We’ve finished making HOME MOVIES. Chris and I watched the final cut on Friday, alone, on the sofa in our office (her living room). After eight minutes and seventeen seconds the credits came up and we looked at each other. She raised her eyebrows. I nodded.
‘Holy £$**’ she said. ‘We’ve made a film.’
I have never given birth to another person, but something about making this little, tiny movie has made me feel invincible. I’ve heard new mothers think like this. ‘I’ve created life!! What CAN’T I do??’
Of course I didn’t do it alone. I had Chris. And we - well. We had an ocean of heaving talent around us.
A tall, dark and handsome man with a name from a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald was our sound engineer. Raoul Brand could be the son of a Spanish duchess exiled to New England married to an American industrialist called -uh - Edgar Brand.
In fact, Raoul is German. And he speaks with a London accent.
Chris said she expected the sound guy to clean things up, to sync the audio and visual. She didn’t expect him to make the movie funnier, tighter, more coherent. This is why Raoul isn’t actually ever going to be called a ‘sound guy’ anywhere else. He’s a designer.
And he saved my ass.
The night before we were due to ‘lock in’ the sound and audio, we showed a copy of the film to my most trusted script editor, something I should have done, you might argue, before shooting and editing the bloody thing. She said the story worked but there was a crucial bit of information missing in the dialogue. The relationship with the mother wasn’t clear. Crucial, crucial. Missing.
I knew she was right, the moment the words were out of her mouth. I hung up quickly, Chris rang Raoul to tell him our problem – well, let’s face it – my problem - and I went to bed.
I lay in the dark with my computer on my lap, sending versions of new dialogue to Chris and the director, DaveAnderson (his names have morphed into one word – much easier). DaveAnderson read the new versions and, at 1:00 am on a day that had seen him up at 6:30, he talked me through what I’d written with patience and encouragement.
Chris sent comments. I kept writing. At 3:30 I hadn’t solved it.
We’re talking a minute-and-a-half of dialogue here, people. I’d been sitting in front of the problem for five hours.
At 4:00 am I went to sleep. I woke at 9:30 and started again. I was due in the studio at 1:30 that afternoon.
Ten a.m, 10:30, 11:00, 11:30, nothing nothing nothing. BUT - by noon, taking Chris and Dave’s notes, finessing what I’d sent them, eureka and hallelujah and any other Latinesque words to describe joy (iubilate, fabulosae!) I’d cracked the first half of the problem.
I knew how to clarify the relationship. I quickly wrote what my character would say to reveal just exactly why she was so desperate for her mother’s approval.
Half the job done. Now I needed to write the pay off. You know what I mean, whether you know you know it or not. A good story has a set up, it builds– and in the final moments the writer lifts the stakes a little bit higher than they were at the start.
I hadn’t done this.
I made two fumbling, unconvincing attempts before seeing I should have left ten minutes ago. I shoved the paper in my bag, hauled on my computer and cycled, madly, to the Camden studio in the sluicing rain. Tall, dark, handsome, non-Spanish Raoul smiled, rueful, let me in and led me, sloshing, down the carpeted halls to his two good-sized rooms, console and booth.
He set me up to lip sync the stuff I'd solved. I kept my eyes on the large monitor. Raoul said ‘Action’. I recited - it worked. He gave me the thumb’s up.
‘Next?’ he said, smiling. Because I’m obviously a writing and recording genius and find solutions in moments.
I cleared my throat. I read the closing dialogue. Raoul played it back. He turned to me. His face was kind.
‘It sounds like you’re telling us what to think.’
He was right. It did.
‘You’re right, Raoul,’ I said. ‘It does.’
We gazed at the screen. What now? Should I improvise on what I’d written, hoping I’d stumble across the words that would realise the theme and spring the character forward?
Like fuck I should. I’m not Robin Williams. I felt very clear.
