Sunday, September 21, 2014

Widening the Circle

After receiving a welcome benediction from George Rideout, writer of our film's source material - and thus, the man we made "Reader Number One" - we were anxious to hear how Reader Number Two would feel about the screenplay...

We had to wait a little longer to find out this time around though, because Reader Number Two is in fact, a whole bunch of readers - otherwise known as the SODEC development jury. 

As those who followed the making of our last film will remember, the SODEC, along with Telefilm Canada, backed The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom through all its phases - and did so quite enthusiastically. So their positive reaction to the 2nd draft of this script would be significant - as much in philosophical terms as in financial ones. Having their support at this late stage of development would certainly be a boost to creative morale, but would also start to build a bridge from development to - production!

The way the decision process works for this phase is that the jury convenes to decide which projects they'll support in a comparative round table. However, they do this only after each member has had time to analyze the submitted projects on their own, speak to the respective filmmakers and finally make their recommendations for the jury to deliberate.

When Barbara and I spoke with our analyst in mid July, we found out that ours was one of 80-odd projects he was analyzing! But for a man with so many other stuff on his plate, he spent a nice, long time talking with us about ours. The conversation ranged from production philosophy to John Sayles references to second act aggravations.  At the end of the three-way call, we felt positive but being that the jury process can go any which way, we couldn't take anything for granted.

We got the good news when we came back from summer holidays. 

Reader Number Two is on board!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Reader Number One

As you saw in last week's post, I finally took the leap and sent my screenplay out to the first in a long line of important readers: George Rideout, the writer of the play on which my film is based. 

And as you also saw, in true gentleman George fashion, he got back to me as soon as he received the package, saying he couldn't get to reading it right away - no doubt knowing I would be waiting and wondering until I had news. 

So, as anxious as I was to know how the author of the original work felt about the direction I was taking, the job I was doing, I managed to put my waiting on hold, and more or less put the matter out of my mind.

Then, right before the weekend, I received this:  

Hi Tara,

I’m almost finished with those annoyingly pressing, uninteresting tasks. I will read the script this weekend. I’m greatly looking forward to it.


To which I replied:

Hi George,

Good that you’re coming out on the other side of those "aput's".
And I wish you bonne lecture this weekend!


And then I waited. 

And as the full weekend of waiting went by with no news at all from George, and turned into the beginning of the week, still with no news at all, I admit I started to worry. Just a little. Wondering if maybe - despite being such a gifted writer - George Rideout was having trouble finding the right words to tell me exactly what he thought of what I'd done to his words...

And then, mercifully, this popped into my inbox:

Dear Tara,

I just finished reading your screenplay and I enjoyed it enormously. 

The cover letter addresses your concerns that I might be bothered by the direction you’ve gone in, but in fact the opposite is true. William Burroughs, the third member of the triumvirate that included Kerouac and Ginsberg, used the “cut up” method with his writing. That is, he took a page of his text and literally cut it up into strips with scissors, scrambled the strips, and reassembled them. Now he didn’t do this randomly. He made conscious choices with the new juxtapositions of words and in some books he even gives various versions of the same textual content. The result is often striking and captures other layers of reality that are there for those who care to look. 

While what you’re doing with the images and scenes is not exactly “cut up,” it does offer a viewing experience that functions differently than a straight up narrative, and given the themes of Michel & ti-Jean, I think that’s a very smart choice. Your question--“has Kerouac conjured up Tremblay?”— is significant, as is your rationale for transitions in the Director’s Vision.

I love your addition of Jan, of the actors, of library scenes. I also love the scene in which Kerouac and Tremblay hitch a ride with Sal and Dean. 

I will be in Montreal soon. If you’re in town it would be great to chat. You can ask me specific questions if you like and I can be more detailed in my response to the draft. To my mind you can go even farther in the direction you’ve taken with the 2nd draft, but of course that might have implications for the agencies that would be putting up the cash.

Sorry that those “aputs” kept me from the script for so long, but for me the payoff was great!


Probably not half as great as the payoff was for me! Thank you, George!! 

And now, onto important reader number two...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Writer's Right

When George Rideout assigned Barbara the screen adaptation rights to his play Michel and Ti-Jean, he told us he didn't feel the need to be involved in the writing of the film script. The way he saw it, he'd already said everything he'd felt compelled to say when he wrote the play. And he still has so many other plays he wants to write, he doesn't have time to go over creative ground he's already covered. And covered well. Which is entirely fair enough. 

So, throughout this adaptation process, he and I have carried on a sparse and cordial correspondence, occasionally punctuated with the odd email saying he's available if I have any questions, or he likes the title I've chosen, or we could meet for a coffee when he comes to town. Otherwise though, true to his word, George Rideout has always stayed completely clear of the adaptation nitty gritty.

