BEHIND THE SCENES
7 February 2020 - Mark Haines
Robots - Behind the Scenes
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FILM "ROBOTS".
If you haven't seen the film yet, click here before reading.
There's a rule/guideline in screenwriting that has always made me think and it concerns dialogue. The guideline is that every new line of dialogue should add new information to the scene and story. And I know that this is probably a good rule of thumb but I guess my problem with it is why I have deemed it a 'guideline' and has led me to believe that there aren't really any hard and fast 'rules' in screenwriting, but, like with any art form, it is good to learn the rules before you break them. And well, I'm definitely not a master, and I don't think I will ever consider myself one as I believe there is always more to learn but I was so determined to, let's say 'examine' that rule (since 'break' is a bit too strong a word). So where am I going with this? I guess, what bothers me is that people, in their daily lives, repeat themselves over and over again, saying the same things with different words, going over and over, repeating themselves (you see?). How can that facet of communication be explored if every line of dialogue solely serves the purpose of bringing up new information?
This was the task at hand and as soon as I had this back and forth in my mind, trying to dissect this guideline as I have just described, I had dialogue pop into my head. The dialogue was of a couple fighting, essentially saying the same thing to one another and getting no closer to a resolution. This made me think of a reference film, that I rewatched, called 'Possibilia' by The Daniels (the directing duo behind 'Swiss Army Man' and some of my all-time favourite music videos). This reference film is interactive and depicts a couple breaking up, as they move throughout and outside of their house, the viewer is able to click between different panels that take the viewer to the same couple fighting in another part of their house/garden in a sort of multi-verse type of way (okay, it's difficult to explain, and I know I'm supposed to be a writer but... just go watch it and come back to this). The different versions of the fight are played with different intentions and intensities (I'll come back to this later).
So, after watching this reference and giving it a day or two, I came back to the idea and decided to write down what I had and what I had was a whole lot more as my subconscious did that thing where it works away on ideas when you aren't consciously thinking of them. But, the script was needing something - contrast. If a couple is breaking up, what would be the perfect antithesis to that? Well, couples being intimate. And if the couple arguing is essentially miscommunicating with one another even though they are using a lot of words, then the intimate couples need to be communicating non-verbally. I went back to some references that came to mind for the couples scenes, namely a few music videos: Mura Masa & Charli XCX - 1 Night, SOKO :: We Might Be Dead By Tomorrow (nudity NSFW warning on this one), and Skrillex & Diplo - To Ü ft AlunaGeorge. All of which I recommend you check out, they are all gorgeous works of art. These references also gave me the idea of the further juxtaposition of film vs. digital. The intimate couples are film (well, emulated) and the couple arguing is digital.
This thinking around communication is also how the image of the telephone pole at the beginning of the film, along with the 56k modem sound and the mechanical title 'Robots', came to be; all of those things are riffs on communication. The title is also an edgier play on its original meaning, which is 'slave' (thank you - 'The World's End), the meaning of which being a jab at people being in endless cycles of getting into relationships then breaking up etc.
After I had a draft, I brought it to Jaco, and he put a rightful end to my self-indulgent nonsense that I tend to tangent off into if I don't have Jaco there to ground everything. He's the best at that. You should co-write with Jaco sometime, it's the best. But also back away, he's my friend and colleague, I'll fight you all off! Anyway, we wrote another draft together and I felt a lot better about my whole 'experiment' thing.
In rehearsals, the two actors, Wenzel Grobler and Koketso Motlhabane, brought up the idea of doing passes at the dialogue at different intensities and intentions to build a rapport of chemistry between them and investigate how they could code the subtext behind their words in the different deliveries of them. Like the reference film 'Possibilia', their intentions change but the words still guide the scene (huh, maybe there is something to this 'guideline' after all, I mean the film does 'end' somewhere in a break-up, someone has to introduce new information - being that they don't love one another anymore - but the jury is still out on the 'guideline'). This gave me a great short hand to use when on set, as I was able to call back to the discussions we had about a different pass at the dialogue that we had done and to try that intention instead of another. I went on to use this technique in the rehearsals for another short, but more on that in that respective blog post.
The production of the film is pretty well covered in the Behind the Scenes (click here) video on the channel and I don't really have more to say than thank you to everyone involved for being a part of this project. We couldn't have pulled it off without everyone involved. There were quite a few people on set at one time (well, a lot in comparison to the other shorts), but everyone just got on so well. Also, big shout out to Sam and Mary Alexander who let us shoot at her house, they are the best.
Post-production went very smoothly, with Jaco (as always) doing a gorgeous sound mix and Alexander Verbaan composing some great music that complemented the film very well. A bit on the music; the industrial, harsh, staccato style vs the more legato, smooth style was a very deliberate choice that complimented the aforementioned juxtaposition.
And like that, the film was mastered, exported, and uploaded for you all to watch!