Sunday, September 9, 2018

Making Movies - Writing the Story

In this tutorial, we are going to talk about how to write a movie script to turn a series of still and animated pictures into a full story.

What is a movie script exactly ? You've certainly seen and read real life movie scripts before, those are documents containing all the dialogs in the movie, generally without any picture, and sometimes (but not always) with a few descriptions just to describe a scene before it begins, or to relate some important actions. But generally, a movie script only contains the dialogs between the different characters, scene by scene.

You are going to do exactly the same thing in Second Life, except that you will also add the references to the pictures (still and animated), sounds (if any), and all the timings. Sounds like a daunting task ? Maybe, but I have done my best to make it as painless as possible. It is time-consuming though, as you literally have to write a whole story up front, and to fill it with dialogs that hopefully convey the emotions well enough, with the help of the pictures.

Let me say right away that the movie script is the lifeblood of your story. If you don't take any pictures and don't include any sound, what you are left with is simply text, making your story a novel. But if you only have pictures and no text, it is more a slideshow than a story, unless the pictures follow up closely enough to build a story without needing to explain anything with text. It is not necessarily a bad thing but it is a risky gamble.

That's pretty much what I did with By A Thread, which has no text at all during the movie except in one picture at the very beginning and another one at the very end, both pictures explaining the whole story that unfolds in-between. Likewise, all the tapes included with RemVision do not have any text at all, although some of them have what looks like a short and silly story to them. That too is on purpose.

On the DeviantArt website, you can post drawings and pictures (most of the time erotic ones) and the most successful ones are the ones with a good story attached to them, so there's that. A good story beats a good picture (or 250), every time.

Some things to keep in mind

Before we begin, you should know the pitfalls to avoid.

Firstly, your dialogs have to be written with a proper spelling and grammar (whatever language you write them in), and in a manner consistent with the characters personalities. It sounds like a no-brainer, but making spelling mistakes screams amateurism and does not help getting into the story at all.

Every character must speak and act in a way that is consistent with their education (unless your plot specifies that a character is undercover or something like that). A street gang member will not speak like a book, and a politician will not use slang. An introvert will make short, to-the-point sentences while a salesman will never stop babbling.

Be careful of other kinds of inconsistencies, which may be as silly as "Look to your right" while the character is pointing at the other character's left, or more insidious like "Do you remember last year when we did X" while that event happened more than a two years before in another movie. Try to avoid contradicting yourself.

Also make sure your scenario makes sense. Write it as if you were preparing for a barrage of questions from nerds who want every single detail explained. If you can't explain a detail in your movie (even if nobody asked about it since you're still making it), then you certainly have a plot hole and you should plug it. You must be able to justify every single detail in your movie.

Most characters should be able to speak and therefore be heard by the spectator, but it is up to you to decide who the spectator will be able to hear think. For Gina's adventures, I took the decision of letting the spectator hear Gina's thoughts, and only hers. I surround her thought text with tildes ("~") and I make the text a little more grey to distinguish it from words spoken out loud. In some movies, I may shift the "thought language" from one character to another. In some other movies, I don't give access to any thought at all. It's really up to you.

Sketching the story

The first step when making a movie is to write some kind of draft to the story. Think of it as the general idea, what it will talk about, who the characters are and what their relationships will be. There are many tried and true patterns for writing good stories so I won't go there, I'm not going to tell you how to write a good story (because I don't know), but rather how to write a story and how to make it a movie for SL.

Ideally, you write the whole script first, with dialogs and scene descriptions, the works. That way you know exactly what to shoot and how your pictures and videos will look, and you know what props to buy if any, all of this ahead of shooting the movie. That's what I did with pretty much all the Gina movies.

The problem with that approach is that it is difficult to move away from it, should you have more inspiration and ideas while taking the pictures. I don't know about you, but my stories tend to write themselves. I just write some kind of backbone to the story, start shooting, sometimes I don't know exactly where I am going (I just know the general direction to take) and scenes unfold in my mind as I am shooting the ones before them. It works well when you're in the right state of mind, "in the zone" as you could call it.

