Seriously, it does! So if you’re not comfortable reading about adult subjects…please stop reading now!
You may or may not know, but I’m not black, I’ve never been abused and I don’t know what it feels like to be pregnant. So, the question I find myself asking…myself (?) is…how can I develop characters in my screenplay who are from different cultures, have different mindsets, or who’ve experienced things I haven’t? In fact, how can anyone write about an experience they’ve never had and still make it credible? This was something that always bothered me when I first considered a career in writing. And it still does. I’m betting there are many conflicting opinions about writer’s representation of events, feelings, emotions etc…and I guess that’s why you get critics and audiences with varied responses to them. We can all experience the same event, but all have different experiences of it. Does that make sense? I hope so. What I’m trying to say is – everyone interprets things differently…that’s why controversial films containing controversial issues will always have audiences divided. If there was a fight in the pub, my interpretation of that fight may be very different to that of the person sitting next to me, even though we’ve both experienced the same event. But what if I hadn’t experienced it? What if I wasn’t even at the pub and heard about the fight through a friend? And what if there was no fight at the pub? Or no pub? I’d be writing about a fictional fight, and pub, and drawing upon my own experiences of fights and pubs to help me write a scene that people could relate to. Before you think I’m someone that fights in pubs, I’m not. I avoid trouble as much as I can. But looking the way I do, and growing up where I did (I thought Surrey was meant to be posh too), trouble and fights are something I’ve experienced over the years. Therefore, I know what it feels like the moment you know in your gut that someone is looking for trouble…I know that feeling when your adrenaline builds as a situation grows more tense…and I know how quickly you have to react in that split second you’re attacked and you have to defend yourself and your friends against someone trying to harm you. Thankfully, because I’ve experienced this, I now know how to avoid a situation that’s getting volatile, or deal with the trouble if it’s unavoidable. In this instance, I think I could write about the emotions, actions and reactions in a fight scene with some authority. But, what if I’d never been in a fight? Would people know? Would they be able to tell even though I’d read books on fights, listened to peoples accounts and watched countless films and documentaries about fights? If you do enough research – can you pull it off?
Now I want to talk about a subject that may be uncomfortable for most…in fact it should be uncomfortable for everyone! But it’s a subject I’ve never fully explored and am a little reluctant to do so. The subject is rape. Rape scenes always throw up a lot of debate and controversy, and rightfully so. As a writer or director, you have to be very careful when dealing with this sort of subject. It’s such a brutal, horrifying and abhorrent act, that it will no doubt conjure some of the most challenging emotions in us all…and I can’t even imagine what feelings such a scene might invoke for someone who has experienced it. I know this is an uncomfortable subject to discuss, but I think it’s a serious one and something all writers should consider. Personally, I don’t feel comfortable when writing scenes that include such troubling subject matter, but I still do it. I don’t think anyone can truly understand what it feels like to be in a certain situation unless you’re put in it yourself, but I think with enough research and by conjuring your darkest thoughts, you can write something credible and invoke feelings in the audience where they have some idea what it might be like to be in that situation. But just because you can make it credible, does it mean it should be done? The most recent scene I can think of that caused quite a stir, was the rape scene in This is England 86.
It was horrific. I genuinely felt uncomfortable watching it, and I remember thinking I needed a Brandy afterwards! I’m still not sure how I feel about Shane Meadows decision to include it – I mean any filmmaker knows you can represent an act without actually showing it, but does it have the same effect? Is it not important we’re made to feel uncomfortable to really understand what that character has gone through? Is it not a writer/filmmaker’s duty to inform and educate, as well as challenge audiences? I’m not 100% sure, but I know that scene really troubled me. Another film that springs to mind when thinking about this subject is Monster (2003). Anyone that’s seen it will know what a powerful film it is, and those who haven’t seen it definitely should! It’s based on the true story of Aileen Wuornos, a female serial killer from America. After a childhood riddled with abuse and drug use, Aileen turned to prostitution at the age of 13. Between 1989 and 1990, she began killing men that picked her up and murdered 7 in total.
This example is slightly different because it’s based on a true account, but the writer (Patty Jenkins) still had to convey the mindset of a character without being in that mindset herself. What was challenging about it for me was the fact that even though this woman was a killer, I sympathised with her. Society had turned its back on her, and she ended up murdering 7 men, but I could almost understand why. Aside from this example, I’m sure debates will rumble on about whether subjects like this should be dealt with in film, particularly when they’ve been written by someone that hasn’t experienced them, but I think the key is to do as much research as you can. I think it’s also important to remember not to glamorise such an act in any way. Actually, I think that’s probably one of the most fundamental things a writer should remember – research is key! It’s important to research every element of your screenplay, especially if you’re writing a feature, and certainly if you’re including such delicate content. I can’t emphasise enough how important research is…and it really will enhance your ideas and help you develop new ones. It can even take you in directions you never expected to go! I think with enough research you can pretty much write about anything (within reason), but it’s got to be integral to the narrative – don’t just add a murder/rape/abortion or anything else for the sake of ‘shock factor’ – make sure it’s key to the story, otherwise scrap it. As for writing about different cultures or characters with different mindsets, it’s always going to be difficult. Personally, as a white British male, I don’t think I could write a feature that was set in China without living there for a period of time…so, I won’t be writing a feature set in China anytime soon. In most instances, you have to trust your own judgement and just be conscientious. I think this scene from Good Will Hunting (1997) kind of touches on what I’ve been getting at in this blog.
So why have I decided to depress you all with this today? Well, I’m developing an idea for a feature film that involves a protagonist who is taking revenge for a crime committed on his female friend. Originally the crime was rape, but I was advised against using this as the catalyst for his turning point. Could it be a murder that inflicts the same reaction in the protagonist? Well, yes, but not really. My idea is that the protagonist witnesses the deterioration of his friend’s mental state and is driven by this in his rampage of revenge. He’s constantly reminded by the event she’s experienced because she is living and suffering it day in day out. If she was murdered, that event may well live with him forever, but she would no longer be suffering – she’d be dead. That’s my theory anyway.
Well sorry it’s been a bit of a downer guys, but I’m hoping the next post will be a bit more ‘upbeat’. For now it’s back to promos, music vids, planning shoots and finishing/starting scripts. I’ll give you a proper update soon and let you know how things are going with the writing/filmmaking, but for now I’ll leave you with a clip that will hopefully lighten the mood – only because I’m in the process of selling my car and getting a bike. I’m actually getting a pedal one, and not a motor one like in the clip…but whatever.
Until next time – be safe.