How I Survived Writer's Block When Writing My New Screenplay.
Anyway, I've announced in this entry before that I was going to start working on a new short film. A conventional love story that takes place in contemporary KL, its mood similar to the jun-ai works of Japan (and Korea), told using my own filmmaking styles. I'll be revisiting some themes (loneliness, memories, unrequited love, regret, mortality) that I explored in my previous short, GIRL DISCONNECTED.
Well, it's already been two weeks since I first started work on the screenplay. While doing this, I had numerous discussions with friends, either face-to-face and online, for the sake of shaping something to my liking. It had already been nearly a year since I last completed a screenplay (GIRL DISCONNECTED's, which I completed last June, and two months prior, I had this incredible streak of finishing three screenplays for three short films, one of them being VERTICAL DISTANCE's, I was somewhat amazed by my own productivity). I've gotten rusty. Or perhaps, I'm not used to writing something lighter on plot and heavier on characterization and mood.
GIRL DISCONNECTED, despite much larger in scope (c'mon, it's about a girl who FLEW TO THE MOON ON A TRAIN to seek her Internet boyfriend) was something much easier to do, because it was right up my alley, fantasy sci-fi, with a dash of romance thrown in. I was also suffering from some really major heartbreaking girl problems then, making it much easier to, ah, draw something from real life.
Back then, I really had something to say.
This new film, unfortunately, was conceived as merely a challenge. A dare I took from my friend, Peng Shien, who said he wanted me to do something mainstream, instead of overindulgent arthouse fares (... it never occurred to me that GIRL DISCONNECTED was THAT arthouse!). I came up with a story, drawing a bit of inspiration from recent happenings (... more girl problems, despite my brilliance, girl problems are things that constantly happen to me) yet I continued struggling.
As I SLOGGED through the screenplay of this new upcoming film, I knew very well the events that would happen in the film, yet I myself couldn't understand the WHYS and HOWS. WHY would this character do this? HOW did that character do that? What would they say to each other? Character development is impossible if I knew so little about the characters ("An angsty quiet dude of few words, a cheerful wacky girl of many words... oops, isn't that GIRL DISCONNECTED again... noooo, I'm a one-trick-pony!!!!!")
So, after a few days without much progress, I opted to write a film treatment instead, which was really what I should have done before I started to write an actual screenplay. But writing outlines of each scene was pointless, and impossible, when, I STILL couldn't understand the characters well enough.
Their thoughts, their motivations, their backstories etc etc.
One method I used back then was to write page-long character backstories, things that helped shape their (the character's) personalities. These were usually given to my actors before their first rehearsals to help them with their acting.
Hence I came up with a much different method to shape the storyline and the characters for my new film.
I decided to write everything in prose form. To actually write A SHORT STORY, and not A SCREENPLAY. So that as I shape the events, I can also attempt to fill in the blanks about the characters' thoughts, personal backgrounds. It was a method borne out of desperation, but to my surprise, it actually worked. By setting up the atmosphere, retaining the usual whimsicality present in the majority of the works, adding an undercurrent of melancholy for the settings, the two main characters gradually come alive before me on the computer screen, and with that, things became more cinematic in my mind. I wrote the story as if I was working purely on a story, and not waiting for it to be adapted for screen (by myself).
Scenes that I originally thought to toss into the film, I excised, because I knew that this character, or that character, would not act like this, or say something like that. And as my mind was allowed to roam free, I could reinterpret the story myself, and realize that this was becoming something just as personal as GIRL DISCONNECTED, and not merely some challenge I took from a friend.
This is becoming a film I have to make because I have something to say, and not because I'm making a film for the sake of making a film.
Progress is slow, because, well, I am easily distracted, and I've gone off on Thursday and Friday to check out the editing progress of KERAMAT (the TV movie I served as assistant director for) with my director, Kannan. But as I discuss more with other people, images in my mind become more apparent, the story I have to write becomes much clearer.
Maybe that's why director Shunji Iwai (one of my MAJOR influences!!!!!) would usually come up with either a novel or a novella first (or even an interactive online novel when he did ALL ABOUT LILY-CHOU CHOU!), before adapting them into a screenplay for his movies.
By the way, tentative titles for new short film are "WINTER IN KL", "KL WINTER", "KL SONATA", "RED BEAN SOUP" or maybe even "BOY DISCONNECTED".
Someday, Karen. Someday.