So what I often do is write a few lines to describe what's going on in general as well as the key dialog lines, and immediately get to shooting the movie. I do it that way because it is easier to adapt the dialog to the faces the characters make, rather than the opposite. This is how I did it with Overworking Girl, Alis and New Life, for example. A text can easily be changed, but redoing a snapshot can require a lot of work, if at all possible.

For this tutorial, I'm going to write a very shot scene with a few dialog lines and a few pictures, and explain my train of thought and procedure as I go.

But first, let's talk about the characters.

The Characters

If the story is the lifeblood of the movie, the characters are the lifeblood of the story. They are what is the most important part of your movie, and the part that you should craft with as much attention as you can. Writing good characters is key, in my opinion. You define a character's personality and you try to keep their reactions consistent with it. It is easier said than done, though.

I generally give my characters a nature and an attitude. The attitude of the character may change but never their nature. Remember Vampire : The Masquerade pen-and-paper RPG ? That's where the idea comes from and it makes a lot of sense, even in real life.

So I give every character their own nature that is proper to them and that won't change. For example, Gina is hot-blooded and adventurous, the Marquise is devious but cares a lot about others, and both will stay that way whatever the story they feature in is and whatever happens to them. I give them an attitude too but that one may change over time. Gina is sarcastic at first but may become more assured and calm, the Marquise is snobbish at first but may open herself to others later, etc. The attitude may also change according to the character's mood, too. But the nature never ever changes.

As a spectator, as soon as you understand what the nature of a character is, you can start predicting their reactions. Successfully predicting a character's reaction is the sign of a successful identification to them, hence of a good character. It is very rewarding for the spectator when it happens.

Of course, the nature of a character itself is often not enough to explain their reactions and behavior. A character has interests, bias and relationships that complicate their personality. But making a personality complex does not mean making it unreadable. If you can't read a character you can't "own" them, therefore you can't really believe the movie. You must let the spectator build a picture of your characters in their mind and hope that picture will be close enough to the one you have in your own mind. If you and your spectators are on the same page, then your movie is a success.

In this tutorial, we're going to feature two characters who will be part of an upcoming series of movies that I'm still brewing in my mind at the moment (although a lot of dialogs and scenes are already written, but I haven't taken any picture yet).

The first character is Emily Stanford, a modern, fun and outgoing city girl, and Tiffany Giordano, a shy, sweet and introvert girl. Both are good friends and the scene will take place at Emily's apartment after she totaled her car. Emily's nature is to be cheerful, curious and outgoing, even if it sounds like an attitude, I decide to make it her nature because I want her to always be like this. Tiffany's nature is to be caring, helpful, sometimes to the point of putting herself in a bad position just to help a friend in need. She's also a loner, having only a few but loyal friends.

Emily's attitude depends a lot on her mood. She can be sarcastic, blasé, she tends to let her own flaws take the best of herself sometimes, and she smokes (that's an attitude since it may change in the future). Tiffany's attitude is to be shy, she tends to not impose herself on others, and she rarely has the last word even when she knows she's right, because she doesn't want to hurt anyone. Especially with Emily who is a good friend but also a loudmouth.

A scene

Now that the characters are sketched (you can't really say they're defined, they become more and more defined as the story unfolds), we can start writing scenes and even dialogs.

In this tutorial, the scene will take place in Emily's apartment in San Francisco during the evening, while the weather is very poor outside. Knowing this already tells us three things :

- We must make a Windlight setting that makes the outside weather look crappy, possibly foggy and rainy. I made one long ago so I'll use that. Here it is if you want to reproduce it :


- If the weather is poor, it is probably raining. Find something that looks like rain, either particles or animated rain. I personally use Best Weather by Xavier Novelli. The name is tacky but the product is quite good. That's what I used in the background of the "rain" snapshots in the When You're Hot blog post.

- We must have an apartment setting. This is the hardest part, building a whole stage for a movie. I did that for the upcoming movies I have hinted about above, and most of the snapshots I took for this series of tutorials actually take place in Emily's apartment (which I built for that purpose), so I will use it here too.

The entire scene will take place in Emily's living room.

Knowing all this, let's have a shot at it :

The ambient light is not bad, it is clearly nighttime outside and we can see the rain. Other shots, possibly closeups on the characters, will show the rain better.

Once the setting is ready, we can think of what happens in it. For this example, I want the two characters to sit down around the table after entering the apartment, running from the rain.

Now, the characters in the scene must be dressed a certain way that is consistent both with the movie and with their personalities. For example, I pointed out earlier that Emily is an outgoing girl, so she is most likely wearing a pretty dress and fancy heels. If she is coming back from work, chances are her outfit is business-like more than party-like. Tiffany, on the other hand, is more casual so a t-shirt and jeans will do. It's pouring outside so they both should be drenched. Bonus points if at least one of the avatars has access to wet hair.

Here is Emily :


And here is Tiffany :

We get the girls seated around the table, and we're ready to script.

Or are we ? We can already see that we have a few issues here.

Firstly, Tiffany's hair is parted the wrong way. She would look prettier seen from the other side, so I guess the two will have to switch seats.

Secondly, the flower and its pot look huge on the picture because they are on the foreground. But we don't care about the flower, it's distracting. It will surely get in the way of closeups. Sorry, huge flower, you're gonna have to go.

Thirdly, Emily's sweater looks good but is just not appropriate, and it clips through the hand during some poses, so she's going to have to wear something else.

Fourthly, I don't like the stark shadows on the side of the faces of the two characters. A soft light in the middle should fill them.

Oh, also a little depth of field would not hurt.

So, let's try again :

I like this a lot better. It is not a problem that they are both pretty far apart, this scene won't need shots including both of them in the same picture. Since it is a dialog, the camera will switch back and forth instead. Notice that the clothes are in the off-white and beige, to avoid clashing with the overall beige and brown style of the room. If Emily wore a pink blouse (which would make sense considering her personality), it would clash and constantly draw the eye away from her face. The colors chosen here allow to focus on the faces and not be distracted by anything else. Speaking of faces, I turned the small flower into a soft light (2 m radius, 0.75 falloff, golden color) to get rid of the ugly shadows. It makes the faces shine more because of the water droplets, but that can be arranged easily.

They are also seated here in a way that the rainy city will be in the background of most of the shots (except maybe the tightest closeups, who knows), making it almost a third character in the scene. It's always there, subtly reminding the spectator that the girls are getting shelter from the elements together, which strengthens the bond between them. It also serves to establish a stark contrast between the poor weather outside and the coziness and comfort of the room. The characters clearly prefer being here than outside, and the spectator should feel the same way too. For this, I have made it so the overhead lamp lights the room not with a white light, but with a yellowish light, making it feel warmer. I also made the table top tan and not white for the same reason. As for the flower in the front, it comes with an attached blue doily which would have totally clashed with the rest of the picture, so I simply moved the pot down a little to hide the doily under the table.

As you can see, every little detail matters.


Ok, now we are ready to write the dialog. Let's not bother about how the pictures will be taken yet, nor with the body language, let's just write the dialog.

Here, the scene is about Tiffany and Emily rushing to Emily's apartment from the hard rain outside, after Emily has totaled her car on a street lamp. Tree. Wall. Whatever, it's not important what she crashed into. Emily is unscathed but her car is destroyed, she crashed precisely because the weather turned bad rapidly and the street became slippery in no time. After having her wrecked car towed and paperwork filled, her friend Tiffany came to pick her up and drive her home. Now they discuss the aftermath of this event.

You can guess that Emily must be pretty upset, even though the stress of the crash has worn off now. So let's write this short scene. To avoid repeating the names every time, I write a dash when the other character speaks, like in a novel. When a character speaks two lines in a row or more, the second and next ones will begin with a ">" sign. Sometimes I remind who's talking by writing the initial of the character so you're not lost. When a detail is important to know when shooting the picture, I write it after a "#" sign after the line of dialog (you'll see below why that sign and not another one).

