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I wrote the words ‘I’m almost there’ on a draft blog post back in december 2010. I wonder what my next words would be… anyway now i am here and its time to dust down the old script and rewrite it with some distance between me and the story. I will make it violent and ruthless and horrible which was my original intent. To write a seething account that cuts at the bone of the myth of the middle class and the lie of blackness that somehow transformed through culture into blatant realities. Perceptual tricks that hold us back, difficult to capture cinematically but that doesn’t mean its not worth trying…

Think i will start by finding some music…

Met up with Ed, my script developer in London at the Wellcome Trust Cafe near Euston Station for a second development chat about the script. It was a good idea to have a face to face meeting away from home. I love writing on the go – taking in new ideas and getting new insights just from reflecting on the story and looking at different scenery away from my desk.  After the 2h meeting with Ed, we agreed a writing schedule, deadline for the third draft and I was to attempt to answer  the following questions about the film:

1. What is the controlling idea of the film?

What is the overall meaning of the story? Consider this to be almost like a logline about the emotional or moral meaning of the story.  Knowing this controlling idea will help define whether each scene is driving towards, or at least contributing to, the meaning of the film, and will help to ensure that the disparate story strands and subplots are each unified by the same ‘meaning’.

2. The main character – Fola and his motivations – what does he want and what does he need?

What is stopping him from achieving his goals, both the external and the internal conflict – this will feed directly into the controlling idea of the film.

3. How does the film end?

What do you want the audience to understand or feel at the end of the script? How do you want the main character, Fola to have grown or developed – what does he now understand, or what has he made peace with, which he hadn’t before? Consider that the end is both made up of a climax as well as a resolution of the thematic and emotion concerns of the story.

My approach to coming at the answers was to map out the film so far using post it notes and considering the timeline in terms of

– key locations;

– entry, interaction and exit of key characters

– occurrence of iconic images/ symbols in the film – fire – water – land.

Doing this exercise and just leaving the map there on the table for several weeks meant i could just come to the table, hone in on one area, bring the film alive at that point and explore interconnections between the scenes and between groupings of people. Several days later,  I realised that the film was about family and the need and constant search to find a family, a group of people that you can trust, and feel that you are part of. I looked across the map at all the attempts for the main characters and secondary characters to form a family unit and it seemed to hold true – from Fola being isolated from his adopted family at the beginning of the film, to him ending up with his girlfriend and baby at the end of the film, to Elizabeth (Fola’s sister) searching for Fola after the death of their parents and ending up staying with her aunt Madeline. The insight about Fola and his girlfriend having a baby brought an image to mind of a picture that i had from a long time ago of my mum in an airport holding a baby.  I had envisaged that my dad took the picture of my mum with her new baby at the airport. With that image in my head wrote the end of the film and could then work back, figuring out from each character’s perspective what was getting in the way of them achieving their goal to form a family. Plus i also could come up with rituals that gave me actions to replace lots of mundane dialogue – e.g – a family meal – that could be worked across the film.

Great questions and great fun dreaming up the answers.

I spent quite a bit of time creating character profiles – it really helped to find what they look like and sound like to get a sense of who they are, how they would behave and what they might say. In addition to asking the usual character questions like Name, Age, Appearance – i used a longer set of questions to add flesh to the bones….

  • How does character feel about how they look
  • Character’s childhood in terms of relationship to parents/siblings/other people
  • Lifestyle while growing up, education, hobbies, interests, location where they grew up, meaningful incidents during childhood
  • Higher Education/ military service
  • Current relationships to family and other key people
  • Romantic life and relevant background
  • Sex life
  • Moral beliefs
  • Children – describing interactions with them
  • Religious background, current religious beliefs and practises – including moral values if not religious
  • Occupation
  • Relationship to co-workers – to boss
  • Hobbies and other non-work activities
  • Philosophy of life
  • Personality traits (optimistic/ pessimistic, introvert/ extrovert)
  • What is character proud of
  • What is the character ashamed of
  • State of health – background to health
  • Intelligence
  • Character’s relationship to other major characters in film

And then asking character questions specific to the story:

  • Character’s goal
  • Why he/she wants to achieve this goal
  • Who/ what is trying to prevent him/her from reaching the goal
  • Strengths that will help achieve the goal. Weaknesses that will detract
  • How articulate is the character
  • Accent/ dialect
  • Do they use slang/ professional jargon

