‘Think of a memory. Something important to you. Go on. The first thing that comes into your head. Allow the memory to come to you. Go deeper into it. In the next ten minutes, I want you to write about it. Consider the images, colours, textures, rhythms and sounds that you associate with that moment. Go.’
AFTRS Screenwriting Course, 2018
Crikey. It’s the early morning of day one at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. I’m immediately challenged by this request from the course leader. The first important memory that comes to me is when my dad left home. I have to write about that?
It’s a summer afternoon late in the school holidays. I’m 11. My aunt had taken me away on holiday to a caravan in Anglesey with my younger cousins. Oak Avenue feels different now as we get out of the car. It’s quieter.
The front door to the family home is never locked. I enter the carpet-less hallway. Nobody is downstairs so I begin to climb the wooden staircase. Hazy light filters in through the interstices of the banister as I make my way up. The steps are still big, even now I’m getting taller.
My mother is on her bed. The sheets and the duvet cover are new. Floral. She is surrounded by boxes of memories and she’s in the middle of a process I don’t recognise. Something isn’t right.
I hear my auntie on the floorboards downstairs- hushed. She’s ushering my cousins to leave through the front door. She’s creating space for Mum to tell me why Dad’s oily coats aren’t in the hall anymore. I realise that the holiday was a ploy to get me out of the way for a while. Dad has left.
Back in the classroom I’m moved by the process. I realise right there how I take my writing up a notch. I need to start getting more honest about what’s important for me. What moves me. What has affected and shaped me from my very core. I need to delve deeper into traumas. I need to seek questions of humanity, psychology, emotion, behaviour and truth. I need to invite and push through the edges of my comfort zone. And for the first time since the age of 11, I realise that I really love being at school.
Jonathan leads the course with a reserved assurance. Amongst many other filmic achievements he’s written and directed a handsome and AFI nominated feature film called The Boxer and The Bombshell starring Hugo Weaving. He’s won Tropfest and had two films in the official selection for Cannes. He worked on the set of Full Metal Jacket and even set fire to one of Kubrick’s cinematographers. Go on, lad.
Screenwriter Stephen is like a caffeinated Zach Galifianakis. He flurries in midweek with fountains of tips to advance the short films we’re challenged with writing. Later in the week we’ll pitch them to him. Stephen’s access to structural advice from classic literature and myths is truly inspiring and he’s funny and animated to boot. The perfect foil to a steadier, cooler Jonathan.
On top of this friendly and well-credited pair, we’re also gifted the bombshell of professional Aussie actors who take our scripts and express them in new and unexpectedly vivid ways. We’re paired off and given one-to-one session time. It’s a completely unexpected reward. I mean, I’ve been writing, but I’d neglected to even consider the possibility that at some point someone was going to take what I’d written and act it. A riveting experience. The short film I was writing on the course had no dialogue, so I printed off a scene from a feature film I’d written a few months earlier. What an exciting surprise. Thank you.
Meeting twenty seekers all on individual explorations into screenwriting is invaluable to me. Every soul a perfect compliment to the class. Each creator expressing distinctive stories, approaches, styles and riding in ablaze with myriad motivations. A chance to learn and to be inspired by people in an area where, to this point, I’ve been so alone. I’m here for them if I can be and I hope they will be there for me if they can. Go team.
Three short films in particular have hung around in my brain like muggy midweeks. These films inspire the future me in ways that I can’t yet articulate. Give them a whirl.
1. The Big Shave (1967)
In the process of shaving, a young man cuts himself. A lot.
2. Cicada (2008)
Daniel P. Jones relives what put a scratch in his record.
3. Two / Out (1997)
Two inmates fall out and make up over a woman.
The short film I wrote during the course is based on the theme; don’t judge a book by its cover. It’s noticeable in Sydney that homeless folk read books. Not just any books either, serious pieces of literature. Inspired by this fact, this 3 and a half minute screenplay highlights the topical issue of growing homelessness. The identity of our main protagonist is never revealed and the film is shot from below waist height bringing us to eye level of the homeless – so the idea of the homeless being anonymous is flipped. And who is our protagonist? Could it be me or you?
The twist at the end of the screenplay presents an opportunity for us to ask questions, experience empathy and consider our actions towards homeless people and humanity as a whole. Give it a read.
Inspired by the course, the teaching staff, the actors, my course mates, my learnings and this first effort at a short screenplay, I look forward to further forays into developing more short screenplays. I’ve just met a lovely local chap in Ubud with a nice DSLR and a drone. Maybe we can capitalise on this amazing scenery, beautiful light and each other’s creative interest to write and direct a short while I’m here. That would be something.
Thanks for reading.