Monday, June 28, 2010

The Andrew Bovell masterclass, or how Hollywood chews you up and...

I attended a masterclass last Friday at the Lighthouse, organised by FAS Screen Training Ireland, which was with Australian screenwriter and playwright Andrew Bovell. It was a really interesting session, starting with a screening of Bovell’s 2001 film Lantana. This was his breakthrough project as far as Hollywood was concerned, but he had spent years before that writing award-winning plays and working on Australian films such as Strictly Ballroom.

I hadn’t seen Lantana before – it’s an excellent multi-narrative thriller, featuring great performances from the likes of Anthony La Paglia, Barbara Hershey and Geoffrey Rush. Bovell broke down how he created the script from his original stage play Speaking in Tongues. This was in turn based on three separate plays he had written about several disparate couples and their relationships. The initial idea for the plot came when Bovell saw a woman’s dress shoe at the side of a highway and wondered what had happened to the woman. He then kept seeing lost shoes everywhere – at the beach, on the street – and coming up with stories about how they might have come to be abandoned. The opening frames of the film show a woman’s dead body, one of her feet bare. We don’t find out for a long time who the woman is, but the image of death sticks with the viewer and Bovell stressed the importance of a strong opening image like this to hook the audience.

The whole process of the adaptation was interesting, because he had to decide on a “main” character for the film and had six or seven characters he could have chosen from. He eventually picked the character of Leon, a police detective, because he was the most obvious link between the other characters and was investigating the suspicious death that is the focus of the overall plot. The play’s ending was very ambiguous, whereas the film’s ending had to be much more clear-cut (someone asked was this the difference between the two formats and why. The answer seemed to be, yes, but no one’s sure why this is).

“Lantana”, incidentally, is a flowered vine in Australia that looks innocuous at first but is covered in tiny, sharp thorns on a closer look. This was the perfect metaphor for a film about outwardly respectable, happy people and their damaged real lives.

Bovell listed his influences as including Nashville, Amores Perros and Babel. He likes working with multi-narrative stories as he finds single narratives boring to write. He has a theory that single narratives are favoured in the U.S. because of the cult of the individual over there.

This led on nicely to an afternoon session where Bovell outlined with searing honesty how his Hollywood dream turned into a nightmare. After Lantana was released and was a critical and commercial hit, he found himself courted by Hollywood and hired for a number of projects. Most of them subsequently fell through, but he spent six years working on an adaptation of the classic BBC series Edge of Darkness. This film eventually emerged this year in the form of a brutal thriller starring Mel Gibson, very far from the complex, thoughtful screenplay Bovell was originally hired to write (or thought he was to write?). Along the way, Bovell got ripped off by a Hollywood hotel receptionist (never trust California blondes, apparently), passed from studio exec to producer to exec, nearly had a breakdown and ultimately got replaced by Oscar-winning writer William Monahan, who did a first-line rewrite of his script. Bovell retained his writing credit, but claims that he doesn’t recognise most of the finished piece as his work.

The brilliant closer? Bovell claims that if Hollywood comes calling again, he’ll be up for more. Such is the lure of the movies….

That was Friday. Saturday, I attended the gala dinner of the Indian Film Festival of Ireland at the Hilton Hotel in Rathmines. It was really well attended and featured a DJ I would happily hire for a wedding. Anyone who can get a whole roomful of people up dancing is a star in my eyes and it was all very Bend It Like Beckham. Bollywood actress Gul Panag and directors Prakash Jha and Suhail Tatari were in attendance, as was British Indian director Sangeeta Dutta. I’m already looking forward to IFFI 2011.

As I mentioned yesterday, the IFFI is over tomorrow night and the last film is Gangaajal. The ticket for it includes a meal afterwards at Monsoon restaurant, so if you like Indian movies and food, check that out.

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