So exciting things are afoot in November. I’m no longer an active participant in the things, but exciting they are nonetheless.
For a few years now, a friend of mine’s been talking about this movie he wanted to write/direct. Set in three cities (Hong Kong, Toronto, and Vancouver), it was about a father on his death bed with kids in Vancouver and Toronto waiting to inherit a small fortune and a sudden change to the will to give a big chunk to a bastard kid nobody knew about in Hong Kong.
Once Ben and his wife decided that they’d be off visiting family in Hong Kong through October and November this year, that became the time for him to shoot this project and get directing his first feature. Of course, there was no script yet. While Ben was willing to write it, he doesn’t fancy himself a writer. Writing, like most things, is hard to do, and twice as hard to motivate yourself to do, when you consider it a chore. (Ask me again how I feel about post-production.)
So fast-forward through a chain of events and we came to agreement where I’d take on the heavy creative lifting of writing his script. I was familiar with what he was going for, and in talking we’d reached a place where I could see a story in his idea that I wanted to write, so I set out to get an outline together. Once I had his approval on the nuts and bolts of what the story was to be, I got to write write writing.
There were three challenges that made this an especially interesting project to work on.
- This was straight drama. My usual beat is action and science-fiction and fantasy. Part of what I love is creating worlds to set bigger stories in. The constraint of the “real world” wasn’t problematic, but it was different from what I’d done before.
- I was working within Ben’s framework. He had the bare foundation (mentioned above) and other ideas on what he wanted and I had to build on and around and within rather than having full liberty of veering off and taking the story elsewhere if I came up with something newer.
- A third of the movie was to take place in Hong Kong, a totally foreign culture, with Chinese characters, speaking Cantonese. This meant a lot of research (you should see my Google Earth pins). My Google search history for those months was a lot of “what blah blah blah, in Hong Kong.” I’m happy to say that I’m at least told I did a good job capturing some of the Hong Kong culture and characters from a Hong Kong native.
It was a very interesting challenge.
Eventually, and with Ben definitely having to keep me on top of deadlines, a draft of a script was finished. Some fun. A lot of drama. A strong theme and through-line across three independent cities.
Here’s the official synopsis of what the movie became:
As wealthy businessman, Zhou Li, nears the end of his life, he makes a sudden change to his will that leaves his three children forced to answer the question – in the pursuit of wealth, how much is enough, and at what cost?
In Toronto, Gloria has spent the last few years helping run the business from afar and caring for ailing father. She’s ready to return to Vancouver and commit fully to the business after her father dies and is surprised by his new insistence that she leave the company and instead live a life she’ll be happy to look back on later.
Across the country in Vancouver, Danny’s life is completely occupied with running the business, leaving his children a distant second in his life. The change to the will, which Danny takes as a personal insult, makes him even more driven to protect his status – making him even more oblivious to the quickly spinning out of control situation at home.
In Hong Kong, an ocean away and not knowing any of this or even having met his father, is nineteen year old factory worker, Cheng. Now on the verge of getting the riches and life he’s always wanted, Cheng is about to learn that everything comes with a price – and his may be his life.
Once the first draft was done, we had some discussions, made some revisions and ended up with a strong shooting draft. On his end there was certainly some separation anxiety where things were different from the way things had been in his head for so long. If we’d had more time and such, there would have been more discussions and changes but October was coming quick. We both had to give as much as we took and the script was better for the discussions. There may be some things I’d still like to have worked on but there’s far more that I’m very happy with.
So with shooting draft in hand, Ben went off to Hong Kong with a month to finish all his casting and pre-production business before a month of shooting the Hong Kong side of the script through November.
Which meant that now it was my turn to let go and curb my separation anxiety. Production things always come up that require changes to a script. Casting. Locations. Lack of guns. Budget. It happens.
With me here, half a world away, and with him on a breakneck schedule, I was able to do some consulting on some of the changes – trying to advise what would work best, or wouldn’t as part of the whole – but now it’s all on Ben. He has to trust his instincts, shoot his movie, and get ‘er done.
I have to breathe, trust him, and let it go. The fourth challenge. What comes home may be close, or may be vastly different from what’s on the page, but that’s the game. There is one thing in particular I’m proud to have weaved into the script and am very interested in seeing how it comes across on screen.
Either way, happy thoughts are being sent across the ocean to Hong Kong and I have no doubt he’s going to do a great job if he trusts himself.
I never would have agreed to put in more than a hundred hours to write him a movie otherwise.
Thoughts? I’d love to hear from you. Speak your mind in the comments below.