The last time we met over coffee, though, something changed... And even then, I didn't realize it had changed until the very end of the encounter. As we were saying our goodbyes, George threw out this off-handed remark: "If you'd like, I could read your next draft....".


So that was last fall. And it wasn't until this spring that I had a next draft solid enough to even think of showing anyone, let alone the very man whose wonderful theatrical work I was wrestling into cinematic submission.

But now that this second draft has been slow-cooked to the point the meat is practically falling off the bone, I guess I'm finally ready...

So, to wit:

Dear George,

Please find enclosed the 2nd draft of A Nutshell of Infinite Space.

I'm excited for you to read, but also a little nervous - as you might well be yourself!

In order to ease you into this strange, but familiar universe,  I'd like to give you a few "heads up" before you take the plunge:

- You are going to encounter new layers to your "story". I haven't turned it into Die Hard, exactly, but this iteration of your original idea has taken on a more adventurous shape and a dimension that is true to me, while still respecting the spirit of your play and most importantly, the relationships the play evokes. 

- Some timelines may not always seem to respect reality - but please bear with it. There is a method to my madness.

- I’ve used as much of your fantastic dialogue that I can keep intact in its entirety. In other places, I have truncated it for rhythm's sake, and very occasionally (please don’t freak out) I have attributed the words of one character to another.  

And finally, the last thing I'd like to say is, thank you. For your words, your wisdom and your characters. I hope you will feel that I have done - and will continue to do - my level best at respecting and honouring them all.

I'll leave the next word to you.

So, with that, I sent the package off to George's home in the Eastern Townships and waited.  Even if those who'd read it so far had given me positive feedback, I needed to know that George could get behind what I'd done before I could go further.

About a week went by before I got this note :
Hi Tara,

I received the package. It will be a week to ten days before I’m able to go through it due to other tasks which are less interesting but annoyingly pressing.

So, looks like I will have to wait a bit longer ... 

À suivre!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Coming to a Clearing

Last we spoke, I had just gone from top to bottom - Fade In to Fade Out - on the second draft of my second feature film script, A Nutshell of Infinite Space. Which is kind of a bigger deal than it might sound ... 

See, the first draft of the script - my rookie attempt at adapting George Rideout's play, Michel and Ti-Jean for the screen - was a very different animal than what this new draft needed to be. 

Having so much respect for Rideout's writing and the undeniable strength of his dialogue ultimately kept me too confined to the spine of the original play on my first draft. I had tried to "open it up" (as they say in the adaptation game) while taking pains to leave almost all of the original work intact. 

I've often likened the adaptation process to renovating an old house. It's as much work - if not more - as building a new one from scratch. And as anyone who's ever done home renovations knows, you can't knock down walls with a paint brush. 

So for the second draft, I realized I had to take out the sledge hammer, crack open the "shell" of the play, and find the "nut" of the film. I had to go back to the proverbial drawing board of my brain and dig deep for the why I wanted to make this play into a movie in the first place, and the what I wanted to say with it, and the how I wanted to say it. 

In short, I had to give myself permission to completely raze the playwright's original work and rebuild something new from his rubble - in my own selfish image.

A mean feat. Even meaner about that feat was the fact that I had to force myself not to write right away. Out of respect for the original work, I had to painstakingly plan out every single move before I could let swing the sledgehammer. So I spent months reading, thinking, outlining, scene-by-sceneing and outlining again until things were clear enough in my mind and Barbara could visualize what the new footprint of the film might look like.

And then finally, in early February, we agreed I was ready to type the two most thrilling - and threatening - little words in the English language:  FADE IN...

FADE OUT eventually followed, as you read here, in late March. And true to my prognosis in the previous post, the first pass of this second draft proved to be full of good intentions and lots of gangly material in need of further editing and shaping to better fit the form I'd had in my head. 

But, by April 2nd, I was sending Barbara and Valérie Beaugrand-Champagne (Quebec's much vaunted script guru) a 2nd draft about which I felt a little flutter in the pit of my stomach. It was a flutter that I hadn't had in a long time. A flutter that felt good.

It felt even better when Barbara, Valérie and M3* had similarly strong and positive reactions to what they read. At the risk of sounding melodramatic (what? a writer being melodramatic?!), I pretty much felt like I had come out of a long walk in a dark forest - and into the light.

Which is why the little thing that happened to Barbara and I the other day during our First Annual Brainstorm in Sutton (FABS) had special significance.... 

During that inaugural strategizing, shit-shooting, schedule-making retreat at Barbara's country place, we ate great, drank lots and talked more. We made plans for the next steps of Nutshell, made lists with the names of the cast we wish for, and the distributors we dream of. We watched movies and walked mountains. 

On one of these uphill, deserted, forested walks, we were just about to head home before the threatening storm broke loose above us - and suddenly, through the trees, we spotted a clearing...

