Anyone who thinks writing is a sedentary occupation should try a script retreat to Dartmoor. While on a quest to the pub, this writer got stuck in a thorn bush, dropped her handbag in a ditch and was unceremoniously fireman’s lifted across the marshland by her director.
Not my finest hour. In my defence, there had been afternoon wine.
So, apart from ill-advised marsh treks, what happened on our script retreat?
We had a trilogy of movies to plan based on some rough mythology and a few ideas from our production meeting in May. Also, we had done our homework, as laid out by the producer – protagonists, set pieces, secondary characters, settings and goal/task had all been brainstormed prior to our arrival in our luxury holiday cottage.
As an opening gambit, we discussed our favourite movies, with particular attention to what we did and didn’t like about Lord of the Rings, THE epic movie of our generation. Other movies frequently referenced were Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Avatar and Star Wars, with noted books including the Regante series and the works of Bernard Cornwell.
We moved on to Type A vs Type B characters – i.e. the journey from zero to hero (finding courage) against the already-badass dude (finding compassion). We played with a Type A character arc across all three movies and what development he needed with some discussion of plot and situation required to achieve this.
We then attempted the same exercise with the Type B character. This was much harder and we floated several different Type B characters. We considered plot points and relationships to drive him through the movies, but we struggled to get past movie one, let alone take him across the trilogy.
Setting Mr Type B to one side outside the local pub, we moved on to Atlantean society. What’s it like underwater? Why does our protagonist love it and why will our audience dream of breathing water just to get there? We discussed societal structure, leadership, religion, housing, tools, materials, villages and cities, bartering, role of women and children, and the rule of law. When we crept to bed at two o’clock in the morning in the pitch black of a generator-less night, we had made a culture.
Today, we moved on to set pieces and outlining the movies. I’m the first to admit that I’m not very good with set pieces and much prefer developing characters, but I think we came up with some suitably epic visuals and dramatic tension galore.
Our one real sticking point was Movie 3, Act 3 – because how do you end an epic trilogy without being a huge disappointment? Everything has been building to this: the pay-off of your character arcs, your society’s struggle, the thematic resonance of the piece. To bottle it in the last scene is to spoil everything that’s gone before.
All-in-all, we recorded around thirteen hours of tape and discussed another fiveish hours while traipsing around the Moor and eating excellent pub grub. We made a great character, chucked him in a rich and colourful society, and pushed him through three gruelling movies without mercy.
Not bad for two days in a cottage, is it?