Asitha is a British-Sri Lankan writer and filmmaker living in London. He was brainwashed by Greek myth at an early age and has attempted to tell stories ever since. Educated in Sri Lanka and London, he read Classics at Bristol University and received a master’s degree in Film & Theatre Directing from the California Institute of the Arts. His films have been screened and won awards internationally, including a short film BAFTA in 2007 for ‘Do Not Erase’and a 2009 European Film Academy and BAFTA nomination for ‘14’. A collection of his short stories, ‘Wedding Gifts and Other Presents’, was published in 2008 in Sri Lanka and he is currently working on his first feature film.
Whatever the inspiration for your story, I find it useful to interrogate what medium to tell it through. For me, the story at this stage is an organism that needs a suitable environment in which to grow. I usually find myself pondering this for months because it's not easy. Why is it not a novel, short story, stage play, feature film or any other format? Why can it only be told with moving images and sound, and in a relatively short space of time? The story could be small in scope or a 'slice of life', but huge issues can also be peered at through acute perspectives. Short films have the wonderful capacity to allow the filmmaker the freedom to experiment, to question and play with filmmaking conventions, so long as the story demands it. And deciding on the format can only be discovered by delving deep into what interests and moves you to tell the story.
Your perspective on any story has never been told before. You bring to it not only your interest in the subject but also your life experience, which is completely specific to you. And as long as you adhere to your truth, it will always be unique. It is often said that you must write about what you know, but there is something in writing about less familiar things that is very alluring, and allows us, as outsiders, to take different paths in the storytelling to reach the heart of what we want to explore. I've always believed that an artist's greatest asset is their ability to be constantly open and vulnerable. If something provokes an emotion in them, a connection is made with the world, which in turn gives rise to the art. But it also tells them something about themselves. This I believe is how your voice is created, and marks the start of how it can be heard.
For me, writing characters is how a story begins, and as they develop, so does the plot. So it's worth investing time in making your characters as fully formed and complex as possible, because when you get stuck on the narrative, you can always ask them what they would do. This may sound odd but creating believable characters means you can trust them to make their own decisions, and to a certain extent, take the burden off you. There is nothing more disengaging than hearing the writer through a character, and this can be easily avoided if you've got to know them in the first place. Have conversations with them outside of the story, ask them questions, treat them like you’ve just been introduced. The result may give you insights into deeper aspects of their personalities.
In fictional short film, there is always the temptation to explain a piece of the plot at some point in order to move on, usually due to length restrictions. Exposition is important, but how it is delivered can make or break a short film. It is worth thinking about which characters have knowledge of certain facts at specific points in the story, and when and how this knowledge is revealed to other characters and the audience. Sometimes simply shifting a scene can make all the difference. And if the characters are strong enough, they can often point you in the right direction. But it is also important to remember that not everything needs to be explained, depending on the kind of film you want to make. For me, creating and then walking the line between the explicit and implicit is the challenge, because more is open to interpretation and interrogation.
Writing for short film is one of the most liberating and exciting experiences for me. Regardless of the genre you are working in, from sci-fi to rom-com, being true to the characters and staying focused on what you want to investigate is key. My particular interest lies in questioning situations rather than commenting on them, but figuring out what you want from the act of writing is pivotal. The moment you start second guessing what the audience might want is where you may trip up. Writing is a solitary activity however ultimately it can be profoundly rewarding, because the script is not the finished product. It is the blueprint for the film and there is so much to look forward to once you've finished writing.