28 June 2010

Series Synopsis, Story Synopsis, Shot-by-Shot Breakdown and Detailed Explanations for the Film

It is understandable that some of the film may be confusing, especially since it is still in development and relies so heavily on audio/visual cues that may not be fully prevalent yet in the animatic. To answer some of the questions I've received, here is a detailed explanation for the film, from the basics (What is it about?) to the more detailed shot-by-shot breakdown, reasons behind each decision, alterations that have been made to prior versions and why the story is where it's at now. As always, I am open to suggestions and ideas.

Series Story Synopsis

The pilot is for an Action/Adventure tv series that is about Fate vs. Free Will. The show itself has a larger cast, but the pilot focuses on the main hero and the anti-hero. The show itself would be about Cain trying to stop his visions from happening, and in doing so he gets caught up in a conspiracy and a war he doesn't know anything about. The pilot condenses the point of the first season, which is Cain realizing that, in trying to stop his visions, Cain causes them.

In-Depth Pilot Story Breakdown

The pilot's story is about Cain getting a vision of the town burning down. The fire starts at the Crystalin, and the weapon left inside of the Crystalin is the only clue as to what could have caused it. The sequences are played backwards (You see the town burn first, then the exterior of the Crystalin, then the interior and focusing on the weapon at the end, in hopes that the viewer will remember the Crystalin and the weapon most of all.)

I've been debating on whether to have Cain clarify right away that it's a vision (such as have him say "Another vision..." when he wakes up). But many people I have asked have said it was unnecessary, and that usually by the end of the film they understand, and I'm hoping to rely on more on visual cues (such as the color schemes) than simply telling people. Show don't tell, right?

The shot when Cain's asking where the Crystalin is, is to establish that he doesn't know where it is, and that he's in a hurry to find it. The scene can be shortened, but because the film is already so fast-paced, he asks several people to give the viewer time to absorb what they’re seeing.

The cat is used as a transition to take the camera from Cain to Cyrus, to introduce Cyrus as a separate character in a separate part of town. It also serves as foreshadowing because the antagonist is looking for the cat all along.

Cyrus' intro is long, to establish his motivation (he's looking for the cat), his empathy (he can hear voices and feel people's emotions), and why he's angry enough to fight with Cain when they collide. An earlier version of the story had a shorter introduction, but I had a lot of arguments that Cyrus' motivation wasn't clear and that he seemed too angry from the get-go. So I extended his introduction to give the audience more time.

Cain's short sequences cut within Cyrus' are meant to remind the audience that he's still there, hint to the passage of time, and show the parallel that both of the main characters are looking for something, and they're both getting more agitated (Cain's getting more worried, Cyrus is getting more angry)

When they collide, Cain starts off not wanting anything to do with Cyrus and just wants to get to the Crystalin. The audio effects are not finished yet (I don't have access to Soundbooth over summer), so the 'thoughts' are hard to distinguish from the dialogue right now. The only thing Cain actually says to Cyrus right after they collide is "Sorry." But Cyrus also hears Cain's panicked thoughts ("I need to get to the Crystalin!" "This is taking too long!" etc.)

When Cyrus starts arguing with Cain, Cyrus is taking out his frustration with everyone on Cain, and Cain still just wants to leave. But when Cyrus attacks him and Cain deflects it, Cain looks at the scythe he's deflecting and recognizes it from the vision (I have had arguments for and against showing a short flash of the vision. Another possibility is to have the scythe flash red, since we're using red to connect all parts of Cain's vision. But that might be too subtle)

Cain then thinks that Cyrus is the one who will cause the fire. Originally, their argument was longer, with Cain asking him what is he doing there, Cyrus giving him an ambiguous answer and Cain warning Cyrus to stop whatever villainous thing he plans to do. It was cut short because viewers felt that there was too much standing around talking.

When the fight moves into the Crystalin and Cyrus casts the fire, it confirms to Cain that Cyrus is indeed the one who'll cause fire to the tavern (and consequently, the town). So Cain becomes especially frustrated and attacks Cyrus more ferociously. When he pins Cyrus down to the table and tries cutting through the scythe, Cain is losing control and he's the one pushing the fire down towards the table.

Cain stops when he realizes that he is the one about to cause the fire, and realizes that it was their fighting from the get go which caused all of this. The quick sequence of flashbacks he receives at that moment are meant to show that he's realizing how everything he's done up to this point has led to this moment. So Cain's causing his own vision to happen.

Cain backs off, horrified for what he almost did. Cyrus is surprised and confused that Cain stopped, but before he can figure out what to do from there, the cat enters the Crystalin and Cyrus is reminded of the reason he was there to begin with.

Cyrus turns off the fire, gets his cat and leaves. Cain just watches him go because he's no longer a threat, and he realizes - with surprise - that Cyrus' motive for being there was never villainous at all.

