One Secret Of An Unforgettable Story
by Nick Smith
Recognize any of these images?
- Boys walking along a railroad track
- A giant gorilla perched on a skyscraper
- A ferocious shark emerging from the sea
- A man and a woman on a fog-strewn
airfield, with a plane about to depart
These movie images are so well-known that
they've been remembered, imitated and spoofed for decades. But for
filmmakers, finding one essential image can make the difference between a
plodding, unfocussed film and a piece of iconic cinema.
Artist Saul Bass was commissioned to create
posters for some of the world's greatest filmmakers, including Otto
Preminger and Alfred Hitchcock.
His work on The Man with the Golden Arm was
incorporated into the opening credits, but no matter how complex his designs
became, he still liked to concentrate on one core image.
For that movie, it was a crooked, grasping
For Vertigo, he depicted a silhouetted,
faceless man caught in a swirling spiral.
Two dancers on a fire escape summed up West
Bass was appealing to something primal in
his audience. He knew the emotional and psychological effect a
straightforward illustration could have, and he also took the disparate
elements of a movie, stripped away the inessentials and found a focus.
If your story doesn't have a core image,
Conjure an image in your mind, a glimpse of
a scene - two people arguing, a boxing match, a romantic boat ride, anything
that sums up your movie in one simple vignette. It could be a goal that your
character dreams of, works towards and fights for.
Try to create that image faithfully on the
page, and you'll be able to build on it, scene by scene.
By going through Bass' process of
simplification and focus, you'll remind yourself of what really drives your
What's your image?
If you see a hero, then your screenplay's
If you see a narrative twist, then maybe
If you see a place, then maybe the setting
has a life of its own, like a character unto itself.
Whatever your image, stick with it, use it
and consider its meaning. No matter how innocuous it might seem, it will
help to anchor your story, rooting it in a reality that you create.
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