Monday, October 4, 2010

Day 179: Are you looking for a screenwriter?

Seven years ago, a producer - looking for “new” writers - read a draft of my first feature film screenplay. A meeting ensued and whilst he told me that he’d enjoyed reading the script, it wasn’t “the kind of thing” he was looking for. Some candour: I was sat in the boardroom of this producer’s production company and could smell a cheque book, so, like any good writer worth their salt, I replied quick-smart “what kind of ‘thing‘ are you looking for?” The producer went on to tell me of a book, an Australian story from the Second World War, that he’d always thought would make a good film. I suggested that maybe I could read the book and return with some feedback from a film writer’s perspective. He wished me good luck as the book was long out of the print, but, yes, he’d welcome that if I could find a copy.

I did find a copy of ‘The Ridge and the River‘ and returned to the same producer with a ten-page document explaining why I thought the story a great yarn but perhaps not such a propitious candidate for a feature film. The producer listened to my debrief, then left the room, returning with a pile of five more books. So began a two year process of him giving me potential film stories to read and me, dutifully reading them and responding.

This process went on until I was heading off to the UK to embark on a year-long feature-writing programme (Writer’s Passage) at The Script Factory in London; before departure, my producer-friend handed me a weighty photocopy of the latest work that he wanted me to read, a substantial enough piece to send me over the allocated baggage allowance at Qantas check-in. That document sat by my bed for the first six months of the trip, until I returned back to Sydney for Christmas.

Not two minutes off the plane and I received an email from the producer, wanting to know where I was? I thought it best to read the hefty tome before I let him know that I was back in Australia, and so I did. Now, this book wasn’t the best of the ones I had read, BUT, there was something in it that I loved; an essence or spirit at it’s heart that made me want to adapt it. I rang the producer, we met up to “do lunch” and before I even put my writer’s arse onto a bistro seat he enquired “what do you think?” I replied “I think you’re onto something with this one”. He was glad I’d responded in this way and said “I’ve bought the rights!” “Good for you.” “I want to you to adapt it”, “good for me!”.

We’re four drafts on from that original conversation; Australia’s federal film funding body have invested in two of those drafts, the NSW state film office paid for another. Academy Award winner Robert Towne (screenwriter of Chinatown, Shampoo, Days of Thunder) has worked on it, so have writers Jan Sardi (Shine, Mao’s Last Dancer) and Matthew Dabner (The Square), producer Sue Murray (Ten Canoes) and director Peter Andrikidis (tv series East West 101, Underbelly, Wildside).

The story’s location has shifted from Cambodia to Afghanistan, the time of the story from 1948 to 2010, a French detective is now an Australian; work on the fifth draft of The Detective is imminent. All this because someone opened their door just a crack and I wedged my foot in, then my elbow and stuck my body in to keep it ajar.

Day #179 Tip: The first rule of business: stay in business
The business of writing is, in many ways, no different from any other business, in that the biggest trick to pull off, is to keep writing; even when - as the banner at the top of this Blog announces - there is no money. Like the water diviner with his Y-shaped twig (a practice known as “dowsing”, after William ‘Smasher’ Dowsing [1596-1668]) we must practice our own methods of seeking out where the necessary “stuff” is, without the aid of scientific apparatus, if we are to put food on our table and a roof over our head whilst going about our business

Somehow, I’ve managed to keep going and today, I had lunch with a another successful producer, whom I’ve recently become acquainted with, who has an idea for something that he wanted to pitch to me in order to start the slow roll of a ball that may gather momentum. Many such efforts have, in the past, turned into “balls of confusion” and crashed off into the undergrowth, taking me with them, but that’s part of the rough n’ tumble of this business. Right now, I’m inspired, the creative sap is rising and who knows where this one might roll to?

Maybe “Smasher” Dowling and his twig of divination is not the best parallel to use, perhaps Burt Lancaster’s character of Starbuck (!!!!!), the “charming” con man who came to town promising to bring rain (for money) in the 1957 film The Rainmaker, is nearer the mark, maybe not?! But who is who in this metaphoric scenario that I’ve invoked?

My point is this: when the pennies from heaven are not falling, well, maybe that’s just how it’s meant to be, but perhaps we have develop a bit of a weather-eye for these things and best we nurture our olfactory senses too, for there’s gold out there in them-thar hills somewhere and no reason, dammit, why it shouldn’t be ours....make that, MINE.

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