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Old 09-21-2009, 08:48 AM   #1
jrod
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DWPFF: Scripting

Since the pitching period is over it seems like a good idea to move on from the Pitching thread and to start a new scripting thread. I mentioned before that I teach a ten-week Writing for Comics class at the Bethesda Writer's Center and we spend five of those ten weeks on how to write an effective comic book script.

The first week is pretty basic, we talk about genre conventions, script formats, and play a little Pictionary in order to get people thinking about iconography and to get them over this "I'm just a writer" mindset.

The second week focuses entirely on a single panel, the second week focuses on the gutters, the fourth week focuses on dialog, and the fifth week focuses on scene building. From there we work on plotting, collaborating, editing, pitching, and networking.

I think I'll skip talking about the first week here, so let's start with the Moment in Time discussions. I'll post my thoughts and some exercises we do, you guys can ask questions/talk about your own processes. Let's get some dialog going here, the first thread seemed to work out pretty well because people weren't afraid to open up their digital mouths a bit.

Discussion on Paneling
Discussion on Guttering
The Star Wars Scene
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Old 09-21-2009, 08:56 AM   #2
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A Moment in Time

So, the panel. In our class we started with a quick run-down of all the terms and techniques that you can use when setting up a shot. We then asked the class, “What is a panel?” After several responses someone gave the exact answer I was looking for and said, “A moment in time.” That launched a discussion about the two times in comics – the time that passes in-between sequential panels (gutter-time, as I like to call it) and the inferred time that passes within the panel, usually through dialog (panel-time, as I like to call it). We talked about how writers sometimes choke-up and put a disconnect between those times that could be off-putting to the reader. If a person is standing in a room and goes off on a little soliloquy the mind makes the logical connection that not much is happening visually while the words are being said. If the person is mid-punch and goes off on a little soliloquy the mind notices a disconnect between panel-time and gutter-time. We discussed how if panel time moves faster than gutter time you could find yourself with repetitious visual information for a scene (comics’ infamous “talking heads” being a good example) and if gutter time moves faster than panel time you could find yourself slowing down the action and taking the reader out of the book (although Stan Lee did build an empire while slowing down panel time considerably). We left it at that for now since we’ll be going back to dialog in class four.

EDIT: Revisiting the above, because that could get a bit confusing. I don't think "moves faster" is the correct term. In fact, it's probably "moves slower" for the first example. Panel time takes 10 seconds of real time whereas gutter time is a fraction of a second - that's how you get into talking heads. The latter example has gutter time moving slower than panel time. So there's only one second in the panel but ten seconds in the gutter, this can cause the action to be choppy. There's a balance that needs to be reached and that balance is really dependent on the scene. But we'll talk about that when we talk about gutters. I just wanted to clarify what I was trying to say above.

We then did exercises that aimed to get the student to think visually and break scenes down to their key features. We first asked them to describe the room they were in using less than a hundred words (you can feel free to do this yourself in this thread, although it'll be hard to discuss your results since I don't see your room). Some of the descriptions were very practical. They started off by saying that we were in a classroom and then listed the key features (chalkboard, piano, etc). Some of the descriptions were more robust; they set up some physical traits of the room and then set a mood, giving the artist room to maneuver. There’s really no right or wrong answer but I know that I prefer to use the latter method. It makes for a better read and it shapes the tone of the scene nicely.


For the second exercise, the students described what I looked like in less than a hundred words. We once again saw the functional descriptions and the more prose-y descriptions. In this case, I think the latter will always work better, because individuals have a personality you can never capture simply by describing their clothes, sex, height, and weight. And I also learned that I apparently look like I'm in my mid-30s, which means I'm not aging all that well.

For the third exercise we flashed pictures on the screen and asked folks to describe what they see as if it’s a comic panel. The idea was to pick out the key features of visually robust pictures in order to set the scene without weighing down the panel descriptions with unneeded details. The pictures we used for this exercise are below:

http://www.jasonrodriguez.com/Moment...Pictures/1.jpg
http://www.jasonrodriguez.com/Moment...Pictures/2.jpg
http://www.jasonrodriguez.com/Moment...Pictures/3.jpg
http://www.jasonrodriguez.com/Moment...Pictures/4.jpg
http://www.jasonrodriguez.com/Moment...Pictures/5.jpg
http://www.jasonrodriguez.com/Moment...Pictures/6.JPG
http://www.jasonrodriguez.com/Moment...Pictures/8.jpg
http://www.jasonrodriguez.com/Moment...Pictures/9.jpg
http://www.jasonrodriguez.com/Moment...ictures/10.jpg

Feel free to try your hand at some of these, see what you come up with. Again, you can post it in this thread.

