Wednesday, 8 December 2010

'A Stately Suicide' a short film in development.

In late September director of photography, Ian Forbes and his writing partner, Andy Smith came to me for advice on a screenplay they had been working on.  I liked the tone of the story immediately but it was clear to us all that it still needed some work.  I came on board to advise at version three of the screenplay and was asked to direct shortly after that.  We have since been through four iterations and made some drastic changes to the events of the story.

The volatile Lord Spencer must be kept under heavy sedation if he is to be placed in a nursing home without a fight.  When Hannah, his private nurse takes all of Spencer's medication, she must enlist Tony, a small-town waster to find street drugs to replace the prescription.

Hospitalfield house, the primary location for the film

The first pass that I worked on was simply a case of stripping away all the interior monologue and description to reveal the story which would actually appear on screen.  Andy has a background in prose and had to learn to focus cleanly on action and dialogue to efficiently address our notes.

The next pass addressed the logic holes in the script which were one of the chief criticisms from my MSc supervisor Peter Richardson.  Some of the notes I wrote for this pass:

Problem: Tatiana choosing to assist Spencer's suicide.
  • What is Tatiana's dilemma?
  • What is in it for Tatiana? (no incentive/no bond with Spencer/why should she care?)
  • Why hasn't Spencer managed to commit suicide himself? (he is strong enough/his motive may be too weak)
  • Why should it by a street drugs overdose rather than paracetamol for example?
  • Why would Edward (Spencer's son) treat him so carelessly?
  • What benefit is there to Tatiana being an immigrant?
We considered various incentives for Tatiana to assist Spencer in his suicide but all seemed inefficient for such a short film. We realised that Hannah (formerly Tatiana) would only cause this outcome unintentionally.  

The reworking of the story required these plot points:
  • Spencer is to be relocated to a nursing home the following day.
  • Spencer must be heavily medicated for the move as he is prone to outbursts.
  • Hannah has a dependency on Spencer's medication.
  • Hannah runs out of Spencer's medication.
  • Hannah must enlist Tony to get street drugs to replace the missing medication.
  • Tony brings inappropriate drugs but Hannah is desperate enough to give them to Spencer.
  • Spencer dies of an overdose.
  • Tony steals one of Spencer's prized belongings and Spencer comes back to life, shoots Tony in the back and dies again.
  • The nursing home nurse witnesses the murder, Hannah is the only living suspect.
This reworking can be found in screenplay version 4.1.  This version still has two unaddressed issues, firstly Hannah isn't a fully realised character; 

We know that she has to be under pressure, living on the breadline, to resort to using Spencer's medication as a crutch.  It is a matter of showing that in her personality without signposting it or wasting pages on it.  She also doesn't have a defined voice (this needs to be addressed soon otherwise we will have little chance of attracting real acting talent), we need to find her natural every day working class voice as well as the voice she uses when trying to impress people in a position of power such as the nursing home nurse.

The second issue is how suddenly Hannah runs out of medication;

This currently reads as too obvious and I think needs some misdirection at the beginning of the scene to stop the audience finding it too predictable.  Unfortunately it IS the inciting incident and as such needs to happen very early on in the film (short films often begin with their inciting incident).

These issues will be dealt with by the new year to allow us to begin pre-production for our April shoot.