The final shot is still being adjusted a bit, as I’m trying to figure out the best spot and camera angle to end the film.

The Reason Why Each Character, Setting and Props Were Used:

Cain is the main character, and the theme of the series (Fate vs. Free Will) is directly connected to him. The pilot can’t be done without him.

Cyrus is Cain's antagonist, because Cyrus' missions tend to conflict with Cain's visions. But in the grand scheme of the story, Cyrus is an anti-hero. That is why so much of the film is dedicated to his motivations and empathy, because I wanted him to be established as a major character, as well, instead of a thug or villain-of-the-day. Their relationship is meant to represent the shades-of-grey that’s prevalent in the series (they’re on opposing sides, and they each see the other as an enemy, but neither are evil).

Bystanders are random, and their designs are left open for the animators. Some of the other characters from the series may make cameo appearances. The only bystander whose design is set is the singer at the Crystalin, because she’s the main girl of the series and this was the best way to show her without making her an intruder to the pilot.

Mittens is both a character and a plot device. In the series, he is Cyrus’ cat and his purpose is to show Cyrus’ love of cute, small things. He is used in the pilot as a non-villainous motivation for Cyrus to go through the town and parallel Cyrus’ motivation with Cain’s (that they’re both searching for something).

Their world is a mixture of medieval and steampunk, the amount of each depending on the location. (Some places in this world are more medieval-based, while others embrace technology).
The town is the location where much of the series takes place. Its level of technology makes its set up similar to that of a modern suburb. The Crystalin is where the main cast often congregates. Although the pilot could technically have taken place anywhere in that world, I wanted to use this opportunity to develop the town and tavern because that's where the main series begins.

Elements Missing From Animatic

Some aspects that will help make things clearer that aren’t yet in the animatic are the sounds and new color scheme. Right now everything is temp sounds, and most of the dialogue in the town are thoughts that will be represented with reverb. Because much of the sounds don’t yet have the reverb, it probably all sounds like dialogue.

The color red will be used as a visual cue to represent the vision. So the scythe may glint red when Cain first looks at it. Cain’s eyes will glow red when he wakes up from the vision. The Crystalin sign will glow red. We’re also playing around with visually showing Cyrus’ empathy when you see people through his point of view.

Finally, it will be more clear that Cyrus is hearing thoughts in animation, when you see the bystanders, hear their voices in reverb and their lips will clearly not be moving.

Possible Alternatives to the Story That Have Been Suggested/Considered, and Why They’re Not Currently Being Used:

1) Remove Cyrus’ entrance and tell the story only from Cain’s POV
Benefit: Would shorten and simplify the film. Not showing Cyrus’ empathy or making his motivation clear from the start allows the audience to focus only on Cain’s story.
Problem: Without showing Cyrus’ perspective, Cyrus’ personality flattens and he comes across as a bully and villain-of-the-day. The series has a larger cast, but the pilot only has enough time for one or two characters. If Cyrus’ point of view is removed, then Cain will be the only fleshed out character to represent the series. If the audience is unable to bond with him, then they may not be able to connect with the story at all. With Cyrus’ perspective there, the audience has the ability to bond with either character.

2) Cain accidentally causes the fire at the Crystalin, instead of stopping himself in time.
Benefit: More climatic. Directly shows how Cain causes his own vision to happen.
Problem: There would be two most likely endings if this scenario were taken: Cain puts out the fire before it spreads, or the fire spreads. Cyrus would leave with the cat, either way. This ending is rather dark, and would imply that the series itself is darker than it actually is. Also, it would likely extend the movie to give time for Cain to react to the fire (especially with him trying to put it out) and the film is too long as it is.

3) Cain and Cyrus’ Argument and Fight is Directly Over the Cat.
Benefit: Could remove Cyrus’ empathy while still keeping a less villain-like approach to him. Simplifies the argument and could shorten the film.
Problem: It’s rather silly, melodramatic and out of character for both of them.

4) Remove Cyrus’ empathy, make his motivation only the cat, and he fights Cain because Cain ran into him.
Benefit: Simplifies and shortens the story.
Problem: Makes Cyrus too melodramatic and makes the fight seem random.

5) Make the film only the fight sequence.
Benefit: Dramatically simplifies and shortens the story. Removes the town and keeps everything in the Crystalin. Can focus on making the animation excellent.
Problem: Story? What story? Something that simple might not be a good representation of the series, or a Thesis. And the two characters wouldn’t have much if any personality at all.

6) Remove some of the explanation and let the film feel more random.
Benefit: Shortens the film and keeps the pacing quick.
Problem: Audience would have a harder time connecting with the story or characters if they can’t understand them. Feels like a cop out.


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