Wednesday, January 27, 2010


an experiment in Feature Development

Screens at Okanagan International Film Festival
9:00 pm - July 23, 2010



Special Jury Prize
Monaco Charity Film Festival, May 2010

Best Work-in-Progress Short
Soho International Short Film Festival, 2010

The short film, Defect, was produced as part of the script development phase of a character-based feature film to be shot in 2010 on location in the Czech Republic and Australia. Whilst Defect is essentially a "work-in-progress" it has nevertheless managed to get itself invited to Swansea, Monaco and NYC's Soho International Film Festival, owing to the fact that it presents a succinct, self-contained and thoroughly dramatic story that adheres to the fundamental grammar of short-form drama, with the re-contextualisation of the problem at the end.  (see STORY - the Long and the Short of It on this BLOG)

In the course of writing, casting, rehearsing, shooting and editing Defect, the director and I (the film's writer/co-producer) had an opportunity to enter into an extremely intimate relationship with the characters - characters embodied by actors that spoke not in written language but in actual speech with its nuances, tonalities and rhythms. As a result, we were able to more effectively engage with and explore the various emotional complexities and ambiguities inherent in the characters and their relationships, whilst gaining valuable insights into a number of thematic and stylistic issues that were not altogether apparent in the written screenplay.

The exploration of character and situation by means of ALL the tools of the cinematic storytelling enterprise has opened up the on-going script development process, and re-vivified the filmmakers' interactions with characters. What is most interesting is how the sequence that appears in Defect has been transformed in the feature script because of what was learned during the process of writing, casting, shooting and editing a section of the feature script. The transformation of this particular sequence - as evidenced by subsequent re-writes of the feature script - provides compelling evidence concerning the efficacy of this kind of dramatic examination of character and story prior to actual production.

Interacting with characters in this way - with bodies and voices, with mise en scene, and the rhythms inherent in character actions and interaction, and the tracking of these energies through coverage and editing preliminary to actually producing a major film - is the kind of thing I have been advocating for years in various film schools - alas, to no avail (so far). It has always seemed to me that one must employ ALL of the tools at hand in the process of finding the characters. This is the great unheeded message of the new technology.This clip - which features a brief introduction by the director, Zdenka Simandlova as well as a trailer of the short, Defect - forms part of the press kit that will accompany the short to the SIFF.

The trailer in a slightly modified form will also be part of the script package that we give to prospective production companies and executive producers - a "window" into the world of the feature, BREAKING BREAD. Viewers should note that, apart from anything else, the present clip demonstrates the power of a well-made trailer, and how even this form of storytelling employs the grammar of drama in order to make its point.
Anyone out there wanna start a radical, new film school? Let's talk.

Official Selection : Monaco Charity Film Festival, 2010  -  Winner, Special Jury Prize
Official Selection: Soho International Film Festival, 2010 - Winner Best Work-in-Progress shortOfficial Selection: Swansea Bay Film Festival, 2010


My producer, Billy Marshall Stoneking, has said: “Dramatic stories explore the causes and consequences of anxiety."

The characters in Defect struggle to contain and alleviate their fears and anxieties in the face of an oppressive regime that threatens their very lives. It dramatises the meaning of their fear and anxiousness by showing us the consequences of the decisions that the main character makes in order to escape the injustice he and his lover suffer. In the world of the story, moment-to-moment decisions made by the characters have tremendous impact on both individuals as well as whole families.

The story focuses on a couple’s attempt to defect. Full of uncertainty regarding who they can trust, they wait for the promised lift that will take them over the border to safety, and as they wait the tension builds. An unexpected visitor is all it takes to tip the entire siuation over the edge.

Defect is a very personal story to me - a "tribal story" as Billy Marshall Stoneking - the writer/co-producer of Breaking Bread - might say. I wanted to tell the story of not one, but many people from my home country, Czechoslovakia, that attempted to do something about their living conditions in a society that, although it called itself 'the rule of people without the social structure', was in fact ruled by a few who by theft became rich, calling themselves Communists, and whose rule was kept alive by the fear spread by their State Police (secret police, StB) apparatus, who exercised violence and a net of informers to catch and punish the ones who disobeyed or attempted to escape.

My collaboration with Billy has helped me appreciate the importance of drama, and to see that dramatic screen stories are tribal stories, told by "mediums" who are either part of - or have been initiated into - the tribes whose stories are being told. It has also given me an opportunity to explore film in a much more intuitive way than I had been taught at film school. More than casting, more than coverage, beyond shot lists and working with actors, I have come to see that a good director initiates the non-initiated - cast, crew and audience - into the tribal world of the story. To do this, a director must be involved emotionally involved with the characters. I would even go so far to say that everyone on the set should be emotionally involved with characters, so long as they are the same characters.

Defect, my second short, marks the beginning of an exploratory journey in the development of the feature film project, Breaking Bread. A third short, Trust, extends this exploration and was also invited to screen at Monaco.

Zdenka Simandlova

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