Film Diary #2 – Writers!… Assemble!
“I want us to write a feature, and actually make it this time around,” is what I said, or words to that effect. It was probably hard to tell what I was saying as I had a mouthful of Nando’s at the time. My best friend and co-writer, Chris looked at me as if he understood. He nodded cooly as he always does – taking the idea in his stride. Recently married and with a son on the way, had I been on the other side of the table, my thoughts might have been, “When, exactly?” or “How, might we?”, but Chris has always been the kind of person to believe most things are possible if you set your mind to it.
And so we arranged to meet up at his apartment, once or twice a week to thrash out a storyline for our second feature script.
The First Script
Many years ago, before either of us had any education into the technical side of filmmaking and with The Blair Witch Project freshly in our minds, Chris and I had attempted to write a horror screenplay.
We had both always been huge fans of horror films. Chris, having had a seriously extensive collection of late 70s/early 80s horror movies on VHS. He even had a copy of The Burning; a Halloween-esque slasher flick, famous for being penned by the then just starting out in the world of film, Harvey Weinstein. Our love of all things that make you jump out of your cinema seat made our choice of genre a no-brainer.
We had, just as we were about to again, spent a few evenings a week getting a story together we could flesh out into a script. After several weeks of scribbling down our thoughts on what the most terrifying things we could throw together could be, we had a story. A group of twenty-somethings take part in a seance and end up being haunted by a malevolent spirit – which stalks and kills them one by one before the night is through. It doesn’t sound overly original, but our scares were original and we were proud of what we had accomplished. It was all to be filmed by the characters – a new found footage film – cheap to make, possible to shoot by ourselves even. The problem was, once I had completed the first draft of the script and read it back, it was unbelievably awful.
This was my first mistake in writing.
First drafts by their very nature are awful. Nothing is finished and every word written feels laboured and wrong. But the words have to be on the page before you can start to make sense of them. It’s the equivalent of getting all the jigsaw pieces out of the box and onto the floor. It doesn’t mean you’ve finished the puzzle, does it? Neither is throwing all those lines of dialogue (which will all be too long or on-the-nose) and action (again too long and not direct enough) down onto the page. But I was young and uneducated or just too impatient to want to go back and re-write the thing. It sat on a shelf and gathered dust. Years later, Paranormal Activity came out. Chris and I sat in the cinema and looked at each other when the credits rolled. “Oh shit,” we said in unison. “We could have done something like that had we gone for it”.
Incidentally – Paranormal Activity for me, is one of the scariest films ever made. It’s cost?
Soon after, Spanish found-footage zombie/virus horror [Rec] was also released. Having had almost a seven year gap between these films and The Blair Witch Project, suddenly ‘found-footage’ was all the rage. It’s not surprising, looking back. Digital cameras had become an everyday item – films were about to start being shot on Smartphones. But just how many decent stories could be told with this premise? Especially since its a premise that relies so heavily on the audience believing what they see is real. Already found footage is being described as a saturated genre.
We were going to have to be smart with our story. We were going to have to study every found-footage film we could find and any time our story came close to a similarity, we’d have to go in the opposite direction. We wanted to make something entirely different, something incomparable to the genre’s big success stories so far.