Monday, October 6, 2008

Albion - the problems with tone (or "How funny is madness anyway?")

One of the big problems I struggled with over Albion was tone.

In fact, if there's one thing that differentiates the versions of Albion in my head, it's the different tone to all of them. That tone basically runs the continuum from comedy to drama, and all those colourful spots in between.

The first version of Albion tried to mine comedy from the premise (using slapstick and a sense of the ridiculous), but was ultimately aiming to be an uplifting drama. The King himself summed up this attempt very well - he was a comic character initially, but still a man who could change the world.

Other versions took different tacks to him and the concept. Is the King comic, dramatic, or comic-tragic? Is his madness serious, or humourous, or both?

Trying to reconcile the tone between comedy and drama did take me down some fun roads.

Anton Chekhov is my favourite writer for combining the comedic and the tragic, and walking the knife edge between those two emotions.

One of my favourite versions of Albion (which I hope to post up in its entirety) was what I call my 'Chekhovian draft'. Basically I'd just read all five of Chekhov's major plays and was super-inspired by him. I rushed off the computer the next day and knocked off ten pages of script. The next day, the Chekhov inspiration wore off, and I abandoned the script.

I don't know whether it captured that Chekhovian tone - you can judge for yourself - but I did really like what I'd written. And going back to it recently, as a part of researching for these blog posts, I found I still liked it. I didn't really see the Chekhov so much, but I did like what was there.

So that was a cool experience!


Benedict Reid said...

Tone is probably the thing I spend the most time on in my scripts. And when I don't feel I've caught the tone I tend not to make it to the end of a draft... instead on write and rewrite the first few pages until I'm happy with the tone. The problem is that most scripts have tonal shifts throughout and I find it difficult to know how much room I should give a script for this tonal movements... because if the tone shifts too much in a script then the script often feels like it isn't one story.
The annoying thing about tone is I haven't found a range of technical terms to allow me to express my issues in more details. I feel plot, structure and character are all able to be examined in detail using McKee, Field, Volger etc. but for tone I've got nothing. I often find myself talking in terms of music. In fact, one of the reasons I often pick a single album to listen to for each script I write is so that I can find the same tone every time I go back to writing it.

Sean said...

Thanks Ben.

Would be pretty cool to get more on a focus on tone in screenwriting theory, and develop some tools to analyse and discuss it.