As originally published in Synergyzer Issue 5, 2017 – ‘The Show Must Go On’
By Sirah Haq
Filmmaking in Pakistan is all set for a revival. In fact, many would say that it is already here. Pakistani films are being announced in an increasing number and in the coming years, we should perhaps see a surge in the number of local films hitting our screens. While the majority of films have failed to impress the audience or do well at the box office, there are some that have become massive hits such as the recent Punjab Nahin Jaungi, which has reinstated the confidence of producers and investors. This success has also created room in the diaspora markets of UK, USA, and the Middle East; which have a forever growing Indopak audience, on whom Bollywood also banks, to a certain extent.
Yet, despite all the hype and excitement around filmmaking in Pakistan, there is one thing desperately lacking in most Pakistani films… the SCRIPT!
STORYTELLING: MIND THE GAP
Writing a script for a film is a lot about craft and technique. Yes, the writer has to be creative and should have something concrete to say, but telling a coherent story in three hours is not as easy or effortless as it looks. Currently, most Pakistani writers, directors, and producers who venture towards films are those working on TV plays and shows where they have a luxurious amount of time to tell a story; often twenty-six episodes, or more. This means they have more time to set up characters, create plots and subplots and regularly take the story in a new direction to keep the audience engaged.
However, when these same teams write a film, they have the tendency to bring in the same mindset and have a lot of ‘story’ on their minds. When they start to weave that story into a narrative, they have so much to say that they lose track with the result that there seem to be gaps in the story on screen. It seems the audience have skipped whole chunks of characters’ lives and are just seeing snippets of their world. Hence, audiences fail to connect with the characters on an emotional level or stay engaged with the film. The more recent Pakistani films suffer from this problem and this is one of the reasons people don’t enjoy the film or go to watch it again.
SCRIPTS FOR FILM: IT’S ALL ABOUT TECHNIQUE
Writing a screenplay for a film is a whole different ball game. It’s about having a clear idea of what the writer wants to explore in the film and focussing on that one thread throughout. Sounds easy? Not so much. Using one idea or story and keeping it engaging for two and a half to three hours is not an easy task as a writer, in fact, it is very difficult. That is where the craft of screenwriting comes in.
By using different markers, approaches to structure and a character’s transformation, we can create a story that is engaging, compelling and one where the audience connects with the characters. Structure is the key element of any script; it is also the element which most Pakistani films lack. Rather, most Pakistani film scripts are telling a story without appropriate markers, boring the audience even before the movie has hit the halfway mark.
Another key ingredient is compelling characters; ones who actually learn something about themselves as the story progresses. A lot of content is either blindly copying Bollywood or just creating characters who might be good pin-ups or look glamorous on screen, but have very little meat or substance to them and hence, don’t generate much interest from the audience.
Internationally, filmmakers and writers think of the minutest details and constantly question why a character is acting a particular way at a particular moment in the script.
TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE
Contrary to the way filmmakers work in Pakistan, where the move from the script to the actual shoot is a very fast one; filmmakers and writers abroad spend a lot of time in developing the script: The whole process often takes years and there are various stages to it, which start with a simple idea and end with the script getting completed. The first draft is just the beginning and a film will often go through numerous drafts before it is given the green light. Spending time in development helps the writer hone the script and really flesh out the characters as well as become sure about what they want to say. Internationally, filmmakers and writers really get under the skin of a story and think of the minutest details and constantly question why a character is acting a particular way at a particular moment in the script. Everything is thought and rethought. Scenes are cut down, omitted or changed to make sure they add to the story, forward the narrative and help the characters transform.
On the other hand, most film scripts in Pakistan are very much on the surface and don’t really delve into a character’s inner dilemmas and feelings. More often than not this happens because the writers are trying to tell too many stories together and lack a central idea. Another problem is that filmmakers believe that as long as everything looks good on screen and they have a star-studded cast, it will be a success. This is a misconception as the story is the backbone of any film and problems in it will magnify on screen.
THE ROLE OF A SCRIPT CONSULTANT
And now, a little self-publicity! What does a script consultant do and how can they benefit the writer, producer, and director you ask? A script consultant’s job is to essentially help the writer get the very best out of their ideas and story. Trained in screenwriting and psychological techniques, consultants like me assist writers to streamline their thought process, get a clear idea of what they want to say and then help them achieve it through their writing. We also provide an objective voice to the writer, since being heavily involved in the script and having spent so much time with the characters, they often can’t see things clearly.
The bottom line is that as a trained script consultant, I won’t just tell you that your story isn’t working: I will actually articulate why that is the case, what the problem areas are and how they can be fixed. If required, I will act as the bridge between the producer, director, and writer; and help them strike a balance between what is going to work commercially (the producer’s concern) and creative issues (the writer’s concern).
ABOUT THE WRITER
Sirah Haq is a script consultant and screenwriter who has worked on feature film projects in Australia, Britain, and Pakistan. One of the projects she was part of, the British Folk horror flick, Dogged, has received many awards on the international film festival circuit.
Sirah specialized in Script Development for Features from the prestigious National Film and Television School, London and is Pakistan’s first trained script consultant. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .