What is Fabula & Syuzhet in Screenwriting?

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Before you embark on a journey to write your screenplay, it is somewhat necessary to finalize the raw material needed to complete your project. This includes the story (obviously), lead characters and their motivations, challenges that will be faced by your characters and in the end, the structure.

If you have heard of Three-Act Structure (often Screenwriting Gurus hold Aristotle responsible for the concept), you are already familiar with the science of storytelling. But the three-act structure isn’t an only theory of this craft. 

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Russian formalism has left us with the literary terms known as fabula and syuzhet, which may help us tell the story in a unique way. 

Etymology

Vladimir Propp and Viktor Shklovsky, the notable Russian literary theorists, utilized the idea of fabula as the chronological order of events in the story and syuzhet as the manner in which the events are told. 

In easier words, fabula is your story that tells us what happens – the raw material. On the other hand, syuzhet informs us how the events appear in your story or film – the order of events decided by you. 

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In popular culture, stories often include flashbacks and flashforwards even when the story is following the three-act structure.

Screenwriters, who choose to show the ending first, carry forward the story in flashbacks. As viewers, we are already aware of the conclusion. Rest of the film takes us through the events that unfold the mystery behind resolution. 

Examples

The most popular example of this structure is Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. The film begins with the death of our protagonist, Charles Foster Kane. In flashbacks, we are shown his life, his journey and his demise.

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As Charles Kane mutters ‘Rosebud’ on his deathbed.

Now deconstruct the screenplay in fabula and syuzhet. The fabula is the story of Kane and his journey in newspaper business. The syuzhet on the other hand is the organization of this film; ending before beginning and interspersed investigation of the journalist in present-time, who is learning about Kane being a POV character for us viewers.

Similarly in South Asian cinema, we have Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots. The opening sequence is designed in present-time showing Farhan leaving the airport and embarking on a journey to find his long lost friend, Rancho. Supported by voiceover narration, we are then taken back into the past where the journey starts unfolding in flashbacks. In parallel, the current day story keeps moving forward as the movie progresses towards the end.  

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Farhan in airplane, about to leave airport to meet Rancho.

Here, the fabula is the story of college friends and their individual sub-stories, and how they end up with their career decisions. The syuzhet is the placing of current day in the beginning, which is eventually leading us towards the end, and the entire story in flashbacks narrated to us using both dialogues and voiceover. 

This also tells us that if you have an urge to include voiceover in your screenplay, do it using the fabula/syuzhet structure. 

Is it different from Reverse Chronological Order?

It is! 

I believe we are all familiar with Christopher Nolan’s Memento. While some may confuse it with the non-linear structure, it is actually a story told in reverse chronological order. It also differs from fabula/syuzhet structure in a way that we do start with the end, but we never go back to chronological order of events. Instead, we deconstruct the story into smaller chunks and then arrange them in an order where they leads us to the beginning from end. 

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Since our topic for the day isn’t non-linear structure, I won’t go into details.  The basic idea of it sketches us the story where we keep jumping from point A to C then to F and then back to A. Perfect example of non-linear structure is Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.

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The motive of this structure is to leave us with memories of events that will collectively build a story by the end of the film.  

Storytelling is an art supported by science of structures. And we human beings love experiencing same story told in different structures or different stories told in same structures. 

It’s you who will decide what structure compliments the story you want to tell. 

What is the industry-standard font for Screenwriting?

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Picture courtesy: Pereanu Sebastian – Unsplash

One of the clichés filmmakers can’t get rid of is showing their characters that are playing the roles of writers, using a typewriter. We have been shown so much of it that we can’t imagine a writer without it. And one of the reasons why directors try to incorporate this thing in films is due to the close-up shot of written script in which the font is visible. To some, this is the credibility that writer carries with his character.

Picture courtesy: The Shining (1980) – Stanley Kubrick

This font is called Courier. Though it reminds us of the golden age of typewriters, it has now become the industry-standard font for stage and screenplays in this digital realm as well. Why? CONSISTENCY!

