Category Archives: Lecture Notes

Building Suspense

How does one build suspense in a story?

(I am having a little bit of trouble with my pacing, so this is important.)

It’s basically two stages of five steps, divided up.

  • Work Backwards
    Start at the end, work out how to get to that point. Once you know what the big mystery or reveal is, you can start to shroud it.
  • Plant Seeds
    Make sure people know what is going on, that they can follow what’s going on. If you plant enough seeds, they should be able to keep up with the main character, and eventually begin to predict what is going to happen next just before the character does.
  • Give hooks
    Draw people along, hook them in. They need to be following the story.
  • Displace the audience.
    Don’t make it too easy. If they are in unfamiliar terrain, they will sympathise with the protagonist, if the protagonist is also in unfamiliar terrain.
  • Emotive Response
    Make the audience feel, make them empathise, make them sympathise with the characters. If they are in the same place as your main character, that puts them in the same position of mystery and discovery, meaning the story is as much an exploration for them as it is the main character’s.

The audience should be just ahead of the main character.

This makes them smart. This makes them feel clever. It also gives them just enough foresight to see what is going to happen, and then give them enough time to wonder how the characters are going to deal with this.

The second stage goes like this:

  • Location as character
    Make the location organic, real, make it relevant. Make it a metaphor for the story itself, make it matter. Choose your locations for a reason.
  • Foreshadowing
    Dropping clues so that people can see what is coming, but not until it is nearly upon them. If people suspect something is about to happen, that puts them on edge. Tell people what is coming. This can be done a number of ways, but a classic example is the cello in Jaws. It’s a sonic signifier, it’s a theme. We know the shark is there when we hear that sound, so we are set on edge, waiting to see what will happen.
  • Tell Lies
    This is your job, as a storyteller. Tell lies. Make stuff up. If you can also string the audience along a bit, they’re in your world. They respond how you want them to.
  • Character Identification
    Amnesia is a common trope in many stories, because it puts the audience in the same boat as the main character. If we identify, we explore as they so. It makes us empathise with the character more.
  • Counterpoint
    Make things resonate, make them harmonise, make things counterpoint for other things. Get metaphorical, draw comparisons, give things a contrast. By juxtaposing things, you highlight more things about them. Make contrasts.

I have already hit on most of these in my scripts, but I can work them in better. I need to go back and rewrite them with these in mind.
I also need to read more Graham Greene.


Notes on Pitching

For this year’s pitch, I need to

  • Pitch myself as a specialist
  • Pitch my proposal for a production idea

I should do this buy using images instead of tonnes of text, and have it ready by THURSDAY 24th.

So what needs to go into my pitch? Well:

  • Title
  • Genre
  • Time
  • Place
  • Protagonists
  • Protagonists goals
  • Antagonists
  • Obstacles/Conflict
  • Resolution (what changes?)
  • Redemption (what is learned?)
  • What goes at the:

The key to pitching is to present the project in a compelling manner.

Try to do it in a conversational style.

And use the old triptych of:

  • Tell the audience what you’re going to tell them.
  • Tell them the thing you’re telling them about.
  • Tell them what you just told them.

(for example):

  • I am going to tell you about my blue hat.
  • This is my hat. It is blue.
  • That was my hat. It was blue. Thank you and goodnight.

GRAB their attention! Get off to a snappy start, perhaps with:

  • A question
  • A bold statement
  • A hypothesis


  • Tell them about your influences.
  • Give examples of your work.
  • Set the scene, describe some of the conflicts.

This should help you in your pitch.

A Run Down of Today’s Lectures

New forms of readings texts are constantly emerging. Most recently, I read an interesting article titled The Rise of the Fragmented Novel which looks at some of the ways in which literature is evolving and intended to be imbibed in different, unorthodox ways. Over the last century or so, the novel has evolved and adapted, challenging the ways that they are intended to be interpreted and received. With the rise of Multi-Platform, this is becoming increasingly relevant.
Today I learned the term ‘Ergodic Literature’, which was described by Espen Aarseth, and is helpfully echoed by Wikipedia as:

“[In] ergodic literature, nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text. If ergodic literature is to make sense as a concept, there must also be non-ergodic literature, where the effort to traverse the text is trivial, with no extranoematic responsibilities placed on the reader except (for example) eye movement and the periodic or arbitrary turning of pages.”

