This week I’m returning to the fascinating and inspiring answers so many of you gave to the survey questions I posed back in June.
On our 2Phils weekend screenwriting course we ask delegates to bring along a newspaper story that could form the basis of a drama – and then ask the writers to spin \ develop these ideas further – this exercise always emphasises the wealth of dramatically rich ideas that spring up daily, and how an individual writer’s sensibility \ interpretation of these ideas so often brings something fresh, original and interestingly personal to these big, public stories – As do these answers to the questuion below – so thank you very much indeed to all of you who took the trouble to send in these answers. (I’d particularly like to draw your attention to a rather brilliant essay about WW2 in the middle of these shorter quotes).
Your answers also remind me that so many of the best scripts I read are clearly ABOUT something – written by writers with something they passionately need to say.
As I’m sure you’ll agree there’s a wonderful range of the fascinating, inspiring, thought-provoking and utterly dramatic here (part 2 of your answers to this question to follow in the next few weeks)…
What world event \ news has inspired \ energised you as a writer, or has motivated you to put pen to paper? And why? (Part 1)
‘I was motivated to write during the lead up to the 2010 General Election. I am old enough to have seen several changes of government and more general changes of culture. Increasingly I see that while the pace of change seems to be getting quicker, the underlying patterns of history seem to repeat themselves. This discrepancy between the surface and the underlying structure offers many dramatic possibilities.’
‘The rioting in London and the public’s attempt to rationalise the acts of theft and destruction, whereas to me the answers were obvious. When Duncan Bannatyne’s daughter was threatened on social media by internet trolls, he put a bounty on the culprit. That energised me as I’d written a similar tale with that as the main inciting event in my novella now screenplay.’
‘The Battle of Hastings. Okay, it was a while back, but it was a world event in its day. Why inspiring? Partly because a bit of background digging reveals a fabulous backstory with iconic names such as Edward the Confessor, Lady Godiva, Ethelred the Unready, King Canute, Edmund Ironside… But mainly because a feature film has never been made of it. And if the most famous battle in history has never been filmed, think how many lesser known stories are still waiting to be told!’
‘September 11th, 2001, unfortunate tragedy. I felt compelled, to deliver feelings of joy and happiness, by using my creativity. I want to write scripts that can touch people’s heart. I want to believe that the human kind can evolve, by spending more time in the artistic process and less time destroying themselves.’
‘Again, anything where ordinary people do something extraordinary inspires me. I’m drawn to people who are marginalised/underestimated by society. Fortunately I think there’s a lot of these stories about if you look hard enough for them. I know it was a year or so ago now but that story of the Grandma stopping those Jewel thieves with her hand bag blew my mind!
‘Several preventable aircraft crashes on small commuter passenger planes found their way into the plot of my screenplay – amplified to involve the psychopaths that run these operations and what drives them. My story makes the manager of a small commuter airline an ex black ops ‘plumber’ who specialises in creating puzzles within puzzles to outfox the Burmese Military, a bunch of drug running bikers and a Russian arms dealer who all try to take advantage of him.’
‘As a writer I tend to cocoon myself away when I’m working to deadline, so I will ask my husband to let me know if anything interesting has happened in the outside world! I become overwhelmed with all the topics – especially environmental ones that tempt me — so I will dump some of the stories into a file, and generate a couple of real and fantastical concepts that flow from it. Once I’m done with the current project I’ll go and open the file and see what catches my eye and start a new outline.’
‘Growing up in the 1970s, the Second World War was ubiquitous. In the newsagent, Commando For Action & Adventure, Victor and Warlord told us true stories of courage and violence, where the Germans died saying ‘Achtung’ and the Japanese saying ‘Aieee’. Saturday night TV brought us Secret Army. School holidays gave us The Dam Busters, 633 Squadron and if we were particularly lucky, Where Eagles Dare. The only shoes to wear were Clarks ‘Commandos’. The toy to have was Action Man kitted out in El Alamein desert camouflage. The best jumpers had patches on the shoulders just like a soldier.
