The Writing Journal #52

I watched The Shining for the first time last night. Some readers will recoil in horror (pun intended) that a screenwriter of seven years could go so long without seeing such a seminal film, and I don’t blame you – it’s quite a big axe-hewn hole to have in my cinema knowledge! I suppose I haven’t got round to watching it before for two reasons – one, I’m not that big a horror fan generally, and I’d built it up to be one of the scariest horror films because of its reputation as one of the best; and two, because I’ve seen so much of it referenced/parodied/homaged in other films and TV shows that I knew enough of the story to roughly piece it together (No beer and no TV make Homer go something something…). Last night though, with a couple of hours to kill and easy access through Sky, I made the long and winding drive to the Overlook Hotel to finally piece it all together for myself…

It’s not hard to see why it’s considered such a classic of cinema. It’s visually breath-taking in every regard, from the cinematography to the locations to the production design, and so absorbingly atmospheric that it’s easy to get lost within it. What’s interesting, though, is I didn’t find it anywhere near as scary as I thought I might (apart from the sound of Tony’s voice saying “red rum”!) and I’m still musing on why. Part of me thinks it was the characterisation – apart from the basic horror premise of not wanting the monsters to win, I didn’t connect with any of the characters on a level that made me fear for them personally. Another part of me thinks it’s because I knew so much of the film through second-hand sources that very little of it came as a shock, where it probably would have done seeing it in 1980. This part in particular raises a very interesting thought about how classic cinema will come to be viewed as the years go by. Do films lose their impact the more they become ingrained in our cultural fabric? Will there come a time when these films themselves will not be considered iconic, but those that have used them as inspiration will? Will these films eventually fade into the ether as the original audiences fade with them? Of course, I have no answers for any of these questions, and there’s certainly no chance of The Shining fading from memory/relevance right now, but it’s an interesting thought to ponder on over a Monday cup of coffee nonetheless.

Target Number 1: Spend a minimum of 20 hours editing the novel

Good, solid progress continues to be made on the novel in October, with the clock ticking to 15hrs 6mins over the weekend. Some of the momentum on the page has slowed, however, as familiar issues with set up start to creep back in again, but it hasn’t quite reached the same impasse I found with the dreaded Chapter 3…yet!

One of the challenging aspects I’m finding with the novel, compared to my script work, is in gauging the detail correctly. You don’t want to overload your reader with information from the start as that can quickly become tedious for them, but you also don’t want to underload(?) either as that can leave them lost at proverbial sea. Finding the right balance is particularly challenging in the set up of a novel as you build the foundations for the story ahead, and even more difficult when that novel is based in complete fantasy and has no real-world grounding to do some of that background work for you as well. As time goes by, I think I’m slowly starting to grasp that balance, though, and in so doing the novel is starting to find a more textured, layered story as a result. The pace of that discovery is sometimes hard to accept, as I’m keen to get the finished story out there sooner rather than later, but much like a marathon, these things can’t be unnaturally rushed if I want them to be successful in the long term.

Target Number 2: Complete the visual mood-board for the feature film.

What I’ve loved about the process of creating this visual mood-board is how it’s nurtured and grown my passion for making this particular film in a way that I wasn’t quite expecting it to. All of my stories have a special place in my heart, for one reason or another, and whilst I’ve always been keen to get this one rolling, the past couple of weeks have invigorated me to really fight hard for this film in the weeks/months ahead. By some stroke of foresight/luck, the subject and themes for this story have suddenly gained traction on the world stage, making it more relevant now than I ever thought it would be when I first started developing the idea a couple of years ago. This sci-fi film needs to be made now, otherwise it could become obsolete – that’s how fast the subject is moving – and whilst in some ways that is quite terrifying, it’s also inspiring! There are still some things that need to be worked on, and the mood-board itself is still some ways off being ready for the end of October deadline, but in the spirit of taking the wins where they come, this could be one of the more exciting developments of 2019, if I get these foundations right.

With both goals still a little way off being completed, there’s no time to lose if I want to have a successful October. If only I had an isolated writing retreat in the Colorado mountains to remove all my distractions – nothing could possibly go wrong then…

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