INT – VARIOUS HOTEL ROOMS – DAY/EVENING:
A woman in her mid-40s. She looks surprisingly youthful for her age, and immediately we recognise her as someone we want to be or be with: aside from her obvious beauty, we just know, we can tell, that she is clever and funny and kind. This is JACKIE. She is shown in a variety of hotel rooms. In an armchair, on a sofa, on a bed, at a desk. Laptop open, sometimes tapping away, sometimes staring out of the window at the sea or a river, notebooks strewn, half-empty glasses of wine in some shots. Walking around, distracted, looking at Facebook, emails, texts. She examines her face in the mirror. She paints her toenails.
I love my writing retreats. For the last couple of years I’ve been heading to British cities to write – mostly to work on my short story collection, but of late to work on the screenplay based on the short story I wrote about Dirk Bogarde.
I’d had the thrill of the original request to write the screenplay; the wine-fuelled, excited meetings, me and Robert, our words tumbling over each other as we imagined it, talking about meaning and inner life, and subtext and themes, considering our dream cast.
I’d had the slightly more prosaic schedule of what to do, and when to do it.
INT – LIVING ROOM – DAY
JACKIE sits staring at the schedule. We can see a picture of Dirk Bogarde on the top. JACKIE is smiling. We can make out the words in one column: January – write screenplay. We can see out of the window and can tell from the weather that it’s summer.
INT – LIVING ROOM – DAY
JACKIE sits staring at the schedule. She is no longer smiling. We can see out of the window and can see from the weather that it’s winter.
Looking at that schedule months after receiving it, I was faced with how little I’d done. How I’d struggled with the first set of tasks that preceded the writing of the script. And this was because I was thinking too far ahead, too much in the future; seeing the bigger picture rather than trying to focus on how to get to that; trying to take that massive leap to the end rather than the necessary small steps that comprised the journey.
In the end it came down to this: if I don’t do it, if I let this chance pass me by, if I let another year come and go…
I knew I wouldn’t forgive myself.
INT- LIVERPOOL HOTEL ROOM – NIGHT
JACKIE is hunched over her laptop. It’s not going well.
Last December, I spent a few days in Liverpool struggling with the film treatment. It’s supposed to demonstrate the structure of the film, scene by scene. I sent something to my producer, and met with him to discuss it.
INT – MEXICAN RESTAURANT – EVENING
JACKIE and ROBERT are downing mojitos and gorging on tacos and guacamole. A pen and notebook lay between them on the crowded table.
I get the sense that plot isn’t your strong point.
Oh, that’s brutal.
It’s true though, isn’t it?
Yeah. Yeah. At least you said it with kindness.
So, this is what I’m going to do…
INT- TRAIN – NIGHT
ROBERT is on the train to Manchester, scribbling away, occasionally looking at his reflection in the train window. Every now and then he looks at JACKIE’s treatment and sighs.
Robert went away with my story and my ideas and what passed for my treatment, and he created a structure to the film that made sense of what I wanted to do. This strucure, based in part on what I had started, but going much further than that, helped me to solve the problem of how to turn this little story into a feature film, with all its necessary character and plot developments and changes.
Montage of red carpet ceremonies in LA and London. JACKIE appears on red carpet at the Golden Globes, the BAFTAS and the Oscars. We see her laughing with Brad Pitt, who looks clearly besotted with her. George Clooney tries to get her attention. Mark Ruffalo clearly finds her hilarious. She is seen locked in intense coversation with Cate Blanchett and Todd Haynes. We see her rejecting the mani-cam with a withering look. Lipreaders can tell that in answer to ‘Who are you wearing?’ she replies, ‘I’m not wearing a person. I’m wearing a dress. I also wrote a whole screenplay, although I did have some help from a man. Do you want to ask about him?’
Yes – awards season came around and I spent too long planning my Oscar/Bafta/Golden Globes acceptance speeches, and not enough time writing. And so I thought, if I don’t do this, if I let this chance pass me by, if I let another year come and go….
