The story of getting a film made ........again!

Many hands….

There’s something about making a film that seems to generate heaps of goodwill, without which the vast majority of low to no budget films would never have seen the light of day or the darkness of a movie theatre for that matter. The reasons why this is so are many and debatable, certainly film-making has always had a certain glamorous cachet about it, although if you’ve ever worked on a real low budget, late into the night, cold and hungry, you might not hold that association. It’s difficult to think of other creative endeavors that enjoy anything near the same level of support from family, friends and even strangers, perhaps because film making stands alone as a creative challenge that ultimately requires the hands of many just to reach the finish line.

Many_handsThis collective effort by many happens for whatever reason and to a very large extent is much prized and appreciated by film makers. Sad to say though, I have also witnessed occasions when those willingly giving of their time, talents and resources have been disregarded, treated poorly and even downright insulted for their efforts. This should never happen, but there are those whose ego inflates like a bull frog in the presence of cameras, boom poles and clapper boards. These egotists are always safe in the knowledge that their opus will catapult them to the Hollywood hills and therefor hold no fears for the bridges they burn behind them.

A decade ago I worked with many people who unquestioningly gave their time, talents and resources to help me bring a very low budget feature film to life called Winter’s End. On a balmy night in June 2005 the filmed screened in the local cineplex in Kilkenny to a packed audience, most of whom had assisted our film in one way or another. Actors and crew gave of their time for no more than food (excellent food provided by a friend at cost), local Kilkenny people gave us access to locations and props and before crowd funding came to be what it is today, they also gave money. I remember taking a taxi home one night and the driver, whose name was Paddy, stuffed €50 into my hand after refusing to be paid for the journey. “That’s for your film”, he said.

I will always be grateful for the overwhelming generosity shown by so many, far too numerous to itemise here, but all are mentioned in the end credits. Winter’s End happened because the crowd made it happen and today it goes back to the crowd. The film is free to view in it’s entirety on Youtube here.

Thank You.

Film funding in a Crazy World

Tax Payer Film FundA little while ago, the Sunday Times ran an article called “Life’s a Breeze as movies exceed EU state-aid limit”. It informed us that two films galloped past the EU imposed state-aid limit, despite EU laws limiting state-aid for films costing more than €750,000 to a maximum of 50% of budget. Those films were “Garage”, a drama centred around a rural road side garage starring Pat Shortt and had a budget of €2M and “Life’s a Breeze” also starring Pat Shortt which is in post production. “Garage” received state-aid to the tune of 86% of total budget while “Life’s a Breeze” was financed by the tax payer to the tune of 70% of budget.  This is taken from the article:

A spokeswoman for the BAI said neither film was in breach of European state-aid rules, because the 50% limit could be breached where the productions are deemed “difficult” to make. In both cases, it said the films met the criteria by having a “lack of commercial potential” and a “lack of significant audience appeal.”  The BAI said it would have been aware of who the other funders for both projects were at the application and contract award stages.

I don’t know about you, but this feels like the world flipped on it’s head. Now I know how Alice felt when she fell down the rabbit hole. So I began to wonder just how that conversation might go between applicant (producer/production company whatever) and the “state agency”. Well, I’m a script writer I thought, so let’s have a bash at it.

State Agency

So what’s your film about?

Producer

Well, it’s about a blind man who buys a dog.

State Agency

O.K. so ……what happens.

Producer

Well, the blind man falls in love with the dog.

State Agency

You mean, he grows very fond of it.

Producer

No, I mean he falls in love with it.

State Agency

I see….. and how does this… love manifest itself.

Producer

The way all love manifests itself. We’re about breaking new ground…. we embrace taboos.

State Agency

So what else happens?

Producer

The dog dies. So our man decides he wants to have the dog stuffed. But he finds he can’t afford to have it stuffed.

State Agency

OK a dilemma, that’s good. Now what does he do?

Producer

He goes to night class to learn taxidermy?

State Agency

But he’s blind, wouldn’t that present a problem?

Producer

Only to those who believe that the sight challenged are limited by their disability.

State Agency

Well, being a state agency, we certainly don’t support that view. So anyway, he goes to night class to learn taxidermy, where he meets…?

Producer

No, he doesn’t meet anyone.

State Agency

OK so what happens next.

