TO RECONCILE OR NOT TO RECONCILE,
THAT IS THE QUESTION
THAT IS THE QUESTION
Given the complex nature of family dynamics, the biggest challenge was finding an appropriate ending to my story. I was conflicted with how I wanted to leave the relationship between Nick and Frank: reconciled or as fraught as we first found it.
While Storytelling 101 would perhaps suggest that there should always be an element of change in a compelling story, I wasn’t sure if that “change” would look as literal and drastic as having Nick and Frank hug it out by the end of the brief 4 minutes 30 seconds. A clean happy ending for the two characters sounded far-fetched and unearned considering 75% of the film is dedicated to establishing Nick’s resentment towards Frank. At the same time, I also didn’t want the film to end in a way that feels incomplete. My challenge was to find a narrative solution where there is a clear arc to the characters’ emotional journey, even if they find themselves back to square one in their broken relationship.
Iterate your way to your answer
I'm not smart or skilled enough to just come up with a solution. I have to see it to know if it works or not, if I like it or not. After making storyboards based on the first full iteration of the story, I made an animatic to test the pacing, see how shots read, and check if the dialogue made sense. Somewhere in the deep dark dungeon of my Vimeo account lies this first iteration that will make even your stiffest, straightest joints and knuckles shrivel into a ball of cringe-fest. Shoutout to all the bad first drafts out there - it is truly the necessary evil to deliver good art.
FLESHING OUT THE DIALOGUE
In case you couldn't already tell from this novel I call my blog, I am a very wordy person. Finding a succinct dialogue was a steep challenge. The best way for me to workshop the dialogue was by recording my own voice acting and laying it on the animatic to test it. Actually hearing a line delivered with emotions inspired how I imagined the other character would respond to what was said. This is also the point I palpably felt the importance of voice acting in my film as the emotional weight of an earnest delivery proved to be far more impactful than an emotion literally spelled out by what the character says.
What I found tricky about the dialogue was that, as a girl, I didn't have the firsthand experience of being in a father-son relationship. From what I could only tell, this particular relationship, which is indeed inherently rooted in love, suffers from the two parties being terse in vocabulary and awkward in vulnerability.
During my research for "parent-child relationship gone awry" content, I had come across this radio recording of the show host talking about his complicated sentiments about Father's Day. Not actually having experienced my father abruptly abandoning me, this man's story was instrumental in fleshing out Nick's reaction to his father's plea for reconciliation. The part that struck me upon first hearing this clip was when the host rejects his father's request to see the host again in his deathbed (06:23), "you were never a father to me." This informed the line "I just needed my father to be a father" I ended up with in the Animatic Version #14 (See Below).
However, at the mid-year presentation (where we stand on a stage and give updates to the faculty), there was a lot of disapproving feedback that found the line too wordy or too on the nose. But when I revisited the clip, a different part (05:17) stuck out to me. What the host seemed the most scarred by wasn't that the father had left, but it was that the father made no effort to keep in touch with the kids. That's how I arrived at the line in the final version, "You didn't even call or write — not even a single card."
THE AUDIENCE KNOWS BEST
Another tremendously helpful process was testing the WIP animatic with the audience. I emailed a handful of friends and mentors the link to the animatic as well as a Google Forms survey with guided questions to help articulate their responses to the draft. Here’s an example of the survey I sent out and the results. The people I shared the survey with were people I was already used to having critiques with on a regular basis, meaning people whose creative eyes and constructive criticisms I trusted. As a helpless people pleaser, confiding in this select group helped me stay focused on my creative vision, rather than potentially get distracted by a more crowd-pleasing narrative treatment.
IT TAKES A WHOLE VILLAGE...TO DEVELOP A STORY
My classmates from my Thesis class, where we share weekly updates on our WIP, were another instrumental source of feedback. In fact, one classmate went as far as DMing me on Instagram one random night suggesting a route I could explore for my ending with rough thumbnails to illustrate her point. It was one thing for her to take the time to think about my story, but the way she went out of her way to reach out to me and share her ideas was a whole other level of genuine support. The best part of that story is that her suggestion was the jumping off point for how I arrived at my ending! This kind of exchange of ideas and inspirations within a creative community is what I LIVE for!!!
With that said, I bring you...Animatic Version #14 (AKA my last iteration before I was forced to jump into production)!