Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Albion – the first version (5 of 5)

Why did I move on so fundamentally from this first version?

I realised that the script didn’t work. I knew it wasn’t working after I’d given it to at least one reader who gave a reasonably polite assessment, but really wasn’t enthused. I wanted her to love it, and her ‘ho-hum’ response was pretty telling.

The concerns I think I had at the time:

  • Questioning whether Albion really was a better place. I’ve mentioned in an earlier post that I was looking for Albion to truly be a better society, and what I’d presented here didn’t really seem to do it. There’s a scene where two ‘peasants’ are effectively arguing what the standard measurement for rope is, and the King has to make a decision… That didn’t really seem an improvement on our world.
  • The script is overlong and overwritten. It’s 123 pages long and not formatted like a normal script. It would probably be about 160 pages long if properly formatted. For non-screenwriters, that’s very long as the rule of thumb is one page equals one minute of screentime.)
  • There’s a lack of subtext. Everyone pretty much says what they mean.
  • The events were large-scale and felt unreal. In particular, the King taking over the entire country felt too big.
  • I realised that the characters needed more depth.

My solution to these perceived problems was to throw the entire version out the window, and try to come up with a whole different approach to the story that solved them all.

So there’s an insight into my personality!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Albion – the first version (4 of 5)

So, the flaws of this version of the story...

First, the story doesn’t take its characters seriously enough. The characterisation is slim. One of Tash’s only traits is that she always takes black coffee (after all she’s a reporter...) with three sugars. There’s a significant moment when Tash sides with Quillian when she rejects the sugar in her coffee - “I’m sick of sugar”!

Bigger than this, the characters are lost inside the transformation of Eric. It becomes entirely unclear who some of these characters actually are after they’ve been influenced by Arthur. Not only do they begin talking like Arthurian characters, they seem to have lost their identity. Admittedly this is a relief in some of their cases - the behaviour of his family and Lance at the beginning of the story is so despicable that I feel the best thing Eric can do is get some distance on these people… Subliminating their personalities is one way to do that, I suppose.

If I were to approach this story again, I would take the characters’ transformations as the basis of the story, and in particular the conflict of the Eric/Arthur identities.

Second, there’s a strange structural note where a partial transformation takes place, then leading to a full case of madness and identity transformation. The partial transformation is effectively the end of the story – Eric has successfully integrated charisma and ‘magic’ into his everyday life. The rest of the story basically loops back to that point.

I think I could improve this story structurally, and that's one of the things I'd be aiming to do.

Third, the power of the King. The effect of King Arthur seems to be that people just love him, far in excess to anything particular we see him do onscreen. His effect needs to be justified more – why would normal people abandon their lives and change course so dramatically. The answer seems to be charisma – which ultimately isn’t the best of all answers! Charisma doesn’t feed your kids…

I’m not so interested in portraying the perfect society now, but I am interested in exploring how the King is able to transform others. This would make for really interesting material if the transformation(s) felt truly motivated.

I’ll end my analysis of the first version with my next post, asking why did I move on from this version?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Albion – the first version (3 of 5)

Actually, weirdly and unexpectedly, I like this first version.

The simplicity of the story is a joy. It knows what it’s going for, and it simply goes for it. Recently I’ve been exploring breaking a story down to sequences (with Hix funnily enough). Breaking this story down to its sequences is very revealing.

Looking back over this draft, its hardly surprising that when I think of Albion, I usually think of this version, and not just because it was the first. I feel like picking up this draft again and seeing what I can do with given the benefits of distance and 11 years experience.

I like its build. I like the sweep of the story – it feels epic. I like the movement from disregard to respect on the part of the family and other characters. I like the rejection of Eric by this new personality of Arthur. I like the idea of the ultimatum from the outside world, and the King turning it back on the outside world. I like the march to Parliament.

I was coming back to this draft as a point to measure progress from. I was pleasantly surprised to find how much I liked it, and how much I was willing to forgive its flaws.