Producer

He stuffs the dog.

Silence and awkward glances abound.

State Agency

I must point out to you that the funding you want from us would exceed the  EU limits of 50% of production finance by €300,000.

Producer

Isn’t there any way around that?

Knowing glances cross the table.

State Agency

Well, we would have to be convinced that the film is lacking in commercial potential and significant audience appeal.

Producer

You hardly think this is going to have them queuing around the block.

State Agency

Stranger things have happened.

Another awkward silence.

Producer

We’re going to shoot this film in a very challenging and unique way, never been done before, too challenging for a conventional audience.

State Agency

OK, that’s good, tell me more.

Producer

We’re leaving the lens cap on.

State Agency

You can’t do that, that’s a radio play. We don’t fund radio plays.

Producer

If you believe that, then you must also believe that blind people have no place in a cinema. Yet it’s known that blind people enjoy cinema as much as anyone.

State Agency

Of course not, as a state agency, we support inclusivity and all aspects of our diverse society. But wouldn’t it be cheaper to record it as a radio play.

Producer

I don’t have a radio play. I have a film script. We plan to carry out production just like any film, cameras, lighting, costumes, set design, the works. The big difference is, we leave the lens cap on. This is an artistic statement to the blind that we respect their disability to the extent that we will render the entire audience blind.

State Agency

So there’s absolutely nothing to be seen on the screen?

Producer

Nada. Not even credits ….well apart from producer and our company logo of course.

State Agency

Of course. We would have to insist on our people’s names and logo also appearing.

Producer

Of course.

State Agency

So quite literally, no one will see this film.

Producer

No one.

State Agency

Ok, well that definitely allows for the 50% breach. Your application will be processed, expect to hear from us in 4 weeks. Oh, what are you calling this film?

Producer

Stuff the Taxpayer ……I mean Dog, Stuff the Dog.

State Agency

Great …..lunch?

No response.

State Agency

On us?

Producer

Sure. (a quite aside to camera) Always wait for that last part. Who said there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

I think I’ll shoot that and stick it on Youtube, should be worth a few clicks. But seriously, if anyone approaches a state funding body for production finance saying “not many people will want to see this film”, shouldn’t they be told to go back to the drawing board instead of lavishing more non-recourse funding on them. God forbid they would have to condescend to “entertain” the audience. I’ve mentioned it before, elsewhere in this blog, but when Mike Leigh was in Dublin a few years ago, he did an interview and took questions from filmmakers. This question came up and it must be said, asked with a knowing smirk. “What responsibility, if any, does a filmmaker have to entertain the audience”. A little aghast at the question and God knows Mr. Leigh does not suffer fools, he responded. “That is your first responsibility, if you can’t do that, then you shouldn’t be making films.” You ask an audience to sit through 90 or 120 minutes of your film and you don’t bother to entertain. You won’t have an audience, therefore you’re not a filmmaker. I’m paraphrasing, but that is certainly the gist of his reply to what he clearly viewed as a ridiculous question. I wonder what Mike would think of giving more money to those same films that can’t be bothered to engage their audience, because that sort of thing is beneath their intellect. The icing on the cake here of course is that your film can never fail. Actually, it can, if it becomes a film people want to see, you might just damage your chances of making the same argument in the future. If this makes sense to you then maybe I have fallen down the rabbit hole. Post a comment below.

 

A Way Back!

The Guard PosterIt doesn’t seem that long ago the last time I came across a Sunday supplement asking “where has it all gone wrong for Irish film?” or in this case stating “we made fine films once” in the Sunday Times recently. While the statement has the hard core of truth about it, the article is a little short on any meaningful analysis. It is true that since the various triumphs’ of Neil Jordan and Jim Sheridan in the 80’s and 90’s and beyond, no Irish filmmakers since have found it possible to pave a similarly successful path.

There can be a lot of reasons for that and the truth is probably a combination of many. Is it limited talent, lack of scale in our stories as Ted Sheehy suggests or the market place has become very competitive as Birch Hamilton of the Screen Directors Guild claims? Like I said, all of the above are factors, but to truly address the problem, for problem it is, open and honest discourse within the industry and indeed between the industry and the audience is a must. Not for the first time have I come across this statement or similar from other articles.