For the fourth exercise I flashed animated GIFs on the projection screen and asked the students how they’d represent this moving series of images in one panel. Some of the GIFs showed multiple actions but they could all be compressed into a single image with a little ingenuity. The GIFs we used are below:

http://www.jasonrodriguez.com/MomentInTime/Videos/1.gif
http://www.jasonrodriguez.com/MomentInTime/Videos/2.gif
http://www.jasonrodriguez.com/MomentInTime/Videos/3.gif
http://www.jasonrodriguez.com/MomentInTime/Videos/4.gif
http://www.jasonrodriguez.com/MomentInTime/Videos/5.gif
http://www.jasonrodriguez.com/MomentInTime/Videos/6.gif
http://www.jasonrodriguez.com/MomentInTime/Videos/7.gif
http://www.jasonrodriguez.com/MomentInTime/Videos/8.gif
http://www.jasonrodriguez.com/MomentInTime/Videos/9.gif

If you're going to try your hand at one of those, try #7 since it's the only one that not only has motion, but explicit scene cuts - try to distill that into one panel. Again, feel free to post it in the thread.

For the fifth and final exercise we flashed completed pages on the screen and discussed how we’d lay it out in a comic script. Not the actual panel layout, just how we’d set the scene in the first panel’s description, describe characters as they’re introduced, and continue to pare down the amount of detail required for future panels.

And that was the end of Class 2. The third class talked about gutter-time, and we'll get to that once we've gotten through panel stuff.
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Old 09-21-2009, 09:56 AM   #3
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thanks for starting this. all the potential of a great pitch is nothing without a good script to flesh it out and bring it home. hopefully this thread develops over these next few weeks in a way that helps ensure there are no casualties lost between the two.

now, speaking of scripting...
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Old 09-21-2009, 10:27 AM   #4
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Thanks for this, JRod! This is an awesome idea! I’m going to give this a shot:

Picture 1-- A lone birch tree lies cleanly cut down in the undergrowth of a forest, surrounded by the fallen yellowed leaves of autumn.

Picture 5-- A team of firefighters in full gear climbs over massive amounts of debris as they approach what remains of a skyscraper after a tornado. The structure still stands but the building has been ripped open, exposing the different levels. The contents of the many floors spill dangerously over the ledges.

Picture 9-- A mixed crowd of well-dressed young adults mingles at an indoor/outdoor home party. A blonde woman in a short, lavender dress speaks casually with a naked alien creature. No one pays them any unusual attention, as if it’s normal. The creature is several inches shorter than the woman, with reddish-brown skin. He has short, human-like hair on his head a few shades darker than his body. He has a thin, broad mouth, a protruding belly, wide, flat feet, and long, lanky arms, legs and fingers.
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Old 09-21-2009, 11:03 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chris stevens
now, speaking of scripting...
If you're talking about my script I swear to you I'm working on it. If you're talking about scripts from the guys I'm working with, I swear to you they're making outlines. We're moving!
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Old 09-21-2009, 11:10 AM   #6
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I hate it when couples fight.
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Old 09-21-2009, 11:15 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tara
Thanks for this, JRod! This is an awesome idea! I’m going to give this a shot:

Picture 1-- A lone birch tree lies cleanly cut down in the undergrowth of a forest, surrounded by the fallen yellowed leaves of autumn.

Picture 5-- A team of firefighters in full gear climbs over massive amounts of debris as they approach what remains of a skyscraper after a tornado. The structure still stands but the building has been ripped open, exposing the different levels. The contents of the many floors spill dangerously over the ledges.

Picture 9-- A mixed crowd of well-dressed young adults mingles at an indoor/outdoor home party. A blonde woman in a short, lavender dress speaks casually with a naked alien creature. No one pays them any unusual attention, as if it’s normal. The creature is several inches shorter than the woman, with reddish-brown skin. He has short, human-like hair on his head a few shades darker than his body. He has a thin, broad mouth, a protruding belly, wide, flat feet, and long, lanky arms, legs and fingers.
One of the things that I teach, at least, is build big, small, smallest - establish a panel. In scene work, you start with your scene, pace your panels, and then work each panel. Inside a panel, you start with your setting and mood, introduce your players, and then get to the action. Obviously each panel doesn't need three elements, especially if the setting and characters are introduced, but in doing this is makes everything nice and structure and easy to read and easy to visualize.

So your picture one is just fine, there's really nothing else to that picture and your description is nice and succinct but still does more than physically describe what we're seeing by providing the image of Autumn leaves, we see color and we see a chill in the air without having to explicitly call it out.

Your second one, however, seems to be built backwards. We start with the firefighters, what are they doing? Oh, they're climbing debris, well what are the debris from? Oh, a building, well, why is the building downed? Oh, a tornado. The description throws the reader into several different facts instead of holding his or her hand and leading them through it. And why is this important? Because reading scripts is the worst thing in the world. For everyone. For editors, for writers, for artists, for letterers. It's just so time consuming and so convoluted and so intensive that it become the WORST, most dreaded part of the comic making process. So hold their hand.

A class-5 tornado ripped through a mid-rise building, tearing it in two and leaving a pile of debris and rubble in its wake. Entire floors are toppled, and appliances, furniture, and shattered glass pokes out between the spaces. A team of firefighters climb the rubble like ants on a parade, partially prepared for a day of tragedy, danger, and hopelessness.