Thanks, Aarseth. Thaarseth,

This sounds like it might well be helpful when it comes to writing my dissertation.

Mark Z. Danielewski said, of his books:

“My books are not CD-players. They’re instruments. A reader has to be willing to play them.”

By which he implies that there has to be some response, some interaction from the reader in order to imbibe one of his books. Again, with new media and the rise of interactivity in everything (thanks Apple. Thapple.) it stands to reason that there should be some sort of evolution when it comes to literature. That isn’t to say that the book shouldn’t also remain as it is, but what with eReaders getting about now, it seems unlikely that the standard Paper-And-Ink format of books will remain the standard. I don’t think they’re going anywhere, but there has to be room for change. I can imagine purists screaming at their screens as they read this, even as I write it. Ironically, they would be reading it on a screen of some sort, and so their argument is automatically invalidated.


Preparation is key. You have to love the question you’re asking, know where to look for relevant research and know what to follow up and what to discard as you swim through paragraph after paragraph. Research thoroughly, remember to cite your references, and you’ve got a way better chance of getting ahead.


Story is key, it is important, but it is evolving.

Jorge-Luis Borges was a god among men. (according to my lecturer.)
(To me, Rod Serling also fits this role.)

“90% of everything is crap.”

Sturgeon’s Law – Theodore Sturgeon

Make Things Fast

Making Things Fast is important when you’re working on something. Especially something new and hopefully innovative. (but it doesn’t matter if it is or not, really.)

What matters is not the planning (although there is the need for some) and it’s not about whether or not you fail (although your producers may not see it that way) but it’s about MAKING things.

Content is Dialogue

What’s important, really, is making stuff. Don’t be too precious with your ideas; share them, get out there and make them. They don’t work? Never mind, start a new project.

Don’t plan for so long you run out of steam. Hit the ground running, sprint, then stop when you’re done. Catch your breath. Do it again.



“You don’t build a community, the community builds itself.”

Thomas Howalt


“The story stays the same, it’s the teller who keeps changing.” [paraphrased]

Lance Weiler


LEADERS are NOT who are important. The most important people you  can have on your side are the FIRST ADOPTERS.

These are the guys who are into your cause from the beginning. They’re there and not afraid to say ‘Hey, I think this is cool!’
Even if it makes them look stupid. They’re taking that risk.

Without at least one follower, a leader is just a guy.

Trying and failing is as important, if not more so, that succeeding.


Story, Goals, Audience, Interaction.
There are what you need to create something, especially something interactive, and successful.
If you can, try and conceive all of these SIMULTANEOUSLY.

Consider ‘Media Specific’ storytelling.

Does your story have:

If not, make it so.

Finding your Dissertation Question

What is a dissertation?

I dissertation can be used to:

  • Resolve a problem
  • Explain a phenomenon
  • Uncover a process
  • Demonstrate the truth of a fact
  • Reevaluate other studies
  • Test your own theory

You are going to do a lot of work on this. You have to be INTO your subject.

“… research questions almost invariably involve the relationship between two or more variables, phenomena, concepts, or ideas. The nature of that relationship may vary. However, the authors note that even the presence of two variables is apt to be limiting, and oftentimes it is only when a third “connecting” variable is invoked that an idea becomes researchable.”

– But I’ve never written a dissertation before: A user friendly guide for the preparation of the dissertation proposal and dissertation [available here]


To help find your question, take your main theme and combine it with two other things that could relate to it. Make a Venn diagram. This will help you find your question.


  • A proposition for consideration
  • A hypothesis
  • An argument
  • A dialectic

Notes on Documentary

With David Pearson.

What IS documentary?

Is is a personal view.
It is about change.
It is about, hopefully, making people change their view on a subject.

Documentaries need to highlight things that are REAL.

The first film EVER was a documentary.

John Grierson is often cited as the ‘father’ of documentary.

“[Documentary is] the creative treatment of actuality.”

– John Grierson

In 1960, Documentary changed forever, with the introduction of the Éclair NPR.