“The reasons are deep and manifold (for the decline of Irish film)  and getting people to talk about them is like interviewing establishment economists in the property boom: (and then the author’s projection of why that might be) they are afraid to admit there is a problem in case the whole edifice collapses.”

When has any problem ever been solved by sticking heads in sand. By and large that’s not a strategy that’s going to give results, particularly because the hard questions will be asked again and again if for no other reason than film-making is a subsidised activity and the hard pressed tax payer is footing the bill. Obfuscation and three card tricks are not going to do it for much longer.

I attended the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild AGM recently which James Hickey, the new IFB CEO attended by way of introducing himself to writers. He cited the problem of our daily language being English as a serious impediment to box office numbers. This is a problem in English speaking Canada and Australia where a distributor told him he would find it easier to sell the new Irish film “The Guard” than any locally produced films.

There are many problems for sure, but perhaps we should address those things we can do something about. Not a lot can be done about the language we speak or that our films must compete with huge productions with even bigger marketing spend. Like any small fry in any eco system, we’ve got to get smart.

And that comes down to our unique selling point, what is it an Irish film can offer an Irish and indeed worldwide audience that films from no other country can. For me that comes down to relevance. It is in this area that countless filmmakers from around the world found success and it can be done here too. That does not mean to say we can only make art films or kitchen sink dramas, on the contrary stories vested in a time and place, reflecting a snapshot of ourselves, can be told in any genre from black comedy to drama to horror and yes even thriller. (Hidden Agenda – Ken Loach).

The recent box office success of “The Guard” has proven yet again that there is an audience for Irish films. On my way into the local cinema recently I overheard one young woman say to another as she pointed to a poster of “The Guard”….”that one…..the guard, I heard it’s funny! To which the reply from her friend was, “no thanks…..I don’t like Irish films”. Irish film, like everything else in this world is a brand. It takes a long time to build up and can be damaged over time with mediocre offerings to the silver screen Gods.

Miles To Go

Snowy WoodsI’m at that stage of development where you swing from – this is crap to this is brilliant. But I’ve learnt to live with that. I think that perpetual oscillation is not only healthy but unavoidable because at the stage of writing the first draft, it’s probably true. This new project is called “Miles to Go” although I am already leaning towards the second half of that line from the Robert Frost poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” which is “Before I Sleep”. That wonderful poem is open to interpretation and mine (like many) believe it’s about a contemplation on suicide. Which is why I chose it because this story is about a man who has decided to end his life.

This and other aspects of the story are the rats running around in my head right now from dusk till dawn, although my best ideas come while I sleep, if only I could remember them all. Now that I think about it, that’s exactly how “Winter’s End” came to me – in a dream and it was the scene where Jack searches for his car in Henry’s field.

“Miles to Go” is the story of a man who believes there is only one route to restoring his family’s well being and happiness and that is by restoring their financial fortunes. His muddied thinking is exacerbated when he separates from his family and drifts toward disconnection and isolation and is finally taken to the limit when he begins to see that his own death may actually give him (and his family) all that he hopes to achieve. An unexpected intervention in the form of Lena acts as a catalyst for change as she aids him in fire-fighting family problems throughout a single day. But will he finally see that this and nothing more is all his family want from him before it’s too late.

This project has received a first draft loan from the Irish Film Board and I plan to complete said first draft in June 2011.

“Faithless” aka “In God’s Garden” is now a finished script having lately gone through several reviews and notes with Script Pipeline. To quote their last review “we believe (Faithless) has reached it’s highest level of competency, both in general writing ability and concept.” The project’s producer is actively exploring co-production opportunities at home and abroad.

The King’s Speech – A triumph of filmmaking

The King's SpeechTake a man and give him a seemingly insurmountable problem, pile on the pressure until finally he stands victorious and you have the the baseline of many films too numerous to mention. Film heroes from James Bond to Indiana Jones to Rocky have all trodden a similar path – and yet “The King’s Speech” is a triumph and well deserving of all its plaudits, not least the 12 Oscar nominations for this reason. It is different in so many other ways. And what is breathtakingly refreshing about this movie is it doesn’t try to assault the senses, on the contrary, like a fine wine, it’s allowed to breath and envelope you in its consummate craftsmanship.

