Adapting my writing for film

Adapting my writing for film

Since beginning my PhD program, I have learned and relearned how to write for various audiences and purposes. Although I would have said at the outset of the program that I was capable of writing academically, truthfully I became much more skilled at this craft as time went on. Since starting production on my video dissertation specifically, I have had to learn yet again how to write academically, but in a way that suits a viewership as opposed to a readership. This post will discuss these necessary adaptations.

.     Once my proposal was given the green light, I began my dissertation work by writing scripts for each video, keeping in mind and planning for ways in which other modes would assume some or all of the communicative duty. This is to say, I included notes alongside the text I wrote regarding what would be viewable on screen (e.g., text, visuals) that would either amplify what I would say (i.e., the scripted text) or simply say something on its own (i.e., without narrated assistance). Regardless of this, my writing—in terms of vocabulary, jargon, complexity, and depth—was unmistakably academic, which I did not realize posed a problem until the next step in my process (here I provide a link to the first version of my method script, complete with colour-coded notes as indicated above, to illustrate what I mean by “unmistakably academic”). I then filmed myself reading the script to form what I hoped would be a foundational track for me to work from (something around which I could piece the rest of the video together); however in playing it back, I realized it was really suitable only for readers and not for listeners/viewers. My writing made sense in the context of reading; I had written it to be read. I needed to edit it down for simplicity and conciseness in view of the other modes available with video, so that it could be easily digested. One example of something I changed was the way I referenced the audience. Originally I consistently said “the viewer” to refer to the viewers; then I realized I was effectively speaking of them in third person while I was talking to them, and decided to say “you” instead (e.g., “I’m prompting the viewer to make up his or her own mind about what’s presented” vs. “I’m prompting YOU to make up YOUR own mind about what’s presented”). I think the latter term minimizes the distance between me on screen and the audience, which is positive. It took about four rounds of editing and test filming before I came up with a script I was satisfied with. Interestingly, test filming myself narrating the script was the most important part of the process, as it allowed me to accurately critique my work for the medium.
       Once I was totally satisfied with my script, I plotted it out in chart form to show what would happen visually simultaneous to the audio (here is a link to this final working script). This style of chart is simply easier for me to follow during filming and editing. It also forces me to think through every scene in advance so I have a strong vision of what I’m working towards every step of the way. This part of the preproduction ensures that I don’t waste time later on in the production process.
       Incidentally, the process I’ve described here has been the case with every video I’ve produced thus far. My writing consistently starts off as overly academic, and I work through the steps to pare it down and adapt it for film as necessary.



Posted by Rebecca Zak

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