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Opening Scene

We see a wide shot of an old, wooden, two-storied house standing alone on the middle of the street.  The morning sunlight helps us see how old and gloomy the house is.  The environment is pretty quiet except the occasional twitters of birds among the trees near the house.  The camera zooms in to the house and we see the nameplate which says 124.  Then the next shot takes us inside the house.  In the kitchen, Denver, a young girl aged around 9, is cleaning the table.  Sethe, Denver’s mother, in her late twenties, is preparing the breakfast.  The room is lit only with the daylight coming through the windows.  Then we hear an old woman coughing in a room upstairs.  Denver lays the bowl on a tray and takes the tray upstairs to the old woman, Baby Suggs, who is her grandmother.

Sypnosis and Genre

The story of my film is based on the novel Beloved by Toni Morrison.  In adapting the novel, I have decided to make some changes which I will mention in the next section.

Around 1862 after the Civil War, Sethe, Denver, her daughter, and Baby Suggs, her mother-in-law, live together in a small southern town.  Sethe, a former slave, works at a local restaurant and supports the household.  The three women live by themselves and do not interact with the other blacks in the town.  This isolation always confuses Denver and she never gets a straight answer about why they are living this way.  Later Denver finds out from her classmate that Sethe killed her older daughter in order to protect her from the capture of her owners.  Learning about this shocking event worsens the relationship between Sethe and Denver.  After Baby Suggs dies, Denver withdraws even more into herself.  One day, Sethe and Denver find a young black woman called Beloved with injuries all over her body sleeping on a tree stump near their house.  Beloved seems mentally disturbed and asks for a place to live.  Sethe and Denver think Beloved is the reincarnation of the murdered child.  The two women look after Beloved with all their hearts; Sethe tries her best to make up for her mistake and Denver finds solace in getting back her sister.  However, the more they love Beloved, the more she becomes demanding and even manipulative of them.  One day, Beloved disappears strangely from the house and Sethe becomes sick with missing her.  Having depended on her mother her whole life, Denver goes out to the town community for the first time and asks for help.  This is the turning point of Denver’s life.  She gets a job, takes care of her sick mother, and even plans to go to college with the help of her former teacher.  She gains her sense of self and identity in the end.

I anticipate that the film will be feature-length and decided to go for the drama genre because I want to portray the emotional struggling of the characters and want the audience to sympathize with them.

Adapting the Novel to the Screen

I changed two major aspects when interpreting the novel to the film version.  First, I have left out characters such as Paul D, Stamp Paid, Ella, schoolteacher, and so on.  The novel deals with several characters that are free slaves and depict their different perspectives and experiences of the slavery system.  However, I am excluding many of those characters because my film will focus mainly on Denver, the only non-slave among the protagonists of the novel.  Since the main subject of my film is her emotional struggle and character growth, I want to keep the focus on the triangle relationship of Denver, Sethe and Beloved.  Also, I changed the characterization of Beloved by setting her as a random girl who arrives to 124 by chance instead of the baby ghost’s intentional return to the house as a young girl.  In the film, although Denver and Sethe assume that Beloved is the reincarnation of the murdered child, this is not the truth as in the novel.  In my opinion, adding the supernatural part would probably make the subject of the film unreal.  In fact, I want to reconnect the film to the true story which the Beloved novel is based on: Margaret Garner’s murder of her own daughter in order to save her from becoming a slave.  My aim is to remind the audience that this is something actually happened in the past and the real agonies of the free slaves and its generation.

Why Should We Make This Film?

I will argue several reasons why this film needs to be made and reached out to the public.  Even though there is a film already made on the novel Beloved, my film is a new way to look at the story from the perspective of Denver: how slavery affects even those who were not slaves.  Next, some may say that there are already tons of films about slavery, but I can point out that there are not many focusing on children of people who were enslaved.  My purpose of making the film from a non-slave’s point of view is to make the audience think about how the slavery system affects everyone: slaves, non-slaves and even the oppressors.  I hope my film will help the audience to think about what it is like to be a free slave and its generation: the irony and tragedy that they still cannot escape from the past traumas although they are now “free” slaves.  In addition, some people may even say that the effects of the slavery system, specifically racism, do not exist any more these days.  However, I assert that racism issues still exist today.  For example, Michelle Chen wrote in the NewStandard online scholarly magazine that the bill to study slavery reparations is faced with resistance from the whites every year.  Another example would be the more recent event at OC High School in Pasadena, California where there have been racial tensions between white and black basketball players (Melendez, Pasadena Star-News).  As a third example, a group of six African-American high school students, known as the Jena Six, got arrested for beating a white student at Jena High School, Louisiana.  The event aroused criticisms and racial tensions on that the Jena Six is convicted with very serious charges owing to the racial discrimination.  Thus, it is obvious that the racism is still extant in the country.  Also, despite a tragic story, my film will be inspirational to the audience giving them the message that one can still grow and achieve the sense of self amidst the chaos and traumas.  For all these reasons, I propose that this film, “Denver”, has the historical significance, presents a different perspective on slavery, addresses the current racism issues, and therefore should be made and delivered to the public.

Setting and Location

The location of the film does not have to be in Cincinnati, Ohio as in the novel.  Keeping in mind the time frame of the late 19th century, I will need to shoot in a studio which looks like a small southern town in that era.  The two major locations will be the house, 124, and Denver’s emerald closet, which is the place surrounded by five boxwood bushes in a wood near the house.  The emerald closet is the place Denver goes whenever she wants to be alone.  Also, some scenes will be shot in Lady Jones’s house which we can use a real house or set up one.

Crafting the Film:

i) Characters

Denver: She is the main protagonist of the film and is Sethe’s daughter.  Denver is very introverted, even timid and also introspective about her life and herself.  Their family’s isolated way of life and the infanticide of her mother have constricted her personal growth and she has become a very dependent and lonely girl as a result.  Later in the film, when Sethe breaks down emotionally after Beloved’s disappearance, Denver has no one else to depend on and is forced to go out to the world beyond 124.  At this turning point of her life, she succeeds in asking help from the town community, and starts being able to support herself and her mother.  She grows into an independent and mature woman in the end.

Sethe: Sethe is a former slave and a mother of two daughters including Denver. Pregnant with Denver and holding Denver’s older sister, Sethe ran away from her owners and came to 124.  She could not enjoy days of freedom for long because her owners came and searched for her at 124 a month later.  Being unable to tolerate that her owners will also capture her daughter, Sethe made an instant and very difficult decision: killing her daughter to prevent her from experiencing physical and emotional pain of being a slave.  She is a very strong and independent woman and has strong faith in that death is better than being a slave.  However she suffers emotional trauma from losing her daughter and breaks down in the end from losing Beloved whom she believes is the reincarnation of her daughter.

Beloved: Beloved is a very mysterious character in the film.  She comes to 124 out of no where, enters the life of Denver and Sethe bring back past memories and departs from their life strangely.  I set Beloved to be a mentally disturbed girl who has run away from home.  As in the novel, I want her character to be a symbol of the past and the fact that she is mentally ill represents the chaos and traumas of Denver and Sethe’s past.  Beloved’s arriving to 124 means Denver and Sethe has no choice but to confront with the past which they has made silent for years.

Baby Suggs: Although she includes only in the early part of the film, Baby Suggs, the mother-in-law of Sethe, is an important character.  She is a preacher of the town community and also symbolizes the free slaves’ being unable to escape from past traumas.  Because of the loss of her son, Denver’s father, and Sethe’s shocking infanticide, Baby Suggs secludes herself from life having no more strength left to bear with these emotional pains and just waits on her bed to die.  She serves as a source of guide and inspiration for Denver; Denver goes out to the community remembering what Baby Suggs said and the town people help Denver partly because she is the granddaughter of their former preacher.

Lady Jones: Lady Jones is a mixed black-white woman.  She is a good-hearted woman and contributes to the community by teaching children from the town for free.  Denver respects Lady Jones and she is the first person Denver asks for help.

