Throughout this module, I have worked on developing a 10-minute screenplay titled King of the Clouds. Throughout the weeks, I produced a one-page story proposal, a beat sheet, a scene by scene outline, multiple drafts and finally the completed draft of my script. Throughout the process, I was able to experience the steps involved in writing a screenplay and also discovered how to overcome challenges when translating a story to the screen. Throughout the term, I have watched a wide range of short films in order to learn the conventions and decide which I wanted to employ and which I wanted to steer my film away from.
By sharing my work with a workshop group and module leader, I was able to regularly gain valuable feedback that helped me shape my script. The story centers around a young boy named Peter who lives alone in the clouds, who possesses magic but is ultimately lonely. He finds a friend in Sara, a girl playing in her treehouse, and the film follows this friendship. I chose this story because the peter pan-esque fantasy style has always strongly appealed to me. I wanted to create a story which would pull on the audience’s heartstrings and appeal to audiences of both old and young ages.
I feel like audiences of all ages would be touched by the story of Sara, a young girl growing up without her mother and her father who puts his all into being a single dad. I felt that the story of a sweet growing friendship between two lonely people would effectively evoke empathy from the audience while providing them with escapism sought after through cinema in a short space of time. I chose to write an animated film because I enjoy the unlimited possibilities for creating fantasy and magic on screen. I believed the animated style would appeal not only to the main target audience of children but also will be visually pleasing and less distracting than a live action film packed with special effects.
I chose the genre of children’s fantasy for my film as I find the genre both personally appealing and full of endless possibilities for writing a good short film. In order to research the genre I mainly watched popular films by Disney and Dreamworks, leading companies that have produced countless films which contain the values I wished to convey as well as the tone in this genre. My script contains very little dialogue, something which I believed to be key in producing the emotionally evocative tone which I associate with many high-quality children’s films. Many critically acclaimed films of this genre contain little to no dialogue. Countless examples can be seen in films such as WALL.E, as well as many Pixar animated shorts including La Luna and Partly Cloudy. I found these films to be particularly endearing to a wide audience, and believe that part of the adorability of these characters is created through their lack of speech, therefore making it necessary to portray emotions visually instead. In order to achieve this effect, I wrote my script as visually as possible, a technique that is arguably the key to screenwriting.
I found this to be a difficult challenge at times, as at first, I was afraid to push myself to write in the detail that is required. After receiving feedback from my group that I should include more action in my script, I began to expand on descriptions of the actions of characters, for example providing the character of Sara’s Father with lines of action even though he was, in fact, the only character with dialogue. Therefore, it became clear that writing visually is important even when there is dialogue included. By limiting the dialogue between only Sara and Peter, I believe their friendship is portrayed as sweet and endearing while remaining simple. Although not common in many short films, my choice of not including constant dialogue in this script is rather consistent with many other short films of this genre, especially animated films aimed at a family audience with a particular focus on younger children.
When planning the first draft of my script, I intended to write Peter as the protagonist, as I believed his story would be the most important. However, after receiving some constructive feedback I decided to instead make Sara the main protagonist of the story. Doing so provided me with the opportunity to build a backstory for both her and her father’s character, allowing me to add more depth and feeling to my characters.
I decided that Sara’s mother was dead and tried to show this without explicitly saying it through Sara’s drawings at the beginning of the film. By making Sara a motherless character, it allowed me to develop the character of her father further. As a single parent, I decided that Sara’s father would be keen to help Sara be happy in any way possible and that he would pity a parentless lonely boy before ultimately inviting him into his home so that he can ensure his happiness and wellbeing. As Peter is lonely and also motherless, he is a good sidekick for Sara as they automatically understand each other as characters.