Eclair NPR

Eclair NPR

NPR stood for ‘Noiseless Portable Reflex’. it was the first silent, hand held camera, which allowed filmmakers to get up close and personal, roam, and gain better access. It meant that you could be in amongst the action, rather than watching from the sidelines with a massive, heavy, tripod mounted camera.

The next year, in 1961, the Nagra III NP was released. It was the first portable reel-to-reel recorder allowed sound work to be done on location. Now, documentaries could be filmed anywhere.


Nagra III NP

Nagra III NP

A lot of stuff, not surprisingly, is not available online, and so many documentaries are being missed. This is because they happened BC:AD, (on magnetic tape, basically) and so never got converted. If you want to get hold of them, you have to hunt for them. Most consumers don’t want to do that.


Before Chips : After Digital


Documentaries should:

  • Be interesting
  • Promote understanding
  • Give insight
  • Entertain
  • Tell the TRUTH

There are five basic types of Documentary that include:

  • Observational
  • Written essay (often using the ‘Voice of God’)
  • Participant (such as Michael Moore documentaries, where the maker is involved)
  • Impressionistic (like Grierson’s stuff)
  • Docudrama

The ‘Observation’ style has been greatly abused by TV. Nowadays, decent documentaries that get made for love are usually indie, but the stuff that makes money is the fixed rig shit documentaries pumped out by Channel 4, or the abusive and shameful absurd ‘My Big Fat Friend’s Left Food Is A Ham’.

Habits of Successful Filmmakers:

  • Being inventive
  • Having ‘Unorthodox’ solutions to problems
  • Good negotiating skills
  • Having faith in the project
  • Tenacity
  • Flexibility
  • Ability to bring people into a project, and stick by you
  • Ability to survive on fuck all very little money

Good tips

  • Take notes
  • Be concise
  • Ask direct questions
  • Consider: ‘Why will anyone care?’
  • Don’t do ‘Subjects’, tell stories
  • Don’t be afraid to break rules
  • Take contributors with you
  • Don’t be boring
  • Avoid ‘Worthiness’ (my story is worthy of being made because… Not because it’s interesting)
  • Be able to summarise efficiently

Is your idea really a documentary? Is that the right format?


Story: The Basic Elements

Lecture with Deep Sehgal.

Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Wise Men’

Rudyard Kipling spoke of 6 ‘Wise men’ he would take with him on any story. They were:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • How?
  • Why?
    And occasionally ‘Whither’ and ‘Whence’, but less often…

When taking these ‘Wise Men’ on your story, it is good to understand a bit about them.


  • Who are the characters?
  • What is their back story?
  • How much do we already know about them?
  • How much do we need to know about them?
  • Who is telling the story? Whose perspective is it from?

Detail = Realism


  • What is the plot?

PLOT is not STORY.

Plot is events, story has subtext, it goes deeper than just the actions.

Plot has archetypes, story does not.
The seven story archetypes can be easily summed up as:

  • Overcoming the monster
  • Rags to Riches
  • The Quest
  • Voyage and Return
  • Comedy
  • Tragedy
  • Rebirth

Although this idea is still quite controversial.

Plot is the EVENTS. Story is greater than the sum of it’s parts.


  • Stories need context, the ‘where’ can help with this a LOT.
  • As with character, DETAIL = REALISM.
  • In this case, ‘REALISM’ includes fantasy worlds. It has to remain real to itself, within its own context.
  • Knowing the story world you have created is imperative. Help your audience experience that world, guide them through it, take them with you. Let them experience the world you have created for them.


  • In fantasy, this is just as important as ‘Where?’
  • In documentary, (and occasionally in drama, depending on the subject) remember that you can enhance your film with archive footage and the like.
    Places to get archive footage include:
    – Creative Commons
    – Public doman forums
    – The ‘Fair Dealing’ law; if you are using it for criticism or review, you can use ANYONE’s work.
  • Restrictions can liberate you, in some cases.
  • You are allowed to STYLISE ‘period’ pieces (within reason. It still has to be true to the story world.)
  • Consider various sources of information and research tools:
    – Documents
    – Art
    – Music
    – Location
    – Design
    – Costume
    – News Reports
    – Court hearings (the good thing about court hearing is that, as long as you don’t change what was said, as long as the speech remains the same, you can dramatise them. If it is recorded, legally, it’s yours.)


