Monday, 21 July 2014

The First Adaptation: Busybody

I’m looking at it from a writer’s point of view. One of the requirements of writing a character is you have to believe in that character and understand the motivations of why they do what they do. 

This post comes from a highly regarded dissertation length reflection piece I wrote for the Planning and Making a Film module I undertook in the penultimate year of my BA (Hons). The module's practice was undertaken from October 2011 to June 2012 and it provided me with a hugely enriching experience. For a more detailed overview of the module and the projects I undertook as a part of it, see Planning and Making a Film: The student filmmaking experience.

In this post, I take a slight detour from One Door Opened, as I review and reflect upon the adaptation that was produced from the short film script I submitted for the module - the script I called Busybody.

Busybody - the first adaptation (6:29).

What is first apparent from this adaptation is that it has restructured the scenario of my original script. The scene where we discover that Natalie spies on people, which acted as an abrupt revelation towards the end of the script, is now placed at the beginning of the film.

Natalie the voyeur.

You could argue that by doing this Natalie’s secret is revealed too soon for the ending of the script to be truly effective. But in actual fact the scene is ambiguous, both visually and narratively, in that, we don’t clearly see Natalie so there is nothing to suggest that this is the same character we see in the next scene. 

Also the subject matter of a character secretly taking photos of other characters throws out many possibilities of what this character could be: paparazzi, extortionist, private eye or spy? 

Therefore, one of the strengths of turning this into the opening scene is it throws out many possibilities as to what type of film the spectator is about to see and, together with the unease that is created from the subject matter, the scene acts as a good hook to get the audience intrigued to watch the rest of the film. 

The restructuring also works in reducing the length of my script, for instance, in the script the revelation of Geoff’s spying and then Natalie’s spying happened in two different scenes and represents two different beats of the story. 

In the adaptation they have been combined through parallel editing. However, by doing this, it removes any opportunity for jeopardy and suspense to be exploited. The reason why I had the two revelations happen separately was because it gave me this great space in between where I could put Natalie in a situation that created jeopardy.

From the 1st draft of Busybody, which you can read here.

I wrote Busybody as a partial homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window: both films are about spying on people (voyeurism), both the protagonists are photographers who have broken their leg while taking a risky photo and, as a result, both have casts on their legs. The great thing about a leg being in a cast is it restricts movability - perfect for creating jeopardy.

Towards the end of Rear Window Thorwald (Raymond Burr), the film’s antagonist and a murderer, discovers that Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) has been spying on him. Thorwald, therefore, goes over to Jeffries flat to “take care of him” and as Jeffries is essentially disabled from the waist down he finds himself in an especially precarious situation.

The confrontation of Jeffries and Thorwald (3:06).

Natalie’s search for the batteries has a more frantic pace but I wanted to convey the same sense of unease and jeopardy that is in the Rear Window scene. I feel that this element of jeopardy should have been exploited more in the adaptation! 

Although, there is one point during the adaptation where jeopardy has been slightly exploited (5:02 – 5:32) but not for long enough to create a response in the spectator. I think the fade to black, after Geoff comes in and sees Natalie has discovered the remote, should have been held for longer before it cuts to the next shot of Tom. 

It would put the audience on edge and provide them with a little bit of time to ponder what has happened to Natalie. Also, it needs to be held longer anyway because the quickness of the transition is too clunky; it needs to be smoothened. 

However, saying this, I don’t think enough effect has been created in my group’s adaptation of One Door Opened in its representation of Amelia’s anxiety. The reasoning for this was because we had been hesitant to do so; instead electing to focus on the plot and I suspect this was probably the same thinking with Mali’s group. 

When I wrote Busybody my intention had been for it to be as much Geoff’s story as is it was Natalie’s, even though the story is seen from Natalie’s point of view.

Geoff and Natalie meet for the first time.

My intention for Geoff was always of someone who was fundamentally a good man but had a bad habit, which has got a bit out of hand. I’m not entirely happy about how I handled it, but what I tried to convey in the script was Geoff’s disillusionment with his family (which also explains why he is moving out of his house for a smaller flat).

From the 1st draft of Busybody, which you can read here.

The short segment above should also account for why Natalie stays with Geoff at the conclusion. It’s not just down to a shared interest in spying but also because Natalie senses Geoff’s loneliness; which, furthermore, is one of the reasons for his spying. 

I feel that this part of Geoff’s psychology has been lost somewhat in the adaptation. Or, at least, simplified into something that verges precariously close to the stereotype of the “dirty old man”, something I tried to steer clear of in the script. However, I could be jumping the gun a bit here; I think Sam Morgan as Geoff does a very good job in dispelling this stereotype and maintains the dignity of Geoff as fundamentally a good man. 

This all said, though, I’m looking at it from a writer’s point of view. One of the requirements of writing a character is you have to believe in that character and understand the motivations of why they do what they do. 

However, Jenny could argue a similar point with my group’s adaptation of One Door Opened, in that the removal of the flashback scenes reduces the psychology of Amelia. But we removed them because they were not part of what we saw as being the main story and all they did was slow the main story down. I’m assuming Mali’s group has removed some of Geoff’s material for the same reason – they have extracted a simplified version of the story.

Looking at this adaptation it is clear that Mali’s groups have taken all the information in my script and have distilled it down into a very basic and fundamental six and half minute form. The psychology behind Geoff’s motivations is not the story of my script, it is only a layer of it that builds upon the theme at the core of my script – the theme of voyeurism. Fundamentally, my script is about the meeting of two people who share the same interest in spying and this is exactly what this adaptation presents.

Sam Morgan as Geoff is a masterstroke (he looks like a lite version of Eddie Marsan)!

When I was editing One Door Opened I could hear him speaking as Geoff from across the room and he sounded exactly how I imagined Geoff would speak. He’s a bit younger than what I imagined but, none the less, he’s still old enough to pull it off and certainly has that doddering quality that I tried to write into Geoff.

With Ana Owen as Natalie (or Natalia in the film) I was, at first, a bit more hesitant.

Ana Owen as Natalie.

I had imagined Natalie being a bit bubblier and Owen comes across as very serious. One of my aims in the script was to contrast the very dark internal urges of Natalie and Geoff with the external friendliness of both their characters. 

However, Owen as an actress has obviously made the character work for her. Natalia may be a bit more serious than Natalie but, none the less, the way Owen plays her makes the character believable, which is better than a performer playing a character that is unbelievable. 

Ana Owen auditioning for Natalie/Natalia. Video from Adam Coumas on Vimeo.

But now, having watched her audition, I can certainly see why Owen was cast. Here she does seem bubbly and I would have liked to have seen more of this in the film. But that is just a personal preference and it shouldn’t detract from the very good job that Owen has done in the finished film. 

Overall, I think the decision to go with professional performers speaks for itself in the very high quality of the performances and, as with the high quality of the CCTV shots, adds a whole other level of credence to the film. 

Finally, I particularly like how the ending of my script has been taken one step further, as opposed to Natalie and Geoff watching Tom, they are now watching us: the audience.

We are voyeurs too.

Not only does this bring the theme of voyeurism in the film full circle – first we were watching them, but now they are watching us. 

Additionally, it also presents a truth to the spectator: just by our urge to watch films everybody is a busybody.

I absolutely love that about this adaptation. 

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