Emily (pissed): Can you believe it? I bought a new car less than a month ago and it's already a wreck!
Tiffany (calm): You're not hurt, Emily, that's what matters.
- Thankfully. I owe that to the safety of my car, obviously not to my crappy driving skills.
- Well, seeing how bad the weather is and how quickly it turned to crap, I don't think your driving skills are to blame here. # looks out the window, concerned
> How much does your insurance pay you for the car?
- 5000. # looks down at the table or at her fingers
T: Huh? That's it? It has cost you more than 8000! # looks surprised
- Yeah. I'm what they call a "young driver". Code word for "public menace". Wait for my next car crash, they will surely pay me even less. Unless I pay more up front. # looks disgusted
> Crap. I don't have the money to buy another car, I'm gonna have to buy a piece of shit. # looks disgusted and distressed
- Can't your parents give or loan you the missing 3000? # looks at E, eyebrows up interrogatively
- My parents? I am so not looking forward to telling them the news. And no they don't have that money to spare.
> I'm gonna have to borrow money, while I'm still paying my student loan back. Or take a second job on the side. Shit.
- Not if I can help it. # subtle smile, eyes seductive
- You? What do you mean? # looks surprised and interrogative
- I could loan you the missing 3000. You'd pay them back later, no interests, no strings attached. That way you can buy a new car in a day or two and move on. How's that?
- But I... That's... I didn't expect that... I don't know what to say... Thank you, Tif! # looks surprised and happy at the same time

Ok. This is a short dialog for a short example scene, so don't expect some real inspiration here. lol. However, it suffices for an example and shows a few things.

Firstly, notice how the emphasis is put on the characters' facial expressions. A facial HUD like Lelutka Axis would really help here, but even if you only use the base HUD that comes with your mesh head (if you have one), you should be fine. The basic Lelutka HUD allows you to control the lips, eyelids and eyes independently, as well as choose moods and expressions, you can go pretty far with it already. I don't know about the other mesh heads, you might have noticed by now that I'm pretty partial to Lelutka.

Secondly, the dialog is written in a way that the camera goes from one character to the other all the time, but you don't really want to only take two pictures and alternate them one after the other, it would be boring. Plus there are expressions to show anyway. Ideally, each line of dialog should go with its own unique picture. It is more expensive but more natural that way.

Now, to turn this dialog into a movie script. Well, it is already a movie script but something is missing : the timings. During the movie, the lines of dialog will show as subtitles and they need to show long enough to be readable without distracting from the picture too much. You don't want the spectator to spend their time reading subtitles as fast as they can and not enjoy the movie. Also think of those whose English (or whatever language you write your story in) is not the native language.

Fortunately, you don't have to think about timings yourself, the tape scripts calculate them for you. All you have to do is decide how much time there is to spend between subtitles, because usually in a movie one subtitle does not replace the previous one right away, there's always a one second gap. This is what we'll do here. But first, allow me to explain a little theory.

The Theory

Every tape contains exactly four scripts. One is called "Master" and the other three are "Tracks". The Master script is in charge of providing the menu and communicating with the VHS player before insertion. The three Track scripts are all identical except for the parameter in their names (making them behave differently) and serve as the memory banks for the movie. Each track memorizes a different type of data. One memorizes the pictures and videos, another memorizes the sounds and musics, and the last one memorizes the subtitles, the text.

When you write a movie script, you write entries that are grabbed by each Track script depending on their nature. If an entry is a subtitle, it will go in the Subtitle track. If it is a picture, it will go in the Video track, etc. Here, we are going to write a script constituted solely with text for now.

+1! :: - Can you believe it? I bought a new car less than a month ago//and it's already a wreck!
+1! :: - You're not hurt, Emily, that's what matters.
+1! :: - Thankfully. I owe that to the safety of my car,//obviously not to my crappy driving skills.
+1! :: - Well, seeing how bad the weather is and how quickly it turned to crap,//I don't think your driving skills are to blame here. # looks out the window, concerned
+1! :: How much does your insurance pay you for the car?
+1! :: - 5000. # looks down at the table or at her fingers
+1! :: - Huh? That's it? It has cost you more than 8000! # looks surprised
+1! :: - Yeah. I'm what they call a "young driver". Code word for "public menace".//Wait for my next car crash, they will surely pay me even less. Unless I pay more up front. # looks disgusted
+1! :: Crap. I don't have the money to buy another car,//I'm gonna have to buy a piece of shit. # looks disgusted and distressed
+1! :: - Can't your parents give or loan you the missing 3000? # looks at E, eyebrows up interrogatively
+1! :: - My parents? I am so not looking forward to telling them the news.//And no they don't have that money to spare.
+1! :: I'm gonna have to borrow money, while I'm still paying my//student loan back. Or take a second job on the side. Shit.
+1! :: - Not if I can help it. # subtle smile, eyes seductive
+1! :: - You? What do you mean? # looks surprised and interrogative
+1! :: - I could loan you the missing 3000. You'd pay them back later, no interests, no strings attached.//That way you can buy a new car in a day or two and move on. How's that?
+1! :: - But I... That's... unexpected... I don't know what to say... Thank you, Tif! # looks surprised and happy at the same time

