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Branchage Blessings Continue

I HATE reading and writing treatments, the short, ‘selling’ documents that tell screenplays’ stories, often with an emphasis on the plot points. They’re a special kind of synopsis and they bore me, whether I’m the one writing or the one reading; I’ve almost never read a treatment I’ve enjoyed, or that made me want to see the movie. So, not surprisingly, I’m also hopeless at writing treatments, whether they are one or ten pages long. And the ones I wrote for Development-the-movie, at the Branchage Directors Lab, were awful.

At the end of Branchage we were offered an opportunity to rewrite our treatments and send them to Peter Strickland, writer/director of Katalin Varga (see links below if you’re not familiar with this lovely, multi-award-winning, film). I wrote a nine-pager, trying to use the feedback I’d been given at Branchage to make something that was a whole lot better. And yesterday Peter sent his response.

It was so generous, one of the best bits of feedback I’ve ever had. He’d read the treatment meticulously—probably several times—identified its shortcomings, identified its strengths, and expressed his response in a way that helps me move forward not only with a better and shorter treatment, but also with the next draft of the script. Perhaps because his primary job is to write and direct films rather than to assess treatments and scripts, he appears to have written this (thanks to Branchage) as a beautifully conceived, rigorously executed, openly and honestly expressed gift, to another filmmaker he’s never met. I feel that I've received something from his heart, along with a spot-on analysis.

I love it that Peter picked up on problems that I’ve consistently avoided or been unable to resolve in the script itself (duh, that’s one reason a treatment’s useful!) Including one I’d almost forgotten(?) about: Frederique, one of the four film-maker characters, is not as fully realised as the other three. If you check out our promo (made for the Rugby World Cup-associated PassItOn site) you can see even there that Frederique, filming on Wellington’s Oriental Bay seawall, is less prominent than the others, whether they’re acting or representing themselves.



Frederique, played by the amazing Lynda Chanwai-Earle, is a mother-of-two-quite-small-children who wants to resume her career in the film industry (an imaginary corner of Wellywood) and to make features. But she isn’t sure how to manage this in combination with motherhood. So she decides to make a doco about Viv, the veteran filmmaker character who brought up a child while making features, to better understand what’s possible. By the end of the film Frederique’s decided to compromise, to make an occasional documentary but not to attempt to make features until her children are much older.

Maybe because I’ve continued to think intermittently about Girls Like Us (spent hours on the plane from Dubai to Sydney listening to Joni Mitchell and to James Taylor), and because I’ve just had a series of interesting conversations about my shortcomings and virtues as a mother, thanks to Peter’s prompt I’ve now understood why I haven’t fully ‘written Frederique’. She’s in a situation similar to one that I was in myself, long ago. But she makes different—and possibly better—choices. Till now, it’s been just too painful to go back in to that historical situation and to write about its challenges as expressed and resolved in Frederique’s life. And when I lay in bed this morning running a new scene with Frederique through my head (I imagine scenes just after waking up, with pictures, then get up and write them down, listening carefully as the speech bubbles emerge) I laughed. Am I deflecting the pain with humour? Or is humour the way to go for this?

So, this week I'll have another go with the treatment, with help from a staunch and uber-talented International Institute of Modern Letters script-writing mate, who also writes multi-protagonist scripts—I doubt whether my treatment for a single protagonist script would be any better than this one was, but am also sure that a multi-protagonist script presents a bit more of a challenge. And I’ll have another go at a logline/tagline for the website, being updated this weekend.

A big, big, thank you to you Peter. I hope the people reading your treatments offer you the same rich and useful response that you’ve given me.

LINKS
Branchage posts
Lisa Gornick does it again
Developing Development-the-movie at Branchage

Girls Like Us posts
Girls Like Us: Looking for Amy Pascal
I feel the earth move under my feet

Peter Strickland and Katalin Varga
Katalin Varga on imdb
Guardian interview
FilmInt interview

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