Documentary filmmaking differs from dramatic filmmaking in that typically the story is created after footage has been gathered, whereas a fictional story is written in advance. I have two students who have each completed a father-and-daughter-coming-of-age-story themed screenplay. They are both wonderfully complete and well-structured first drafts. These stories have interesting differences that reflect the backgrounds of the two writers.
Kate Novack is a documentary filmmaker whose latest production credit is Ivory Tower, opening this weekend (6/13/14) at the Angelika Theater in New York City. The other student, Elizabeth Wolff, is a producer with a journalistic background.
Both of their new stories explore the bittersweet aspects of the father-daughter relationship. Kate’s documentary background gives her fictional writing a feeling of reality, as if we were watching a documentary, while Elizabeth’s writing lets us feel that we are flies on the walls of her story, as a good journalist will do when sharing a news story with his or her readers. My point is that whatever experience you have had before you tackle writing a screenplay or book will come in handy, and can lift your craft level.
Fathers and Daughters
The father and daughter theme in my students’ work is obviously close to my heart, having been a daughter. My father died three and a half years ago, and I do think of him fondly and often. We had our difficult moments, but at the end of his life, we were able to reconnect, and I was the one who was with him when he died.
To those of you who have a father who is alive, but whom you are not close with – take it from personal experience – you will be sorry you didn’t connect once they are gone, no matter how acrimonious or valid the reasons for the schism. If they are the one who is avoiding contact with you, never fear. Writing a letter to this elusive parent in which you voice your sadness and anger, but also connect with the universal wish for closeness, will make you will feel a lot happier.
What Our Fathers Expected of us:
Kate’s documentary, Ivory Tower, explores the value of a college education. It’s often our fathers who pay for our education or help us to get loans. It made me think about my own college experience and also about what my newest characters had gone through in their imaginary lives.
I am working on a new story, and realized that this is a missing piece of the character history for my female lead, and so I did an exercise in which I “ask” my heroine to “tell” me about her college experience in terms of her father. Typically, my exercises make use of a timer to “hold” the space for 5-15 minutes so that you can focus on the exercise.
In this particular example, you are asked to write in the first person tense, as if you were the character, and answer the question: What was your college experience like in terms of your father?
Completing this exercise for both your main character and the villain/obstacle in your story will give a deep but easy insight into what makes your characters tick.
Most importantly, if your father is anywhere close by, tell him you love him on Father’s Day – don’t do it for him, do it for the self-image you want to hold of yourself as a good person.
Here’s to your successful writing!