Ben Kal

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Ben Kal

Location: Rochester, United Kingdom

Member Since: July 2015

Last online: January 2016

Open for read requests: Yes

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How I used my love of stories to create a film - Part 1
Hi readers
My film journey properly began in 2000.
However, my story-telling project began in a distant home, in a country far, far away. That is where I shall start.
Until then, like most people I loved simply watching films, sharing fabulous one-liners with friends, acting out some scenes, and more often than not, I was always eager to see the sequels.
A few films stood out for me during my teen years, and among them blockbuster behemoths such as Terminator, Aliens, Beverley Hills Cop, as well as some golden oldies, such as Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments, Zulu and of course my all time favourites at that time, Batman (1989 film), Star Wars (not the prequels) and Superman, starring the late, great Christopher Reeve. Perhaps the most influential film for my first film project was Zulu.
But my creative journey began in my own creative galaxy far, far away.
It began in Ghana. Shortly after I arrived, I felt the need to be creative, astounded as I was by the sights and sounds of the colourful, brash new world I found myself in, And in my need to do something, and the pervading influence of comics, as well as a naïve idea of a film I knew nothing about, except the title, Gone with the Wind, I thought I should try my hand at making a short story, like you do.
Perhaps if I'd staying in London, my eyes glued on Thunderbirds, Doctor Who, and many other TV programs, which were not available at that time in Ghana, my projects might never have come to fruition.
To this day, I have no idea why that film title stick in my head, but it was the flowering of something creative, which would set the course for me to eventually make films. If the title of a movie I knew nothing about, but found intriguing, was my creative flower, and if my environment was the catalyst, then the seed was the fascinating characters imprinted from the comics. That was my DNA.
And my tools, my creative, sunshine and photosynthesis, were the humble pen and paper. In my mind, it was as though a teacher had said, "here's the title of a film you know nothing about, now go and write an essay of what you think the story is, giving full character description". Yes, I was a strange kid.
But that was it! My film journey initially began with a need to create a story, a situation based on limited information, but influenced by comics and the new environment. The end product wasn't great. Had I gone on to be mega successful, I would no doubt have been sued, I suspect. The script was short, the characters not entirely flushed out, and the subsequent plot rudimentary, at best. The story turned into a little play.
The name of the play was... "Away with the Wind".
Wow, how original! Needless to say, I wasn't expecting an Oscar anytime soon.
But that was lesson 1.
 My lesson 1
To start off with a simple idea for a story, using what you know.
What interests you? What are you passionate about?
What environment are you in, what places and people are you familiar with. Would your characters live in that same world?
What would they like to do?
That's how I started.
In part 2, I shall go into a bit more detail, continuing the story of my creative film journey.

My creative journey - Part 2
Hi readers
In Part 1, I began the exploration for my film journey, which properly began in 2000.
But it all started off with a simple story.
My new environment gave me inspiration to start being creative, and that’s when I put pen to paper. I took into account my own experiences, friends and people I knew, or had encountered no matter how briefly.
Three things struck me as soon as I arrived in Ghana.

The intense glare of the sunshine.
The friendliness of everyone.
The pervading influence of religion.
Of course as I mentioned before, I still had that “Gone with the Wind” idea running around in my head. Except that there was hardly a breeze about, unless you happened to be by the beach.
But I was determined to write my story.  What exactly was it going to be about?
I took my first cue from my own experience. Travelling from London to Ghana.
In six or so hours, my family left the Winter of Discontent and arrived in the Sunshine of Promise.  The contrast was amazing in so many ways. Only in Ghana, did I notice the weather. Ironic really. In Britain, it’s no big deal to go through 3 or 4 seasons in a day, but somehow, I tended only to remember cloudy skies and rainy days, with the occasional special guest appearance by Mr Sunshine.
If the sunshine in Britain was a bit humble, like man with his bowler hat on, not given to brashness or blowing one’s trumpet, quite happy to quietly reveal his innate personality and skill in nice easy-to-digest fragments, then in Ghana this was the Loverman! No bowler hats here, oh no! This dude was packing personality by the bucketload, shedding his clothes and flashing his personality like it was going out of fashion! No quite, blissful sunrays seeping gently through the clouds. The sunshine here was full on, and busting to cook something, anything. And more often than not, it was my skin!
People were amicable. Big time. Never had I seen so many smiling, jubilant faces, all welcoming, all-encompassing in their generosity. These were definitely different characters.
Oh there had always been generous friendly people, as there are anywhere, but here it was different. Was it due to us, being different from London; was it due in part to an appreciation of life given the relative discrepancy in wealth, or was it due to religion?
Religion, or more specifically, quotes from the Bible existed like the never-ending palm trees that swayed defiantly in the face of intense heat, biblical downpours during the rainy season and the yearly Harmattan winds that cascaded in from the North.
You got the quotes and references to God from the mouths of infants and adults alike, it was part of the lexicon, “yes, I’ll see you tomorrow, God willing” Psalm verses crawled along the body of virtually every public transport bus or van or vendor outlet. It was like God had his own advertising agency, and every available quote, chapter and verse was going to be seen wherever possible.
That was lesson 2.
 My lesson 2
The story was going to involve people travelling.
The story would feature powerful weather, or different types of weather.
It would include elements of the divine, or superstition.
In other words, following on from lesson 1.
Writing about your experiences and your surroundings; people, places and incidents.
That's how I started forming the bones of the first story, adding those elements together.
In part 3 I shall go into character development, continuing the story of my creative film journey.
Follow my journey as I go through the creative rabbit hole, and - like Alice - discover a creative world I never knew existed.

