film education

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.


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


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 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?