Nelson Lord: Nelson Lord is one of Denver’s classmates at Lady Jones’ school.  He accidentally makes Denver aware of Sethe’s infanticide.

Mr. and Miss. Bodwin: They are siblings and white abolitionists who help Baby Suggs and Sethe in building up their life after being free from slavery.

Janey Wagon: Janey is the servant of Bodwin siblings.  She is a sympathetic community member who helps Denver getting a job from the siblings.

ii) Camera Movement and Angles

Generally, I plan to use many close-ups throughout the film since there will be a lot of dialogue scenes and scenes which portray the emotional expressions of the characters.  When showing the characters’ emotions, I will use close-ups and some tight shots with extreme close-ups.  In the dialogue scenes, I will use medium close-up shots.  For each separate scene, I plan to use the narrative structure: the establishing shot, close-ups in the middle and the closing with the long shot.

iii) Lighting

I estimate that I will mostly use natural daylight since there will be more day scenes than night scenes.  For the whole film in general, I will use the combination of diffuse and bright lighting: diffuse lighting in calm scenes and bright lighting in dramatic scenes.  Likewise, I will use back lighting when I want to portray something mysterious and a feeling of suspense and anxiety.  When showing the characters’ emotions and close-up faces, I plan to use side lighting.

iv) Sound and Music

The piano music will play throughout the film.  I believe that the piano music without lyrics has a sense of hidden and enigmatic feeling which goes with the main characters’ attempt to repress the past.  Only in the closing scene where Denver goes to college, I want to include a soundtrack which is slow yet inspirational.  I still do not know what the song will be, but I will come up with it in the final paper.  Additionally, I will use the voice-over of Denver in some scenes which will give the audience her point of view.

Estimating the Budget

Considering the limited shooting locations, the use of a few characters and the above technical decisions, I speculate that the budget would be moderate.  I can compare my film to Norma Rae which also has a few locations and few action scenes.  So, I suggest that my film will cost around 4.5 million as Norma Rae did.

Two Key Scenes

The key scenes that I would like to expand in the final paper are the scene where Denver first finds out about Sethe’s infanticide from Nelson Lord, her classmate, and the scene where she meets him again on her way to work near the end of the film.  Presenting about these two particular scenes will highlight Denver’s personal transformation and also help the reader better understand what my film will look like.  In my final paper, I will talk about these two scenes in details such as setting and props, screenplay with dialogue, action and camera angles, lighting and sounds.

Works Cited

Chen, Michelle. “Bill to Study Slavery Reparations Still Facing Resistance.” The

NewStandard. 2007. 18 Nov. 2009

<http://newstandardnews.net/content/index.cfm/items/4449&gt;.

Melendez, Miguel. “More claims of racial issues at OC high school.” Pasadena Star-

News. 21 Jan. 2009. 18 Nov. 2009

<http://www.insidesocal.com/paspreps/2009/01/more-claims-of-racial-issues-a.html>.

“The Case of Louisiana’s ‘Jena Six’.” NPR. 19 Nov. 2009

<http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14533821       >.

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The scene starts with the camera showing the black people singing in the church.  The camera pans down slowly toward each of their faces in a row.  This slow camera movement together with the black people’s singing a prayer makes the audience feel the peacefulness the black people are having at that moment.  Also, it portrays that they are unified as a community.  Then the camera pans toward the footsteps approaching outside of the church.  The close-up shot of a pair of feet walking steadily in the boots starts building up the suspense; the audience wonders whose it is and whether it is a good or bad guy.  The camera pans toward the black people inside the church and the footsteps outside the church back and forth.  This alternating camera movement advances the suspense that the audience is feeling and foretells the audience that something significant is going to happen.  The next shot unfolds who those people in the boots are: the camera shows a full shot of the KKK members standing together with their costumes and the weapons.  Then the camera moves to the close-up of one of the members’ hand tossing the baton and catching it firmly.  This still full-shot and the close-up shot of holding the baton build up the suspense to its climax by showing how united, prepared and confident the KKK people are to combat the black people inside the church.  Although both the still, full-shot of KKK and the slow shot of black people captures the unity of each group, the still shot helps strengthen showing the power of the KKK whereas the slow shot lacks the sense of power which hints at the outcome that the black people are going to be defeated.  After showing the KKK ready for the attack, the camera again pans to the black people still singing in the church.  With this shot, the audience gasps in knowing that the tranquility of these innocent people is about to be destroyed very soon. 

