REAR WINDOW: Inspiration in isolation

There are almost too many microlit texts to choose from – but here, I’ve done all the hard work for you.

Between frenzied hand washes, check out these microlit texts and get thinking about how they could make the leap from page to screen. What makes these texts great? More importantly, how do we communicate what makes them great as we take them into a new medium?

Rear Window by Susan McCreery

I predict Rear Window (1954) is going to make a 2020 comeback – the original Alfred Hitchcock film was about a man trapped inside, overcome with boredom and taking up weird new hobbies, like murder investigation. Sound familiar?

Rear Window – the microlit – switches things up a bit. Now it’s the wife murdering the husband, and the story is told from her perspective as she observes a nosy photographer watching her every move.

How to dramatise this story

To dramatise this story, it might be necessary to take a step back. This microlit sits in the moment after a murder, which means it’s missing all the drama. What if the woman wasn’t sitting, drinking a martini? What if she was active – cooking dinner, putting suits away in storage, making phone calls to secure an alibi – before revealing the body on the floor? By not immediately revealing what has happened, intrigue is created as the audience vies to discover what this woman is up to, and what might happen next.

This is a great microlit to adapt for the screen if you are friends with your neighbours or live in student housing. If not, it’s still possible to communicate the same idea with the photographer watching from the street. Either way, the distance between the characters makes filming COVID-19 friendly!

Make sure you check out the many microlit texts up for adaptation in our Microflix Competition.

Ashleigh Mounser has a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Wollongong and a Graduate Certificate in Screenwriting from the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. Since graduating in 2018, she has written and produced five short films. Mounser was Sydney Morning Herald’s Young Writer of the Year in 2012; the overall winner of the Future Leaders Writing Competition; winner of the ‘Time to Write’ contest by the University of Melbourne, and recipient of two arts grants from the Bouddi Foundation of the Arts, presented by John Bell of the Bell Shakespeare Company. Her first feature comedy film, Questions and Comments was nominated for the Humanitas Prize by Thomas Musca, was shot in Miami and is due to be released in May 2020.

The new normal: How to adapt stories during COVID-19

Or Ashleigh’s Tips for Adapting Microlit – Part Two

By now we’re well into isolation and adjusting to the new normal – if normal is a parallel universe where I go on three walks a day and spend my nights learning embroidery. What time to be alive. 

Many people are finding isolation is a chance to sit back, reflect, and get creative. Here, I’ve curated three Microlit texts worth a read on a lonely iso night – and some ideas to get you thinking about how those small literary moments can make the transition to the screen. 

Story #1 Seen by Emily Ralph

Seen explores the momentary highs and lows of online dating.

It’s a timely topic – most people predict a certain level of satisfaction from their mindless scrolling – something called affective forecasting – but the majority of studies conclude that time spent on apps like Facebook and Tindr lead to a drop in mental health. The big moment of Seen which needs to transfer to film is the missed connection – when the interaction could become substantial and meaningful but doesn’t.

What makes Seen unique is the switching perspectives – the writer switches seamlessly from one character to another. This could be achieved on film by using the phone as a go-between – a portal of sorts into what’s happening at the other end of the conversation.

This filmset is an isolators dream come true. It’s essential to the story that the actors are never in the same room – which is so on trend for 2020.

Read the full story here.

For an example of a short film with a similar vibe, check out Nope by Brooke Hemphill

Story #2 – Makeup by Angela Blake

Makeup contrasts the soothing effect of a ritual with the confrontational and unpredictable outside world. The protagonist of Makeup is in control of everything – except how other people react to her.

To dramatize Makeup, the protagonist could verbalise what she’s doing – a kind of self-soothing make-up tutorial for one before she is yanked out of her cocoon.

Makeup is a great story to film in isolation – it could even be filmed by a jack-of-all trades. Depending on how many hats you can fit on your head, you could be actor, cinematographer, director and editor, with a brief cameo from an unseen voice at the end. After all, we need to hear the response to her when she steps outside, but we don’t need to see the aggressor. This isn’t their story.

Read the full story here.

Story #3 – Tuna by Lucy Fox

Tuna is almost funny – until you realise what’s going on. As the character moves through various incidences, past trauma is evoked. The story explores the way trauma can manifest, sometimes in ways as innocuous and unexpected as a tuna sandwich.

