Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival, From Script to Screen

Held in the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, “From Script to Screen: An Evening with Short Film Otago” was an event delving into the process of bringing a writer’s screenplay to life on the screen. The event kicked off with an introduction from Doug Lilly, the chairperson of Short Film Otago. Founded in 2007, Short Film Otago is a local attempt to address the dearth of funding, and therefore the dearth of filming, in the South Island, and in Otago in particular. Every year, there is a call for scripts from local writers, which are assessed by a selection panel. The panel then selects half a dozen scripts to develop further, and, if funding is sufficient, three or four of these developed scripts will be made into films. In this way, local filmmakers get experience in the industry.

Doug Lilly then introduced his co-panelists—Jaimee Poipoi, who wrote and directed the short film “Kia Ora Miguel”; Sue Wootton, who wrote “Bleat”; and Liz Stearn, who directed “Bleat”—before both short films were then screened.

Both films had high production values, and both had some particularly lovely performances (including a cameo from poet Brian Turner, whose house was used for some interiors in “Bleat”). As the filmmakers themselves pointed out later, both films were quite different in execution—“Kia Ora Miguel” concerned a grandfather’s inability to communicate with his grandson, and “Bleat” was about an old woman’s senility and her family’s attempt to deal with it—but both touched on similar themes of intergenerational relationships and the difficulties of communication.

Sue Wootton is of course a pp_sue_woomuch-published poet and short story writer, but “Bleat” was her first attempt at writing a screenplay. This was a particularly interesting and challenging process for her, especially since “Bleat” was adapted from an earlier short story she had written. She spoke about being disabused of her idea that the short story was the epitome of concision. As she later found, in fact screenplays are even more concise, since screenplays do not allow the space to include backstory. Rather, “the characters have to wear their back story”, through dress and mannerisms. She also found she had to cut a lot—Hope, the rest home nurse who was the protagonist of her initial short story, had a whole back story that simply didn’t make it into the film. Sue also noted that after she handed the script over to the director, she had very little further input as writer, though this may well differ from project to project. She also noted, rather amusingly, how weird it was to hear actors saying the words she had written privately on the page.

jaimee_poipoiJaimee Poipoi described “Kia Ora Miguel” as a personal story, coming as it did from her own experience of being unable to speak to her Maori-speaking grandfather, but always being able to still communicate with him through music. She started writing the script in 2012 and had it workshopped heavily with her mentor Amie Richardson and her camera man. The actual shooting of the film only took three days, but post-production was a much longer period of four months—a fact which seemed to surprise most of the audience.

Both Jaimee and Liz Stearn, the director of “Bleat”, commented on the difficulties of shooting, in particular, dealing with the weather. Although “Bleat” was set during summer, it snowed heavily the day before shooting so the crew was forced to spend an hour and a half shovelling snow in order to get the first wide shot of the house! Jaimee described the filmmaking process as one of needing to have a “Plan B, Plan C, Plan D” and the need to “improvise and compromise”, a point that Liz agreed with. Liz also noted the way the Oturehua community embraced and supported the filming of “Bleat” (and who are all eagerly awaiting the film’s premiere there!)

Reviewed by Feby Idrus, on behalf of Booksellers NZ

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