Notes on the script

We published Draft Four of the script last week. I figure now is a good time to reflect on some of it, especially in light of our original objectives. For those of you that weren’t following us back then, it was Stephen Rea who suggested a Robert Altman approach to a 72. I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago to give him an update on ‘The Confusion of Tongues’ (CoT). Unfortunately he won’t be joining us for the movie in Birmingham as he’ll be in a play with Peaky Blinder’s front man Cillian Murphy (in Galway of all places).


Ben Arntz and I were both perplexed by the challenge of writing a ‘polyphonic’ script, with multiple story strands and interweaving characters that interact with one another, but not necessarily in a linear fashion. The initial plan was to have no linearity to the characters, just start story lines all over the place and have them loosely thematically linked (like Short Cuts). However, we’ve moved away from this in the development of CoT as it was unsatisfactory and we worried about the story that lags behind all the others with less audience interest. We wanted to point them all towards one common goal. This isn’t truly ‘polyphonic’, just a multi-strand narrative that uses the conflicting story lines to create farce.

Which is the other development away from Altman; this is light on satire, high on farce.┬áThe satire is still present, especially within Ashley’s story or Mary’s. But we’re not interested in laying it on ‘thick’, largely because too much social criticism can get preachy and pretentious, and we don’t want that at all. Altman was great at nuanced satire, but I’m not sure it is something we can imitate.

Imitate is an interesting word. There’s no doubt that we started with a long list of inspirations and ideal objectives. However, through the process of drafting and sharing the script with many others, we’ve moved away from our imitation to create a new piece in its own right. That’s the creative process! Hopefully you’ll see the ‘shadows on the page’ from earlier drafts, where we’ve developed a story, away from a straight imitation.

I recently got accepted to present a paper on this creative process in Berlin in October. As we get closer to it I’ll share the research.



3 thoughts on “Notes on the script

  1. An interesting post James. Interrelated story structure has actually fascinated me for a while.

    Your distinction between polyphonic scripts with characters bound by thematic OR narrative links is an interesting one. And I can understand why you’ve made the choice that you have. I guess a script can never completely be one or the other but for a moment let’s make a divide.

    In the corner of thematic-based polyphonics you’ve got the likes of Shortcuts, Crash & Magnolia where characters seem to go about their daily lives (almost) entirely unaffected by the events of the other stories, but each is affected in a different way by the theme at the heart of the story.

    Whereas with narrative-based polyphonics you have the likes of Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Traffic, Snatch, Pulp Fiction or even (you could argue) It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

    I haven’t yet had time to sit down and read the script in full but look forward to doing so to see the decisions you’ve made.

    All the best going forward!

    N.B. On the subject of Shortcuts, I know Altman’s not one to paint in broad strokes but personally I’d have preferred it if the social commentary had complimented the interrelated plots as opposed to simply taking their place by the end. So middle-class suburbia is not all it’s cracked up to be; what else do you have? (Realise I’m striking a nerve here!)

    1. I think Short Cuts works because it doesn’t swim in satire, it is quite universal. However, I think it is satirising LA and the absurdity of life there, hence it’s resonance within Hollywood. However, it still works outside of that bubble. The ones that push satire more prominently (like Nashville or Pret A Porter) are a mixed bag. Pret arguably doesn’t work perhaps because fashion world can’t really be satirised?

  2. With Nashville, you know what you’re getting into; it’s Robert Altman on politics. The problem is, as you’ve said, he treads lighter than most political satires. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just that most are completely off-the-wall in comparison (e.g. Dr. Strangelove).

    Which I guess raises an interesting question. When do you think Altman’s style is best employed? You’ve made a conscious effort to deviate from it slightly now with this project. It’s a polarising style. Sometimes points need emphases. Personally I like Short Cuts but many of the same themes resonated deeper with me when handled by Lynch in Blue Velvet or even Sam Mendes in American Beauty. But then again, it all comes down to subtlety. And of course, personal preference.

    I haven’t seen Pret A Porter unfortunately but you’re right in saying the fashion industry isn’t easy to satirise. Tread too lightly in those waters and you might just be seen to be celebrating something instead of challenging it.

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