Tuna has a relatively simple narrative – putting it on film gives us the opportunity to expand and strengthen the story. There’s nothing dramatic about someone staring at a sandwich, thinking intently. Filmmakers must ask – how can we get inside this character’s head? How could the world around her be dramatized to reflect her internal conflict? Is her world loud? Grating? Visually overwhelming? How will the filmmaker transport us from one memory to another?

To make a film version of Tuna safely in the age of COVID-19, some of the settings need to be moved around – you’ll have more luck setting up a makeshift café or waiting room at home, than taking actors in public spaces to try and capture the perfect shot. Don’t underestimate the finishing touches to make your scene believable – lighting and background noises (Café Sounds on Spotify has been a real comfort to me this last month) can make all the difference.

Read the full story here.

Ashleigh Mounser has a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Wollongong and a Graduate Certificate in Screenwriting from the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. Since graduating in 2018, she has written and produced five short films. Mounser was Sydney Morning Herald’s Young Writer of the Year in 2012; the overall winner of the Future Leaders Writing Competition; winner of the ‘Time to Write’ contest by the University of Melbourne, and recipient of two arts grants from the Bouddi Foundation of the Arts, presented by John Bell of the Bell Shakespeare Company. Her first feature comedy film, Questions and Comments was nominated for the Humanitas Prize by Thomas Musca, was shot in Miami and is due to be released in May 2020.

Three texts you can adapt for short film during COVID-19

Or, Ashleigh’s Tips for Adapting Microlit – Part One

The 2020 Microflix Comp is here, and the microlit is in. There are countless texts to choose from, and endless ideas to explore. Here, I’ve broken down three texts which I loved and could visualise on film.

The following texts lend themselves to dramatic adaptation and can be filmed easily and safely at home during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

First, some tips and tricks to keep in mind:

  • Some of the best adaptations capture the theme of a text, rather than transferring a literary play-by-play to the screen.
  • Film is a new medium, with its own rules, challenges and advantages.
  • Identify the aspects which will be harder to portray on screen (inner dialogue, a particular literary style) and decide early how these challenges will be overcome.
  • What will make this text visually exciting? When adapting from fiction to film, look for moments which can be dramatized on screen – moments which capture the theme of the text and can be expanded and enriched.

Story #1: Well, then

Well, then explores the clash of idealistic, old-fashioned, corsets-and-carriages Romanticism with a modern-day, match.com gone wrong reality.

This idea doesn’t need petticoats – it needs soft romantic lighting with a record-scratching return to reality when Mr. Darcy finally opens his mouth and pronounces that he is freezing his balls off.

For a fresh adaptation, play with the setting and characters. It’s the moment of letdown – the great missed opportunity of romance – which needs to transfer to film to capture the heart of Well, then.

Read the full story here.

Story #2: Body Image

Body Image explores themes of disordered eating, with each of the two characters representing extremes – one who eats too much and one who eats too little.

A series of vignettes – short, sharp shots could show the “little digs” building up in Jen’s mind and create a narrative arc which justifies her actions.

The important thing is not to get hung up on the details. Don’t have a treadmill at home? Free weights or any exercise equipment would work just as well. A limp hand and the thud of a weight on the ground will still communicate what’s happened without explicitly saying.

Don’t sell your audience short – they’re smarter than you think.

Body Image is perfect for a COVID-era adaptation because it takes place between two characters within a contained home set. Ideally, housemates or sisters could try their hand at acting – so as not to involve a second household.

Read the full story here.

Story #3: Traces

Traces has enormous potential for short, sharp and deeply funny film. Sure, it’s about love, loss and moving on, but’s also about burying a toenail clipping in the yard.

This is one of those moments which can be expanded and dramatised. If the protagonist would go so far as to bury the toenail, would she change into black for the occasion and write a heartfelt eulogy? Play on the ridiculousness and melodrama of the moment – and get as much comedy out of it as you can.

Traces only has two characters, and can be filmed at home so it’s about as COVID-19-friendly as a film set can get. Because the protagonists lost love is being recalled in memory only, POV shots would work best – which also eliminates the need to have the actors in the same room at the same time.

Read the full story here.

