Monday, November 12, 2007

The Dangers of Backstory

Hi again,
Today's topic is back story; when do you use it, when don't you include it? While we were procrastinating about this post, we actually realized a nifty way to introduce back story without flashbacks or boring exposition.

After all, back story usually comes out like "when I was a kid we had to...."

In my mind the best way to cover back stroy is through a dream. Why a dream you ask? Well, because a dream has no "structure" you can put anything in you want - just make sure it's filmable - and it can be a precursor to an event, the reaction to a previous event or even a look into the psyche without dialogue or exposition.

As usual I used this in my favorite script, South of La Brea (Ascha's Song - new title). I changed it because I may be able to get the whole budget by using Louisiana instead of Los Angeles (get it - South of La Brea).

At any rate, there are two places where I use a dream to reveal story or character. The first is near the middle and the character is just getting used to being on her own.

She had a kind of bad day (almost everyday after the near-rape of a virgin) and as mos people know what is on TV while you sleep may affect what you dream about. Anyway, the idea is that we wanted to show that her mother died in a car accident so we give her a dream about it while her roommate is watching "Days of Thunder."

Lights fill the void, screeching tires break the silence.
Metal crunches.
A car horn.

The next one comes later in the film and we use it for several things. The first is that the protag's grandmother died, so we show an old lady reaching out. The second is we want to show that the protag now understands what "gay" is - she has a friend that is gay. I also use this dream as a look back at her college life and how she's changed.

Anyway, so that's out spiel about back story. I hope it is of use to the two of you.

Au revoir,

"Keep writing as writing is the revealing of the soul"

On a side note, I have lost my fucking mind today. I hate being the good guy. Sometimes I wish just once I could be the asshole that only cares about himself, but then I remember that I like being me. A LOT!!


Anonymous said...

"the idea is that we wanted to show that her mother died in a car accident so we give her a dream about it while her roommate is watching Days of Thunder with Tom Cruise."

Wow, Tom Cruise is in your movie? Awesome.


Christian M. Howell said...

I guess semantics can be a bitch, huhn? I guess I should say starring Tom Cruise.

Matt Hader said...

If the backstory is at all important to the final screenplay...?

I'm not entirely sold on the dream thing, my friend...

Seems like a device to me.

Teasing with bits and pieces of dialogue that can seem random - only to come back to mean something much more later on - at least for me - is a much better way of handling exposition & backstory.

Christian M. Howell said...

Great point. It was an experiment that seemed to work well for what I wanted to convey.
I may not use it all the time. It is just another device. Of course as with anything, it has to work in the story.
For dramatic stories, they can relay small things, like an off-screen occurrence - which a lot of times will be back story. I like visual devices more so than dialogue devices.

I could actually see that as a way to intro a character's back story. Just flashes of occurrences leading up to their present state.
Things like lighting and scenery could be used to set the mood of the piece.

In that way you could even tell their state of mind by how they awaken.

Again, it's just something that I found handy from a visual perspective.

Christian M. Howell said...

Come to think of it, I believe they used this technique for a lot of the dramatic reveals in the Bourne series.

They actually used dream-like images at times and evidence of a dream at others.

As I always say though, I post things to keep things straight in my head. I don't know if I'm right, but I think if done properly it can be an effective device for back story or even off screen stuff.

Matt Hader said...

I understand where you're coming from. It would work if (as is the case in the Bourne films) your character was a brainwashed assassin who has his old memories come back to him in bits and pieces so he can figure out what's going on with his life.

In the end (for me, anyway) -- it's all about which 'device' works best to manipulate the reader/audience into buying into and staying interested in your screenplay.

Christian M. Howell said...

Yep, that's how I think. It's just another device that may come in handy.

I also saw BraveHeart last night and they used it to emphasize several things.