Tag Archives: film-making

Letting Go of Your Baby

Although it’s still only February a whole load of green shoots are beginning to poke through the earth, promising that spring will soon be here.  At this time of year, I begin to get really fed up with the cold and damp and start longing for the weather to warm up a bit.

Crocuses

Cheery crocuses and anemones are the first signs that things are changing.  However my favourite winter blossom belongs to the Christmas Box.  I love it not for its flowers, which are pretty plain and uninteresting, but for its fabulous perfume, which fills the air outside my front door at this time of year and always seems to promise wonderful warm days to come.

Other exciting things have been afoot, not least the filming of my short screenplay.  It’s a comedy – not a particularly sophisticated one, I have to admit – about a young photographer who finds himself saddled with the flat-mate from hell, and after being driven to his wits’ end, comes up with a very novel way to get rid of his tormentor.  It’s a situation many, many people can identify with, so I’m hoping that will give it some fairly universal appeal.

Not as fun as it looks

The process of the filming itself is a lot less glamorous than you might imagine and involves endless repetitions of the same lines and scenes from different angles and viewpoints.  As the writer, it’s quite hard to get a sense of how it will look once it’s finished.  It all seems very disjointed at this stage, but the director seems pleased with how it’s shaping up and clearly has his own plan for it.

While I was writing it, I had a very clear image in my head of what the characters were like, what the settings would be like and how it would all play out.  What is very clear as we make it, is that the director has a completely different mental image of the story and so do the actors.   And then you have to take account of what’s practically possible to film with the resources and locations we have.

Too many cooks

What will emerge will be a synthesis of all these things – our different thoughts and ideas about the story, modified by what we can actually get down on tape.   With any luck, a bit of magic will happen that will transform it from being a series of mental images existing only in the imaginations of those who’ve read the script into something richer and more interesting than any one of those involved had conceived of.

Screenwriting, more than any other form of writing, is a collaborative process; the articulation of a shared vision for the film is essential to bringing the project to life.  As the writer of a film, you have to be prepared to let your baby go, and let others get fully involved in shaping it and making it as much theirs as it ever was yours.  It can be hard at times and the annals of film-making are full of stories about writers who were no longer allowed to work on their own films.

Personally, I really enjoy that collaborative creative process.  I like the idea of making something that’s more than any one person could produce.  Yet as the writer, you also have the satisfaction of knowing it all started with you, and your idea.  Without that, there would have been nothing.

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Wading Through Treacle

There are times when the writing flows, and other times when it’s as slow and laborious as wading through treacle. I confess I’m feeling particularly unfocused at the moment, and although I try to adhere to the maxim of writing something every day, I keep finding myself going up blind alleys; nothing is really grabbing my imagination that much. They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing; part of me misses the days when I was typing away in blissful ignorance, going wherever my imagination took me. Now I know about the three-act structure, characterisation, plot development, visual grammar etc etc, I’m finding it much harder to imagine stories that will also work effectively within this structure. I know my writing’s stronger for having learned these things, but at the same time, I’m much more aware of the difficulty of what I’m trying to achieve, and at times that can feel more like a burden than a help.
I guess in general, developing stories and writing film treatments is something I’ve always find hard. I want to create something that’s emotionally engaging, with fascinating characters driven by powerful desires but which is also magical and visually gorgeous. Something that’s original and surprising, but also believable and rooted in real human experience. I don’t find it particularly hard to come up with a basic premise for a story; a character with a powerful desire who must battle contrary forces to achieve their goals and who changes along the way. But imagining all the details of a credible journey for that character, with a growing sense of jeopardy, which is real, consistent and meaningful in the context of the imagined world and which culminates in a suitably mind-blowing climax – that’s really hard. Or at least I find it is.
It doesn’t help that writing’s a lonely business; it’s all too easy to start feeling completely isolated and cut off from the real business of life. When you’re sitting alone gazing at a blank computer screen, it isn’t long before doubt seeps in and you start questioning everything you’ve written. Having someone around to pitch ideas too, or talk through a particular problem can really help. Even the presence of others near at hand somehow makes the whole business seem less remote. A lot of teachers are on strike today, meaning my kids have got a bonus day off. Having my daughter and her friends chattering and laughing in the next room is actually a comfort, rather than a distraction.
Then there’s the question of what happens when you do finish a script. Increasingly, the advice is to grab a cheap camera, or even just an I-phone, and go out and make a film yourself. One of the great miracles of modern technology is that this is now possible. These days, film-making is more accessible to more people than ever before. For the first time ever, you can shoot a film and air it without needing a huge production budget, or at least rich parents. I truly welcome this revolution, but at the same time, it scares me. I grew up at a time when personal computers where just beginning to be available and the internet was little more than a twinkle in Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s eye. Completely self-taught as most of my generation are, I manage to find my way around a few basic programmes. When it comes to gadgets, I tend to use their simplest, most basic functions and shy away from the whizzier things they can do. Apps remain pretty much a closed book to me. I know I need to suss all this stuff out. I know I should be borrowing the daughter’s I-phone, shooting my own scripts, editing them and putting them up on You-tube, but actually, all I really want to do is write!

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Filed under Film, Screenwriting, Writing