  • Why are you making your film?
  • Films take time to make. You need to really care about your story.
  • A way to help you work out your story is to give it a logline:
    – Who is the character?
    – What do they want?
    – What will obstruct their progress?
    – What makes the story unique?


  • How combines the who, what, when, where and why?
  • Whose perspective is it from?
  • Who is the narrator? Is there a voice of God?
  • Is it personal? Is it from the first person, or is it objective, from the third person?
  • Does it fit a genre?
  • What is your stylistic approach? (realistic, documentary, etc.)
  • Is it fantasy? Is it heightened reality?
  • Is it a satire?


Executives will often try and demand ‘Signposting’. They want you to explain EVERYTHING to your audience, but they also don’t want you to SPOON FEED them… Yep…

Do NOT underestimate your audience’s intelligence. If you’re making a programme for you (which you should be) you should expect your audience to be on the same page, mentally, as you. This is NOT to say, let them work out everything for themselves. You have to give them SOMETHING to work from.

Intrigue = Good
Confusion = Bad


  • Be coherent
  • Be coherent
  • Be imaginative
  • Tell your story visually
  • Be coherent
  • Be truthful, even in fiction
  • Love what you do
  • Do not try and copy ‘successful’ formats. By all means, draw inspiration from what you love, but don’t just rip off something in order to make a quick quid.
  • Use sound and music to your advantage.
  • Be coherent

More notes on using Cameras

First things first! When using a RED camera,


Then reboot it.


Lighting Types

Filter TypesThis references Full CTB and CTO. They also come as 1/2, 1/4 and 1/8.

Using the RED

Even though you are (probably, and should be) filming in RAW, the nature of RAW is such that it captures the maximum amount of information possible, and thus has a tendency to look a bit crap on the monitor. Fear not! Using RedColour, it whacks it through an L.U.T. (look up table), so what you’re seeing isn’t what’s being recorded, but means you don’t over or under expose anything. Basically, it optimises what you are seeing, so that you can film in RAW but still know roughly what you’re shooting, and grade it to maximum effect later.

Red cameras also have their own format. You will have the option to shoot in RedCode 28, 36 or 42. 36 is the default and is just fine. Feature films have been shot in 28, and 42 is just insane for the moment. Wait until you’re releasing serious box office stuff. Right now, you won’t even notice the difference, but it will eat your hard drive.

RAWAbove: How the monitor appears when viewing in RAW.
Below: RedColour optimisation.


While playing about with the cameras, we found this rather handy feature. Is shows you which areas are over or under exposed, so you know just what sort of picture quality you’re getting.

Under Exposed Above: Under exposed areas appear in purple.
Below: Over exposed areas appear in red.
Over Exposed

There’s a bunch of other useful features and things that the Red cameras can do, but given that the setup option map is three pages long, I’ll come back to them at a later date.

Generating ideas

“I have a very simple development credo: what would happen if X did Y?  E.g. What would happen if a man organised a wedding… If you know the answer, that’s not interesting.  If the answer is ‘I don’t know’, that’s the right answer.”

Jon Rowlands


“My books tend to be more based on situation rather than story…I want to put a group of characters (perhaps a pair; perhaps even just one) in some kind of predicament and then watch them try to work themselves free.”

Stephen King


Stephen King has a tendency to bring together two unrelated ideas and make a story from that. So that’s one way of doing it.



  • Where do your ideas come from?
  • Why are you attracted to those thoughts?
  • Bring your SCRIPT STORY into the PHYSICAL WORLD.
    A world made of technology, aesthetics, physics and psychology.


The relationship between the world and the way it is perceived.


LEARN YOUR TOOLS: knowing what you’re doing and working with is paramount.

Some Support

“Do not fear mistakes. There are none.”

Miles Davis



“Perfectionism is self abuse of the highest order.”

Anne Wilson Schaef


“Try not, do, or do not. There is no try.”



“Do not fear the blank page. It does not represent a lack of ideas or imagination, merely the promise of things to come.”