Write-it Wednesday #7 — Bottle Short

13 Jul

I don’t know how many of your have heard the term “bottle show” as it refers to television, but you’ve all probably seen one. It’s a cost-conscious episode design where every once in a while, the top two or three leads will get stuck somewhere–in a submarine, a helicopter, a remote laboratory, or even their own home base. They then must work out their usual weekly mystery–whodunit, what alien, etc, without their usual tools or resources, and often against a ticking clock.

I’m thinking of a few episodes of The X-Files, and many episodes from the mid-2000s sci-fi (and SyFy) monster hunting SanctuarySanctuary had a bunch, because it was relatively low budget.

This works in comedies too of course, although comedies are more “bottled” by nature, often taking place mainly in a few familiar sets, usually the characters’ living rooms or apartments. But still, the power goes out, everyone’s snowed in, etc.

But I promised a smaller-scope prompt (and I almost backed out, I’m just not good with those), so let’s add a dimension. A lot of us work mainly in fantasy world, and even when we set our stories in the real world, we lean toward the genres and settings that are popular right now — crime dramas in dim alleys and bustling police stations; superheroes with secret swanky headquarters flying over NYC. That’s not exactly “small-scope.”

So, as a limiting factor, this week you are to write a short, it can be a scene, a short story, or a short film, but you must be able to concievably film the entire thing wherever you are right now. You don’t have to, obviously, but any effects or props you plan for should be plausible to ask of a generically capable film student.  For example, our fictional film student could almost certainly handle a coffee shop conversation, or a board game played by flashlight on a dark and stormy night. They could maybe even swing something like the first time-travel test from Back to the Future, if you simply must have your sic-fi.  It uses two actors, takes place in a mall parking lot, and uses a car with a bunch of stuff tacked on the outsides.

For those us who usually deal in stories more equivalent in scope to blockbuster movies than to student shorts, this exercise is meant to real us in. For those of you who are more comfortable with small stories . . . er, enjoy this prompt while you can? OR push yourself a little bigger by considering basic stunts or effects.

Obviously this is somewhat relative to where your life. I live in a small costal town where my theoretical choices are my house, the local movie theater, the beach, or one of like 16 mom-and-pop cafes, etc. If you live in a big city, your choices will be a bit different, but use you best judgement, and keep it close to home.

Finally, let the setting you pick be the prompt for your story. The place(s) your select will define the tone of the story, and determine what characters would be there.

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