Sara’s façade is pretending that she is okay by herself even though she is retreating into her own world. I tried to subtly portray Sara’s sadness through the drawings that indicate that she often thinks about and misses her mother, as though that is a piece missing from her life. The reality is that she is keen to make friends and to enjoy her life as a child should, not suffering the sadness that she is. By gaining a friend in Peter and subsequently spending more time with her father, Sara overcomes the problem of loneliness due to not having a mother and instead finds just as much love and support through the other people in her life. I believe that this message that anyone can find love and support is important for a children’s film, as it may provide comfort for children who are experiencing similar feelings. Due to the characters in Sara’s life being supportive and all having the best intentions for her, the antagonist in the story is not an actual character but instead is Sara’s lack of magical powers. Sara and Peter both want to be friends and they work to build a level of trust from their interactions, however, the one thing coming between their goal is Sara’s inability to stand in the clouds as Peter does. This challenge is overcome by the end of the story, with help from Sara’s father in creating the balloon swing.
Sara’s reliance on her father for help reminds the audience that she is primarily a little girl and still needs support from those around her. By focusing on creating kind and helpful characters, I believe I effectively conformed to the conventions of this genre and created a small group of kind, loveable characters that are relatable to a range of audiences. The plot of my film follows the theory of Robert McKee that a story is designed in five parts, containing an inciting incident, progressive complications, crisis, climax, and resolution. The complication in my story, caused by Sara’s inability to stand on clouds, results in the crisis of her falling.
Initially, I intended on the resolution of the story being Sara’s balloon swing, with the story ending with them playing and flying in the sky. However, instead I decided to end the film with Peter being invited into Sara’s home by her and her father. This ending seemed more rounded and wholesome to me, and although perhaps such a happy ending is conventional, I believe that complying with these conventions will allow my film to remain a heartwarming story. Through tying up the story at the end, I think that the film has a satisfying ending and all of the characters have developed in some way throughout the film. This happy ending is typical of the children’s film genre and can be seen in many animated children’s film. For example, in Pixar’s Up the characters of Carl and Russel remain, lifelong friends, even after their adventure has ended.
I feel that the conventional happy ending is most appropriate for this genre as it is appropriate and pleasing for the demographic of young children. By choosing Sara as my protagonist for the film, I was able to develop the plot further by giving clearer motivations for Sara’s father helping to solve the problems presented to the protagonist, as he has a personal connection that is relatable for any parent watching and many children. Initially his role was smaller, however, I realized that he was key in allowing the plot to continue by providing the resolution for the crisis.
I learned that character’s motivations are key in driving plot forward and realized the importance of creating believable motivations that would allow the story to be consistent and make sense. I initially was unsure of where I wanted to take the story, as my original concept focused mainly on Peter the cloud aspect. Through feedback from my peers, I realised that I wanted a fairly conventional story for a children’s film but without a romantic aspect. I decided that the innocence and purity of the friendship of the characters were more endearing and realistic for my script, and therefore disagree with the common convention in children’s films of the necessity of a love interest. Love interests can be seen in many short animated children’s films, including Pixar’s The Blue Umbrella, a film without any human protagonist. I did not believe it was necessary for a film about childhood and instead focused on the positive effect of friendship.
Overall, during the writing process of my script, I encountered many challenges, many of which I was able to overcome through research into the genre and feedback from my peers. I believe the successes of my film include creating an appropriate tone for my genre and creating a story which seems to evoke an emotional response from a wide range of audience members, successfully allowing me to create a widely accessible enjoyable film. I believe I was able to successfully create the fantasy tone I intended for this film through including elements of both fantasy and mundane reality to juxtapose each other and as a result highlight the magical elements as exciting. One of the challenges I struggled with was showing enough of my characters and developing them fully during the short screen time without relying heavily on stereotypes. If I were to attempt this task again, I would like to include more of a character arc for the protagonist in order to give her more depth and to follow some more of the typical conventions of stories, such as the “hero’s journey”. However, given the short screen time, I am overall pleased with the story I was able to create and the characters with it. I found following the development process throughout the term to be very helpful in crafting my story.
It allowed me to consider character’s motivations more and helped me structure the plot more efficiently. The process was very useful in learning how to write a script for a short film and learning about characters and plot along the way.