Even if you’ve never picked up a camera or performed in front of one, isolation is the time to try new things and experiment. I hope these breakdowns inspire some fresh (and sanitary) adaptations of 2020’s Microlit texts – I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

Entries close August 1st – so get filming!

Ashleigh Mounser has a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Wollongong and a Graduate Certificate in Screenwriting from the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. Since graduating in 2018, she has written and produced five short films. Mounser was Sydney Morning Herald’s Young Writer of the Year in 2012; the overall winner of the Future Leaders Writing Competition; winner of the ‘Time to Write’ contest by the University of Melbourne, and recipient of two arts grants from the Bouddi Foundation of the Arts, presented by John Bell of the Bell Shakespeare Company. Her first feature comedy film, Questions and Comments was nominated for the Humanitas Prize by Thomas Musca, was shot in Miami and is due to be released in May 2020.

THE ART OF ADAPTATION

The 2020 Microflix Awards and Festival is upon us and this batch of microlit is ripe for adaptation – but what’s the best way to make someone else’s story your own?

In Such a Transformation, Yasmine Gooneratne says; “The best adaptations imitate … capturing the spirit of the text …Imitation invites the reader to hold the old text and the new simultaneously in their mind and rejoice in their differences.”

Part of adaptation is recognising what works in the current format. What makes this story so compelling that you feel the need to tell it in a new and unexpected way? Was it the characters, the prose, or a feeling you got when you read it? It’s important to know what part of the story made it what it was so that you don’t lose it in the process of adaptation.

To make a text work dramatically on film, sometimes you have to lose your favourite parts.

The phrase “kill your darlings,” isn’t a popular one for nothing. Some of the best bits might not translate to the screen. It can feel perilous deciding what to cut and what to keep – but in a three-minute film, every second is precious and must be to the benefit of the characters and themes.

According to Linda Segar, there are three main categories of adaptation;

Reconstruction: in which you try to be as faithful to the original material as possible. To pull this off, you should decide first what the central story is – then focus on preserving and sharpening this narrative. A good example of reconstruction is Pride and Prejudice (2005).

Pride and Prejudice (2005) is an example of trying to remain as faithful to the source material as possible.

Reimagination: in which you remain faithful in parts to the original, but put your own spin on character, setting and plot. To reimagine a text, you should define the essence of the text and decide how to translate those themes onto the screen. An example of reimagination is Ten Things I Hate About You (1999), which is reimagined from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.

An example of reimagination is Ten Things I Hate About You (1999)

Deconstruction: in which you take the original as a jumping off point and create something almost entirely new and original. To deconstruct the text, define what is intriguing to you about the source material, and then take it as far as your imagination allows. An example of deconstruction is Marie Antoinette (2006).

An example of deconstruction is Marie Antoinette (2006).

So there you have it – reconstruction, reimagination and deconstruction. Which one is best for you and the story you have chosen?

So, why do some adaptations work, and others don’t?
What drew critics and audiences in their millions to Greta Gerwig’s Little Women? On the other hand, what was it about The Girl on the Train which alienated fans of the novel? You can’t make everyone happy – but when adaptations make changes which sacrifice what made the original text truly memorable, the result is often only an echo of the extraordinary source material. Big changes aren’t always a bad thing – but they should enhance the narrative, rather than distract from it. When Greta Gerwig changed the timeline of Little Women, shifting and rearranging events, she never lost the heart and soul of what made Louisa May Alcott’s novel so beloved. Moving between past and present created a moving, fluid narrative about the changing relationships of the March sisters.

Regardless of what form of adaptation you choose, the most important thing is to decide early and often what makes the source material remarkable – and then hold on to it at any cost.

Ashleigh Mounser has a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Wollongong and a Graduate Certificate in Screenwriting from the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. Since graduating in 2018, she has written and produced five short films. Mounser was Sydney Morning Herald’s Young Writer of the Year in 2012; the overall winner of the Future Leaders Writing Competition; winner of the ‘Time to Write’ contest by the University of Melbourne, and recipient of two arts grants from the Bouddi Foundation of the Arts, presented by John Bell of the Bell Shakespeare Company. Her first feature comedy film, Questions and Comments was nominated for the Humanitas Prize by Thomas Musca, was shot in Miami and is due to be released in May 2020.

