Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 83: Am I a rat?

If you know me and are mulling over the answer to that question, well just hold that thought, I’m going to come back to it.

I know little of my geneaology or ancestry; the two parts that I vaguely know, are that on my paternal side, I carry the surname Joyce, which is Irish. On the west coast of Ireland in Galway, there is an area called Joyce’s County and of course, Joyce is no bad surname to have as a writer, so I'm happy with that.

My mother’s maiden name (which I’ve mentioned here before) was Lepla and the little I know of that, is that it’s an anglicisation of the French name Le Pla; a little poking around on the proverbial 'world-wide' tells me that Macques, Jacques and Jean Le Pla were French Protestants who fled France and the Spanish Inquisition in the 1600’s to settle in Lincolnshire, on the east coast of Enhland, which is where half of my mother’s side of family herald from.

Where am I going with this?

I’m happy to lay claim to any French part of me, based on little more than a gut feeling, a desire to live in Paris and a love of Emile Zola’s writing (the father of Realism or Naturalism, I forget which). Emile Zola’s 'Thérèse Raquin' is one of my three most- loved novels. I’m also bent on working my way through his Rougon-Macquart cycle of 20 novels that he wrote about French life, which include 'Germinal' and 'Nana'.

I’m more than happy to scavenge for writing DNA wherever I can: the surname Joyce (surely I must be related somewhere along the line to the author of the unreadable 'Finnegan’s Wake'?), the fact that I was reared and raised in Portsmouth (not only the birthplace of Dickens, but also where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had his medical practice - two cherished novellists) and now I’m trying to draw the longest of bows between me and Flaubert, Sartre, Molière, Balzac, Dumas, Hugo and any French writer of note; this is what leads me to the question of the “rat”.

Recently, I did a script consultancy job on a feature-length animation piece and, as is my wont, rolled my sleeves up and got to grips with the genre. One of the many films I watched that I loved, was Ratatouille (borrowed from my Godson and his brother). Disney/Pixar’s co-production of Ratatouille is the story of Remy the rat and his ambitions to become a chef in Paris, working in the kitchens of the much-lauded restaurant belonging to the late Chef Gusteau.

Not long into the film, for reasons that I won’t go into here, the Protagonist of our story - Remy - finds himself living in the garret of one of the sous-chef’s from Gusteau’s, high above Paris (I can only guess that they’re in Montmartre) with the most wonderful view over the city. The dictionary definition of “garrett” is “a top-floor or attic room, esp. a small dismal one (traditionally inhabited by an artist)”; sounds very 'La Bohème' to me, however, the attic and it's view across Paris in Ratatouille looks delightful to me (I know, it’s a a movie and it’s Disney-Pixar but let me romanticise a bit). I’d be more than happy to live my life in that garret with that view of Paris, hence I keep it on my mobile phone, just like Remy never lets his gastronomique dream out of his sight.

The wonderful idea at the heart of Ratatouille, espoused by Remy, chanelled through him by Chef Gusteau, is that “anyone can cook”, and so they can. If you can read, you can cook and if you can read, guess what, you can write.

Day #83 Tip: Anyone can write
Many of the script consultancy gigs that I get to work on are with first-time screenwriters, people often working in other professions - law, advertising, teaching - who have written a screenplay and aren’t quite sure what to do next. One of the questions that I’m always keen to ask is this: “Do you want a career as a screenwriter or do you just need to tell this story?”. More often than not, it’s a question that they’ve never asked of themselves and, if I total up the responses I’ve received over the years, more often than not, most are keen to see just this one script through, for whatever reason.

I’ve mentioned here before about a week long script intensive/hothouse that I attended in Byron Bay (northern New South Wales) nearly three years ago, run by Screen Australia (our federal government’s film body). The intention of the week was to put the second draft of my screenplay, The Detective, under the microscope and move me, the producer and the project towards draft #3.

That week, was one of - if not ‘the’ - most fulfilling weeks of my professional life and here’s why I think that was. The architect of the Spark programme (for that is what it’s called) that year was Jackie McKimmie, a writer (and filmmaker herself) and Jackie’s point of departure for each individual involved on the journey with the eight writers present was this “what can I do to help you write the film that you want to write?”.

I’ve come across many teachers, collaborators, script readers and significant others in the industry who would appear to come from the antipode of this: “what can i do to stop you from writing the film you want to write?” A plague on those people....maybe a nice, gentle plague though....on second thoughts, maybe not.

My niece/goddaughter has embarked on a dance and movement career ever since, well since I can’t remember. A friend’s son has recently begun a 3-year course at Sydney’s College of Fine Arts here in Australia. Aas I write this, another son of other friends at this very moment, has his head deeply buried in study, hoping to make the grades that will see him take the place on offer to him, to study the classics at Oxford. To them and all others giving it a red hot go, I say “what can I/we do to help?”

Anyone can write, it’s just whether you want to or not I guess? I’m a paid-up subscriber to theRatatouille school of thought and action; Remy, me and those I’ve just mentioned - Kimberly, Sam & Harry respectively - have much in common

So, maybe somewhere along the line the French in Remy and I crossed some sort of path that could link us.....maybe....possibly?

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