SCRIPT CONSTELLATIONS -
Tobias Siebert, member of the board of the Screenwriters Guild of Germany spoke
with Dr. Claudia Gladziejewski about when and in what form a script constellation
is an appropriate tool for the dramaturgical and creative development of a script.
THE MEASURE OF TRUTH IS EFFECTIVENESS
DR. GLADZIEJEWSKI, WHAT QUESTIONS CAN A SCRIPT CONSTELLATION HELP US ANSWER?
A script constellation offers us a character check; in all stages
of development but especially in the expose stage. For example:
are my characters strong? Are they believable? How do they relate
to one another? Is their conflict believably expressed or acted out?
When you're still in the expose stage, it's a good time to ask, is
the material interesting? For this answer, the audience is especially
important. The participants who 'represent' the audience can be asked
if the story is interesting or which characters are most attractive. Or which aspect of the plot suddenly intrigues them at any one given moment-which is usually obvious without even asking; simply from the way they behave and move in the constellation. In the treatment or script stage of development, we can specifically examine plot weaknesses. For example, why does the story 'sag' at a certain point? In the script stage we can also examine individual scenes for their relevance to the plot and examine characters if they work within the context of the film. Whatever works for the general plot structure, can also be used to examine the dramaturgy of individual scenes. The most beloved question is that difficult one about the ending. In order to answer this, the story is basically run through in fast motion and we watch where the characters are drawn to at the end. Usually, each character strives to find an advantageous resolution for him. This needn't always be a happy ending. A systemically, extremely stressed character can, for example, be drawn towards death. Also, the classical dilemma of the multiple ending can be solved by a script constellation. Writers often try to combine multiple endings, thereby weakening the script. In a constellation, it becomes clear which one of the multiple endings is the most powerful.
WHICH QUESTIONS CAN ONLY BE ANSWERED WITH A SCRIPT CONSTELLATION?
There is no one question that can be exclusively answered by a script constellation. Otherwise there'd be no good scripts written without script constellations. But a script constellation can answer your questions quickly and convincingly. Also, the results are so obvious and vividly experiential that the writer suffering from writer's block stops wrestling with individual scenes because his inner source of creativity is revived. The writer gets the feeling that he's actually met his characters. That he's spoken to them and often gotten surprising answers, which would not have been otherwise possible. Characters are the heart of a story and this is the basis of a script constellation. A script constellation makes mercilessly clear if a plot has been arbitrarily imposed upon the characters, instead of emanating from them. Or also, if your characters are just lifeless constructions to spout exposition when you want them to. If there's enough potential in a character, he will, in the constellation, shake off these constructions.
WHICH ANSWERS CAN A SCREENWRITER GET FROM A SCRIPT CONSTELLATION? CAN YOU GIVE US SOME EXAMPLES OF THIS FROM YOUR WORK AS A PRODUCER?
One writer brought along a classic jealousy story in an early stage of development and wanted to know if his material was coherent and relevant. What he learned was that the female characters were so powerfully set up that they gradually became more interested in one another than in the man, the 'object of desire.' Our client was then faced with the choice: develop the male character and make him more interesting or tell a more intense story with women in which jealousy is only the starting point.
Another writer wanted to know why her love story wasn't working from a certain point onward. It became clear that the problem wasn't with the couple, but rather, with a secondary character; a character that was too shallow and clichéd. The erotic relationship to this shallow character had a detrimental effect on the main female character. The script constellation also revealed this secondary character's untapped potential. In front of the writer's very eyes, this character transformed from a stereotypical big wig into a shady but multi-faceted 'father figure' for the female protagonist and into a dark reflection of the male protagonist. With this exciting threesome, the love story not only worked, but also became deeper and more dramatic.
A third writer wanted to check his ending because he thought it wasn't dramatic enough. He had an alternative ending, but he wasn't happy with that one either. Once the various phases of the story had been looked at, a surprising, new resolution evolved from the characters' feelings. It instantly convinced our client and all the participants. The decisive factor was that a secondary character, whose importance the writer had initially underestimated, had to die in order for the story's ending to work. This character's death triggered an avalanche of events and feelings that resulted in everyone finding his place in the end.
HOW DO WRITER, SCRIPT CONSULTANT AND THE VARIOUS PRODUCERS BEST DEAL WITH WHAT THEY'VE LEARNED?
