Sunday, June 20, 2010

Day 73: A salty mouth

There’s one or two expressions I like that use the word ‘salt’: “worth one’s salt”, “salt of the earth” and how about this one “sit below the salt”, which means to be of a lower social standing or worth (that sounds familiar). A “salt meadow” is a meadow subject to flooding by seawater (a salt marsh) and a “salty sea dog” is of course an old or experienced sailor; “salty” in this case meaning earthy, colourful, spicy, risqué, biting, naughty, maybe vulgar and or rude. Someone said to have a "salty-mouth" reminds me a little of the characters Lauren Bacall oftened played, opposite the man who became her husband, Humphrey Bogart.

My friend Holly Davis is not a salty sea dog, but she does live within reach of the ocean (Pacific) and knows a thing or two about salt. I think Holly once proudly prouced salt at the dining table that she’d harvested, herself, from the shoreline rocks at Palm Beach, where she lives, just north of Sydney.

Holly is a - I never quite know what to call her - a nutritionist, a cook, an author (her book Nourish [sustenance for the body & soul], is I think, still in print and available), one of the co-founders of the Iku chain of macrobiotic food outlets here in Sydney, a "pioneer of the wholefoods movement in Australia" and a personal advisor on things that go into my gob and then to my gut. My gut often plays up and always has done, since forever. When I’m stressed, I’m not the sort that is felled like a tree with migraine’s, stress goes straight to my gut (some would say that the gut is our sixth sense and/or our second brain).

Early on this year when things were über-stressful and my gut was all awry, amongst other things that Holly suggested to me - fermented foods, probiotic stuffs and more - she pointed me in the direction of Celtic Sea Salt. I’m going to quote to you from the back of my Celtic Sea Salt bag now:

“Celtic Sea Salt is treasured as the finest of all condiments in France and many other European countries. This salt is free of any processing, it is dried only by the hot summer sun and wind. It is harvested in late summer by salt farmers, who delicately gather the salt from the marshes with wooden hand tools. Because it is only sun dried, it retain’s the ocean’s moisture, which helps lock in many vital trace elements.”

My bag of Celtic Sea Salt is certified by the “...prestigious Nature & Progre’s of Europe” and is “ from preservatives, additives, refining and bleaching...” I have the ‘coarse grain’ variety and it cost me $6.25. It’s a bit like an artesian bag of salt in that it never seems to go down, I’ve had it for what seems like months now. It’s perfect for rubbing into lamb that I roast, for sprinkling on vegetables that I bake (winter salad), for gargling when I had my tooth out and for general cooking. It’s available in most health food stores and the salt farmers of NW France are not paying me one Euro (how could they have let go of the Franc??!!) for this spruiking of their wares.

Other salts no longer cut it in my kitchen, I cannot wax lyrically enough about this salt that the good burghers of Normandy or Brittany harvest for me (and others), it is a veritable “find” and I pass this recommendation on in the genrous spirit that Holly passed it on to me.

I marvel at cooks and their ability to know when something doesn’t have enough salt. How do they do that? I’m guessing that a cook’s sense of taste is not something they’re born with but skill to be worked on and accquired over the years and years of their apprenticeship; I’m sure Holly will tell me if I ask.

Day #73 Tip: Read Screenplays to train your story palate
As I get to the point where I’m fashioning my 40-60 index cards into the shape of a screenplay, I’m looking at each of the acts and, like a cook, I’m sampling each stanza of the story to see if it salted with enough story spice. How do I know?

As a writer I have to develop the skill of being objective about my own work, even when I’m close to it and even when I’ve got my nose right in it on a daily basis. Time and time again at various stage of creating a screenplay, I’m going to be the first one to objectively review things in order to get things in order before passing the story on - verbally or otherwise - to someone else. How have I learnt to assess the story balance of my work-in-progress, the screenplays that I’m cooking up? By reading scripts of others, again and again and again - produced scripts, unproduced scripts, successful and unsuccessful - I gradually have got a sense for what’s working and what’s not; there’s no short cuts, it’s just taken the reading time that it’s taken over the weeks, months and years.

A salutary tale.

Some years ago I was renting office space in a small building that housed a successful film production company. One day I was asked, in my humble opinion as a screenwriter, how it was best to train someone up to read scripts to be able to sort the “good” from the “bad”. My reply was, exactly what I’ve written above: it’s an ability that is accquired from reading many many scripts, I don’t think it’s something that can be taught, guidance can help but it’ll need to be accompanied up by acres of reading. That wasn’t the answer they wanted; see, they were getting plenty of film screenplays sent to them and had just employed an office junior who was going to be the gatekeeper, the first port of call who would sort the chaff from the wheat. My memory tells me that I could not disguise my incredulity at this idea. This is not the best analogy in the world that I’m about to give, but it’s a bit like asking the restaurant’s newly-employed plongeur(dishwasher) to assess the seasoning of meals that are about to be served at table?!

That’s not to disrespect plongeurs in any way. Yes, that production company was getting quite a few scripts, yes it’s a labour-intensive job, but, I swear, that I could have given that young person (who I really liked) one or two of the finest screenplays ever written, buried them in a pile of others and I supect that they would probably have ended up in the “thanks, but no-thanks” pile. The film industry is already an industry predicated on people saying “no”; when you say “no” you don’t have to put your a**e on the line or your money where your mouth is; you don't have to explain yourself and articulte why you are impressed by don't have to go out on a limb, like you do when you say “yes”. In this particular case, tt was just about to get even easier to get a “no”.

For screenwriters - first-timers, seasoned veterans and all in between - this is a frightening tale, but such is life. There are a ton, and I mean a TON, of script readers out there who may or may not know what they are or aren’t doing. If you want to be worth your salt in knowing how to taste screenwriting , then begin by training yourself to read, read, read and compliment this self-education with help from seasoned professionals by asking, asking, asking.

Overnight successes in this industry and the that of the cooking/food world are the exception, not the rule. In this world of instant-gratification, somethings still take the time that they take.

No comments:

Post a Comment