I think I found a way to break down the movie in my head and get it on paper. The approach is like figuring out a series of dance moves in that its the relationship and movement in space between characters. The outcome of their interactions (RHS). This helps me figure out what’s happening in a scene (LHS). The process meant i could write on the go (out shopping) and helped me figure out some missing sequences that needed to be written. It looks a bit messy but it was easy to do without looking at the screenplay itself. It took a couple of hours maybe less and really helped with re-structuring the shape of the film on paper.  The film takes place over three acts but also over two countries. By mapping out who people are with and what is happening in the different places at the same time and when they move toward/ away from one another I sketched out a map of people and place along a time line. On another page i could then figure out which of the ‘moves’ comprise a sene and just write down the headline for that scene. It seemed to be an easy way to hold the whole film on a page that i could return to when writing. I’ll probably do it again as the film is still too short and i need to now tighten everything and lose dialogue.

I could easily get distracted with the prospect of a whole day writing – (that’s what happened last friday – first facebook, then emails then… you get the point)… so my new thing is on a non-writing day the day before a whole day’s writing, i block out the afternoon to finish whatever paid work needs to get done… then, that evening – so, last night – i do a 45 minute ‘sprint’ to lay out what i want to achieve in my writing day ie today… which means i am all lined up ready to go the next morning…

Sprint 1: 10.15

  • Finalise image outline
  • Review 1 page synposis and send to developer

Sprint 2: 11.15

  • Character outlines – Elizabeth, Fola

Sprint 3: 12.15

  • Character outlines – Herc, Mouse

12.30 – 2.30: Lunch with friends and shopping: eggs, yoghurt, meet friends

Sprint 4: 3.15

  • Character outlines – Natalie, Francine, Madeline

Sprint 5: 4.15

  • Re-read first draft and prepare weekend sprint for scene re-writes
  • Update blog on progress!

5.00: Badminton

Onwards…! See you at the finish line…

I think i have the beginnings of a plan working back from the deadline for the next draft.

w/e

30 Jul – digest notes, check out film relevant film references (coming of age) and locate scripts and research the genre

6 Aug – write character outlines – begin work on Fola, Elizabeth vs Herc, Mouse

3 Sep – redraft sequences and re-write 1 outline

10 Sep – get feedback on outline

17 Sep – submit draft 2

END

So i am pitching the movie as a marriage of Sexy Beast with Michael Haneke’s Funny Games…. with an all black cast.

I am really excited to hear what Haneke says in this interview about the movie because i have chosen a similar framing for the two characters Herc and Mouse – one serious, one silly – and their archetypes.

In thinking about this and the idea of a coming of age tale – i am wondering if i need to make the characters a lot younger.

I need to have some fun in thinking about the movie as well as doing the straight story – so i have been thinking about some attention to detail on the look of the film – and have been inspired by a music video – which conveys very much a world within the space of a few minutes – AND – it reminds me of the ‘shoes on the wire’ signal that i discovered near my old flat in the Northern Quarter.


Had first development meeting in London last week. Got some really useful feedback from my developer, Ed, and am now figuring out a way forward for the redraft due end of September 2010. I think we’ve agreed getting the outline solid with clear story points will help before returning to the script.

Lots to consider, including thinking about the film in terms of a ‘coming of age’ movie.

Short and sweet

So – i kinda have a rough first draft (55 pages) and have handed it over to the script developer assigned to my script for next 5 months through the National Film and TV School/ Script Factory Script Development diploma programme. It feels quite good to have ‘turned it’ in even though:

  • the dialogue is awful
  • the plotting is too linear
  • the drama needs amping up
  • the characters need fleshing out.

There is space again to think creatively and reflect on it without changing anything just yet. New ideas have surfaced about what needs to change and how to restructure it. What’s exciting is that new images have just appeared in my head that will resolve some of the plotting in an aesthetic way. This is possibly where this blog can help. Rather than changing the script I can make notes here to help me reflect back on what I want to do in draft 2 whilst I wait on the developers feedback and include ‘notes to self’ that might be useful to other writers on the process of writing a feature film.

My process for getting the first draft done was simple:

Day 1: write 1 page outline and update my CV.

Day 2: Break the film down into 8 sequences on index cards these are the flagstones around which i could focus my attention.

Day 3 – 10: Write everyday for 7 days in short 45min to 2 hour bursts

If I’d done this again I would have diverted my attention for a day on character development as the people become clearer. I will get on and do that work now.