... and in it, an unlikely, yet cinematic relic. And like we got so used to saying during the making of our last film when it started attracting ordinary magic to itself: 


*My Muse Martin

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Sense of Occasion

I don't know why, but I always seem to need some kind of occasion to relaunch this blog business...

Okay so, what exactly is "occasional" about this particular Wednesday in late March...?

Well, even though the Sochi Paralympics ended only a few days ago, I don't feel right calling it: The Approximate End of My Personal Olympic Break. 

And your run of the mill Hump Day doesn't really cut it either.

With the first day of spring arriving tomorrow, I guess we could always go with: Equinox Eve.


The 48-hour Run Up to Wes Anderson's Latest Cinematic, Cerebral Confection Hitting a Big Screen Near Me!! 


Groundhog Day.

Now that one has a ring to it. Because, in actual fact, earlier today I finally stuck my head out of the hole I've been burrowed in all winter long, and saw... 

...a finished script!

Well, at least as finished as any as-yet unprinted, unread full pass on a first draft of a second draft script ever is...

But still - I have just typed the words, FADE OUT. 

And all of 109 pages back, I have the words FADE IN typed at the top of Page 1. 

And in between, there's a whole bunch of black marks that hold the promise of a fully formed, filmable story with a beginning, middle and end. 

But with only about 10 days left before my submission deadline, I still have a long way to go before getting to my official version. 

I'll start with printing this one out. 

But I won't read a word of it until tomorrow morning - when I'm fresher and more adequately caffeinated. And then... well then I'll see exactly how much of what I've had in my head this whole time actually made it to the page. 

Then there's a day or two where I won't do much of anything but freak out.

Then I'll re-read to see what actually is on the page, and try and get that and my mind more closely aligned. Which leaves me with the editing, the re-writing, the re-reading, the editing, the reorganizing, the reconciling, the counselling, the re-writing, then, maybe - just in time for the deadline - the letting go...

First things first though. Right now, I'm off to have a little sushi dinner and raise a glass - to my own personal Groundhog Day. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Let the Games Begin

If you're keeping even casual track, you may have noticed that the gap between my blog posts has gradually been widening of late. While I have been known to be a bit of a sports spectacle junkie, the recent commencement of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia aren't entirely to blame. 

It also turns out that as I get deeper and deeper into the screenplay - around which this blog has been built - I'm not surprisingly putting more words there than anywhere else.

But these Olympics do also have a certain significance for me. The last time the winter games were happening (in my hometown of Vancouver no less), I was gearing up to start prep on The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom.  It was a heady time - both for the spectator-sport patriot in me, as well as the first time filmmaker I was about to become.  

Now, come this Olympics, I am in the middle of my second effort to tell a story on film. And there is certainly the attendant weight of expectation that comes with any second effort. 

But the level of competition is the same as it's always been. Because as before, I am focussed on competing with myself - aiming for another personal best. 

And as an elite athlete (in mental gymnastics anyway), I have had to start observing a fairly strict health regime. So, lately my screenplay side project has been more about researching films, reading books and walking my ass off on the Mont-Royal than sampling poutine. 

But if you're still hungry for a little dish on the unofficial side dish of these Olympic Games, I have put up a new post on my spin-off blog HERE

Check it out and, let the games begin!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

When I Walk

Every once in a while, something or someone can come along and kick you hard right in the gut. For me, Jason DaSilva, his story and his spirit have left me doubled over and breathless... but in a good way. 

A young, up and coming documentary filmmaker, Jason spent most of his 20's travelling around the world making socially relevant films. One day, while romping on a beach on a family vacation, Jason tripped and fell. And couldn't get up. 

From one moment to the next, his legs wouldn't listen to his brain. After several - increasingly frantic - attempts to stand, this vital young man had to ask for help just to get to his feet. The virulent form of Multiple Sclerosis that had been sleeping in his body had suddenly been woken up. And apparently, it was very, very pissed off. 

This harrowing moment when Jason's life and livelihood changed forever, was caught, quite innocently on the family's vacation video. And this is how Jason's most recent documentary film begins. 

A highly creative person, Jason had always worked in visual arts. He created graphic novels and expressionistic paintings before discovering the medium of film. But as soon as he did, it seems he found his true outlet - his raison d'être. 

And so, when it became clear that he had a very severe and progressive form of MS that would increasingly rob him of muscle, mobility and motor control, one of Jason's first reactions was to panic about time running out on him making all the films he wanted to make. 

So he decided to make a film about him making a film about what was happening to him, his body and his suddenly uncertain and surreal future. 

I won't give any more away, except to say that the resulting film follows Jason's one-way journey into devastating handicaps. It is a love story. It's a terror. And it's a triumph. It's full of laughter, tears, incredible honesty and fears. But most of all, When I Walk is the purest expression of unwavering will I have ever seen. 

If ever you have the chance to see this film, and spend some time in this fierce filmmaker's company, take my advice - run, don't walk.