This is the first in an occasional series – written by writers about their scripts in my SCRIPT LIBRARY. Clearly the reason I wanted to include the scripts in my library is because I think they’re great – so that I hope they will prove enjoyable, instructive and inspiring for you to read.
As I’ve discovered this week in giving interviewees for the script reader roles on the Channel 4 screenwriting course, you’re never going to please all of the people all of the time. No two people ever feel the same about a script. And the subjectivity of our responses to scripts is a source of intrigue, joy – and frustration. But for writers, it doesn’t matter if 19 people don’t respond to your script, as long as that 20th person does.
This first piece is written by ANN HAWKER about her wonderful feature script, AN AUSTRIAN HOLIDAY. I have added my own comments at the end.
An Austrian Holiday – How One Script Can Change So Much – Ann Hawker.
‘All scripts send writers on an emotional roller coaster and that could not have been more true of my feature script, An Austrian Holiday. In many ways I have to thank Phil for encouraging me to write the script and the journey it sent me on.
At my first meeting with Phil, who was acting as my script mentor, he asked what was on my mind. At that time it was my mother’s recent diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. As a family we were running to catch up with her fast changing circumstances, and most upsetting of all was seeing how frightened she was of what was to come.
I had been toying with the idea of writing about Alzheimer’s for a while, but with Phil’s encouragement I dug deeper to find the personal spark for the story. The eventual starting point came from a comment from my mother. She began to talk about going to a Swiss Dignitas clinic as a way of escaping her fate. That quickly became subsumed into her idea of a one way trip to the Alps. “I’m Going to Austria” was her recurring cry. The script was born; a mother and daughter road trip through the Alps to an assisted suicide clinic.
In many ways it was an easy script to write. It was a chance to exorcise some of my ghosts as I typed, exploring the darkness that lay ahead. The script didn’t take long, written from the heart. I couldn’t get rid of the thought devils dancing in my head, but I could at least send them onto the page. Yet it was also an opportunity to dream of the blue sky, the light and the snow of the mountains. My mother wanted to escape what was happening and so did I.
The script has changed little since the first draft, it’s been honed and improved through notes and redrafts as I sent it out into the world, but the core has remained the same.
To be honest I wrote the script without a specific goal for what would happen to it. However it became a great spec script, sent to agents and producers as an introduction to me and my writing. I was lucky in that it struck a chord with a lot of readers. It was an excellent way to meet a lot of interesting and helpful people in the industry. It’s also been a great influence on all my writing since, I’ve learnt to always dig for my personal link to whatever I am writing about.
To my surprise the script became a competition winner: a finalist in the The Red Planet Prize, a runner up in the Screenwriting Goldmine competition and I’ve just recently found out it has reached the semi finals in the Academy Nicholl Fellowships. It also won me a place on The Writer’s Lab. The lab is a US based mentoring scheme for women writers sponsored by Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman.
It is there that I met some great future collaborators and the idea that I could make this script myself was born. I had already turned down a couple of offers to option the script, feeling that I was not ready to let go of it. Obviously making a feature as an unknown writer/director is a tough challenge, but that’s the course I’ve now embarked on. It’s pushed me to get out of my writer’s safety box! This year I have written and directed my own short film and together with my team on the short we are looking for producers and finance to get the film off the ground. Who knows where the journey will take me, but I am so glad I wrote the script and I am on the road.’
I think there are so many valuable lessons for writers from what Ann says above and from her experience writing this script. I had known Ann for a while before we started work together on this script and had always enjoyed her writing while at the same time feeling that it was never quite as emotionally heightened, raw or personal as the scripts I really loved.
I remember finding the first meeting I had with Ann difficult in that I was pushing her into places that were emotionally raw for her; and I was worried that I was pushing her too far into dark, difficult areas of her life. While I thought this was the right thing for her writing, I also realised that personally she was in a very difficult place and that this might be traumatic for her. But Ann really grabbed the bull by the horns and fully committed to her story.
It interests me that Ann says that, ‘In many ways it was an easy script to write.’ (Especially given the above). Often I do think the best scripts are the ones that come easily, that pour out of the writer almost without thinking.
I’m also really taken by Ann’s visual references – ‘the blue sky, the light and the snow of the mountains.’ Which are such an important, cinematic element of the story. These visual aspects are such a strong part of the emotional power of the script.
I’m so pleased that this script (deservedly and unsurprisingly) opened so many doors for Ann as a writer. I would like to thank Ann for her generosity in taking the time to write this piece.
If you haven’t read the script, I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.
The next newsletter will be on Friday October 7th,
September 23rd 2022