BIRTH OF COURIER

Courier was found in 1955 by a designer named Howard Kettler at IBM. Since IBM didn’t trademark this typeface, it was adapted by multiple mediums to be used without any royalty fee. Earlier named ‘Messenger’, Kettler felt that the typeface needed a much more elegant name to suit its stability and prestige, and that is how ‘Courier’ was born.

WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT COURIER?

Courier is a monospaced font, which means each letter is given the equal amount of horizontal space. Letter ‘I’ will occupy same space as letter ‘Z’.


In contrast with other fonts, courier is not very eye pleasing. Fonts like Arial and Times New Roman has letters that only take the required space, which increases their readability and clarity.

WHY COURIER?

In Film and TV scripts, consistency is mandatory. According to a thumb rule, a page of your screenplay is equal to the 1 minute on screen. If the screenplay is typed using 12 pt courier, a page will usually have 55 lines and it will be the minute of your film. In case you choose the same font size but different font, let’s say Times New Roman, the consistency will be disturbed and then screenwriters won’t be able to measure the duration of their film through their screenplays’ page count.

Another reason why courier is used is because of its universal pagination. A script typed on Mac OS will have the same pagination on Windows OS. And courier wins here big time since screenplays travel through a lot of desks and personal computers.

CONCLUSION

To me, and I am sure to every screenwriter, Courier is sacred. Scripts typed in any other font do not please us. As a script consultant, I always ask the writers beforehand to type their screenplays using Courier as many of them are inexperienced and untrained. Unless you are an auteur like Stanley Kubrick or Rajkummar Hirani, who write, direct, produce and edit their films, you are always expected to use Courier.

Screenshot: 3 Idiots Screenplay (2010) – Rajkummar Hirani

Take a look at this screenshot from the actual screenplay of 3 Idiots by Rajkummar Hirani. Notice the standard rules that are not being followed here. And it’s absolutely fine since being the auteur; he is responsible for every aspect of his film.

If you are only responsible for writing, follow the rules. Because industry is already in ruins and we can’t let the ‘wrong’ keep repeating itself.

Have I missed anything or do you wish to add something to this piece? Comment below and let me know.

Digital Landscape: The World is Now in Your Pocket. #Marketing #Advertising

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With the rise of digital media, people have been spending more and more time on their mobiles- browsing through their Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social feeds, consuming content on the web and messaging apps, primarily Whatsapp & Messenger, as opposed to broadcast TV, radio or newspaper.

Today almost 4 billion people are online and this figure will rise by another 20%, in the next 2 years.

Advertisement and marketing budgets follow the audience and naturally many brands have turned towards digital media.

Staying up to date with latest digital marketing strategies and communication tools has now become crucial to a business for tapping into the right market for reaching their target audience.

The emerging trend of digital invasion will continue with more features and options for sharing media and content with real time interaction with the audience which means that brands will continue to enhance and multiply their digital presence while raising their digital marketing budgets.

Image source: consultmegroup.com

Digital media has brought so many advantages which advertisers cannot even expect from conventional media. However when integrated, traditional and digital marketing work seamlessly together creating a bigger and holistic brand experience for the audience.

Directly engaging audience and connecting with them on digital platforms allow brands to know more about their customers, get direct feedback, inform the audience about their products and services with a call to action, establishing and enhancing a brand persona as well as predicting future consumer trends.

What’s really a game changer is that digital marketing enables better targeting of the audience specific to their tastes and preferences. Depending on the brand’s goals and objectives different campaigns can be strategised to reach different target audiences.

Although traditional marketing is still integral to raising and maintaining brand awareness, it’s still very difficult to calculate and forecast it’s return on investment (ROI).

On the contrary, digital marketing expenditure is directly inter-related to results. For instance: tracking of visitors, cost per clicks/ impressions on brand campaigns, video views, numbers of subscribers gained, numbers of leads gathered so on and so forth.

