Back into it after all these years

I wrote a film once. It was a short film called “The Watcher” and the script was good enough to be given 100% funding from Creative New Zealand. I was over the moon. A few months earlier I’d given the script to my friend, a long-time TV producer who liked it. We decided she would produce the film. When we heard we got the money she too was over the moon. We’d cracked it on our first try. Looking back, that was the best it ever was. We had meetings at her house to discuss the script and go over it with the man my friend chose to be the director. He was a television cameraman who like her, wanted to branch out. She trusted him so I trusted him. We all had agenda’s no doubt about that. I wanted to be the one ultimately in charge of my own stories so I needed all the ‘how to’ stuff I could get. I can’t really say what theirs were, but I was promised that I would be involved all the way through.

I turned up on Day 1 at the primary location to discover the director and the actor playing the protagonist (the bad guy), were down at the Central Police Station filming in the cells. I was surprised. There was no such scene in the script but I could see how, if you really didn’t think the audience had any brains, you might want to add that in. I said nothing and waited. When they turned up I was given little jobs. Do this, collect that, take this somewhere else. At the end of the day I drove the main actress home. When she asked what I thought of her performance, I lied and said she was doing a good job. I’d not seen any of it. I spoke to my friend who was DOP (director of photography) the next day and he said, they’re trying to keep you out. Push your way in there. I did. I was only sent on a few errands that day. When the 2 or perhaps it was 3 days, wrapped, I was relieved, and I went back to my life.

The next time I heard from my producer friend she was editing with the director. It was going well. I was not invited to attend – which I understood. They needed to create their own style and I thought my story was robust enough to help them do that. A month or so after that I was invited to a private screening of the film in the old (as in totalled by the earthquake) Academy cinema. I sat anxiously waiting as this story that I’d spent months crafting began to roll. I was pleased to see I had a credit and it was in the correct place, and though there was this strangely disjointed scene in the police cells at the beginning, it passed quickly and the story took over. It’s a really weird feeling watching your imagination come to life, but it’s nowhere nearly as weird as watching the ending of your story disappear. The story was about a young con seeking out and threatening the woman who’d given him up for adoption. You felt for the terrified ‘mother’ just as you understood the boy’s anger, so the ending had to reflect both their points-of-view. This is the way it was written. The menacing boy took a cherry from the cake the woman had been icing and threw it into the air. What the audience knew and he didn’t, was that the cherry was laced with a shard of glass. The cherry would slo-mo up into the air and he would be seen opening his mouth. And that’s where it would end. Some people hoping she’d tell him to stop, some hoping she’d not. What we got instead was the young man sauntering off down the driveway and the woman staring helplessly from the window.

I was so bitterly disappointed I couldn’t speak. How could they not trust me to give my story the ending it deserved? And why had they not told me? That’s what really got me. I could only assume they knew they’d be in for a fight and went their own way. Predictably, no-one enjoyed the film. My friend the producer, understood something had gone wrong but couldn’t understand what it was nor why I was so upset. She told me changing the script happened all the time in television. What she meant, was harden up or get out of the game. It was the end of our friendship. The director had the grace to look appalled when I said I hated it. His name pops up quite regularly now as the cameraman on programmes such as Country Calendar and he’s made a name for himself filming wild life doc’s.

Memories dull and desires remain and I’ve decided to take on the beast once more. To upskill and network, I’ve enrolled myself in some online script writing classes run by Rachel Lang. She’s written quite a bit of television drama. Not much of it my cup of tea as it’s light and fuzzy which is apparently what the powers that be think NZ audiences want to watch. In preparation I pulled out an old television series proposal I’d sent to Great Southern Film and Television eleven years ago. I had really liked the idea and when I read the rejection note, I think they did too. “We absolutely love the idea in here – like seriously love the sensibilities of the project, the characters you are drawing and the stories you are interested in telling..is totally our sort of thing and the kind of project we’d love to make…unfortunately, and it really pains me to say it, we just don’t feel it’s something we’ll be able to get made at this time…..We(‘ve) just (had) have five really strong projects turned down on the basis of cost. The commissioners love the ideas but the programmers just can’t justify the spend at this time.”

I might pitch that idea to the ‘Industry Professionals” at the pitching event on the last night of my course or I might go for something a little less ‘real’. But whatever I decide will be in the full knowledge that television has two sides and unless I can find the one that’s fully cashed up and thinks like me, rejection will always be on the cards. I think I can live with that.


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