Making Films on Smartphones – Hot Tips

Helloooo writers and filmmakers!

While we’re all mulling over the options of microlit texts we could choose from for all our Microflix submissions, I’ve gathered some ready helpful tips for shooting on a smartphone. One of the categories in our 2019 Microflix Festival is ‘Best Film Made on Smartphone’, so if you’re a potential submitter, but are unable to locate a camera and have a smartphone, this is your opportunity to get creative!

When Apples iPhone 6 was released, advertisements began popping up that involved stunning landscapes, close up animals and bright coloured photographs or footage, with text that said, ‘shot on iPhone 6’. It really made you think, was it really shot on an iPhone? Since then short films, feature films, advertisements and web series, have all been shot on a smartphone of sorts.

'Unsane' 2018 Director Steven Soderbergh
‘Unsane’ 2018 Director Steven Soderbergh
What filming on an iPhone 7 looks like! (See above)
‘Tangerine’ 2015 Director Sean Baker
What filming on an iPhone 5s looks like! (See above).

In 2010, Apple of My Eye was released which has since been widely credited as the first film to be made on an iPhone 4, shooting and editing. Then in 2011 the first full-length feature film made entirely on a smartphone- the Nokia N8, was released entitled ‘Olive’. The film was made by adapting the Nokia N8 and crafting a 35mm lens adapter onto the smartphone in order to achieve a shallow depth of field. The N8 is also taped to a motorbike and a remote-controlled helicopter for overhead shots in other scenes. More recently in 2018 ‘Unsane’ was filmed entirely on an iPhone 7, whereas Sundance winner ‘Tangerine’ was shot entirely on an iPhone 5s but used an iPhone filming app called Filmic Pro. Some other great examples include ‘Night Fishing’ (2011) by South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook, ‘And Uneasy Lies The Mind’ by director Ricky Fosheim, and ‘Snow Steam Iron’ by Zack Snyder.

Full length feature films will be able to spend their “spare” money on extras for their smartphone filming, such as apps, lens adapters, drones. But I have listed some examples that don’t use any. I also recommend checking out some of these films above if you’re still in need of some inspiration.

Some tips that I’ve collected surrounding filming on smartphones do include extra costs but depending on your adaption you may not need to include any of those. majority of these tips are free!

How to keep your smartphone steady?

  • The newest iPhones have built-in optical image stabilization, which makes shooting decent handheld footage fairly easy.
  • You can try resting the phone on a t-shirt or something soft while you hold it on a table top, the ground or any solid surface.
  • You can even try resting your elbows on a nearby object
  • Holding your breath during shots can also help minimize shakiness if you are hand-holding the phone on a solid surface.
  • You can also keep the phone close to your body
  • Don’t forget to use your body to absorb bounces and shakes
  • Try not to use digital zoom as it makes the shots look more grainy and camera movement are noticed much more
  • If your budget does allow for it, miniature tripods are available to purchase at any tech store

How to fix the lighting?

  • The use of natural lighting can save so many shots on an iPhone! Get outside or open a window if you’re shooting inside, just be careful of shadows!
  • But also whilst shooting inside, more light the better, experiment with your different household lighting, bulbs, lamps, fairy lights, the options can be endless!
  • Keep in mind iPhone has an automatic focus and exposure lock. This can be a great function for quick photos, but when you’re shooting a video of one person talking to the camera, it can really complicate things. The iPhone tends to keep adjusting and refocusing, which can lead to jittery-looking footage. That’s why I recommend using the exposure focus lock. This will help to keep the focus and exposure constant throughout your shot.

How do I get the sound right?

  • Have your subject as close to the phone as possible. So when shooting on an iPhone it’s best to position a second iPhone directly above the subject’s head to record clean audio
  • Otherwise you can invest in external microphones.
  • Also can be a good habit to get into when shooting with smartphones, clap once at the beginning of each take to create a reference point for syncing the good sound from the voice memo with the bad sound from the video recording.

How to make use of smartphones built in features?

  • Don’t forget the great time-lapse feature of the iPhone, as they are a cool way to showcase a bustling work environment or event.
  • There’s also iPhone built-in slo-mo that’s a cool way to showcase a bustling work environment or event.

I hope some of these tips were helpful and can be applied to your next smartphone filmmaking attempt!