Not only this, a brand can extract and look into audience’s prototype information and details such as social income group, gender, buying or consumption habits and other demographic statistics for better profiling on their buyer’s persona.

With many digital platforms, new devices have exploded in the last decade and during this span, digital marketing has evolved drastically which will continue to change and shape the way audience consume information.

Brands are still adapting to this ever changing landscape.

Today, smartphones have taken over the use of desktop and personal laptops as the primary digital device for going online which means space for digital media and content is substantially growing too.

As reported by BBC, newspaper circulation around the world has declined as much as 28% with majority of them shifting their publications to digital online editions. This means news and journalism is transitioning to the digital world.

Image source: Dribbble.com

To put it simply, the world is shifting online and into our pockets.

And what does this mean for brands?

More exposition, more transparency and brand personalisation with greater marketing opportunities.

A great example of brand personalisation is generating content that is based on audience’s interest and preference which can immensely help in creating a long lasting bond between the brand and their consumers.

Image source: Medium.com

Garry Vaynerchuk says “Content is King, but context is God”.

Content in the right context, in the right platform directed to the right audience is the best way to market a brand or product. By giving the audience what they want, they get value out of the content which not only builds up relationship but trust in the brand as well.

Marketing and advertisement used to be about creating myth about the brand and selling it but now it’s more about staying true and authentic, connecting directly to your audience and delivering what you promise.

5 Nature of Stories in Films & TV Shows

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As a beginner level screenwriter, one of the questions I ask my bosses regularly is about the nature of the film we are working on. What pattern are we looking for? Do we really need to follow this structure? Can we play around with plot twists? Can I bring my inciting incidents in the very first minute of this film?

While reading John Truby’s ‘The Anatomy of Story’ at work, I came across the heading called Story Movements that discusses the different natures of stories I am going to share with you today. What I found was missing in the book were the examples and explanation of each story movement. In this article, I have tried to keep it as simple as possible for you to understand what Truby has taught us with the examples we can relate to easily. So let’s begin:

  1. Linear Story
  2. If you have one protagonist with one objective and clear direction, your story is on linear path. Events will keep happening one after another.

    Often The Hero’s Journey is of linear nature in which your hero’s history, his struggle and the change he comes across after that struggle is shown. For example, Spider-Man, Batman, Singham (why am I even naming this film), etc.

  3. Meandering Story
  4. This is not as straightforward as the linear story. The structure here is windy, twisty, like rivers and snakes with no specific shape. There is a beginning and an end but our hero’s desire is not intense. He meets new people from different levels of society and discovers new realms.

    Movies like Gladiator, Swades, and TV shows like Breaking Bad fall into this category.

  5. Spiral Story
  6. If the word spiral brings a spinning image to your mind, you have reached the right spot. Thrillers that begin with a lot of widespread information going gradually towards the core where the secret lies, belong to this category.

    Films of Hitchcock and Sriram Raghavan are the perfect examples to explain this pattern of storytelling. You keep guessing the end, and often you are proved wrong.

    PS: If you haven’t watched Raghavan’s Andhadhun yet, please do.

  7. Branching Story
  8. It includes any story that maps out the details of society our hero is exploring or just a stage of that society. Just like branches of trees, each branch represents a component the society is comprised of.

    Films majorly based on WWII explain this nature very well. Be it The Pianist or The Schindler’s List, each film has a hero that explores the hidden reality of the society he is living in without putting much effort. The hero meets new people, discover the truth and then change his perception often with the guilt attached. And what I have experienced, branching stories end on a sad note.

  9. Explosive Story
  10. If linear story had a straight path with one hero and one objective, consider this an opposite of it. Any story where multiple characters are busy in doing multiple things at the same time, it’s the explosive story.

    Every Quentin Tarantino film is of this nature. Pulp Fiction is till date the best movie that explains how explosive story works.

    As a writer, it’s your responsibility to identify the nature of your story and then stick to it till the last page to maintain the harmony that you have built.

