It’s been a while since I’ve talked about what’s going on with my own personal work as a filmmaker. That’s largely because I’ve been writing. Here are some thoughts on that.
After finishing our last short, “Jeune Fille”, I knew my next screenplay would be a full length feature. This was a bridge I needed to cross, a mountain I needed to climb. Several of my peers had accomplished this task, and I felt it was finally the right time for me to do the same. This wouldn’t be my first attempt. I tried a few years ago after the completion of my second short, “The Juliet”. I had worked on it for a few months, but in the end, I felt I wasn’t ready. The writing lacked the maturity I found appealing in the films I admired. So I gave up on it.
Now in my twenties, surely I was ready. But what to write about? A couple of ideas flutter around in my brain, yet they seem too abstract. I can’t get enough of it down to make sense of it all. So I keep reaching, meditating, searching - through loneliness, frustration, passion, and the girl - the girl I can’t forget - and the places - the places I’ve dreamed about but never been —- Then suddenly…
There she was. A fully formed new character. I knew her name, her fears, her dreams. The whole story opened up to me in an instant. The prospect of writing another female protagonist was very exciting. It felt like a logical next step for my creative journey. God knows most male writers write for male leads. Why not do something different? Furthermore, this girl felt different than my last female protagonist. Where Sophia in “Jeune Fille” was closed off to the world, this new girl was excited and open to the possibilities.
I let her settle in for a few days. I’m hesitant to start writing an idea before some time passes. If I’m still excited about it a week later, then I know it’s worth pursuing. So I start collecting inspiration, re-watching favorite films, and treatmenting. This goes on for a few weeks, but I still haven’t started the screenplay. “I’m not ready yet”, “I need more time”, “It should all be planned before I start”, “The first screenplay failed because the ideas got away from me”. But this planning isn’t making progress anymore. I’m at the foot of the mountain, and I need to start climbing. So I open the document, I type in my title, then “Written and to be Directed by Joshua McQuilkin”. At least I’ve started.
For the next few months I write every night. I have a short list of scenes that need to be written, and I cross them off one at a time. Some scenes are running too long, but I don’t turn back. I keep writing. I don’t give myself permission to edit or make changes. Not until I’ve crossed the finish line. Not until I get to the end. The first draft was never going to be perfect anyway, but if I could just get it all down, I could fix it later. If I start focusing on it’s imperfections , I run the risk of never reaching the end. So I keep writing.
A couple weeks in, I start writing with movies playing in the background. When my eyes wander off the page, I see a film that inspires me. A shot, an atmosphere, a color. It leads to new ideas and new scenes are born. I’m also reading Twyla Tharp’s book “The Creative Habit”. In it, she uses the Greek words for life, zoe and bios, to illustrate two different types of artists. Zoe being all life, without characterization, and bios, being life in relation to others lives, with beginning and end. She uses these two words to demonstrate the differences between a bios artist, who operates within the structure of typical storytelling, and a zoe artist, who creates more abstractly, without the conventions of plot. Twyla herself says she is conflicted by the two, but remains a zoe at heart. I can relate.
Finally, I reach the end of my screenplay. Now I can go back; now I can fix it. I already have an idea of what needs to happen, and I’ve been on a roll for the past few days. (My last 20 pages had been far more inspired than my first 20). So without a break, I start going through and re-writing every scene, and my second draft is done in just a few days.
With that out of the way, I sit down and read it all the way through for the first time. And you know what? To my surprise, I like it. I like it a lot. Now it’s time for other people to read it, too. I send it out to my inner circle. I want to believe it’s good, but I know it might need more work. The response is very positive. I’m simultaneously thrilled and a bit distrustful. “Are you sure it all worked?” But they’re saying, “It’s the best thing you’ve ever written.” That feels good, especially because it’s my first full length. I’ve climbed the mountain, and as of now, it seems my efforts were pretty successful.
So what now? Well, more people have to read it. And then we have to ask the question of how it will be funded. It’s not an overly expensive project, but it’s certainly more than we could afford on our own. At this point, we just have to have faith that we’ll find the right people who will believe in it like we do. In the meantime, part of our story takes place in Paris, so I’ll be visiting the city in the fall. I’m also learning French, which will come in handy while directing certain scenes.
I know it will likely be a long road before our film sees the light of day. It may be years before you hear more of it, but I believe we’ll get it made. Sooner or later, we’ll get it made.
The final goal is to just keep writing. Hemingway had a regiment. Paul Thomas Anderson has a regiment. I can have that too. The momentum gained from writing everyday shouldn’t be wasted. There are more ideas. More screenplays to be written.
- Joshua McQuilkin