Script Writing with John Bassett

A great deal of work went into trying to get me up to speed so I could write a film script. Scripts are not my usual stomping ground. Add up the total pages of Hopeless Maine graphic novels, and I’ve not written that many words as comics’ script. There have been a handful of small, silly plays in the mumming play form. By late autumn it was apparent that I was the least experienced and least qualified member of the film team.

What I needed was someone who would work with me, who could bring script experience to the table. I approached John Bassett because I was confident I could work with him. Amongst other things, John runs Stroud Theatre Festival and Stroud Steampunk weekend, and I’ve been to some of his plays and had a bit part in his Chartism film. So I asked, and he said he would be delighted to help.

We had a few really good sessions drinking coffee while John gave me things to think about. He turned out to have a deep interest in old films as well, so there was a lot to draw on. I needed to figure out how to think about this film in terms of structure, number of characters, number of scenes and settings and John was a great help with this. During this process it struck me that he’d make an excellent Reverend Davies, so I asked if he’d like to join the cast as well.

It became necessary to pin down the characters and have a sense of who would be playing them, so that was all going on at the same time and I’ll be talking about our actors next week.

Around Christmas, I wrote a scene by scene description of the film. I didn’t try and write a script, I went for the structure and what needed communicating and what the emotional tone should be. I passed this over to John, and he went through and turned this into dialogue that would work for the actors – a tricky thing for a silent film because some of that dialogue will carry to the viewer and some won’t. John also looked at text boards, although I think what we need to do with those is film, and then see which ones we need to deploy.

It was a very exciting process seeing my structure fleshed out as a script. The resulting text was passed around the team and, assuming we hit no technical issues, it looks good to go. I am greatly enjoying working in this even-handed way, where anyone who needs a say gets one, and authority is based on need or experience – what is technically possible, what is affordable, what it is fair to ask of another team member. So we may have to negotiate things as we go along, but I see that as a tremendous strength. It’s a wonderful way of working with other people.

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