We’re not barbarians – some notes on script-writing

I was walking through Hoxton earlier, and the confluence of battered blocks around Mintern Street, the Lion Boxing Club, and the spectre of the old Gaumont cinema got me thinking about Honest Charlie.  When the Oxford boys start selling in London, they, quite naturally, come up against some opposition.

These guys are not the sort of people you want to aggravate. They were brought up fighting for what’s theirs, often with those closest to them. This internal dissension manifests itself when one (younger) member is pummelling one of our three ‘heroes’. He’s stopped by his father, “We’re not barbarians”, he says.

The pummelling scene is an important structural point that Ollie and I worked out early on. (Vaguely) following Blake Snyder’s beat-sheet, we knew it was an important element of the film’s second half. But we had got nowhere near knowing who was being pummelled, who was doing the pummelling, nor even that this pummeller had an anti-pummelling father.

The danger of working around lines you like (here: “We’re not barbarians”), is that when they don’t fit (because the narrative demands a different beating/beater, or no beat at all), you cling to them, and try to make the plot or characters or structure fit around them. This either a) wastes time or, b) makes for a worse film. That being said, just because you haven’t got to Scene x, it doesn’t mean you ought not think about them, or reject them when they come.

So what’s the answer? Keep a shared space for lines/character traits/call-backs? Absolutely. Snyder, and any other film-writer worth their salt, will tell you the same. But do more than this. Seek out the (visual) landscapes in which your film is set. The architecture and overheard conversations will calibrate your sense of what is true and believable, and make your film (or maybe just script at this point) much better. Further, if you visit enough, you’ll start to feel a part of that world, and you won’t need to save lines, because when you get to the business of writing, you’ll know the characters well enough to speak for them.

That’s all for now, I’m off to Mintern Street.


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