The war was a source of intense pride at that time. Britain was no longer great in any meaningful way, but its moral superiority over every other nation on earth was made very clear to us. Furthermore, it told us that although we benefitted from the peace and plenty it brought, we’d missed out. What would we ever do that would be as important or exciting as that? No matter how horrible they tried to make it sound, actually the whole thing seemed a bit of a lark. Another war was out of the question. We knew that, for frustratingly vague reasons to do with men in fur hats, another World War would mean the end of everything and we would cease to exist.
This was the scene in which the children of the ‘70s found themselves. My childhood, however, had a unique aspect to it.
My mother’s best friend was German and we spent many summers with her family in the Fatherland. They were gracious and loving hosts, calm and helpful friends, wonderful people in a beautiful country. They were also defiantly and almost aggressively pacifist. Not only was I obligated to ‘not mention the war’ for fear of upsetting anyone but in the climate of the time I couldn’t play spies, spacemen or pirates – or any other game involving guns – without a lecture on the dangers of violence. While this seriously curtailed my repertoire of play, it made me think quite seriously as to what these people were. It meant I couldn’t accept the idea of an evil or warlike Germany at face-value. To compare the two peoples, we were clearly the war-mad, angry, loud and rude ones, triumphalism incarnate.
As I got older and learnt more, this dichotomy grew more confusing. The details of the Holocaust and the evils of the Nazi State were revealed in all its piles-of-shoes horror. Exactly how did these wonderful sausage obsessed people allow this to happen? It simply seemed inconceivable. The answers were of course closer to home. There was plenty of violence and unpleasantness for me to experience amongst my own people. My mother was a pacifist of almost German intensity to the point where I was forbidden to get into fights at school – the fights happened anyway and I was obligated to just stand there – or rather lie there – and take it. I was mercilessly bullied at school for being different and got to experience first hand mob-rule and the fear that kept people in line. Teachers abused their positions, protecting the school’s record and reputation over the mental health of the individual. My Irish father had no truck with sectarian violence, be it ‘terrorism’ or ‘freedom fighting’ but this gentle man had an uncontrollable temper and I was the vector for his dissatisfaction with life.
So forward wind to the present day…I am a pacifist and believe there are few things in life that cannot be solved peacefully. I am also zealous in my distaste of bullies and those who abuse power at the expense of the weak, a (self-)righteousness that’s always on the edge of my underlying rage. I’ve seen enough pissed-up squaddies to have no illusions or sentimental feelings about the armed forces and it only takes one look at that Kenneth Jarecke photo to remind me what war means. I believe profoundly in the things we thought we were fighting for back in the ‘40s – the Welfare State and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights among them – and their relevance today. This angry compassion leads to a dichotomy of thought – the pacifist with a fascination with war, both horrified and intrigued by what mankind is capable of.
We get to see the Second World War for what it was, almost a ‘just war’ but in so many ways self-defeating. The UK fought because Hitler threatened the Empire but accidentally held out against a true and terrible global threat long enough that it could be ultimately defeated. We traded that empire for the end of fascism but left Franco in power for more than 20 years. We formed an alliance with a psychologically unstable psychopath with his own empire of oppressed peoples and a track record in purges and pogroms in order to defeat one of the same. We went to war over Poland – having already sold the Czechs and Slovaks to the Nazis – but ended up leaving them under a different but equally questionable occupying power. We stopped the Holocaust but either didn’t really know it was happening or should have done more to stop it if we did. The US arrived late but has made up for that by showing up to every war since, uninvited or not and generally making things worse. The great peace that the War brought was really nothing of the kind, with one conflict or another sliding into each other uninterrupted ever since, largely under the spectre of global annihilation at the hands of an ‘evil empire’ we ourselves created, while the poor got poorer and the hungry died.
Yet the Second World War was clearly a necessary evil. Go figure.