Here I copied the dialog from earlier, removing the names at the beginning, prefixing all the entries with "+1! ::" which means "this entry is text and must last as long as necessary for the spectator to read it". I kept the dashes and removed the ">". Every entry that begins with a dash will mean (for this scene) that the camera must move to the other character. If it doesn't begin with a dash, that means the same character is saying something more.

The "//" signs mean "go to the next line" so the long lines are cut in proper places.

Notice that I kept the parts after "#". This is because "#" for a Track script means "everything after the # is a comment and must be ignored". This means that the following entry :

+1! :: - 5000. # looks down at the table or at her fingers

is actually memorized by the Track.subtitle script as :

+1! :: - 5000.

completely omitting the "#" and what is after it. But your notecard will still have it so you can read it. Which is good because it contains information about how the picture should look once you take it, it is a reminder you write for your later self.

The part before "::" reads as "one second later, there is text that must stay on-screen for as long as necessary". The part after "::" is the actual entry, in this case the actual text.

You could have written "+1/+5 :: !- 5000." instead and it would have worked as well. It would mean "one second later, keep the following entry on-screen for 5 seconds, and by the way this is text". Notice that the "!" sign is after the "::" and not before this time. This is good when you want to control how much time a text must say visible, for example the title, or interludes like "One hour later", things like that.

I won't explain all the options here though, everything is explained in detail in the Director's Manual provided with the HD Video System. You can choose the color of the text and its position by appending options after the text itself (but before the "#", if any).

Your first movie script

Create a notecard and call it "*Track audio video subtitles", that way it can be read by all 3 Track scripts. Paste the movie script above inside it, then insert that notecard in the clear tape that comes with the HD Video System. Click on the tape and choose "Record all" on the menu, then wait a little. Once done, press "Insert" so the tape inserts itself into the nearest empty VHS player that you own (if any, if not you have to rez one with its screen), then press Play on the player. You will quickly see the text shown on the bottom of the screen with enough time to read each subtitle.

Congratulations ! You've written your first movie script.

Of course, to call it a movie there got to be pictures and videos (or at least pictures) as well, maybe sound too, so that's what we're going to do now.

Taking the pictures

Now that you have your script, at least the text version of it, you have a good idea what the pictures should look like. We won't make a video here, there would be no point in this scene and you already know how to make one if you've read the Video tutorial page.

Here, we're going to take one picture per entry. Well, I took the pictures for you and zipped the whole bunch, you can find them here. One of them is missing, Snapshot_004.jpg. This is because it is very similar to 005 except it had a problem with DoF so I didn't select it among the pictures to upload.

Let's talk briefly about some of the snapshots taken, and how I took them. First of all, most of them were taken at zoom level 8 since they are closeups to the faces, showing a little neck and not much hair, respecting the rule of thirds that way. I mostly used combinations of the moods, expressions and eyes and lips controls of the stock Lelutka HUD, except for Snapshot_005 where I had to move Tiffany's neck with the Lelutka Axis HUD (AnyPose and Animare are able to do that too). The expressions I used for Emily are "dislike", "snarl", "wow" etc. Emily's mood is mostly "irked" and "somber", becoming "pleased" near the end. I like to use "Part Lips A" and "Part Lips B" to override the mood and expression, making the character look surprised. For the chair animations (the chair is "Dining Chair Leeloo CHEZ MOI" by nanda Marjeta), I mostly used "Chat", "Waiting" and "Tension".

