CONSTRUCTING A STORY

Designed for writers of fiction in any medium.

Designed for writers of fiction in any medium.

I enjoyed Constructing a Story by Yves Lavandier and have kept it on my desk over the last year while finishing my writing and teaching obligations. It has become a fixture, a valued reference ‘for all things writerly.’

This scholarly book is a mind-bending compendium — in an inspirational way — jam-packed with references and examples from a long list of studied works — a life-time of study, really — ranging from comic books to plays to feature films. The breadth of research and resource material alone is staggering.

This book works for me as a motivational handbook, a positive distraction from my personal writing, and a tool to keep close while crafting a narrative. Mature writers and devoted cineastes will find value here. There are many gems and insights to be cherished. The whole section on ‘Fundamental Requirements’ is one that I have read many times over.

Contemporary creative writing and screenwriting courses - particularly at the graduate level - ask students to analyze stories written by classmates but gives them less-than-adequate instruction in how exactly to do that — aside from stating their personal preferences and cursory observations. Having a depth of comparative knowledge in history, film history, art history, and literature leads to greater distinctions, subtleties, and analytical clarity of a ‘story’ — and for me, specific details hold the true value of feedback that could be deemed useful. I often state that screenwriting is the most challenging form for the writer. Because it’s not prose, it’s not poetry — it’s not even what it’s supposed to be: a screenplay is intended to transform into a film. A shifting shape where words on paper turn into frames and images.

Yves Lavandier challenges academic oversights by offering an abundance of examples across a vast historical and multi-media context. The book requires a dedicated and disciplined reader who is not intimidated. A reader who strives to dig deeper into understanding the writer's craft, and one who is confident and bold enough to apply the knowledge gained into their own original narratives. Passionate students must engage with a wide-ranging index of titles to fully participate and go beyond the superficial coating of university screenwriting courses.

Of note, Lavandier was a student of producer and film professor Frank Daniel, whom I longed to learn from in a classroom setting but never did. However, I did receive bootleg tapes of his lectures and I’ve transcribed one of them here. (the first of a series of posts that detail his complete last lecture at Columbia)

Robert Redford and Frank Daniel. Looks like it’s a bit after “Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid” days…

Robert Redford and Frank Daniel. Looks like it’s a bit after “Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid” days…

Lavandier’s ideas, concepts and writing tips are insightful, however, familiarity with the films or source materials is important for comprehension. There were sections where I had no connection with the references which created a roadblock for me as a reader and I was not able to clearly understand the author's intention (it’s adapted from the original french version.) I appreciate his cautionary warnings: If you don't know the works in question, you might want to see or read them before reading further - and again: ...counting on your familiarity with the film to understand what I meant.

At the end of the day, Constructing a Story has a special place on the corner of my desk. I return to it in small bites, and usually find something new and helpful. I look forward to re-reading and re-watching some of my favourite stories and delving deeper into the structure, deeper into the architecture of story.

***


The Arabian New Wave

One of the greatest thrills for me as a teacher is to follow up with former students — and I love it when they’re making waves. Change-makers are busy, so I was grateful for the opportunity to sit down with Mohammed Obaidullah earlier this year to talk about cinema & film education in Saudi Arabia.

Mo studied with me at VFS and went on to work in the film industry in Canada. As a personal side project, he produced a popular online film education series in Arabic that garnered thousands of subscribers. He has since moved back to the capital city of Riyadh where he’s now the Director of Compliance and Control for Cinema and Audiovisual Media in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — and he’s playing a key role in the resurgence of their national cinema industry.

MoObaidullahedit.JPG

What’s happening in Saudi Arabia is more than a big deal in the world of film — it’s a cinematic movement. With a 35 billion dollar injection for the first phase of construction of hundreds of new theatres, Saudi Arabia is now poised to do what Hollywood has done so well — build an audience.

There have been pivotal times in the world of cinema that forever changed the global cultural fabric of film — and we are at the beginning of one these historic moments. The Saudi national cinema scene was small before it was stifled by authorities in the 1980’s. But now, with the recent lifting of the long-standing cinema ban, the new wave happening in the Arabian peninsula feels more like the first swells of a tsunami: a #SaudiCineTsunami.

Black Panther screening breaks Saudi’s 35-year cinema ban with men and women seated together - ABC News

Black Panther screening breaks Saudi’s 35-year cinema ban with men and women seated together - ABC News

The first part of the Saudi film plan is to build theatres, thousands of them, and then expand their creative industries with Saudi talent, new facilities, and schools. I’m hopeful that my new book will energize these young filmmakers who can now light up the screens in a country where cinemas have been dark for decades.

A March 2019 Variety article lays out some of the initiatives, including the first Saudi Arabia International Film Festival slated for 2020 and Vox Cinemas plan to open more than 100 screens this year. In keeping with the grandeur of the Kingdom, state-of-the-art multiplexes will offer gourmet dining amenities in feature locations, including Riyadh’s majestic Kingdom Center. Take a look at their impressive promo video.

Kingdom Center and Tower, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia — now with Imax theatres.

Kingdom Center and Tower, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia — now with Imax theatres.

Mohammed Obaidullah at the ribbon cutting ceremony, Kingdom Center, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Mohammed Obaidullah at the ribbon cutting ceremony, Kingdom Center, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Developments in film education are also exciting. Like the women-only cinematic arts program which is pushing the boundaries for female filmmakers, bringing new eyes — and stories — to the screens of Saudi cinemas and beyond. It’s the first time that I’ve heard of an all-female film program, and I hope this ground-breaking idea catches on.

Leading film schools — such as La Femis and USC — have helped Saudi film talent with workshops and training courses, putting a focus on storytelling skills as well as technical disciplines. The door is now open for a new generation of 21st century filmmakers to make a difference. The world is watching!

Selfie with Mohammed Obaidullah

Selfie with Mohammed Obaidullah

The comprehensive plan for the overall future of Saudi Arabia, known as Vision 2030, depends on the creative ambitions and entrepreneurial spirit of the younger generation, and everything is in place for the film industry and cinema education programs to thrive in a sustainable socioeconomic structure. This is a long-term blueprint designed to breathe new life into a national cinema that has been dormant for too long.

Truly an exciting time, and a highlight in the world of film and art. Not just for Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, but for the entire world.





**PRESS RELEASE**

New book by John Pozer reframes film education for the next generation. Filled with tips and tricks, PRIMER lays out a practical approach for creative success and scholastic achievement in an easy-to-read format.

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