I was initially surprised to learn how little those who had been born in the ‘90s (or even the ‘80s) knew about the Second World War. The tales of our youth just haven’t been told and one way or another that needs to be addressed. It will require appropriate context and should not glorify conflict, nor should it sidestep the shades of grey involved. While we tend to suppose that the lessons of the Third Reich have been learned, genocide has recurred globally from Somalia to Rwanda, Sri Lanka to Yugoslavia, with the powerful manipulating and mistreating the weak. In the name of freedom, terror has been visited on the innocent by the oppressed and government alike, in the prisons of Abu Ghraib and the Occupied Territories of the Middle East. Our friends are, right now, doing things that would make us instantly condemn our enemies, in search of questionable security and revenge. I’m aware of Godwin’s Law and the risk of invoking the Nazis in any argument but we all look at Germany in the 1930s and wonder why no one did anything. I wonder what future generations will say about us, the people who allowed the United States to fight illegal wars over oil, torture and indefinitely imprison suspects without trial for more than a decade, the citizens of a country that colluded in torture and slaughter on the flimsiest of evidence. I think they will think very badly of us.
I want children today to understand their history and question the events of today as a result. Nobody should ever say ‘this couldn’t happen now’ because, as Milgram showed us, it can and it does. I want to put a human face on the victims and perpetrators, as well as those seeking redress and what that action actually involves.
So…a story about the Second World War, the Holocaust, the rise of the Nazis, the Secret War and the SOE featuring a lonely, bullied, abused and prodigiously bright child pretty much writes itself…I may have over thought this.’ (Ed – not at all – this is brilliant, thought-provoking stuff)
‘Sandy Hook. As a writer of action movies and thrillers, the tragic events of Sandy Hook serve as a reminder that making a better world is everyone’s responsibility, including artists. Having a positive message should not be thought of as a creative limitation, rather it should be seen as a creative challenge – how can we say something positive without being patronising or cliched? How can we say something positive without peddling easy answers or platitudes? How can we say something positive and retain intelligence, wit, excitement and entertainment? This, for me, is the challenge.’
‘Happenings in Egypt. The quest for freedom which I feel is provoked by the ancestral powers that are yet to come.’
‘In 2001, the Taliban dynamited two 1,500-year-old Buddhas (of Bamiyan). Each stood over 60 feet tall. I wanted to write about it because it’s a lot more difficult to destroy words.’
‘The news local to me that our local homeless shelter, started only ten years ago, has seen a tenfold increase in the number of people forced out of their homes. Combined with a similar tenfold increase in those needing the associated foodbank’s support, in just two years, I was compelled to ask our government a question. Why are they spending time debating the definition of marriage when there is a looming food and shelter disaster on our doorsteps?’
‘The recent news of police undercover operations, and in particular the surveillance of Stephen Lawrence’s family to find spurious reasons to discredit them, has really angered me. The injustice of this tragic case after 20 years, together with the disgusting treatment of the Lawrence family is something the British government should be utterly ashamed of. It moves me to write something about how victims of crime then become victims of the police and the political system, thus prolonging their nightmare indefinitely. This is exactly the kind of subject that TV drama should be tackling.’
‘One event stirred me into thinking I could write a story for the screen, In 2005 I watched with shock as Hurricane Katrina devastated the south-east of the US. I watched these events unfold and saw a German story that I once read unfold in my head in parallel to this. This was the germ for the story ‘Storm Front’, which I have been developing over the last few years, and which I will complete next.’
‘Inequality pure and simple. It is thriving in this austerity-blasted world.’
‘It’s a bit trendy to say there’s one moment of epiphany that defines and inspires you as a person and a writer – I’ve been asked this many times in interviews by rather dull Human Resources people – but I don’t think life is like that. What led me to become a writer is a collection of many different moments – some momentous, many small but suggestive. It is more of a condition I have that has drawn me to being a writer. A condition, maybe like a bad habit even, where I need to constantly seek out and understand why things work the way they do, and find out can they work better. It’s why I am enthused by reading history and science as much, if not more, than by reading fiction. To sum it up: Simple curiosity.’
‘The CNN clip about little Grayson Clamp makes my heart glow. And when my heart glows, I love people and want to write about them.’
‘As history repeats itself my inspiration is often hundreds of years old. As the wold continues to evolve the stubborn human race continues to make the same mistakes. Pick an event at any time in history and I will show you its modern equivalent.’