The story it tells is a factual one about the ascent of King George VI (Colin Firth) to the English throne on the death of his father King George V (Michael Gambon) and the abdication of his brother Edward (Guy Pearce) who wishes to marry an American divorcee Wallace Simpson. The film opens as Bertie (King George VI to be) attempts to make a speech to a crowd in Wembley Stadium at the Empire Exhibition of 1925 and is defeated by his crippling stammer. His loving and loyal wife the Duchess of York (Helena Bonham Carter) feels her husband’s pain and tries to make eye contact with him to infuse him with her support. Believing someone somewhere has the knowledge to help the Prince, she finally meets Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a self styled Australian speech therapist who honed his craft at the coal face of shell shocked WW1 vets, but as he admits himself, possesses no doctorate or letters after his name. An uneasy trust builds between these two unlikeliest of friends, royal and commoner as the events of history unfold and Lionel tries to get Bertie to recognise that the root of his problem is fear of his father and his brother. This angers Bertie when Lionel pushes his point that he would make an excellent King should his brother abdicate and a short break in their friendship follows. But as his coronation approaches Bertie concedes and seeks Lionel’s help once again. I love the moment when Lionel’s wife comes into her sitting room and finds there the Queen of England helping herself to a cup of tea and in walks the King leaving her completely speechless.

It’s a simple tale about a revered monarch beset by a crippling stammer. The worse thing about a speech impediment is that it lays bare to the world that which we all work hard to conceal and to a large extent succeed and that is our fear. Worse still is the apparently universal fear of public speaking. There’s a very touching moment when the King’s wife finds him trying to come to grips with his new enormous responsibilities as King as he pours over state documents. He breaks down under this weight and is comforted by his wife who reveals that she turned down his proposal of marriage twice, not because she didn’t love him, but rather she didn’t relish the life of a royal. But she tells Bertie he has such a beautiful stammer and had hoped they would be left alone because of it. The film is peppered with beautiful, quiet and personal moments between the King and Lionel also. When the monarch tells him he doesn’t know how to thank him for his help, Lionel prompts “a knighthood” with a mischievous grin.

But war with Hitler’s Germany brings this film to it’s conclusion as Britain declares war and the King makes his speech to his subjects over radio, recognising the horrors and loss that awaits them. This is a speech where he is determined to sound resolute and yet empathetic to the people. And once again, with the coaching of Lionel in a private booth, he rises to the occassion and infuses his listeners with courage and hope to see them through the coming trial. What is touching to see is that, powerful and wealthy though the King of England may be, nonetheless he draws strength and inspiration from the same well we all do, family and close friends. Quite simply filmmaking in its purest form, fine script, great performances and impeccable direction.

Christmas, Ireland and the IMF

It's a Wonderful Life.“It was the worst of times, it was the best of times”. So began one of Charles Dickens’s greatest novels – “A Tale of Two Cities”. Depending on your point of view, the arrival of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) into our country this week most likely provokes one of the two sentiments expressed in the title of the 1859 novel. Personally speaking, it engenders both seemingly contradictory judgements, but I spout enough about that on Twitter. Story wise, I began thinking about the whole concept of intervention and how it’s reflected in the saga’s we tell on screen. Like everything else, there are many forms of intervention, good, bad and indifferent, from marauding aliens invading our planet to spiritual beings taking a hand in our lives to avert disaster. In ancient Greek drama, when a play became too convoluted to tie up neatly at the end, a concept known as “Deus Ex Machina” was employed to speedily resolve everything. Essentially, a God or emissary of God would descend, make pronouncements as to who was right and wrong, good triumphed over evil and everyone went home happy. Today this weapon in the arsenal of storytelling is roundly dismissed and unless employed correctly from the beginning of a story, rightly so. But there’s something about that idea of a superior being arriving on the scene to fix everything that is universally comforting. The apparitions in Knock Co. Mayo a century ago, is a prime Irish example of that – a poverty stricken, hungry and ignorant people were perfect candidates for such an intervention, giving if not real sustenance, at least hope in the bleakest of landscapes.

