Monday, April 26, 2010

Day 18: “...cut the throats of your sons and consorts...”

Now that’s the kind of sentiment I like in a national anthem; Vive La France! I care not for my homeland’s ‘God Save The Queen’ nor do I give a fig for ‘Advance Australia Fair’. I thank my parents and their parents that, on my patriarchal side my surname - Joyce - is Irish (and fitting, for a writer, dont’cha think?), whilst my mother’s maiden name was French - Lepla - I am of Huguenot stock, once persecuted by the Catholics (depicted filmicly in Queen Margot) and hounded out of France in the 16th-17th centuries.

Three hundred years later and three January’s ago, I boarded the Eurostar train on a coal black London morning at Waterloo, only to emerge in brilliant winter sunshine at Le Gare du Nord, less that two hours later. One more exile returned home to Paris.

Everything about Paris is splendid to me, it’s that long-lost bit of French that is part and parcel of my psyche and spiritual DNA. Whilst Charles Dickens and I are both sons of Portsmouth, it’d be a vicious punch-up between him and Emile Zola as to who would earn the title of my favourite novelist.

Who doesn’t want to stand up and join in with the Marseillaise when it’s sang at any sporting event?! I was ready to chime in as I disembarked, had there been a band there to rouse us all.

I had arrived on the first train in and had until the last chemin de fer out, that same day. My raison d’être, was to spend a jour in the shoes of Marcel Lestadt, the central character in the commissioned film I’d now written three drafts of, The Detective (Le Detective).

First, I headed to the Latin Quarter in the 5th arrondissement, to the Museum of Gendarmerie. How delighted was I to be halted in my travels by two swarthy members of Paris’s le flic, toting machine last I felt like I’d turned into Tintin. They’d never heard of the museum but, with a grunt, let me pass. I reckon I’m the only visitor that museum’s ever seen and I wouldn’t suggest adding it to your “must-do” list when in the nation’s capital

Then to the Pantheon, to pay tribute at the tomb of Descartes: philosopher, mathematician and coiner of the phrase “Cogito, ergo sum” (I think therefore I am). Descartes is quoted once or twice in the screenplay, enough reason for me to track down his last resting place. The picture alongside this article is one that I took under the great dome of that building; a temporary shrine/ artistic instillation of photographs of Parisian Jews who lost their lives or were sent off to the camps during the Occupation, something that’s also referred to in the script. How one thing leads to another? How the "great" are remembered alongside those we mustn't forget, in such fraternité.

The last part of my day, walking in the shadow of my detective, was spent around the lanes and sidestreets of the Marais, where I’d arbitrarily decided, in the character biography I’d written of Lestadt, that he lived.

Before reacquainting myself with the Eurostar, I dined in the bustle of Montmartre, under the lee of Le Sacre Couer, just after dusk, not sure whether I thought I was George Simenon’s police creation, Inspector Maigret, or Walt Disney’s culinary rat, Ratatouille.

I was sad to leave Paris, exiled once more, but I look forward to a triumphant return.

Day #18 Tip: Research is Your Saviour And Your Friend
In between writing out the Index Cards and filling them with plot points for the screenplay I'm writing, how else do I fill my working day?

I’ll tell you how: writing biographies for the main characters and carrying out research.

My character biog for the detective of the film’s title, Marcel Lestadt, is 9 pages long, as is the biography of his love interest Collete, his enemy General Bernard and his sidekick, the Cambodian Kiempo. I made them up, I created them. They are that detailed that I know what each of them prefers for breakfast. I don’t do this to be a pedant, or a swot, it’s my job. I must know the how and the why of every detail in my screenplay, just as Harold Pinter knew the reason for every comma and full stop in his work and, “just as God knows the name of every sparrow that falls” (McKee).

Research is one of the most enjoyable parts of this gig for me. I get to immerse myself in cultures, countries, religions and who-knows-what for all different kinds of reason. If anything, I could accuse myself of sometimes over-researching. I can go down one rabbit hole, which branches off to another and then I’m off down that one. I can chase a trail on the web about General Charles De Gaulle and find myself, two hours later, ruminating about dairy farming in Minnesota.

The golden rule (of thumb) is this: if you find yourself investigating something that is not actually going to have any bearing on the script that you’re writing, then STOP. I know it sounds like a motherhood statement. Sorry, it’s the best I’ve got.

If you’re stuck, bothered, unenthused and uninspired with your writing, then go do some research. I love looking at maps, I take enormous pleasure in listening to the music of a composer’s work from the time and place of my story. I welcome the chance to walk in the footsteps of my characters(to a point!).

If, on a daily basis, I am going to draw on the well of ideas for my writing then I must top that well up; I don’t know about you, but my precious resource of an imagination is only part artesian-spring; the balance, I must replenish, bucket by enjoyable bucket.

With a cheery “adieu”, I am gone for the day mes amis.

1 comment:

  1. La Reine Margot is one of my faves and, in my humble opinion, one of the most sumptuous films ever made, ever (if in a kind of bloody-Tarantino-does-costume-drama way before anyone knew what a Tarantino was). Check out the aftermath of the St Bartholemew's Day massacre, it looks like an oil painting brought to life on screen. Loving your blog.