Creating An Unforgettable Screenplay, Part 2: POV
by Christine Autrand Mitchell
As a screenwriter, you may not have considered Point of View as a tool for storytelling. It’s not been covered in any classes or workshops I’ve attended, but I’m taking some notes from my script analyzing experiences, my own writing and fiction into this vital area.
Point of View is generally thought of as the camera and consequently the audience. However, as the writer you must have a “narrator” to tell the story from someone’s or something’s aspect. So, what or who is it? It’s important for the writer to know and keep it in order for the screenplay to be consistent.
The most obvious genre for POV is mystery/thriller/suspense/slasher… well, you get the idea. Who is revealing the story - a surviving victim, a dead one, the villain, someone living in the walls? You can think of it in literary terms: first or third person. What is the “narrator” allowed to know and when is he allowed to introduce information or characters? If the intent is to merely scare the pants off the audience, you still need to choose carefully and time your reveals.
In regards to the mystery/suspense/etc. and almost any genre, POV is a question of style as much as craft: reveal too early and you ruin the twist or surprise, reveal too late and your audience has gone for a refill of the popcorn bucket because not enough has happened. Choose your incident, conflict, character and its introduction carefully.
But since POV is not limited to any genre, there are many factors. Consider your audience and the POV should correlate. So, if you’re writing a children’s movie you should take it from a child’s POV - that doesn’t mean you can’t entertain the adults in the audience as well by throwing them some bones. Have you watched old Warner Brothers cartoons as an adult and realized how much you missed, but you still loved it as a child? This might be inevitable since you’re an adult writing a kid’s story. Consider Spielberg’s Super 8 or E.T. versus Schindler’s List.
If the screenplay is some sort of (auto)biography tale, not in the History Channel sense but in the first person sense, keep it in her perspective. She’s the teller of the tale, whether there is a V.O. or not, and it usually involves a particular incident. You can’t violate her POV and reveal something IF she doesn’t know it yet - she has to experience it first hand. However, if she’s not the “narrator” you can. The Australian film Opal Dream and Memento versus The Lovely Bones are good examples here.
There’s always the more recent “jiggly first person” where the story is told by the handheld camera - not my fave, hard on the eyes. The Blair Witch Project, Cloverdale, and ABC’sThe River are examples. The camera here is a character and part of the action. It’s full-proof.
Happy writing and don’t lose your POV focus!
Christine Autrand Mitchell was raised across four countries and splits her time between writing and filmmaking. She writes screenplays, fiction, non-fiction and plays, and is an editor and script analyst. She has credits as a Producer, Director and Casting Director, and heads Entandem Productions.
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