Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 99: Day of the Triffids

Yesterday was a not-bad day in the film industry for the “hungry screenwriter”, meaning I never contemplated homocide, producercide, writercide, filmfundingbodycide or thought about taking any other sides. Yesterday I could unbuckle the seatbelt, just for a little while and breathe.

I spoke to a good friend and producer - Sally Ayre-Smith - who I have embarked on a project with; Sally has just returned to her partner and their garlic farm in Northern New South Wales having just completed her stint on the shoot/production of the Fred Schepisi-directed film adaptation of the Patrick White novel ‘Eye Of The Storm’, in Melbourne. I could hear her exhale deeply as she told me of the her goats, dogs and the sunshine up there, in an idyllic paradise, way way north of Sydney.

Prior to that phone call, I’d had a previous one with another good friend and fellow-traveller, Francesca Smith - dramaturg/director/writer - who I’d called on, for help, having suddenly found myself (emotionally hungover from the day before) in a burgeoning world of negativity, surrounded by carniverous bog plants with an appetite for screenwriters, this one in particular.

Some days in the writing world, and or life in general, are tougher than others and Wednesday was one of those, for no particular reason. As fas as I can remember, I was going about my daily business, innocent to the vicissitudes of life, when I felt a tiny little bit of writers-life grit rubbed away in my shoe. Give me a one, small seed of doubt and I have the ability to manifest a botanniical garden of distrust, mistrust, skepticism and cynicism within seconds, literally, two of them; one, two, there you have it, life in ruins.

Not so at the Royal Botannic Gardens at Kew, near Richmond, just west of London, which were developed by the mother of George III with the aid of Sir Joseph Banks (the English botanist who accompanied Captain James Cook on his first voyage to the Pacific), in the 1700’s; it’s taken them the best part of 400 years to flourish and bloom abaundantly to their current state (give or take a natural disaster or two). How come my own jungle of mental overgrown’ness can get there in comparitively supersonic speed?

I was a regular visitor to the gardens at Kew, as a boy. They are magnificently set on the banks of the Thames and offer plenty, including a wonderful Orangery (a very very large greenhouse); as possibly an interesting aside, it is not widely known that the word “orange” did not exist in the English language until someone, probably Sir Walter Raleigh, appeared at the court of Queen Elizabeth I and/or Cate Blanchett and “shewed’ his majesty and orange, explaing “Ma’am, this is an orange”. What had they been calling objects of that colour up until that point?

However, for my good self, the greatest delight to enchant and entrance the eye and mind at Kew is the most exotic and extravagant example of Chinoiserie one could hope to come across: a Pagoda.

The Great Pagoda at Kew was erected in 1762, in the South East corner of the Gardens, by Sir William Chambers. 163 feet (50m) tall, it boasts ten octagonal storeys in imitation of the Chinese Ta (I think “Ta” means “great”, either in Cantonese or Mandarin). Each storey is finished with a projecting roof, originally adorned with what were reputed to be gold dragons, supposedly sold by King George to settle his debts. Actually. they were wood and just rotted over time. Surrounded by England’s greenery, the Great Pagoda is wonderful and beautifully incongruent with it’s surroundings and is the source of much pleasure when, walking the gardens, you lose sight of it foe a few seconds, only then to catch a glimpse of it, peeping between the conifers, from another angle.

But back to what irked me yesterday: I have just recently completed a treatment which has been submitted to a couple of sources of potential funding for me to turn said treatment into a screenplay. I’d received some feedback that I’d interpreted as negative (my mind’s default position). The gist of what was being passed onto me seemed to be that I was possibly being penalised for having done too good a job with my treatment....whatever “treatment” means?

Day #99 Tip: Think of a number.....
In his book ‘Story”, Robert McKee says this about treatments: “ The forty to sixty scenes of a typical screenplay , treated to a moment by moment descroption of all action, underlaid with a full subtext of the conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings of all characters, will produce sixty, eighty, ninety or more double-spaced pages.”

Linda Aronson, in her book ‘Scriptwriting Updated’ offers: “A treatment for a full-length feature film or telemovie is normally about 35 pages long.”

Syd Field, in ‘Screenplay’ gives us another option: “...a treatment; a narrative synopsis of what happens in your story, incorporating a little dialogue; a treatment is anywhere from 4 to 20 pages long”.

One more; this time from the Screen Australia (Australia’s Federal Government film agency): “the treatment, as the term suggests, sets out the dramatic and cinematic way you intend to ‘treat’ the story in terms of style and unfolding narrative. It’s generally a 15-30 pages document.
So there you have it. Depending on who you listen to, a treatment can be anywhere between four and ninety-plus pages. As the saying goes, “you pays your money and you takes your choice”.

Seems there are as many definitions of a treatment as there are tiers of a pagoda.

Ming tian jiàn.

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