Writing Terms and Conditions
Well, it’s finally finished. First draft. 92 pages. 76 scenes. Terms and Conditions written. It’s an odd feeling, contradictory in some ways. You live with a script for some time, although the writing of this was rather broken up due to other commitments. Gradually it gets to a point where it’s very difficult to think of anything else. You go through the motions, – smile when expected, nod in all the right places, speak when spoken to, – but really your mind is elsewhere and the people with whom you are talking somehow have less of reality about them than do the characters you’re creating. It’s like living in twilight. But then, and here’s the contradictory part, you complete the script and although utterly exhausted you feel simultaneously invigorated and ready to take on the world again.
I’m pleased about this particular script, not least because it’s the first full length one I’ve written in nearly five years. It’s not that I haven’t been writing at all in that period. There was White Space in a Painting, Violin, Where Fairyland Begins and the twelve episodes of The Drama Sessions. Not to mention supplementary material for the recently completed Intensive Course and this and that blog. But I’ve just not felt that I’ve had either the time or inclination to embark on a full length work as they can be quite tricky and require a lot of concentration. And yet I am a writer. That’s what I do. I do it well and in the past have been well paid for it. I guess it was important for me to prove to myself that I can still do it. Not only that, a film company cannot live on the making of short films forever. I’ve learned a lot from making those, and there will indeed be others, but there comes a time when you need to jump off and explore beyond that format, (for the same reason we’ll be looking at developing a tv series, the synopses for five episodes of which have been completed and half of episode one written).
So, what of Terms and Conditions? In a way that’s the same question as what does it take to write a film script? As I say, they can be tricky and demand a lot of concentration. They are tricky because, – and I guess this goes for all writing of fiction, – once the writer has set the ball rolling, once the framework has been created, the parameters set, he or she is in many ways no longer in control. A writer has developed characters which, like human beings, possess their own logic and therefore have to remain faithful to that logic. So, for instance, if a writer would like something to happen at, say, page 85, it can only do so if the characters involved in that event are the type who would effect it. Without consistency of character there can be no consistency of plot. Frequently a writer will have an idea for a plot without having sufficiently established characters through whom that plot is able to evolve. This means that a writer of fiction has to be peculiarly sensitive to people and their behaviour. A character is not just a peg on which to hang a story. In the end, a character is the story. To get them right so that your 92 pages are sustainable demands a lot of concentration, a lot of focus.
An example of what I mean occurred in the writing of Terms and Conditions. There is a scene late on in the script between two of the characters, Alice and Emma. I was having trouble with this, so much so that I felt irritable and on edge. The characters were saying things, by which I mean that I was writing things for them to say, but they seemed to keep turning to look at me in a rather confused way. In consequence, I too was confused. What was going on? Well, what was going on was that I’d had an idea about where the scene should go but that, frankly, by that point it wasn’t up to me. I was literally putting words into the character’s mouths. They’d been given a life of their own and it wasn’t my role to dictate what they were to say if it meant acting in opposition to the logic of those lives. The fact was that I’d given the scene to Emma when it was actually Alice’s scene. That’s why, whenever Emma opened her mouth everything sounded like a lie. The character knew that before I did which is why it wasn’t working. By simply shifting perspective and being willing to abandon the idea I’d come up with the scene got onto the right track and logic was restored. Like God, writers are never completely in control of their creations.
Now we move slowly but inexorably into the pre-production stage. This will be a little strange for me. In the past I’ve been lucky enough to have been commissioned. Most of the work I’d written on spec was optioned or a substantial amount of interest had been expressed in it. (Oddly though, my favourite script out of the ones I’ve written, The Dress, wasn’t touched at all, didn’t get a bite. Oh well…Actually, I’m quite pleased as it’s another one I’d like to do myself). I’m used to people poring over my scripts with a view to my revising or rewriting them, something which is par for the course. On some scripts I’ve done as many as 20 or more rewrites. On the other hand, where T&C is concerned I have a 1st draft of a film script that I’m going to direct myself. This means that while I can be responsible to and for my own vision it will also entail my being peculiarly sensitive to the dramatic impetus of the piece. This is exciting but at the same time nerve-wracking. For the time being ‘exciting’ is paramount.
So, the script for Terms and Conditions is complete. The Drama Sessions has been edited and now just awaits the sound mix. Low Down Alley Blues will be finished in the next few days, (an announcement about this will be coming shortly). Violin is finished. Where Fairyland Begins is being edited. And there are a number of other things bubbling under. Yes, I think for the moment ‘exciting’ is definitely the right word. Please continue to watch this space.