screenwriting

Wilderness (Post 4)

It's not mine for much longer. The actors and locations are set. The schedule is 90% done. It's all happening, soon it will be time to get it done and once that process is underway I have less of an important creative role. I don't mind. I can't wait to see what happens. Plus I know that I will need to be ready to make key action and dialogue decisions in the thick of it, such is the collaborative nature of the work I do with Justin, the director.

For now though, it is still mine, barely. And that is a nice feeling. 

I wonder what will come of the story and the characters once they exist of the page. It's quietly terrifying and exhilarating. I have a lot of pride for this piece of work. It has moved from something I did for a project I was developing to something that I feel ready to stand behind artistically and emotionally. The response to it from Justin, from the actors, from Steve Maclean who I trust implicitly with my work, has seen to that. 

Justin has a Steve he trusts in the same way. His name is Stephen Keep Mills and he's a brilliant filmmaker and old friend of ours. Knowing that he loves it and that he sees it as I see it, and as Justin sees it, is so invigorating.

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Here's what he said about the script:

Hey, Justin and Neil—I enjoyed being in The Wilderness! You have a very viable story and I was always wondering what would happen next—not to them, but between them. You have really caught the dilemma and brought the story within the tension of the two main players and that’s a great accomplishment. I don’t think you need to worry about John’s like-ability. We understand that they both are fighting for their lives and constantly recalibrating what’s real against what has been pre-wished. All emotions are strategic arrows in their separate quivers and they use as many as they think they need to keep from being slaughtered by the other. In playing this, don’t be afraid to let silences come in and banalities blow around like dandelions—we know a cloud is lurking, darkening, and on its way to breaking. The actors need to carry all the weight with them even when they seem least concerned, so that confrontations can come in strong and out of the blue. It’s kind of a Dance of Death wrapped up in the everyday—even when “normal” we can’t escape the always-near possibility of domestic rawness. When John and Alice start using crude language vs. each other—that’s a release of violence for them and marks an effort to break down walls that have become dangerous—so let the actors really get on fire with the fight which at that point needs that kind of weapon-talk. I like their isolation filled as it is with bucolic lures as well as the kindling of danger. Something is going to happen to them—each other! Find ways the characters of John and Alice have mastered confidence and find ways they are so vulnerable and far away. A great take on relationships and I like that you get to experiment and find out things you don’t know now. Good bones! And the best thing is that you will do it. That’s everything. Keep me posted. And let all those questions further you and not give you too much pause. The answer is in the action. Find it there. Steve

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When people write things like this about your work it refocuses the energy on what's important, which is the work. Questions of what happens beyond the finished thing start to pale because the work has already touched people and if we can capture that on screen then it will touch people, and that is what counts. How many people seems irrelevant. 

The past couple of weeks I have been fortunate enough to talk with filmmakers including Kim Longinotto, Mark Jenkin and John Maclean and I've been invigorated and inspired by their approach to the form. They echo my sincerest beliefs - in the form, in being uncompromising, in searching for something honest - and have provided really key reminders of what matters as we get close to zero hour. 

I'm enjoying the words on the page, feeling satisfied and honoured and excited. 

Wilderness (Post 1)

Introductory Update

The feature film I am writing for the School of Film & Television at Falmouth University's inaugural Filmmaker in Residence pilot has a title. It's called Wilderness.

I am writing a 60+ page screenplay that will be expanded through actor improvisations in a rehearsal period prior to shooting around Easter 2016. So far I have written 30+ pages.

I have given these to the filmmaker in residence, my long-time collaborator Justin Doherty and we have discussed them. It was really daunting to give the pages to Justin. Apart from Barbed Wire Heron these were the first pages I had given him in a long time. They were also pages that had to be good, and feel right, and work because we are up against the clock and this was the only idea that really worked. It was also an idea that was picked because of logistics such as time, budget etc. We have other screenplays burning holes in our pockets that have for years, but they will have to wait.

It was also daunting because again, apart from Barbed Wire Heron, this was the first screenwriting I had done for 4 years. Could I still do it? Could I get across what I wanted to say. Would it excite, and inspire? Would it work?

I was ecstatic that Justin liked it and wanted to make it. However, more than that I was pleased that he read it and understood the spaces that would be filled by performers and how he would approach shooting it so that the intention would remain even if logistically what was on the page was not possible. 

It has made planning writing the remaining 30+ pages a much easier task.

We've mapped it out and agreed on a central section that the story hangs on, that works in terms of achievability and story logic. It's exciting. 

Themes & Acceptance

Part of my process is sharing my work with someone else I trust beyond Justin. I can rely on this person to tell me whether something works or not. He gets me, and my work.

I gave him a very brief overview of the story, characters, when it is set. From this he drew out themes that Justin and I had discussed, and he drilled down into what he felt the resonances could be from that. That was encouraging because it meant that our thinking about those contexts were in the right place. So I sent him the 30+ pages. The conversation we had then excited me because he got it. He got exactly what I was aiming for and he understood where I wanted to take it, without me having to tell him. He also scared me when he said that

'she is trying to accept him but he won't accept himself for being an arsehole'

This hit me because it's true but I didn't realise it, and I didn't realise that I had written myself into the character to that degree. 

I hope it doesn't impact the way I write the rest of the script but I don't think it will. It's all been so clearly mapped out prior to that conversation but it's heartwarming and encouraging to know that I am on the right track when the two people I trust the most regarding my writing feel what I have done is good. After four years out of the game, that's a wonderful feeling, but I shall not get complacent. 

 

Barbed Wire Heron: A New Short Screenplay

In the midst of thinking about (procrastinating about) the feature screenplay I need to deliver over the next few months I hit a lull of negativity and felt adrift. I decided to sit down and let out onto the page a variety of ideas and feelings that had been brewing in various guises for some time. 

A location, a desire to write something that was oblique but tough and a small plot idea that in a feature context could become mawkish and derivative were what drove me. Yes, I also wanted to write something that had a female protagonist. 

The result is the 7-page but potentially 10-minute 'Barbed Wire Heron'. It's a film I really want to make but for now it has served as a reminder that I can write something and get it done. Yes. 7 pages is not 90 but I feel proud of the short as it stands. It reminded me of my tone, my voice, my abilities and has allowed me to return to feature research with greater clarity and purpose.

'Barbed Wire Heron' as a title comes from a moment when I was walking my dog and came across a dead heron that had clearly died when it had become caught in a barbed wire fence and couldn't free itself. I felt an illogical sadness that I was not around when it had happened and was haunted by imagining the plight of the bird in its death throes. I wondered what I would and could have done had I been there. I also thought about freeing the corpse but I didn't.