There's a lot of body language in them, too. In Snapshot_008, Tiffany has her head turned the other way, indicating disgust because she is badly surprised at the low yield of the insurance company. In Snapshot_010 and a few others, I have taken the picture from a little above Emily's head, to make her look a little more miserable.

Snapshot_014 is good too because there is no wall part in it, there is only the rain and Tiffany's face, most of her hair being out of the view, symbolizing that we don't know what she is thinking at the moment. She is touching her neck with her fingers, a sign of tenderness. Her smile and her eyes are seductive, almost as if she were hitting on her friend. Her eyebrows are relaxed, she is looking straight through the rain part of the picture, calmly, as if she didn't even notice it. She's up to something.

I think Snapshot_016 is the best of all because it conveys a lot (that's when Tiffany offers to loan the money to her friend). Firstly, I have taken the shot from a little below, at lip level, making her look more powerful since she has the power to solve her friend's immediate problem. Secondly, I shot her from the front while most other pictures are shot from one side or another, making her take more screen space, giving her more presence and breaking the rhythm, indicating a pivotal point in the story. She looks to her left but up, because she looks up to her friend, even though they are both sensibly the same size. And her head is literally what separates the rainy part on the left from the non-rainy part on the right, shielding her friend from the crappy weather and by metaphor from the trouble. Also her face is less wet than in the previous pictures, on purpose because things are looking up now.

Same for the next and last snapshot, where Emily is no longer facing the rain, which is behind her now while it was in front of her before, and her face and hair are less wet than before. She too looks upwards because she looks up to her friend, while before her gaze was more level, when she dared to look at her in the eyes at all (she looked the other way a lot, a sign that she was ashamed of herself).

As you can see, body language adds a lot to the mood with unspoken messages, even in still pictures.

Now that you have the pictures, it is time to integrate them into the script to make a real movie.

I like to leave two seconds after a subtitle disappears before switching to the next picture, then wait one second before displaying the corresponding subtitle. I find it works well, keeping a good pace without going too fast. So between each existing entry, I will add one like this ("xx" is a number) :

+2 :: $Snapshot_0xx

The "$" sign indicates that this is a picture entry (or video entry, which is the same thing since videos are animated pictures) and will therefore be read not by the Track.subtitle script but by the script. You could actually make one notecard for the subtitles and another one for the pictures but I think it is easier to mix them both.

The resulting notecard looks like this. The empty entries at the beginning and at the end are for clearing the screen. You can copy the contents of the linked file and paste it into the notecard you've created, and record again, then play the movie and you'll get the final scene on TV !

That was easy, wasn't it ?

Oh, right, you need to have the pictures in SL too, of course. Don't upload them and pay L$ for that though, I already did it for you and put them in the example tape in the gift box at my shop. They are full perms so you can literally put them in your own clear tape and record as if they were taken by you, their UUIDs will be available to the video track script since their permissions allow it.

Default Ratio

Remember when we talked about the default ratio of the pictures ? Now is the time to attach that piece of information to the tape so the VHS player and the TV screen know what the proportions of each picture is. For the snapshots I took, the proportion is 1.886. That's 1920 / 1033. Simply write that into the Description field of the tape :

Finalizing the movie

Once you have finished your movie and are ready to sell it, copy the tape to your inventory to keep a work version (a version in which the notecard and the textures are still present) and click on the tape in-world then press "Finalize" then "Yes" to confirm. This will wipe the tape from all the resources except the scripts which keep the data in memory. Set the permissions to Copy and Mod (that's very important or the tape won't link to someone else's VHS player), and now your tape is ready to sell !

Please don't forget to check the Modify bit on your tape after picking it up, as it becomes no-modify when it reaches the inventory. This is because the scripts inside are no-modify (this is an SL bug that has been around forever). If you do not do this, your tape will be no-mod and won't insert itself in a VHS player.

This concludes this tutorial about how to write a movie script and to put it all together. I hope you enjoyed this series of tutorials, and that you will enjoy making your own movies as well !


You can return to the menu page.

PS : Thank you to those who proof-read the tutorials and spent time to try to follow it, including the making videos themselves !