In this particular scene, the filmmaker plays with different camera shots to build up the suspense and fear, thereby making the audience empathize with the life of the oppressed black people: what it is like to live with a constant fear and anxiety that they never know where and when the danger is coming.

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The scene starts with the white mine workers having the union meeting.  C. E. Lively says that the only thing the coal operators understand is the “back end of a bullet.”  Then, the camera shows a waist-high shot of Joe Kenehan shaking his head for a very brief period.  This subtle shot is important because it starts introducing Joe to the audience as a man who disagrees with violence.

Then the night watchman shouts, “Someone’s coming.”  As Few Clothes comes into the room, the room quiets down instantly.  With the silence and the camera panning to the white workers and Few Clothes at a close-up shot back and forth, the audience can feel the racial tension in the room.  Later, when a white worker calls Few Clothes “scab,” Few Clothes’ unexpected angry response startles all the white men.  A close-up shot of Few Clothes as he speaks introduces him to the audience that he will be an important character in the later part of the film.

Just after he finishes talking, Joe comes into the middle of the scene with a powerful speech.  This is his very first speech in the film and is crucial because it is the first chance the audience starts getting to know Joe.  His speech introduces what he stands up for: non-violence and working together as a union regardless of the race.  As he starts speaking, the camera shows a shoulder-high shot of him and blurs the image of workers behind him.  By the camera’s making him stand out on the screen, his forceful speech and the later camera shot of the workers listening to his speech, the audience now realizes he is the hero of the film that they are going to look out for.  At the same time, Joe’s belief for non-violence makes the audience question if he can bring victory in the end without violence.  Starting from this scene, the audience starts questioning pacifism vs. violence.

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The filmmakers build up the character development of the heroine, Norma Rae, in a very realistic and interesting way.  The film helps the audience see that Norma, though shallow and ignorant at first, later grows into a thoughtful and proactive woman.  The filmmakers make this character development realistic by adding flaws to her character and also establishing that she has the potential for growth.

Through the scenes where she sleeps around and drinks with men, the film at first shows the audience that Norma is a shallow and fun-loving woman without a particular goal in her life.  Yet, she is also portrayed as strong, brave and caring about her family.  At the scene in the factory where her mother goes deaf, Norma, filled with anger and care, takes her mother straight to the supervisor office and complains about the working conditions without any fear at all.  This scene in particular depicts Norma’s strong-willed and caring character.

At the scene of the first meeting held by Reuben, the audience starts to see the subtle changes in her character.  After Reuben’s empowering speech, the camera shows a close-up shot of Norma’s facial expression.  She seems deep in thought and then has a look of delight after realizing something.  She starts to revise her opinions about her life and the life of her community.

Once she decides to join the union, she tries her best to make things happen as she becomes more thoughtful about the workers’ rights.  From the scene where she stands up on her table silently protesting and the scene where she tells her children, “You know what I believe?  Standing up for what I think is right,” the audience can see that Norma becomes really initiative and intent on establishing the union no mater what oppression she faces.

To conclude, Norma Rae becomes an inspiring character for the public through the portrayal of how an ordinary woman strives for what she believes and achieves it in the end.

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In “Deliverance,” the director Boorman mostly uses basic nature sounds such as the sounds of birds, water and wind.  Although the nature sounds alone can give the feeling of comfort and peacefulness, Boorman skillfully incorporates the sounds in action-packed scenes to deliver a frightening and thrilling mood to the audience.  Since the purpose of a thriller film is to entrap the audience within the environment, and “Deliverance” takes place in the backwoods, Boorman purposefully weaves the sounds of nature to give the audience the feeling that they are right there in the woods together with the characters’ experiencing the events.