Portrays the same info but builds it in an easier to follow way. Also tries to convey the sense of scale - how big the problem is compared to how small the firefighters are. For effect, a birds-eye shot would do a pretty good job at this, the building towering over the firefighters like an impossible task.
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Old 09-21-2009, 11:18 AM   #8
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Sorry for being a bit off topic, but those pinguins always crack me up. Best. GIF. on. WWW.

When it comes to this thread, I'm going to pay close attention. I'm a newbie when it comes to scripting comics and I'm not very good at conveing mood in my descriptions. For starters...

Great stuff, jrod!
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Old 09-21-2009, 11:28 AM   #9
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Great advice---thanks so much!
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Old 09-21-2009, 12:34 PM   #10
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ha. jason, i was talking about the ,oh, 65 pages i need to script in the next week.
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Old 09-21-2009, 12:40 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Magnus
When it comes to this thread, I'm going to pay close attention. I'm a newbie when it comes to scripting comics and I'm not very good at conveing mood in my descriptions. For starters...
So why don't you try doing it - it's difficult to learn anything from simply watching.
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Old 09-21-2009, 01:04 PM   #12
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This is a great thread, Jason -- the phrase "gutter time" is useful, I often think about that while scripting but never had a catchy term to refer to it before. When I get home tonight I'll take a whack at one of these.

Can I just say that the penguin video (3) is high-larious?
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Old 09-21-2009, 01:14 PM   #13
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I'll give this a try. I figure I can't get worse at writing a panel description by taking part.

Picture 1- A cleanly cut birch tree lies amongst the undergrowth of the forest floor, surrounded by the dead leaves of the forest.

Picture 2- Four teenagers sit on a mattress of a bedroom floor watching the TV. On the mattress with them are about ten children, aged 1-5, watching the screen intently. Surrounding the bed and scattered over the floor are several toys, building blocks and dolls.

Picture 3- A dark blue SUV lies on its side on a snow covered slope surrounded by bits of debris.

Picture 4- Inside a packed stadium a steward and a medic examine a crying boy, aged around 8-10 years old. Sat next to the boy is his father, as he tries to comfort and reassure him.

Picture 5- A large explosion has ripped through a high rise building, shearing the side off it and creating a slope of rubble and at its base. A team of firefighters climb the slope in single file, starting the long process of looking for survivors.

Picture 6- Inside a dimly lit school auditorium, a redheaded teenager, dressed for prom in a white dress and corsage, clenches her fists and screams in delight. Another teenager behind her, his blue shirt untucked and his red tie undone, raises his arms up in celebration.

And the GIF's

Pic 1- A small toddler dressed in white walks along a dirt path in a forest. Leaping out at the toddler from a nearby bush is a black cat.

Pic 2- In the middle of a park a spinning baseball bat flies through the air towards a man dressed in a lumberjack shirt and jeans.

Pic 3- On an arctic shore a penguin is hit on the head by the flipper of another penguin as it walks on by.

Pic 4- A large man dressed in black, is clapping his hands together exploding the head of the man standing in front of him. The gore from the explosion flies in all directions.

Pic 5- An Ice Hockey player skating backwards loses his footing and falling backwards towards the rink floor.

Excellent thread by the way!

Dan
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Old 09-21-2009, 01:27 PM   #14
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Those are good starts, Dan, especially for the static pictures. One thing the static pictures are missing, tho, is a sense of mood. The pic with the people on the bed has a bit of absurdity to it, are they in a hotel room? Why is there just a mattress on the floor? And who's kids are those, anyway? Addressing things like this, or at least explicitly stating that this is a bit of an off-kilter scene, will help the artist bring this all out. And the prom scene - that's more than celebrating and arms up, that's boisterous laughter combined with shock and bravado, two very different emotions that convey a lot more to the artist.

The panel descriptions needs more life, or else they read like a boring shopping list. Crumbling building? Check. Firefighters? Check. Concise, descriptive, and exciting - it's not easy.

With the animated gifts, I'm seeing the same lack of mood (half of those are funny in execution, but they read dry - how will the artist know it's supposed to be funny?) but also, with action shots it's a bit easier if you set up the camera angles and the framing.

So, with everyone's favorite penguin one, we get that he's knocked into the ice. First of all, it's funny, so write it funny. But second of all, how do we see this action. I personally see it as a worm's eye from the hole in the ice. We see the one penguin hitting the water, a surprised look on his face, the other we see through the ripples on the surface, a nonchalant look on his face, one flipper held out, speed lines connecting said flipper to the back of the felled penguin's head. I think it conveys the action, conveys the humor, and makes the background penguin seem bigger and meaner.
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Old 09-21-2009, 01:46 PM   #15
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Ack. You're right. I completely forgot to include the view or angle of the panel.

I also usually can get mood across in the panel descriptions I write so I don't know why I've glossed those details over here. Especially in the mattress/kids panel where I think the mood shines through a lot in the actual picture.

I'll give the ones I didn't do a go later on I think.

Thanks for the feedback!
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