Christmas is a time of the year when we all become children in many ways, but in one way in particular which is often overlooked. Every year we do the same things, listen to the same songs and Carols and to a large extent, watch the same movies. Two of which movies are prime examples of interventionist stories – “Scrooge” or “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” How many festive seasons have we spent fighting back a lump in our throats as George Bailey stands in his living room surrounded by family and friends as we all are brought to realise the truly important things in life have no monetary cost, yet are priceless, or when Ebenezer Scrooge pays an unexpected visit to Bob Cratchit’s poverty stricken humble abode on Christmas Day, laden down with presents for all. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is an epic tale of a man not realising how happy or how lucky he was. His guardian angel Clarence sets out to rectify this in a wonderfully absorbing story. “A Chrsitmas Carol” on the other hand tells the story of a man consumed by money at the expense of all human warmth. Again it is supernatural beings who set about putting Scrooge straight on a few things. And Dickens was one of the first novelists to point out in his work, that the well off and privileged in our society had a duty of care to those less fortunate.

Perhaps that other dimension does stand ready to help us in dark times but, like the IMF, they can only do so by invitation. What a pity it is that at a time when numbers have never been as low in our churches as they are today, when fear and hopelessness stalk thousands of family homes across this island, when apparent prosperity convinced us all that money and credit could solve all problems, when very intelligent minds were telling us that the awesomeness and spectacular grandeur of the universe could be explained without the concept of a God, that it is now that we could do with all the intervention we can get. Some wonder why the Irish people haven’t taken to the streets en masse. My theory is this. We are used to betrayal, is there anyone left who hasn’t betrayed us, the church, the state, the banks, the institutions, the politicians, it goes on. We should expect better for ourselves, we should demand better for our children. We should take control of our destiny as a nation. I would like to quote Charles Parnell here: “No man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation. No man has the right to say to his country: thus far shall thou go and no further”. So many have betrayed the march of this nation, it is up to us to decide whether that continues, or not.

People need hope and maybe that’s why the greatest interventionist story of them all, the story Hollywood called “The Greatest Story Ever Told”  the story of what Christmas is all about will offer renewed hope and vision to a betrayed people.

So I offer an early Happy Christmas to all.

I Wanna Go Home!

I’ve taken to watching films I’ve seen before, I know we all do that, but it’s interesting to see if they stand up many years after release. So last night I watched Martin Scorcese’s 1985 film “After Hours” with Griffin Dunn, Teri Garr, John Heard, Rosanna Arquette and Linda Fiorentino. In the script writing manuals, they all agree on one thing, give your protagonist a compelling goal, otherwise your audience will have little interest. In this wonderful movie, which incidentally stands up very well after 25 years, the central character Paul Hackett’s (Griffin Dunn) only goal is to get back home.

Early on a conversation takes place in a diner where Paul and his date Marcy (Arquette) discuss their favourite movie “The Wizard of Oz” and it’s plain to see how this movie was inspired by it. So obviously a compelling goal doesn’t have to be “stopping the maniac who is about to destroy all of mankind”, getting home to your bed works just fine. Films from “The Wizard of Oz” to “It’s a Wonderful Life” to “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” to “Apollo 13” to “Gladiator” all share this simple yet powerful premise – “I want to get home” . What’s also interesting about this film is that there is no plot, not in the traditional sense. Sure a lot of things happen to the central character all working against his mission to get home, but they are merely isolated incidents, not a continuous, progressive narrative (more than once the incongruous events loop back on themselves) where if you pulled out one scene, the whole thing would collapse, not so and in that sense, very much akin to life.

The events in “After Hours” are contrived and unbelievable at times, but then that’s OK because if Paul’s experiences in the Upper East side of Manhattan in the wee hours of the morning, were any less than nightmarish, we wouldn’t share his hunger for home. Paul works in a large office, not only carrying out mundane repetitive computer input work, but also training a new employee Lloyd (Bronson Pinchot). Lloyd shares his dream of publishing his own magazine with Paul, who distractedly observes the office drones around him. We know what he’s thinking – “There’s got to be something better than this. But he knows and we know that Lloyd will never become a publisher, because he will never do anything about it. That night, bored in his apartment, Paul sits reading a book in a local diner and is engaged in conversation by Marcy (Arquette). On leaving, she gives Paul the phone number of her friend, who’s loft she is now leaving for. Back in his apartment, Paul has had enough of taking no action, calls the number and unexpectedly finds himself once again talking to Marcy. She invites him to the loft and Paul sets out on his surreal odyssey. Hailing a Yellow Cab, he climbs in and finds himself battling the forces of physics as the cab speeds and swerves it’s way across town. His only 20 dollar bill flies out the window and he’s forced to welch on the fare to the consternation of the cabbie.

