filmmaker in residence

Wilderness (Post 3)

Justin suggested we play around with the formatting of the screenplay. The script at present is 60 pages. Standard thinking suggests that equals 60 minutes. The film will be longer and there are things I've left out of the script that I want the actors to bring to the process.

Justin suggested putting those questions into the script. I've done that, alongside some thoughts and some ellipses that denote the slow passing of time that again, will be filled by the actors and the physical ideas they bring to the work.

I've done something I tell my students never to do. I tell them they have to earn the right to mess around with standardised formatting. However I'm messing around with standardised formatting. Have I earned it? I hope so. I know the script will be read by sympathetic readers (and there is a standard format version too) and that's why it felt like something could be done. Part of me enjoyed the rebellion, and I think that is partly why Justin suggested it. Everything about Wilderness feels like a fuck you. In a good way.

I'm also breaking the rules with my 'drafts'. Every time I change something of note I call that a draft. It doesn't have to be big, only significant. This is for teaching and for when I disseminate the project through research. To be fair, there will probably only be two drafts before we do final development with actors. 

People will say that's a bad thing, that you need more drafts than that. But we don't have time and it's not that kind of project. We have never worked that way. 

Justin and I have always been instinctual. We've always gone with our gut and it's rarely led us wrong. We can look back at the times it did with criticality and distance. 

We believe in this story and this telling and for now that's enough. There's a lot of work to do - some significant changes, some tinkering. We are ready for it.

The script has gone to the actors who are auditioning. The whole script. We know this is unusual but we are asking a lot of the actors we bring on board in terms of intimate scenes and also the level of improvisational development they will bring to the project. 

The script has also gone out to the students working on the project. I'm curious to see how they respond to it. Both emotionally, and as a tool.

I've compiled a list of films for students to watch for reference - Faces, Opening Night and Too Late Blues by Cassavetes, 45 Years, All Night Long, The Broken Circle Breakdown. Justin mentioned the party scene in Listen Up Philip which is a great call. It also made me think that Queen of Earth, also directed by our friend Alex Ross Perry, is a great reference point. One of the actresses auditioning said the script reminded her of this short film, Actresses

I watched it and think she is spot on. Tonally and in terms of the content it feels like a close relative of what we are doing, in a good way.

I've been listening to a lot of jazz. Justin recommended an 8-disc CD set of New Wave and 1960s films with jazz scores. I picked up Vols 1 and 2 and have been devouring them. They have been great at contextualising the tone and period we are going for. There's something about that era of jazz scores that elevates the films emotionally and gives them a complex resonance. 

I also compiled (for the students) a Spotify playlist with the songs that captured my mood and imagination as I was writing and developing the script. You can listen here.

When I told my girlfriend what the story was she told me it sounded like Ian McEwan's novel On Chesil Beach. When I told a colleague the story he said the same thing.  I was reminded of what my girlfriend said and ordered it. I'm starting it tonight

And I have put it on the reference list. I trust my love that much.

One strangely resonant piece of content is Louis C.K.'s latest endeavour Horace and Pete. I don't know if it's because I just adore it. It is full of space, of quiet, of silence. It takes its time and delivers raw, human emotion. It's funny, of course, but it's so much more. It aches and it's confused and it's sad and it's angry and it just wants it all to be over. It's a delicate thing that is overwhelming. So it's on the list. 

Wilderness (Post 2)

The script is done. It's 61 pages and I am proud of it. 

It has been a real challenge to write this alongside life and work but one that I have relished and where the necessity of distilling and crystallising my process has helped me harness writing spurts into incredibly rewarding sessions. The nature and format of this project and screenplay, writing something that is designed to be further developed in collaboration with actors, has allowed me to leave a lot of space that I know will be filled. The truth is also that this space will probably be filled by people better placed to fill those gaps than I am.

What is left is the story and the core, the themes and the essence. These are the things that are mine and that I want to protect. It's actually easier to know that big, key changes will occur when you willingly leave space for them. I relinquish so much control in advance that I can't be hurt. If only my characters could be that strong. 

Justin has seen it and really likes it, as has the other person I trust with my work. Now it goes out into the world. It goes to those funding it, those crewing it, the students, the actors. I wonder what they will make of it.

Justin and I talked and agreed that it feels like an 'us' project now. After so long wondering what we would do for our first feature film and then drifting through the fog of finding this idea and settling on it just to get something made we have emerged excited about this idea and story in itself. It feels very much like an emotional sequel to our last short It's Natural To Be AfraidThat was a film that went through a similarly conflicted gestation journey as a creative entity.

Justin also discussed producing a version of the screenplay that included some strange formatting elements and moments of direct address (from me as the writer) that will help those who read it understand that what is on the page is just part of it and that we know that, and that many of the emotional gaps are intentional at this stage. That we are just at the beginning. 

It's made me think about what I do as a writer and how I'd like to work moving forward. As someone who has always been staunchly and stubbornly indie it's exciting to find a positive way of creating projects that can be created with the sadly necessary compromises that comprise my professional life as I approach the middle of my life. I am fully aware that these compromises have had to have been made due to a particularly cavalier approach to my life up until the last few years.

If we pull this off, it's a decent template and one that feels true and represents an exciting and collaborative way of working, not just a compromise presented this way as a veiled excuse. 

It's exciting to see what some of the actors whose tapes we've been watching will do with it. And soon down the line, what the world will make of it.

Returning To The Fray

It's hard and I'm scared. It's been so long, 4 years, since I sat and wrote a screenplay that became a film. Despite screenwriting being a considerable aspect of my life as a screenwriting lecturer at university. 

I have to write something that gets made and there are ideas, and fragments, and drafts, and dreams. I am writing the script that will become the first film created for the Filmmaker in Residence project I am overseeing at work over the next year. 

I know I can do it. So much of my life has been building up to this moment. I'm still scared. There's a real gut rotting fear deep inside that I can't do it. That I've forgotten. That I never really had it in me. That I don't know what I'm doing.

It is a fear I know well as it plagues me in most other areas of life. They have subsided somewhat as I've gone through my doctorate (that's the main reason for the creative hiatus) and carved out a new career. I still get pangs of imposter syndrome and often feel like a failure. Less so than before. But still.

The launch of the new project last week means that there's a deadline and a demand. That's usually when I work best, creatively. And myself and Justin's favoured project to shoot is not merely an idea but a script that's gone through several drafts. 

It's an adaptation at present though it may become changed beyond recognition. The reasons why will be covered in future posts I'm sure. 

We've been in contact with the rights holders. Next stage, now there's a plan ahead, is to get back in touch and move that discussion on. 

So why, even typing this, am I anxious, and scared, of myself and my abilities? 

I've carved out a real opportunity to make the step to feature filmmaker within the context of my career and ensuring that my long-held educational principles regarding productions are maintained.

So why can't I enjoy it?