Mary Anne Taouk from the Parramatta Advertiser came by yesterday to chat about our film. And photographer Justin Sanson joined her to take some happy snaps. Story to come out in next week's paper! Stay tuned.
Well, here it is. The news that blew our minds.
APRICOT WAS ONE OF TEN PROJECTS SELECTED BY SCREEN NSW TO RECEIVE FUNDING AS PART OF ITS SEED REGIONAL INITIATIVE! YIPPEEE!!
It was 1130pm. I had just returned from Carmines in Times Square and had a gut full of spaghetti and meatballs and bread and tiramisu to contend with. I was in the elevator on the way up to my Lower East Side hotel and I get a message from my producer Gia that read:
'You need to call me urgently good news.'
So, I did.
And she told me the news and my brain went a little fuzzy maybe from the carb and sugar overload but more so from the fact the OH MY GOD OUR STORY HAS BEEN ACKNOWLEDGED BY THE GOVERNMENT. WAAAAATTTTT!!?!!
I took a breath, calmed down, and like the dramatic actress that I am, stared out of the hotel windows and onto the NYC skyline and just felt very very very blessed.
I knew that this funding and the exposure it would bring would change the trajectory of this project.
And this made me very very happy.
Oh, and as part of the funding, our film will be screened on ABC iview. No biggie.
In Year 8, I turned the scene where youngen Scout Finch sees Mr Cunningham outside the courthouse into a monologue. I then made my English class follow me to the front school gates where I performed said monologue. I was a hit. One, because I'd rehearsed the bejesus out of the piece but also because I really really liked Scout. She was young but feisty and opinionated and all the things I wasn't at 13.
I continue to have an appreciation for literature that has young protagonists at the helm. They have a certain sense of wisdom and an unwavering fascination with the world around them. Through the eyes of these little people, we see ourselves - often, the absurd, vulnerable and pathetic aspects that we dare not reveal to the other adults in our lives. Quite sad, no?
In celebration of child protagonists, and in preparation for the upcoming Tropfest Film Festival (Parramatta Park, Saturday 11 February) I thought I'd share with you my fav Tropfest kid-centric films. Some will make you cry, others laugh. But all will make you reconsider your skills as a filmmaker because they're all so damn good that you start questioning how to make your sixth draft good enough to stack up to these and then confusion sets in because you've been exposed to new ways of telling stories and then you look at your sixth draft and make changes and time slips away from you and then you're 98 and laying on your deathbed and still haven't finished the sixth and final draft for the short film you wanted to produce when you were 32.
I'm currently writing my sixth draft.
1. LAMB | Winner of Tropfest 2002 | Directed by Emma Freeman
Oh, man. Keep watching to the end. Heart strings. Pulling. Danke tschuen.
2. FiXeD | Tropfest Finalist 2014 | Directed by Codey Wilson and Burleigh Smith
So friken sweet and innocent and many many lols.
3. Amalia Lucia Gomez is Gluten Intolerant | Shortlist Tropfest 2013 | Directed by Shideh Faramand
Stylistically, solid. Fun and quirky while retaining a strong message. (Look out for Frida!)
4. Alice's Baby | Tropfest Finalist 2012 | Directed by Eva Lazzaro
And here we go again with the heart strings...
5. Pinata | Tropfest Finalist 2015 | Directed by Bill Northcott
I guess what we learn from these five films is that a. short films are often best when kept to one very simple idea. And b. kids are more resilient and braver than we can ever dream to be.
To tell you that I want to pull my hair out at this stage is an understatement.
I am up to the sixth (and hopefully final) draft of my Apricot script. Why, you ask, are you still writing Nisrine? We thought your script was finished. Well, that's the beauty with screenplays (and other pieces of writing for that matter): they never are finished. There are always tweeks to be made, stage directions to be added, heart to be injected, genre to be crafted. Yes, we could just as easily shoot the first draft, or the second or the third, but we NEED to get this perfect. We have taken people's money (legally, of course), we have vowed that this will be an important and unique and poignant piece of filmic literature, and we have our reputations on the line. I do. my producer Gia does. We all do. To be content after only just one draft is a massive diservice in my opinon.
But the reality is, the blocks come. And when they do. Arghhhhhhh!
So, what do I do to help me with my writing process? What strategies do I follow to make the hair-pulling less severe? The following. And please, feel free to try:
1. TIMED WRITING
Set a timer (10 minutes) and just friggen write. Don't put the pen down. Don't stop tapping the keys. It may come out as absolute garbage but you may find, with the uncensored and sporadic nature of the task, that some gems are unravelled. For example, I just did a 10-minute writing session and turns out that Margaret Mary (my protagonist) enjoys making shapes with her spaghetti strands. Who would've thunk it?!
2. WHITEBOARD OR OTHER BLANK WHITE SURFACES
Sometimes, we need to see a blank piece of something in order to generate those creative juices. There's just something about the whiteness of a whiteboard or a white piece of A4 paper that screams 'new beginnings'. It makes you look at the story with fresh eyes, allows you to play and scribble, and jot and map out. A lot of the time, it is a more sophisticated form of procrastination but hey, beggars can't be choosers.
3. DO THE SWITCH
If you're not feeling the laptop, switch to paper. If you're not feeling the paper, switch back to the laptop. Each medium is good for a specific purpose. I find that my thoughts come out a lot easier onto paper (maybe because I've been writing journals ever since I was 10) and so I write in an exercise book to get out my initial ideas. Then, I move over to the laptop when I need to set and see a structure to those ideas; to make me feel as though my ideas are coming together visually. So, paper or laptop, it's all good.