Paul finds the loft where Kiki (Linda Fiorentino) is working on a paper-maché sculpture in her black bra and leather mini-skirt. Marcy arrives back from the drug store having purchased (Paul surreptitiously learns) a tube of ointment for 2nd degree burns. They go out for coffee where the proprietor tells them it’s on the house adding “Different rules apply when it’s after hours”, setting the tone for what’s to follow. I won’t go into detail about the rest of the plot, besides you’ll find all that and more on IMDb, enough to say that Paul has a very eventful night ahead of him.

After Hours is a wonderful little 97 minute diversion that Scorcese took on to direct after his initial attempts to bring “The Last Temptation of Christ” to the screen floundered and he sought something small and quick to do. Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorcese’s editor from film school, tells us on the extras that working on this film was just like the days of being a film student, shooting fast and tight with a small crew. Perhaps that’s why this film is still so fresh 25 years on.

The Beat That My Heart Skipped

Having bought a DVD a couple of weeks back on a recommendation, I finally got a chance to watch it. It’s a French film called “The Beat that my Heart Skipped” directed by Jacques Audiard and released in 2005 (so this is not a review). It tells the story of a young man Tom (Romain Duris), who involves himself in the dark end of the property business, wrecking apartments so that homeless people wont find refuge for free and releasing a bag of rats on a family to force them to quit, not to mention employing extreme violence when neccessary. His own father Robert (Niels Arestrup) is a veteran of this shady business and calls on his son as enforcer. But Tom has a love of music and it turns out was quite a good pianist, or at least that’s the opinion of his late mother’s friend who was manager to her concert pianist career. Upon a chance encounter, the manager tells Tom to schedule an audition as he believes Tom possess’ real potential. Tom seeks out a tutor in the form of Miao-Lin (Linh Dan Pham), who painstakingly polishes Tom’s innate abilities. Finally reaching a point at which they are both happy, Tom auditions and fluffs the opportunity because the darker side of his life encroached on his rest the previous night. Tom’s inner conflict increases when he begins an affair with Aline (Aure Atika), his friend Fabrice’s wife, who has discovered that Tom covers for her husband when he meets other women for sex. At the same time Tom’s father becomes entangled with a sinister Russian Minskov (Anton Yakovlev) and is murdered in his apartment. We jump forward two years and find that Tom is now Miao-Lin’s manager and quite possibly her lover. On his way to her concert, he encounters Minskov and attacks him in a stairwell, stopping short at blowing his brains out with his own gun. Tom cleans himself up as best he can in the toilets and takes his seat in the auditorium to listen to Miao-Lin play the piano.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film and it brought to mind the age old debate of character driven stories versus plot driven. Two Irish films which excelled in this area were “Garage” and further back “Adam and Paul” both directed by Lenny Abrahamson and written by Mark O’Halloran. I’ve often heard it said “why does a good film have to be exclusive of one or the other”, and I suppose the answer is they don’t have to be. It’s a big risk to dispense with plot, but very often a risk worth taking because when you do, you are afforded the opportunity to lay bare the honest minutia of life, that is very often missed in the need to advance the plot. Although character driven stories are for the most part associated with European film, Hollywood is quite accomplished in this area as well. Two recent examples are “The Wrestler” with Mickey Rourke and “Crazy Heart” with Jeff Bridges.

These stories depend heavily on two things, a visceral honesty not only in the script but also the portrayal of the characters and a top class performance. Get these two wrong and you have nothing to fall back on in your film. Get them right and you have a film which will stand the test of time.

Although it’s legitimate to express a personal preference when it comes to character as opposed to plot driven films (and personally I enjoy both) it’s equally important to accept that both forms of film are valid and simply form part of the vast variety of film types around the world. Very often one encounters an elitist, high brow dismissive attitude to plot driven stories. This serves no one – producers or audience and quiet honestly, is more damaging to the form they believe they hold in esteem. It’s a little bit like, I would be more Green if it weren’t for the Greens.