The effectiveness of the newly acquired knowledge depends upon how open-minded the writer is. The more open-minded he is to new ideas, the more he gets out of a constellation. But no worry, only in very rare cases has the very core of a script come into question. However, a writer who attends a script constellation in order to just have what he has written, confirmed, is bound to be disappointed and doesn't get much out of it. One generally finds what one is looking for. If you seek little, you find little. In the worst case, a constellation provides 'only' stimulation. But this method can also bring about a long overdue breakthrough in the story development or cure writer's block. After experiencing a constellation, the writer doesn't have to ask himself how he's supposed to deal with it. He feels what's right and strong intuitively from what he's experienced. He will gladly use this. What doesn't resonate for him is discarded anyway.
SCRIPT CONSTELLATIONS ARE ESTABLISHING THEMSELVES IN THE WORLD OF SCRIPT CONSULTANCY. WHO GENERALLY PAYS FOR THEM AND HOW MUCH DO THEY COST?
A constellation costs approximately $400. Far too often the writer pays the fee, which isn't objectionable, if he's being adequately paid for his work. An open-minded producer, who knows how important the work on developing a script is, and what a good investment it is to expedite and enhance the script development process, pays for his writer - in addition to accompanying him to the constellation. Happily, this is becoming more and more the case.
HOW DO TELEVISION EXECUTIVES AND FILM PRODUCERS SEEM TO BE ACCEPTING THIS METHOD? AND WHAT ARE THE CRITERIA TO DETERMINE IF THE INVESTMENT WILL PAY OFF?
There's still a normal portion of skepticism out there. And there are many understandable reasons for it: this method is relatively new in a market in which there is always something new but usually not very effective. A method that is not yet fully understood is often not easily accepted even if the results are evident. Ultimately, there isn't even a clear definition of what a script constellation really is. The term is not registered which means anyone can come along, offer a script constellation and let any sort of representatives just stomp around in a room. So it isn't easy for a layperson to judge if the offer is going to be a serious, productive consultation. But there are several criteria to consider: 1. A script constellation never uses actors, (and I'm not saying that it can't be useful for a producer or director to have his actors participate in the constellation and for them to take the position of 'their' character in the constellation. Nor, that actors can't be good representatives, just so long as they don't act.)
2. The person offering the constellation should be experienced in leading constellations (i.e. a family therapist or practitioner of organizational constellations) and in script consulting. In order to effectively lead a script constellation, you really should have considerable experience in dramaturgy and in the film and television industry. At the moment here at home, there are very few who fit the bill. The seminar leader's resume is crucial. And word of mouth propaganda is not the worst way for making a decision.
WHAT DOES A BEGINNING SCREENWRITER GET OUT OF IT VERSUS AN ESTABLISHED ONE?
A script constellation doesn't replace the fact that a writer has to write. It also doesn't teach writing skills. It is purely developmental work on a script. With this in mind, the method is basically appropriate for anyone who wants to check his material, whether beginner or pro. Also, script constellations are interesting for participants who don't bring along their own material. Constellations are a source of inspiration and motivation. They are a direct, experiential look into dramaturgical connections, especially useful for beginners. Some seminar leaders offer a reduced rate (approximately $80) to a limited number of participants without their own material. The 'live' experience of representing a story dynamic in good material, can be, especially for a beginning writer, very stimulating. And a real pro knows there's always room for improvement and always something new to learn.
HOW IS A SCRIPT CONSTELLATION DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHER CONSTELLATIONS AND WHY DOES IT WORK?
Whether it is members of a family or colleagues/customers of a company, the goal of a family constellation or an organizational constellation is for all the real people involved to come up with a satisfactory solution to their problem. By contrast, a script thrives on conflict. If we were to allow representatives to freely follow their impulses, the story's inherent conflict would disappear and with it, the tension. The art of leading a script constellation is to guide the representatives in a manner so that the tension remains or even intensifies. This requires a completely different approach than used in classic family or organizational constellations. Although the participants represent 'only' fictional characters, the physical, psychological or emotional stress for them is often considerably more intense than in a family constellation. Science is now interested in the phenomenon of the 'omniscient field' which is the basis dynamic of a constellation. This stream of information has only begun to be thoroughly researched and understood. Even though thousands of cases have empirically proved the effectiveness of constellations, we are still far from physically proving or explaining the phenomenon of this "informational flow". Until we have completely understood how constellations function, the maxim remains: the measure of truth is effectiveness.
Published in the Writers Guild of Germany's members - newsletter SCRIPT 1/2004.
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