For instance, the birds’ chirping is present in the background after Lewis shoots the hillbilly who rapes Bobby. As the four men start to argue about what to do with the body, the chirping sound is continually played together with the high panicked breathings of Drew.  Also, when the men carry the corpse and dig a hole to bury it, the birds’ chirping and insects’ twittering is kept playing the entire time.  With the continuation of these nature sounds, Boorman tries to strengthen the anxious and angry mood of the scene in the woods. The sounds together with the men’s arguing come to annoy the audience and make them feel anxious and angry, too.

Another example is the scene where Ed calls out Drew’s name standing on a rock in the middle of the river.  As Ed repeatedly shouts “Drew,” his sound echoes more loudly each time with the sound of water roaring in the background.  At this point, the audience can feel that the echo comes from all front, back and side angles.  Boorman adds this effect in order to match it with his circular camera angle showing Ed from all sides of the frame.  By simply using the repeated loud echo, the circular effect and the roaring-water sound, Boorman gives the audience a chill of fear and a feeling of being overwhelmed.

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When Endicott realizes that he is being questioned as a suspect, the camera shows him coming up to Tibbs from the waist-high shot.  When he slaps Tibbs and Tibbs slaps him back straightaway, the camera angle changes to their side showing all the four people’s expressions within the frame: Tibbs, Endicott, Gillespie and the black servant.  Right after the slapping, the camera moves to the close-up shot of Gillespie looking surprised and a little impressed with Tibbs.  Then, Tibbs is shown also from the close-up angle, looking straight at Endicott with a fierce and bold look.  Next, again the close-up shot of Endicott shows him being furious and feeling his cheek.

With this short yet very important scene, the director is trying to make the audience surprised and awed by the unexpected response of Tibbs: a black man taking action to a white man’s mistreatment.  Next, by showing Endicott feeling his cheek, the director wants the audience to see him as weak and less powerful than Tibbs who was wearing a strong and brave look.

After Tibbs, Gillespie and the black servant left, the waist-high shot shows Endicott grimacing and then crying among the flowers and plants.  This scene portrays him as humorous, weak and even feminine with the background of flowers.  Showing him cry, the director is trying to leave an impression on the audience that Endicott is feeble and impotent as opposed to his former important look.

In this single scene, the director tries to achieve all the themes of the film: depicting racial discrimination against black people, reacting to the mistreatment without fear, and mocking the condescending and disrespectful behaviors of white people toward black people.

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Scarlett goes out from the house to look for the doctor.  She is hardly making her way among people shouting and running in all directions.  After a moment, she becomes dumbstruck with the scene of soldiers lying on the ground, being wounded and some of them dying.  At that point, the long, deep and melancholy music comes up.  As the music becomes louder and the camera slowly pulls back upward, the entire screen is filled with hundreds of casualties groaning and having no one to give them treatment.  Then, the camera goes upward and shows a close shot of the Confederates’ flag flapping on top of a nearby building.

Through this important scene, the director, Victor Fleming, delivers two messages to the audience: the south’s suffering and its determined spirit.  Using hundreds of the supporting cast, the music and the long shot, Fleming made the viewers visualize how overwhelming, chaotic and distressful it was in the south.  This imagery helps the viewers sympathize with the south which is one of the aims of the film.

After this destruction scene, by showing the flag fluttering in the air, Fleming portrays hope, strength and unwavering spirit of the south.  The close shot of the flag foreshadowed how the south will revive and survive in the aftermath of the Civil War.

These two messages: the depredation and indefatigable attitude of the south are the recurring motifs in the film.  Fleming demonstrated how much the south suffered through various scenes: the casualties, the whole city burning, people starving, etc.  He also made the viewers see the determination of the south by use of symbols, strong-willed characters, and how they changed and survived through many difficulties.

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