Script Pipeline notes on “In God’s Garden”

Recently, the film’s producer and I debated where we would go to further develop the script of “In God’s Garden” which right now is at an advanced stage and considered by the Film Board to be an accomplished script. Not so long ago Yahoo used to host a film industry chat show called “Shoot Out” hosted by two heavy hitters Peter Guber and Peter Bart. All aspects of the industry were up for dissection and discussion, bringing in some of the biggest names in the business from screenwriters to directors, producers, agents etc. On one particular show the subject up for discussion was writers and how to gain a foothold in the business. Interacting with professional and knowledgeable script editors was seen as a priority and Script Pimp (Pipeline) was mentioned in very favourable terms.

This week we got the notes back from Script Pipeline. They were incisive and insightful and made a point of highlighting the existing strengths of the script in terms of it’s unique take on an popular genre, it’s strong marketable qualities and given another draft or two could prove to be very attractive to a strong cast.

More importantly than that though, they provided me with a road map of where the script could be tightened and strengthened, recognising that a very strong narrative was already at play with believable characters. They drew particular attention to the quality of the dialogue in the script.

A little while ago I wrote a post about readers reports and views of drama analyst Yves Lavandier on the subject. These notes from Script Pipeline are a prime example of how they should be compiled. Taking care to point to the strengths that already exist while at the same time offering notes on a new draft that never seek to undermine a belief in one’s own abilities.

Over the next few weeks I will be absorbing those notes and working on a new draft or maybe two. Come the New Year, we intend to have a script which will attract both a quality cast and production finance.

Is Screenwriting a career option in Ireland

As with any creative endeavour, people find themselves drawn to whatever rocks their boat. An examination of ones own motivations is part of the process, but equally so, two other aspects worthy of consideration are these: 1. How much in terms of investment in time and money will be required to bring myself to a level of at least proficiency, so that I can earn an income and 2. Is there a market for the skills that I have acquired to render that investment justifiable.

I don’t believe that good screenwriters are born, I believe that they are honed from many hours of studying the craft by reading scripts, watching movies and writing on a consistent basis. There are always the prodigies who appear to knock off a brilliant script in two weeks and then go on the make films that break all the rules. Exceptions to the rule only prove the rule and besides, look at these films more closely and apply a little reverse engineering and you’ll find that in actual fact they pay close attention to what they appear to cast off, they just camouflage it very well. Of course when you mention rules, principles or paradigms, you are immediately labelled “Hollywood” and in the European film culture, to a large extent disregarded. But remember the only thing that Hollywood has succeeded in doing is build on the theories and observations of proponents of drama writing going as far back as Aristotle’s poetics 3,000 years ago and beyond. Give someone possessed of no craft the best set of carpenter’s tools and at best you will end up with an object of little use other than fire wood. On the other hand a good art film will throw out most if not all the rules, yet provide the viewer with an experience rarely achieved by “conventional” movies.

Those who find themselves drawn to make films and who perhaps posses a gift for transposing a script to gobsmacking imagery, find they have little alternative but to learn to write a script first. What happens if they prove themselves to be very weak at this. When Hitchcock was developing a script, he worked with story writers or scenarists until he was happy with that element of the process. He then passed that work on to dialogue writers as he believed some writers were good at story, but crap at the spoken word and vice versa. How many great Irish directors have we lost because they grew tired and frustrated at attempting to be good screenwriters before getting the chance to create their sublime images.

If you have decided the the investment is tolerable, then the question is, can screen writing in Ireland sustain you. David Kavanagh of Irish Playwrights & Screenwriters Guild has said that most screenwriters in Ireland earn between €10,000 to €15,000 a year. I would suspect writing copy for radio soap ads would earn you many multiples of that. That kind of return is only justifiable if achieved on a part-time basis and that is perhaps one of the reasons why Irish films are failing at the domestic and international box office – it’s a part time activity. I’m not making the argument that screen writers should be paid more money (not because I don’t believe it, it’s just not likely to happen) but rather, is it not time to raise our sights and see that the film business is now global therefor, more of an effort to comprehend and penetrate that wider market should be made.

They say the definition of madness is to keep doing the same thing, while expecting a different outcome. The landscape in Irish film is unlikely to change for the forseeable future. Perhaps it is time to look beyond this little pond and begin to understand that maybe there are opportunities to be found beyond these shores.