Chris Watt, Screenplay Finalist, LISP 2nd Quarter 2020
How often do you write?
I have a fairly strict schedule that I like to keep. From 10am to 6pm tend to be the hours I keep, Monday to Friday, but of course, there are exceptions. If I’m on a roll with something, I’ll just keep writing until I run out of steam. Those are the toughest days, really, when you type for 10 hours straight, but in the past 6 months I’ve managed to accumulate a much larger amount of content than I have in previous years. Covid 19 has forced so many people to work from home, but from a writing point of view, my routine hasn’t been shaken too much. If anything, I have more time to write than I’d had before the outbreak, so I have no excuse for not working. It’s been a wonderful escape from the realities of what is happening out there right now.
How does it feel to have your work recognised?
It’s a great encouragement. To be honest, 2020 has been, from a work point of view, very good to me. I have placed twice with your competition and I’m in the company of some extremely talented people, some of whom I’ve managed to connect with simply by being included in the finalists list. I recently had a feature screenplay of mine optioned by a producer, which is a huge leap forward for me, professionally, and I’m in contact with some wonderful people within the industry now, getting a great deal of support. But it’s encouragement that I’m always looking for. Writing is a very lonely, often torturous process, so to have professionals read your work and tell you you’re doing fine is always a good feeling.
What’s the best thing and the hardest thing about writing a screenplay?
There is a built in excitement to writing a screenplay, that, for me, often tops any other type of writing. I tend to write in a cinematic way. Even my novel reads, in many ways, as though it wants to be adapted. I think it has to do with potential. The notion that what you write might resonate with people in another medium. There is also the challenge of trying to tell your story in a visual way. My screenwriting tutor at film school always used to tell me “Action is character” and he was absolutely right. You can give your characters all the dialogue in the world, but it won’t necessarily tell you anything about them. What makes that process difficult is the temptation to be too visual. When I write a screenplay, I have to write for the audience, not the director. I need to give a sense of how the finished film will look, but not be too specific, as a director brings their own vision to the material. It’s a very fine balancing act. I’m currently working on a feature screenplay in the horror genre and as any film fan knows, it’s a visceral, extremely visual genre to work within, so I’ve been trying to limit the details as much as possible. It’s a challenge, but then I don’t start a project unless it has one. If I’m going to spend months and months of my life shaping something, I have to learn something by the end of it.
How did you come up with the idea for your LISP selected screenplay? Is there a story behind your story? And how long have you been working on it?
I wrote the initial outline for THE GIRL IN THE FIELD about two years ago. My mother is from Northern Ireland and growing up she, my aunt and my grandmother would tell us great ghost stories from that country. Ireland has such a haunting history. It’s built in to the very fabric of a country that has seen great hardship and trouble. The country has suffered a great deal of trauma and as such, is rife with ghost stories, in much the same way as we found a spike in supernatural activity after World War One, when countries had to deal with having lost so many people in such a short space of time. THE GIRL IN THE FIELD actually comes from a story that my mother told me and I elaborated upon it, to create a story about a family, and specifically a father, dealing with the aftershocks of losing a child. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I am fascinated by those who do and while I’m naturally sceptical, I think the psychological make up of those who witness these sorts of phenomenon are always worth exploring. In my story, you could take it in one of two ways: either the girl is haunting the father, or the father is haunting himself. In the end, it doesn’t matter whether ghosts exist or not, because there is an emotional catharsis for the characters by the end of the story. I think being a father to a little girl, myself, helped keep the emotional side of the story in a very real place.
Can you give us a few tips about writing a short screenplay?
Structure is key. And, as I said the last time we spoke, knowing where you want to go. THE GIRL IN THE FIELD is a strange script for me. In many ways, I feel as though it should be a feature. It feels like the story needs room to breathe, and yet, I never imagined it as being any longer. There is always a danger that simply writing for the sake of page count makes your work self-indulgent, so perhaps I should resist such a temptation, but I’m satisfied that I’ve told the story that I wanted to tell. And I think that’s important. Tell the story that only you can tell. The one that’s desperately trying to get out.
What’s the best thing and the hardest thing about writing competitions?
From a creative point of view, competitions are wonderful. You can set a deadline by them and deadlines are always beneficial, because the hardest part of any creative endeavour (particularly one that you are doing for yourself) is the tendency to put it to one side. Before you know it, 6 months can go by and you go cold on your idea. The hardest element of competitions is that there are so many of them and you can’t possibly (or financially) enter all of them, so you have to do your research and find the ones that suit you and your work the best.
Do you recommend the short story and flash fiction writers to give it a go on screenplay writing and LISP?
Absolutely. The discipline of writing a screenplay isn’t for everyone, but I think every writer should try it. Every form of writing has its challenges, and short form material is harder to get exposure from, so LISP has been a wonderful find for me. And anything that opens you up to a wider, creative writing community is always going to be a plus.