4. JUST SIT AND WAIT
The strategy that most writers adopt I imagine. Just sit with that pen. Or sit in front of that laptop. And wait. Let go. Release the pressure. Sit. And wait. After twenty minutes of no talking, no forced thinking, SOMETHING is bound to come up. It's a strategy I use when I'm looking for parking as well. Works a charm. You can be that impatient driver circling the car park a million times, getting more and more frustrated with each circle or, you can be old mate 'I'll just wait here because mathematically speaking, something is bound to come up at some point today.' That guy. Be that guy.
5. MOVE AWAY
Not to Canada. Just from the task. Move away from the writing and do a completely non-related activity like taking down your Christmas tree or, I dunno, writing a blog entry on how to overcome writer's block (meta). Yes, you have a deadline and you need to sit yourself down and write at some point, but for now, in the midst of this writing meltdown of yours, take a load off. After all, we're not curing diseases here. It's just a piece of fiction. The world will continue to turn. So put sh** into perspective and live your life.
Disclaimer: all of these strategies, let's be honest, are forms of procrastination. To finish your script you just have to...finish your script. No matter how you do it, just do it. As long as you're MOVING FORWARD with each strategy and edging closer to that finish line, you're on the right track friend.
I've watched a lot of Oprah in my day. I love the ol' gal. I've also read a lot of Eckhart Tolle and listened to a lot of Abraham Hicks. The crux of all their teachings (to paraphrase) is that one should listen to thier intuition, to the whispers, to follow their good-feeling thoughts after which time, inspired action will come and one's true purpose will be realised.
Now, bless you Opie and Eckie and Abie but methinks this train of thought - although serving me well as a general human being - has not served me well as a writer. Because despite the common sense-ness of this teaching, it's made me, how shall I say, a little, um, undisciplined. Cause like, I need to like, you know, finish my latest draft. Like, now. And look, I'm easy. I could go to the beach and just hang aroud for a wave of inspiration to hit me but let's face it, I'm probably going to be too distracted by the sand and the coconut oil and the fish and chips to give a toss about my heroine's journey. And I NEED to care about my heroine's journey. Why? Because I want to share her journey in the form of a short film. And this short film needs to therefore be made. And I therefore need to have a finished script that my producer and director and myself can give to like, actors. And so on and so forth.
So, such is the writer's battle. Do we wait for inspiration - which, when it comes is MAGNIFICENT and feels so right and flows so naturally - or do we discipline ourselves with timed writing sessions and daily word-count targets?
Who the fudge knows. If any writer out there has achieved a balance, holla at your girl. You know where to find me: under a tree somewhere holding a carnelian crystal waiting for inspiration to slap me in the face. Face. Face. 'Margaret's face turns as red as a tomatoe. She picks up the apricot and-'
Excuse me, my gut calls.
Note: Carnelian is a deep and fiery orange/red colour, linking to the Sacracl Chakra and creativity. It has a very warming energy, and will stoke your creative fires.
Apricot is a Spaghetti Western.
This is a little odd considering a. I'm not too sure that apricots were a common food item in saloon bar fridges and b. what in Man with No Name's name do I know about this genre made famous by Sergio Leone in Italy in the 1960s?
Well, I know that this genre was made famous by Sergio Leone in Italy in the 1960s. I also know that it was a genre that revived a flailing Italian film industry. And I know that Clint Eastwood is sexy as hell but I digress.
So why did I decide to write Apricot as a Spag-West, you ask?
Once Upon a Time in the West.
The date was June-something 2016. I was sitting in an AFTRS screenwriting workshop run by the talented Jonathan Ogilve. Now, Jonathan wasn't new to the rodeo having been a Tropfest winner and Palme d'Or nominee, and writer/director of The Tender Hook starring Rose Byrne, Hugo Weaving, Matt le Nevez. So when he showed us the opening scene from Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West and claimed this to be one of the most powerful opening scenes in a film, I believed him.
(Watch the scene here)
Imagine, a seven-minute opening sequence. An arid semi-desert. Three rough and raggedy men wait at a train stop. Nothing but the sounds of a pestering buzzing fly, dripping water and a squeaky, needs-it-some-oil wind turbine. Still camera shots fixating on each character for long periods of time. Repetitive action.
I'm not gonna lie, it tested my patience. All of our patience really. At around the four-minute mark, we all begun to get restless in that classroom. Make it be quicker, we were all trying to say. Give us some action, some talking, something, But, we persisted. And I'm glad we did.
What that opening scene did was challenge our expectations of what film was meant to do. That rather than exhilerate and motivate, it forced us to slow down and observe, to appreciate the nuances of a man's interaction with the world, and take nothing - no sound, no action, no movement - for granted. Possibly the greatest lesson that came out of our viewing of Leone's opening sequence to Once Upon a Time in the West was that when it comes to film, if you can't make it work without dialogue, partner, you're not gonna make it work with. There was not one sound uttered by the three hired men in that scene. But golly did they say a lot with their actions. Piss off, fly. / I'm thirsty. / Where the fuck is this train? Among other things.
As I moved through the various drafts of Apricot (up to number five now) each one edged closer and closer into Spag-West territory. I found myself deleting a lot of the dialogue, concentrating more heavily on diegetic sound, and describing the smallest of objects in greater detail and with heightened importance.
I had been bitten by the Leone Bug. And there was no going back.
So at a time where Westerns seem to be making a comeback (Westworld, Golden Globe-nominated Hell or Highwater, and Assasins Creed which so happened to be filmed in the Spanish town of Almeria, one of Leone's popular shooting locations) this ole' little Spag-West o' mine might just have arrived into town at the right time.
And at first, it may seem that a movie like Apricot - a short film set in the western suburbs of Sydney about a young wise-cracking girl wanting to claim her stake in the ground - might not suit the Spaghetti-Western genre.
Or then again...
Apricot is currently in pre-production and is set to be shot in early 2017.
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