    Have I missed anything important? Do you have something to say on what you just read above? Comment below and let me know.

Perception of Woman, the Ad Industry and the Male Gaze #AuratMarch2019 #MeToo

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Source: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis

Disclaimer: As we flex our muscles with social discourse we try our best to not be biased on ideas presented hereon, which is precisely why this platform is called ‘The Pitch Deck’- where we meditate on ‘cognitive dissonance’ while hoping to spark dialogue and challenge the status quo.

With ‘selling’ as the primary motive, a lot of content produced by the local Tv Ad industry has become subliminally a tool for the male gaze.

Mass-produced, representation of women in the context of everyday slice of life has become glimpse for the male’s voyeuristic point of view for his mere fantasy.

Photo: Screen grab from Nargis Fakhri’s Jazz & Sadaf Kanwal’s Nurpur Commercial

Many local Tv commercials and shows incorporate the concept of pleasure that is the joy of ‘looking’, in turn feeding the male gaze.

And then there is a rise of new-wave alternate narrative that reflects empowerment of women.

Photo: GulAhmed’s #MeinPerfectHoon Campaign 2017

Many Tv commercials are produced to cater to the male gaze, yet also become arguably what some women may view as self-expression and liberation.

It may be empowering for women in a culture of repressive conditioning and an environment that is dominated by patriarchal ideologies, however it may also possibly end up becoming narcissistic in nature.

Intended for women to ‘look’ at the woman being portrayed, to admire her, be identified with her character and desire to be that woman.

So to speak, to be mesmerised by the image and actively objectify oneself by wanting to be the ‘object’.

However, choosing to do so in itself is a feministic statement of sexual liberation which still ultimately feeds to the male gaze.

The bigger problem is the perversion that is bound to happen in a society, that has oppressed women for decades and served as a foundation for disregarding gender equality.

Artwork by Samya Arif, originally designed for The Herald magazine.

This perversion is enriched by the very same values and modus operandi- of the culture factory i.e. the ad industry- it is operating in.

Predominantly, women’s portrayal in our media is always directed at men. This gaze one adopts is often assumed to be that of a male, because it is the women being objectified.

Watching women dance in their kitchen as they cook in a private setting, makes the audience’s gaze voyeuristic / fly-on-the-wall in nature.

Given a set of societal roles that are submissive in nature, or made to be the centre of attention as an ‘object’, representation of woman- in the general local content we consume (ads, dramas, tv shows & films)- is often intended to look inducing.

And that is why you see larger than life billboards and print ads with all kinds of sexual innuendos, featuring women while we the insignificant consumers let the associated brands and products live in our minds, subconsciously.

 

Seriously, what does a girl holding her hair, have to do with Cheese?

Photo: Hardees Print Ad campaign.

If a brand wants to hike their cooking oil product sales, all they can think is to put three women inside the kitchen, let them dance as food magically cooks: And there you go voila!

You have a successful ad campaign!

Photo: Hania Amir’s Dastak Cooking Oil TVC. 

How about an ad for a fizzy drink? Doll up a girl, have her gulp down spicy hot food, make her swear and they’ve gotten your attention!

Photo: Meera Sethi’s Sprite Commercial

The issue is not bad copy or content or rather lack of better ideas but a mindset that is so wholly fixated on investing in eroticising women, subtly or blatantly entertaining the male gaze.

Rudimentary in this paradigm that is money-driven, anything goes when it comes to the whims of its moral and ethical compass, which has no bounds but a varied spectrum in its shades of grey.

It is no surprise that our culture factory, the media and ad industry produces content that more than occasionally and subliminally, cater to our deepest darkest fetishises and desires.

This male gaze phenomena has in fact contributed to the disproportion of power imbalance which is in coherence with the patriarchal status quo, propagating women’s real life sexual objectification.

Has the media: ad, film and tv industry collectively littered our minds? Step out on the streets, even burqa laden girls are not spared by the male gaze.