My creative journey - Part 3
 Hi readers
 Today, we are going to look at character development.
 When I started to write “Away with the Wind” I felt I had an innate knowledge of character.
 At the time, I did not look too deeply into it, but was mindful of certain things.
 What makes a character? Can a character change?
 In my new world, out in the glorious sunshine, I came across a lot of characters. During that time, two things stood out for me. One of them was simply the title of another story I knew nothing about, “Stranger in a strange land”, and secondly, a place my sisters and I referred to as Earth 2.
 So what does this have to do with character development?
 First of all I was aware of being unique; everyone seemed to want to see me, talk to me, smile at me, or simply stare at me. I was either a pop star – and not aware of it – or a goldfish in a bowl!
 I didn’t even have to open my mouth and let the cockney run free…oh, no.
 Just walking in my khaki shorts did it. Kids by the road, all stopped and stared. Fashion icons, eat your heart out!
 But seriously, what was this? Something wrong my shorts? My legs all wobbly or something?

On the outside I was smiling all the time – would be terribly rude not to – and all the while the last thing I wanted to do was smile. My bloody jaws ached. I wanted to look each visitor or stranger in the eye and say, “yes I know I’m from the UK, but I look like you – so enough with the staring. And by the way, I’m not being rude, this is me in my natural and neutral state. I’ve been smiling all the time, I’m fed up with it. So, it’s nice to meet you, I like you too, but can I go now?”
What kind of character was I turning into? A smiling hypocrite?
 Was that really me? Was that really what I was becoming? A stranger in a strange land?

On the outside, a perfectly jovial young lad, but on the inside a different person altogether,
 fed up with all the attention, just wanting to blend in. In some ways, I was actually learning to act.
 Of course there were lots of other characters out there too. I’d never seen a disabled person attend the same school as able-bodied people, much less arrive in a wheelchair. Face and upper torso was normal, feet the size of an infant. No big deal. Just a kid in the class. Great.
 I open my mouth however, and it’s all eyes on me. “It speaks! And in a funny accent too!”
Where are you from? Mars….
And it wasn’t hard to find other characters, from those bearing particular physical traits, such as a woman struggling with elephantitis to urchins, and personalities ranging from the guy with the biggest laugh in the room to the quiet studious type, from the energetic women running the market stalls to the street sellers plying their trade balancing their whole stock on their heads, and weaving majestically among the bustling traffic. The place was a cacophony of hoots, laughter, cackles and wails, as life was condensed in that one market and street. There were infants carried on backs, some sleeping, others not, a range of blaring music, Christian slogans everywhere, with dust rising up from the road, as the sun beamed down on a life that only altered its tempo, once the sun decided to set. And when darkness fell, the lamps, lanterns and candles flickered to life with the emergence of noisy crickets and predatory mosquitoes. Even the place had a character of its own.
“Earth 2” came about when my sisters and I were walking along a busy stretch of road. It was blindingly bright, noisy, teeming with life. There were barking dogs, shuffling goats, squawking chickens, crawling ants, buzzing flies – you name it. It was all there. No chance for peace. Then, not so much going off a beaten track, but simply stepping through a wall and into what seems like a gigantic park, all the sounds disappeared! It was cooler among the trees. Here was another place that was tranquil, as though the wall was deceptively soundproof. It was incredible, and the whole place was permeated with greenery. Not the yellow, sunbaked brightness we were exposed to a moment ago. People ambled about silently. Here was another world. We called it Earth 2. Here I could be calm, my character could relax in silence. This calmness reflected another side of my personality. This new environment was affecting me.
 I knew then I had my characters, myself included.

That was lesson 3.
 My lesson 3
 The story was going to have a person who is not what he seems, feeling isolated.
 The story would feature people who were energetic, happy, sad, and ill.
 The characters would be influenced by their environment, and with all these elements you had the potential for conflict and adventure. This was going to drive my story.
 Next week, in part 4 I shall go into storylines, continuing the story of my creative journey.