INT- HOTEL ROOM – MORNING
JACKIE sits at a table in her hotel room. There’s a real difference to her approach here. She is focused. There’s no internet action. She is looking at notes, scribbling things out, typing them into a screenplay, consulting one of the many pages marked with notes in one of Dirk’s autobiographies. She drinks water and eats fruit.
It’s Easter weekend and I’m in Glasgow. A bafflingly sunny Easter. A swim in the hotel pool, breakfast, and then writing like it was My Job. Several hours of ‘INT – PUB – EVE’ and ‘EXT – PARK – DAY’ before walking and sightseeing and eating and more writing. Yes, like it was My Job.
I had notes, I had the treatment, I had the pages I’d already worked on. I went through the story again, through Robert’s notes, through my own. Whenever I added a scene from the treatment, it was crossed off one of the many pages I was working from. I’d start writing something based on a single line of description, sometimes not sure where it was going or what I wanted to achieve. Then I’d give Dirk a line to say. Then someone else would speak. Dirk would reply. I was writing the conversations and scenes required to illuminate the plot and characters; fleshing out the situations; taking the parallel plots forward. But there was more to it than that. I was creating and developing these characters through how they acted, what they said and – importantly – what they didn’t say.
For other scenes I’d know exactly what I needed to achieve. Sometimes it was as straightforward as the requirement to produce a plot point, get us from A to B, show something that was essential to a later part of the film. Other times it was the more abstract necessity to demonstrate sub-textual feelings, metaphor, the less tangible elements of character and situation.
I had a system to show me where the structure was unbalanced, where to add a scene, how to make links between situations and feelings from the past and those occuring in the present.
I left Glasgow with over 60 pages of script and nearly every scene crossed off my treatment. Then back home in London I made it to just over 70 pages. And then I sent it off. And I waited. And I waited.
INT – FLAT – EVENING
JACKIE looks at her phone. There’s an email from Robert: ‘Received screenplay. Will read as soon as possible….’
INT – FLAT – DAY
JACKIE looks at her phone. There’s a text from Robert: ‘Sorry I haven’t finished reading it yet, I’ve been preparing for Cannes.’
INT – FLAT – DAY
Another text. This one lights up her face at first, and then she clearly starts to worry: ‘Speak to you tomorrow evening about DIRK? Would 8 be ok?’
And then. And then…
INT – OFFICE – MORNING
JACKIE is at her day job, the morning after ROBERT has arranged to talk to her about the screenplay. Her desk is a mess. She looks at her computer, at the work for the day ahead. Her phone flashes. There’s another message from Robert. It says: ‘You’ve done a great job. Looking fwd to speaking later.’ The relief washes over her face.
And we did speak. We talked for an hour and a half. He started with the good stuff – his positive views on the characterisation, on some particularly good scenes, on the dialogue. We talked about who might play the main roles and we got excited and spirited (and yet again I refused even to consider Oscar Isaac). And then we talked about the strucure (still too much of a mosaic in places, leaving scenes too early); about a character whose part in the film is more significant than in the story, and who needs to have his role more defined; about some of the good stuff that needs to be made very good, brilliant, in fact. He thinks I can do that. He’s still cheerleading for me.
I was with him on all of it. There were no suprises in the criticisms. Just some very constructive, very useful advice on how to improve individual scenes, reveal characters, foreshadow events. Some homework to help me solve a key problem. The promise of more detailed feedback and help with formatting. Practical stuff. And the quote of the night: “Jackie, it’s very clear from reading this script that you’ve never seen ‘Our Mother’s House’.”
Credits: Images and text reveal what the characters are up to now.
Image of Jackie sitting at her desk, laptop open, index cards of scenes stuck on the wall in front of her.
Text: Jackie is currently avoiding working on the second draft until she ‘gets, like, some more detailed written feedback’. But she has clarified some stuff about this newly significant character.
Image of Robert on a yacht in Cannes.
Text: Robert has been in Cannes where he’s been pitching the idea and ignoring Jackie’s advice to look down the back of a millionaire’s sofa for the loose change that would finance the film. He knows best. That sounds sarcastic and it’s not meant to be. He really does know best.