Photo Courtesy: Dawn.com

Again, it is really no surprise what a recent anonymous leak of a letter- by a 19 year old girl- shed light on, depicting her horrific experience of being manipulated and then sexually assaulted by a well known music video and tvc director, inside his apartment.

The root cause is our damaged perception of the woman. This conditioning has passed down generation to generation and it’s safe to say that the media has paid its due role in maintaining and validating this power structure.

And with the wave of narratives based on women empowerment there are a handful of campaigns that have started a meaningful dialogue but do we as an industry lack common sense for producing better ads that are value driven and not just attention seeking?

Considering the rise of Aurat March, as women protested against oppression and for equal rights through all kinds of messages (obscene or dignified), challenging the enduring dominance of the masculine and patriarchal structure, the fragile egos of many men seem to be shaken up.

Photo Courtesy: Asif Hassan

Although it sounds dark, but this quote from Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek from the documentary, ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema’, sums up this whole psychosexual dilemma aptly!

There is nothing spontaneous, nothing natural about human desire. Our desires are artificial. We have to be taught to desire. Cinema is the ultimate pervert art. It doesn’t give you what to desire, it tells you how to desire.- Slavoj Zizek

We reviewed ads that used their marketing from a woman’s perspective, for Woman’s Day.

Read here: Pakistani Brands on Woman’s Day

Pakistani Brands on Women’s DAY

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On the 8th of March 2019, while the entire world celebrated women, their achievements and hoped for more empowerment, the day marked one of the most controversial ones in Pakistan, discussed and criticized widely on social media. What escalated the offense and anger in people was none other than the Aurat March, also called the Azaadi March- an event by women for women to come together in a public space and march on the roads of different cities in Pakistan.

Hate brewed and woke me up, a feminist who had attended the march and didn’t need coffee the next morning. While many women were able to join the march, a lot of working women were confined to their work desks. However, scrolling through repetitive posters meme pages had tweaked and hyped, I came across a few brands that had used the date to attract their female audience. I also came across many posts about how corporations should not bandwagon over Women’s Day. But is it really wrong, if the end result of a CSR or PR activity links to women empowerment? Could these ideas have come from female employees working for the brands, and is that not a way that each person is contributing to the movement positively? From big brands to smaller startups, there was creativity and brain being used to drive a female perspective.

  1. Veet Academy:Veet, the famous hair removal cream, has an academy under it which is separate from the their Miss Veet program- a reality TV show that supports young ambitious girls to achieve their dreams by having them compete in mental and physical challenges to enable their confidence in becoming their best selves. Veet Academy, however, is a virtual school that is mentored by some celebrities, such as Sarwat Gilani and Musarat Misbah, each who talk about one specific attribute “important” in becoming an all-rounded personality. Though debateable on how empowering the platform is, by stereotypically categorising women and attributing them to specific traits, Veet was one of the feminine brands which took on a social initiative on Women’s Day by their #BuildHerUp campaign.

    The #BuildHerUp campaign offered 5 girls in Pakistan the opportunity to get mentored by the Veet Academy experts. The girls simply had to use an online portal to explain what their dreams are and how the platform can help them. An argument will arise here, that the campaign is only for women who have access to computers, so the dreams can’t be just any woman’s. A bit unfair to think so, when the brand is considered a luxury personal care brand. The campaign was right for its target audience. The part I liked most about it, was how someone could be nominated. At a time where women are surrounded with hate, it felt good to know that at least we women will keep standing up for each other.

    The digital video was nicely made, featured real girls with various dreams and was an entertaining watch. There was an added emotional tone to the message, which shed light on why the girls couldn’t achieve their dreams. Most of the reasons were lack of support or lack of confidence and fear of criticism, which a large number of females face, specially those who want to get out in the world and create an impact.

