Thursday, May 6, 2010

Day 28: Tristan, Iseult And John Polson

I like John Polson, I admire him, but I can’t say that I know him. If we passed each other in the street, I would recognise him, he might look at me as though suspecting he knew me, but that would probably be it, however, our lives collide for a week or so every January.

For those beyond our shores, a bit of exposition: John Polson was (maybe still is) a journeyman actor, always on the lookout for a bit more acting work and, not content with waiting for others to come to him, made a short film and put himself in it (this telling of the story could be wrong, I apologise if it is). John then had a word with Serge, the owner of the famous Tropicanna Café, in Darlinghurst, Sydney and commandeered the ‘Trop’ and it’s TV screens on a Sunday night in the early 1990’s to show a bunch of friends his film.

Others asked if they could show their film and they ended up with 16 short films, had an informal vote at the end of the evening for the best of the bunch and so Tropfest, “the world’s largest short film festival” was born. Fast forward 17 years to 2010 and over 50,000 punters gathered in Sydney’s Domain to watch 16 shorts that have been culled from over 600 entries (I’m one of the pre-selection panel - that's where our lives intersect), with judges the likes of Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and Muriel (Toni Collete).

I don’t know how John’s acting work went, but for a while there, he became the curator and artistic director of this runaway train of a film festival. I’m sure he didn’t plan it that way, but God-love-him, he just went with it. Some years later, Tropfest is as important and as close to John’s heart as ever....when he can pull himself away from his very successful Film & TV directing career.

“I would like to try the sea that brings all chances...To what land no matter, so that it heal me of my wound.”

These are not John’s words, but those of Tristan after he had fought with and slain the Morholt, but in the battle, been pierced with a poisonous and fatal barb that would not heal, no matter which doctor or magician attended him.

In his book “The Psychology Of Romantic Love”, Jungian psychologist Robert A. Johnson, explains it thus: "Tristan shows us how to surrender, at the right time and in the right way. He lays aside his sword, puts himself in a boat without sail or oar, takes only his harp, and casts himself adrift on the sea....he needs to give himself over to the unconscious and drift with its tides until he finds an island of new consciousness for that era of his life.”

This was a philosophy or guiding principle that I let lead me to the Blog, inspired in equal parts by John, Tristan and Julie Powell (the woman behind and at the centre of Julie & Julia).

In the business of my screenwriting, I am forever having to work, toil, cajole, wheel n‘ deal, dive and duck, try this, try that, jump through this hoop and perform whatever jest appeals to whatever filmic passer-by who cares to toss a silver coin into my cap. I decided that with the Hungry Screenwriter things would be different. And they are.

I front up to the keyboard, trot out my thoughts for the day in about 45 minutes. I nip, tuck and edit, add a photo or two, italicise where necessary and then back-off. No post-mortems, no trying to steer it this way or that, no manipulation, I just want to offer you what I’ve got and into the bargain, put my writing, thoughts and thoughts on screenwriting out there into cyberspace.

Like Tristan, I decided that I would lay my rowing boat down on the river, cast aside the oars and let the current take me in which direction it wished. I have let go, truly. There is a lesson in this for me.

Day #28 Tip: Give Your Work The Chance to Tell You What To Write
Back to the index cards (see previous Blogs).

One of the purposes of the 3x5 index cards is to give you the freedom to dream up any scene you like and pop it onto the pile, whether it makes sense in your film or not. If Shakespeare had been working with index cards (perhaps he was?) he could have said to himself, when writing The Merchant of Venice: “you know, what about if there were a scene where Shylock did actually have to cut off a pound of flesh...that'd be fun wouldn't it?” He may well have tried that idea, see how it played, before finally settling on the less-bloody, courtroom scene in Act 4, as we know it today.

The point is this: at index card stage, I am free to let my mind roam, free to let the story take me in any number of directions without being locked in or locked down. In the preparation of a story’s outline, if I only work in a linear direction, from beginning forward to middle and then an end, coming up with what happens next based on what just happened, I restrict and strangle my options (if the options I dream up don't fit neatly into that structure).

Working with the index cards means that any idea that pops into my head for a scene that I might like, a moment in the film that makes no sense whatsoever right now but feels daring, all of these can go down on the cards. It’s towards the end of the three months of working on the cards - gradually building the pile - that the linear, the structural and logical process of assembling the cards takes over and makes order of it all.

I believe that working with index cards to free-up our creative thinking works, in a similar way, to that put forward by lateral thinker Edward de Bono in his book Six Thinking Hats (which is for another day).

The format of film story: most often, but not always, the 3 Act structure, the 90-110 minutes of film time, protagonist/s & antagonistic forces, Turning Points, Inciting Incidents, Crisis, Climax and the like - this is the creative framework in which our ideas will eventually be assembled and to make logical story sense.

The index cards are where I get to “play”, where my imagination is free from the constrictions, censure and criticism that I restrict and fetter it with. It’s the writing place where I get to push my boat out onto the river and let the water take me where it will....

1 comment:

  1. Okay. I am going to give it a go. I have never really tried the index cards...not with proper gusto anyway. I'm not sure I totally "got it" but your description seems to have been said with the right amount of words for me. I'll keep you posted.