‘I grew up and worked on a farm, so events such as the BSE and foot-and-mouth crises stick firmly in my memory, and have inspired me to write stories and scripts about people living in isolated communities and the unique challenges that they face when doing such vital yet largely unacknowledged work like providing food for the public.’
‘There’s no one event that has energised me as a writer, but a daily diet of news is essential to inform my knowledge of the world and providing the first step on any research journey. It’s all too easy as a writer to get lost in your own bubble, rather than engaging with the real world.’
‘The Chilean Miners –I found myself inspired by the story of a woman running a
sexy underwear shop in Santiago who travelled hundreds of miles to sell the miners wives and mistresses saucy outfits as they raced to beautify themselves for the miners return above ground. I thought it would be an original way of telling the story and reflecting the conflict going on at the time with the miners families, their wives and mistresses.’
‘The Ian Brady hearing. It’s about whether mental illness is a set of symptoms or something more existential. And where is the line between mad and bad? Is there one? How do people around the mentally ill cope with that? It pulls together a major intellectual interest with some deep seated emotional family stuff.’
‘I was inspired to write a script by the murder of a Belfast Catholic girl in 1997. The script – Barricades – is amongst my best work. It’s a story about the people in Belfast, not about the politics in which they lived. It still cracks me up when I read it. (Note to self – get this script out there again!) I was just so appalled by her story that I had to write a script about it.’
‘The Arab Spring as it happened, showing the power of the people and reminding those in power who they should be working for… sadly things seem to be reverting to the old order, but we’ll sit and wait to see what happens.’
‘As may be obvious from the topic and choice of literary sources I already mentioned, my current work is largely centered on both the political response that followed the attacks of the World Trade Center as well as the current or recent upheaval which shook the Middle East. I think not only that in the international response to the rise of new and controversial political powers in the region, as well as in the popular drive behind a change of regime, lies a strong and major game changing event, one which hasn’t been so much explored in the televisual medium. What I mean by that, is that, the foundations of democratic thoughts have been very little questioned in popular culture, outside maybe of science fiction, and that a TV show would indeed be the perfect environment to develop the time frame necessary to explore how our current engagement with rising political powers may be drastically flawed at its core and potentially counter-productive.’
‘For me, the ongoing 24-7 newsreel of global suffering is always something that has compelled me to write, because I think at the heart of everything I write is the simple idea that we all need to love each other a little bit more. One idea I’m a bit obsessed with is empathy, because I likewise think the world would have less problems if more of us had more genuine empathy for others.’
‘The recent news story of the man in Woolwich won’t leave my mind. I know bad things happen everyday, on a smaller and bigger scale, but I got home that evening and saw the footage of him talking to camera, with such conviction and justification, with a dead body behind him and all I could think was ‘humans scare me’ It got me wanting to write, not about youth or religion or mad people… but about humans. A race or religion did not do that crime to that man, but a human did. We are all so volatile, so adaptable, so human and whether it’s nature or nurture or insecurity or power, the outcome seems to be a long, long list of patterns and environment and thoughts that create us. Not the thoughts themselves, but what we as humans think about those thoughts. He truly believed in his actions, and that, as a writer, telling someone’s story, no matter what side it comes from, interests me so so much.’
‘I’ve lately been working on a story inspired by the Jeremy Forrest case, where a teacher took a female student to France. I’m fascinated by this relationship, in which the girl, Megan, has repeatedly said she’ll wait for him to come out of jail, and allegedly changed her statements to tie in with his defence. For me I’m trying to understand both points of view- what this man, who had only been married a year, thought he was doing- was it love? Lust? Power? And for her- what does he represent? Does she see this as the ultimate romance, something from a story book? I’m interested in this, because in my story, I intend to flip the gender roles and see what the reaction would be- I think a young 15 year old boy who’d sleep with a teacher would get a lot of ‘blokey’ respect both at school and in the media. So this is something I’m working up, either into a short or another play.’
‘South Korean film director Shin Sang-ok and his ex wife Choi Eun-hee
were kidnapped and taken to North Korea where they were forced to make
movies (eg Pulgasari, a remake of Godzilla) for the dictator’s son.’
Until next week,
Thank you again,
All the best
Nov 7th 2013