‘You go back to work, Raoul – whatever you’re doing. Adding footsteps.’ He raised an eyebrow, smiling. I took a deep breath. I felt like Gary Cooper in High Noon. I strapped on my virtual holster and faced the door, calling to Raoul over my shoulder. ‘I’ll go do my job.’ My spurs jangled as I left.
Two chairs, probably for students, sat in the hallway outside of a drummer’s empty studio. I lay myself across them, dropped my head over the edge. And waited.
Someone sang love songs in the far corridor while a piano played. ‘You Do Something To Me’ ‘Making Whoopee’ (maybe not so much about love..) ‘The Way You Look Tonight.’
When you are in that still, small place of not trying to solve a problem but just – spending time with a problem, just – hanging about with a problem, just being with a problem – everything you hear and see can be helpful. In fact, I would go so far as to say you attract exactly what you need to hear and see to help you solve the problem.
Love songs, I said to myself. Love songs must be useful for the final three lines of the film. I had no bleeding idea how. But I socked the idea away.
I paced. I nodded at the universally tall, dark and handsome young men who emerged from rooms at regular intervals. This was obviously a condition for renting. I stood quietly in corners with my head propped between two walls, looking at my feet. I lay on the chairs. I listened and sang along.
Another bride, another June, another sunny honeymoon. Another season, another reason for makin’ whoopee.
Seventy-five minutes later I returned to the studio. Raoul was editing the final scene but glanced up quickly.
‘Would you like to record again?’ he asked, courteous. Maybe hopeful.
‘Oh yes, Raoul,’ I said. ‘I’d love to record again. I have nothing to record again but I’d love it if I did.’
He smiled a little, waiting. He is not a reactive man. In the best possible way.
‘May I hover here for a while? Will I annoy you?’
He laughed. I could see him thinking How could you on the other side of the room, looking away from me and unable to hear what I’m doing annoy me?
‘No,’ he said. He waved me to a chair and put his headphones back on.
I sat. I pulled my computer out of my bag. I propped it on my lap. I looked at an empty page.
I breathed. And I made a decision.
I decided to come at the problem backwards. What did I want to feel when I’d found the words? Maybe if I pretended I had the solution, the solution would feel right at home and leap up to meet me, like a happy dog. What did I want to feel?
Well that was easy. What did anyone want to feel when they’d solved a problem? Elated, satisfied, pleased. Connected, expressed, useful. The way you feel when you’ve just told a joke and people laugh. That feeling.
Joke. That’s good to remember. This is a comedy. There should be a joke at the end.
And how do comedies end?
How do most good comedies end? How do classic comedies end?
The love songs rushed back.
A lota shoes, a lota rice, the groom is nervous, he answers twice.
And there, leaping into my lap and nuzzling my face, was the answer. I had it and I knew it. More and greater eureka, I wrote the dialogue in a minute and a half – about as long as the dialogue itself. I looked up to Raoul
‘I have it,’ I said. He glanced up, maybe hearing the assurance in my voice. He stopped what he was doing and stood. He set up the microphone, synced me to the final images, said ‘Action’ and I read the new dialogue, as the credits rolled. The last picture appeared, the MYPC logo flashed up and the film stopped.
Raoul looked up and beamed at me.
‘That’s good,’ he said. ‘It works.’
We did it in two takes.
Later, Chris heard the new dialogue in the office and laughed. DaveAnderson rang me, listening to the new dialogue while on the phone, and he laughed. Yes. I thought. Yes. Exactly what I’d imagined.
If my script-editor hadn’t known I was missing dialogue, I would not have known either.
If Raoul hadn’t known my first attempt had been poo, I might not have known either.
If Chris hadn’t thought the script had legs, it would not have been filmed.
If DaveAnderson hadn’t made that script into a film, it would have stayed just a script.
You need the still, small voice to write the story. And if you’re lucky, you have the joy of working with everyone else to make it heard.
Chris and I continue to sing loud songs of delight in our weekly meetings inspired by you, our supporters. Check out our funding progress:
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