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Writing Short Films by Phil Parker
Introduction The Protagonist: 1 The Protagonist: 2 Point of View & Theme Style & Tone Further Reading
Style & Tone
The Cutter (1992)

The Cutter (1992)

The style and, in particular, the tone of a work is another central aspect to address when developing any film, and especially a short film. Owing to the lack of narrative time, tonal shifts are very difficult to pull off, and building towards a big emotional climax slowly is difficult when you only have ten minutes for the whole film! However, though naturalism dominates the short form, as illustrated by Springing Lenin, Zinky Boys Go Underground, Deep Down and The Cutter, other approaches are possible. This is illustrated by the surreal qualities evident in The Curious and the expressionist point-of-view (POV) camera work, and the heightened colour in Yellow.

Even though the look/style of a film is critical to providing a visually coherent narrative, it is the tone of a work that critically engages with the emotions of an audience. In The Cutter and Deep Down humour is used to offset the central characters' potentially tragic situations, while in Yellow and The Curious tension is created by the ensuring the audience does not know what will happen next - just as the central character is uncertain - and the audience's fear of uncertainty/chaos is engaged. This sense of uncertainty is a reflection of the dramatic tone at the core of these films. This is because the dramatic tone is based upon characters having mixed outcomes in their actions: either they solve a problem only to be faced immediately by another or, if they win something, it's at a loss. The comic nature of the central character in Springing Lenin - a woman who you never suspect for one moment will be defeated by life or what she encounters - is reflected in the gentle absurdity of the events and characters who surround her.

The power of tone to affect how an audience engages is probably best illustrated in Yellow and The Curious, where the audience feels the powerlessness of the central characters owing to the use of POV shots and expressionist emotional camerawork, and in Zinky Boys Go Underground, where the neutral tone of the narrator allows the audience to engage with a vicious and threatening world. Ultimately, tone is captured in performance, and in direction, but the screenplay lays the foundations for the tone to be found by the director, actors, and cinematographer.