     

  2. Her Floor: Scrolling down my monotonous Instagram feed, I came across a post by Her Floor; a digital community which is solely an organisation for ambitious women. I hadn’t heard of this before and a digital post sponsored by them caught my eye. The post featured an illustration of a girl in a dupatta with an old man (assuming her father) placing a hand of support behind her back. The text says “Don’t just run, run the world.” Simple yet effective. It drove me to their website to find out more about this amazing platform which helps female entrepreneurs connect with each other and grow their business by selling their products. A definite check out for any woman starting up a product based business.

  3. Butterfly Breathables: My friends and I are a fan of butterfly breathable pads because they are so much more comfortable than Always. So, their campaign hashtag literally and metaphorically made sense. Their campaign #periodNotPeriod was constantly accompanied with the tagline “The possibilities are endless when you have the right to breathe free.” It highlights their product’s advantages directly, that allow a woman to feel more free even during the time of the month and enable her to do as much as she can with ease, and it also sends a societal message, that if there are no boundaries or limits, a woman can do anything.Their Women’s Day campaign featured several short videos with basic strong messages. Visually, not too great but I do feel that they stand out from other brands by using clever copywriting. My favourite from the series was, “You thought you pushed her to the limit, but her limits cannot be defined.”

     

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  5. Pond’s Miracle Journey: The Pond’s Miracle Journey, a platform of Pond’s links young women starting in their careers with already established and successful female entrepreneurs, business women, artists etc. The program in its earlier years used to recognise women’s achievements but changed its goal recently to encouraging a sustainable female community by helping women inspire women rather than just celebrating the ones who have reached their pinnacles of success. Though the program is admirable, there was nothing interesting they did for Women’s Day. A brand that solely focuses on empowerment let down in their advertising completely, by making no effort in creating any sort of message that could inspire change. The brand simply used a hashtag #FirstStepWithPonds to push more entries for their on-going program. Not exciting, and pretty boring.

     

     

  6. Gul Ahmed: I was desperately trying to find a fashion brand that did something for Women’s Day. I would’ve been highly disappointed had I not found Gul Ahmed’s ad. It focused on unsung women heroes, who not only take care of their homes but also work to make a living for their entire family. There were shots of them doing house chores, going out in the heat, conducting physical activities and taking care of their loved ones. The ad pays a tribute to the self-made women who tirelessly multitask, almost like an octopus with several arms. The wordings of this tribute were well written and the ad was versatile and real. The only thing missing, was definitely a female factory worker, I was expecting to see.

     

     

  7. Fibbi Café: Want to learn how to not do effective marketing? Head on to Fibbi café’s social media page. They literally compared a woman to a tea bag… Did they mean put women in difficult situations to see how strong they are? Did they just compare a woman to a tea bag? Well, here’s an idea for next year’s Aurat March poster: “Aurat hoon, tea bag nahi.” Their social media page later deleted their post and changed the text, but the damage was done.

While some brands did do Women’s Day well, others failed to impress. I believe that if you have to say something, say it well or don’t say it at all. In the previous article, we spoke about sexualising woman and how that has been a culture in Pakistani media. It will take some time to move from that and create smarter ads that resonate with today’s generation of women, who have a voice and an identity of their own. Who are not objects. It’s safe to say Pakistan has a long way to go, in comparison with neigbouring India, where more creative Women’s Day campaigns were launched. Max Fashion’s campaign “Behn kuch bhi pehn” was exciting, catchy, and vibrant and came with an important message.

We have a long way to go, yes, but the journey has begun. We are seeing more thoughtful ads run on TV alongside the completely unthoughtful ones. Ads like Colgate’s “Andar Se Strong” features a young girl who is confident that she can play with boys her age, and challenges them when they question her ability because of her sex. Bonanza Satrangi’s “Apni Nazar Main” also comes with a strong message about not caring about the world and loving yourself- which we women often forget to do. Perhaps the criticism that Aurat March received this year will wake up the creatives in the advertising industry to realise how huge a problem patriarchy is in this country, and they will attempt to create more socially aware campaigns that rally for change.

Share your comments below with us and let us know what you feel about these ads, and whether we missed any out that we must see!

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