Pulling Teeth

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The first day of filming is coming ever closer and the list of ‘things to sort’ gets longer. Many of those things, whilst important to the process (like transport, eating and suncream versus umbrellas), seem to have little to do with what motivated us to take on this project in the first place.  So I wanted to remind myself of how it all began.

No Evil started out as a short story.  Well, that’s not strictly true.  It started as a screenplay that wouldn’t happen.  It was my first attempt at this kind of writing and I struggled.  I wasn’t able to get it to that point where the world I had created takes on a life of its own, becomes reality.

So I went back to what I know best – the short story.  Even though I couldn’t seem to write the screenplay, I felt there might be some mileage in my initial idea. I think writers must develop certain writing muscles, in the same way athletes train their bodies for certain sports, because as a short story, the idea emerged relatively easily – not that I find writing effortless, it can be the equivalent of pulling teeth sometimes! But I got there.  And as often happens when I write a story, it turned out it wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be about… but perhaps that’s something for another post.

Having completed a first draft I wondered if I could adapt the story into a screenplay.  And that’s when the process became really interesting. As I deconstructed the story, I had to translate what was happening internally for a character, into something external. And I needed to find the equivalent visual or audio experience that would match the feeling and atmosphere of the original text. I had been used to dealing with material that was confined to words that would only be read, so opening it out in this way was a new challenge.

But I think most language translators will have shared my experience of discovering that as soon as you try to re-create the source text, (in my case the short story) you have to re-form it – a direct translation usually doesn’t do the job.  The core is there, but the substance of the story has to be re-moulded around it, viewed from a different perspective and this can tip the balance, the weight of the elements. It can become something else. A translation can never offer the same experience as the original, only an equivalent at best.

My first draft of the screenplay was too wordy, and Steve suggested some changes. I was putting too much emphasis on dialogue.  Whilst I had included several ‘soundscapes’ to suggest internal experiences, I had overlooked the opportunities that the visuals offer.  When Steve explained to me his ideas for some of the shots I realised that there was a whole new language available. It was exciting and also quite daunting.

With the screenplay we could choose how and where to focus the action, present it from a particular point-of-view. We could also narrow down the focus to something very specific – or widen it, if we wanted.  We have a level of control that can give the piece subtle nuances, a delicate degree of detail. In fact we could do the equivalent of a short story.

I think I might have come full circle.

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