Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You!!!

Whenever I write and illustrate a book, I try to make it feel like a little movie you can hold in your hands. This means I have 8 different jobs to do, and every one of them comes straight out of Hollywood (just minus the big budget). Hoo-hah! To show how this works, I'll roll the credits.

1. My Screenwriter persona must first conjure up a strong story idea and then write the screenplay. I tend to go for true tales of adventure, and most of my stars stride forth out of history. I command myself to find a brand new twist on these old tales, to be as compelling, substantive, and entertaining as possible, and to be 1,000% accurate at the same time. Remembering that the pictures are King and tell at least half the story, I try to make the script relatively short--but (I hope) as evocative as haiku.
Just one picture tells everything Ben Franklin did in his entire life.
The words go in the narrow white space to the right.
(Click on each picture to enlarge)

2. Naturally, I hire myself to be the Director. Will I frame my story as a comedy or a mystery, a drama or a thriller--or all of the above? Should the visuals be realistic or might they work best as a Toon? Once I decide, I'll make a storyboard so that each scene is designed to keep viewers on the edge of their seats and eager to find out what happens next.

3. Next I become the Casting Director. To select the best actors and actresses to play my protagonists, my job is to figure out, for example, exactly what Charles Darwin or George Washington looked like at a certain age. Or I have to think about John Smith's personality and then deduce the way he might really have behaved in each scene. And will my Sacajawea characterization captivate the audience and still be historically accurate?

4. Now my illustrator half morphs into a Costume Designer, a job that calls for more research than you can shake a stick at. Every button on King George III's coat, every fancy collar or piece of jewelry around Queen Elizabeth's neck, every weapon fired by the Cossack army, and every robe and headdress of the Mandan Indians has to be correct down to the last detail.

5. I also get to be the Set Designer, so I have to do the same in-depth research as my costume designer self to make sure that the iguanas on the Galapagos Islands, Lewis and Clark's various boats, and the post offices and libraries in Colonial Philadelphia look exactly right. Got to include the correct saloons and scenery and equipment from the California Gold Rush too.

6. As the Stunt Coordinator, it's my job to add plenty of action so that when John Smith gets tossed off of a ship in a storm or when Charles Darwin falls out of his hammock, my stuntmen do their best to whip up some excitement. For humorous effects, I can even have my Ben Franklin stunt man turn cartwheels over the top of his own inventions.

7. I'm the Cinematographer for sure. For dramatic effect, the lighting has to be just right. So does the mood and the color in each shot. Every scene must move the story forward in a visually interesting way. I can choose to shoot the scenery from above or below. I can use close-ups of faces or add dramatic wide angle shots from afar like this one:

8. I even get to be the Special Effects expert who wows the audience with exploding volcanoes! Gigantic tsunamis! Or fiery ship battles with showers of stars in the mix!

Hmmmm....I love all eight of my labor-intensive jobs, and like all the rest of the nonfiction author/illustrators out there, I never have time to get bored. But I'm thinking that we're all about due for a raise!

Picture credits in order of appearance come from the following books: How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning; What Darwin Saw: The Journey that Changed the World; How We Crossed the West: The Adventures of Lewis and Clark; John Smith Escapes Again! What Darwin Saw; the Journey that Changed the World; John Smith Escapes Again! (again); The Old Chisholm Trail: A Cowboy Song;and George vs. George; the American Revolution as Seen from Both Sides.

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