My creative journey - Part 4
Hi readers
In Part 4, we will be looking at storylines.
What is a good storyline?
Action, Adventure, Romance, Revenge, Ambition, Murder or Ghost stories?
When I was younger and started being creative, I saw my new world as a fantasy one. Of course it helped that my new home was exotic, and that my mum gave my sisters and I quite a number of comics as well as science fiction and fantasy books.
When I think back, I “saw” the stories in books more so than I read them. Visually, they were stunning. I read the words, my brain processed it, assembled the letters, gathered the words, and shoved them on the conveyer belt. Out they came. Oh, I was reading all right, but my eyes were seeing the finished product leaping off the pages. Which is why I eventually gravitated towards screenwriting. The books I read brought characters to life.
People can quote film stars, pop stars, and sports legends. Long before that even interested me, I could proudly say I knew of Robert Silverberg, Clifford D Simak, Robert A Heinlein, Asimov or Richard Mathieson, the latter of whom was responsible for the fantastic novel, “I am Legend”, thereafter adapted into films starring Charlton Heston and Will Smith. Trust me, the novel is better.
Honestly what kind of a teenager was I? Here is an example of a conversation, which could quite easily have happened, although the first part is true.
“Do you know Michael Jackson?”
“He’s part of the Jackson Five, isn’t he?” I replied. (I was actually asked by my best friend. At that time I wasn’t aware Mr Jackson had actually gone solo then. This was in the early eighties)
“Did you see his Moonwalk?”
“No, but do you like stuff by Robert A Heinlein?”
“Robert who?”
Yes, I really was a stranger in a strange land.
For me, at that time, a good story was one which had interesting characters. Characters who were influenced by their environment, as well as the people within their world.
A story about a couple of people chatting in a room about social politics would never do it for me. For one, I wasn’t that interested in politics – I could barely spell it – and also what would be the climax? A raging argument! Someone swearing and storming out the room? Really?
Give me a fire-breathing dragon anyday!
Let’s gather a motley crew of vagabonds in some weird cloud-city, kit them out with some really cool cleavers, swords and superpowers and sit back while they storm the skies in elegant machines, dashing through time zones and making total mince-meat out of grotesque aliens! Now that’s a story.
Okay, so I wasn’t your average Shakespearen.
We are told about the 3 act structure, even though at the time I knew it purely on an instinctual level.
Act 1 covers the introduction of our characters. Certainly our main characters. We find out who they are, what motivates them or not, and introduce a problem which has to be solved. End of Act 1
Act 2 How they go about solving the problem. A solution is found. End Act 2.
Act 3 This is actually the process by which they solve the problem.
We will cover this in more detail later, but essentially this is the classic structure for any storyline.

In “Away with the Wind”, our characters who are living in an isolated town encounter a problem which brings all relevant parties together. There are serious discussions and arguments, different personalities vying for attention and influence. The town is in danger. A storm is literally brewing. All indications are that with the unusual weather approaching, there would soon be a catastrophy of biblical proportions. How to deal with this?
Different people propose different solutions, but for one family, with three generations, and a heritage that speaks powerfully to their sense of belonging, who they are and their sense of destiny, there is only the one, tragic solution. To migrate, before it is too late.
And so the story unfolds. They escape from the relative comfort of their home to a world whose destination is out of sight. A family escaping from the wrath of the devastating tonadoes, bringing in its wake a series of dusty storm cyclones, threatening to consume everything in its path, and all the while gaining on them as they run as fast as they can, belongings in hand, into the dusty, chaotic abyss before them. (Vehicles no longer operational) And they flee not knowing if they can outrun the raging climatic monster behind them, not knowing what lies ahead, not knowing if they do survive and reach a town, whether that would be deserted, and whether there would be any food left.
Can you see how my journey into Ghana and my living there influenced this first story?
Okay, so it didn’t have wizards, witchcraft or fire-breathing monstrosities, but give me a break. This was my first story, you know. All that magic and sorcery mayhem would emerge later, much later in further stories, which would eventually help lead me onto the path of film-making.
Back then it was enough that there was a storyline with characters we liked and could relate to; a storyline whose characters influenced and were in turn influenced by their world. Their status and heritage had made an impact on their world which they helped create and were loathe to abandon. They were influenced by external forces, in this case, the onset of extreme weather of biblical proportions. The use of the word biblical is no coincidence. You cannot live in Ghana and be ignorant of the Bible or its influence; neither its weather, nor its diverse characters.
That was lesson 4.
 My lesson 4
The story was about the things I knew; the things that fascinated and interested me.
Characters were introduced, there was a problem – in this case, life threatening - and they had to come together to find a solution.
In creating my first story, I tried to keep it simple.
Yet there was a degree of ambition in my tale. No talking heads here. No political discussion. Simply writing a story about a family moving from London to Ghana, and being treated differently just wouldn’t cut it. Besides, that wasn’t a story; that was a biography. And at this point, I’m concentrating on fiction stories.
So my first story, “Away With the Wind”, was simple, with real life influences, dramatic and contained characters and situations anyone could relate to.
Next week, in part 5, we shall examine stories driven by characters against stories driven by plot.

Follow my journey under the Article category.

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