The important things we'll never know are what caused Earths destruction, if anyone else survived, and if the two astronauts we know survived the initial explosion, survived the cold darkness of space, and I find the omission of these details enough to create an entertaining, thought provoking experience.

These are some of my other favourite music video short films. They follow a similar narrative structures and methods to making a good short story: Ellipsis, beginning in medias res, open endings, synecdoches, but each with their own little twists and techniques, that make them unique as stories.

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