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Beyond the biopic an exploration into the nature of biography through the medium of film.

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This research deals with the process of writing a biographical screenplay which sheds light and insight into the life of Mary Wollstonecraft, the eighteenth-century writer of ground-breaking works such as A Vindication on the Rights of Woman (1792). Although the facts around Wollstonecraft’s life are relatively well-known, especially in Britain, I wanted to write the screenplay to explore how her struggle to be taken seriously as a woman is still relevant today. For this reason I chose to create the modern, parallel narrative of Khetiwe’s story to illustrate the struggle for emancipation, which still continues in some parts of the world. Primarily, I aimed to create a structure which illustrates the defining characteristics of the protagonists, and ensures that the form of the screenplay enhances the hermeneutics of the narrative. This practice-based research begins with an examination of the most popular writing techniques which could be employed as obvious structural solutions. I begin with an exploration of the biographical genre itself, to discover how genre usually dictates structure. I then examine traditional storytelling structures, namely the hero’s journey. Next, I explore ways of making these traditional structures move beyond the privileged masculine point of view. I subsequently explore the hero’s journey’s apparent opposite, the heroine’s journey. Then, I document how I stumble across the use of the mise en abyme through writing and producing one of my short films. This leads to an examination of the exact nature of this particular literary device. I examine two biographical feature films, La Vie en Rose and Saving Mr Banks, to show how they make use of the mise en abyme, and show how successful these applications are. Finally, I track the process of writing A Hyena in Petticoats, making note of the structures I have employed. In conclusion, I collate a template to illustrate my structural choices with the use of the mise en abyme as a hyper-structure, on top of a baseline structure. I suggest that the template proffers a new way of approaching biographical feature-film writing, and offers opportunities for biographical feature scripts, as well as possibilities for narrative-feature scripts.


Doctor of Philosophy in English Studies. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2017.


Theses - English Studies.