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Title: Writing for the cut
Author: Loftin, Gregory Peter
ISNI:       0000 0004 5994 4815
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2016
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This submission falls into two sections: a thesis and a screenplay. My thesis presents an original approach to screenwriting using storytelling dynamics found in film editing; I call this “writing-for-the-cut”. This section also contains my software experiments that hold the promise of innovative digital tools for screenwriters. In the second section I apply both my editing strategy and my software experiments in the production of an original screenplay called Rush the Sky. In the history of the screenplay, the advent of the master scene format, which gained fairly wide circulation from the early 1950s (Price 11), marked a moment of separation of the screenwriter from the film production process. Up to this point most screenwriters worked closely with studios and were steeped in the contiguous crafts of filming and editing. But the master scene format freed the script from all references to the ‘factory’ and in so doing fundamentally transformed film writing culture; now a new generation of largely non-specialists were writing for the big screen. To fill the ‘film school’ void occasioned by the loss of studio apprenticeships and mentoring, a lively market in guru screenwriting manuals emerged, particularly from around the 1970s. Taking their cue from the ‘no camera angles’ injunction on screenplays, the manual-writers tended to delineate the territory of screenwriting as a craft detached from production; in this way manual-readers have been discouraged from any serious consideration of the follow-on crafts (filming and editing) as potential modifiers of the screenplay. The perhaps unintended consequence has been that ‘manual culture’ has come to foster a view of film as a finished, projected product: we are ‘writing for cinema’. I propose an alternative strategy: the edit suite, not the cinema, is the real destination for our screenplay. This is a view of film as a constructed product: we are ‘writing for the cut’. This idea finds its roots in the lively theories and debates advanced by the early Soviet filmmakers such as Lev Kuleshov and Sergei Eisenstein in the 1910s and 1920s. For them, as Pudovkin declared “The foundation of film art is editing” (Pudovkin xiii). They viewed editing as a juxtapositional dynamic, one that engaged the inductive capacities of the audience to ‘discover’ the story. From this Hegelian notion of juxtaposition to its more nuanced application today, I identify three kinds of editorial juxtaposition that are essential to cinematic storytelling: poetry, puzzle, and kinesis. I suggest that these juxtapositions are interrelated and on axes of intensity: Poetry to Prose, Puzzle to Exposition, and Kinesis to Stasis. Finally, I identify how each of these editing terms can be adapted for use by screenwriters. In the second part of this submission, Rush the Sky is a demonstration of how the techniques of writing-for-the-cut can be applied in practice. This is a fast moving thriller in the style of British Indie films such as Trainspotting (wr: John Hodge dir: Danny Boyle1996), Sexy Beast (wrs: Louis Mellis, David Scinto dir: Johanthan Glazer 2000), and Dead Man’s Shoes (wrs: Paddy Considine, Shane Meadows dir: Shane Meadows 2004). Rush the Sky tells the story of two adrenaline-addicted lovers: Ella and Luke. Luke is a young base-jumper who has witnessed a gangland murder. Desperate to escape the mob and the police, he climbs a high mast and base-jumps into a storm cloud. Struck by lightning, he falls to earth in a coma. Ella joins forces with Luke’s feral brother Jared and together they ‘rescue’ Luke from hospital and attempt to wake him up. Rush the Sky is a non-linear story that interweaves a present-day road movie with a darkly euphoric backstory. Some of the specific editing figures I employ include parallel action, ‘split-edit’, non-linear shuffle, scene-scripted montage, and ellipsis. In the development of the treatment, I devised a hybrid writing-editing interface that allowed me to ‘mount’ and sequence the beats of my story. This is a kinetic environment where the beats are displayed as text, proxy images and film clips. In this way the familiar write/read/revise process of screenwriting moved closer to the play/watch/edit process of the cutting room. I strongly believe this approach could herald a fresh way of both composing a screenplay and ‘proving’ the cinema-worthiness of the story before filming commences.
Supervisor: North, Sam Sponsor: Ravensbourne
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: screenwriting ; film editing ; storytelling ; narrative ; juxtaposition ; poetry ; puzzle ; kinesis ; Kuleshov ; Eisenstein ; Murch ; Mamet