And its flaws are pretty significant.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Albion – the first version (2 of 5)

The Outside World Retaliates (page 68)

The Business Round Table! (led by business star Quillian) conspires against the new state. Their agent, the local MP Maningrey, enters Albion, and we see how much the town has transformed and abandoned the conventions of the outside world. Maningrey issues an ultimatum – the new kingdom has two weeks to disband or force will be used by New Zealand to restore democracy. The King responds that in two weeks New Zealand will no longer exist.

The Struggle For Wider Control (page 72)

The King and the people of Albion march on Parliament, building an immense groundswell of support as they go. There’s a garden of Gethsemane scene where the King fears his course will lead to violence, and Lance reassures him. The expected violent clash does not occur, given the King’s overwhelmingly popularity. The Prime Minister (Winston Peters!), Quillian, and Maningrey bend their knee to the King, but obviously they have other plans…

Cracks in the Regime (page 82)

The King is now the status quo and wildly popular. His enemies are faced with a problem: how to get rid of the King without doing it openly. Luckily, the King’s friends are doing a good job of screwing things up themselves. Shelly and Jeremy conspire against each other. Shelly drives away Tash, who sides with Quillian. The Eric/Arthur divide comes to a crisis, and the King questions whether Gwen would love him as Eric. The King disappears, leaving Lance nominally in charge while Shelly and Jeremy duke it out for succession.

Integration (page 106)

Tash leaves Quillian, finding his wicked ways not to her taste. Gwen and Tash team up to find Eric/Arthur, who has returned to the old car yard. Gwen tells Eric she does love him without the King Arthur trappings. An invigorated Arthur returns to Parliament to claim his throne, bypassing his enemies who are waiting for him. He reveals himself at a press conference, only to renounce his throne and his identity as King Arthur. Plain old Eric is good enough.

Coda (page 118)

Flash forward a year, and everyone has improved their lives. Eric is back to reading stories at the library, but they’re his stories now.

The End (page 123)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Albion – the first version (1 of 5)

Well, actually the second reformatted draft from 12 August 1997, according to a note I found attached to the script from Hix.

This version of Albion we worked on together, so I want to acknowledge his script credit here. And I’ve also run my comments about this first version under his nose before publishing them here.

I thought I’d summarise this first version of Albion over two posts (at the risk of boring you all!). The following posts will analyse it.

Set-up (page 1)

Eric is an aspiring writer and particularly poor car salesman working in a yard run by his childhood ‘friend’ Lance. Eric’s on the verge of being fired and his wife Gwen is having a sleazy affair with Lance. His kids (twins Shelly and Jeremy) have no respect for him. The one bright spot in Eric’s week is reading stories at the library, especially from a book about King Arthur. The town reporter (Tash) reluctantly covers his efforts, as she’s unable to get the big story (a brewing fight between a local gang and the Mayor).

The Transformation – Partial (page 24)

Eric cracks under the strain. At his lowest ebb, a mystic moment occurs as he withdraws a key from one of the cars in the car lot (the Sword in the Stone). Eric’s charisma and inner confidence are transformed: he starts selling cars, he manages to get Tash an interview with the gang, he makes love to his wife... Eric is confused by what’s happened to him (though interestingly he seems to have sorted out all the problems of his life…) He seizes on the book of Arthurian tales to explain things.

The Transformation – Full (page 33)

Tash comes calling for Eric, interrupting Gwen, Jeremy and Shelly at breakfast. Jeremy is smitten with Tash. ‘Eric’ descends from the bedroom and announces himself as King Arthur, astounding everyone. Arthur shows his full transformation by sealing a peace between the gang and the Mayor, heading off the looming confrontation.

Development of the Transformation (page 47)

Arthur becomes a community co-ordinator, working with the gang with the Mayor’s mandate. His initiatives start to transform the town for the better. The gang turns to good deeds, such as (literally) helping little old ladies across the street. King Arthur and the town become a focus/running joke on the national news. Gwen chooses Arthur, rejects Lance, and wants to tell Arthur/Eric about the affair. Arthur rejects the Eric personality – he is no longer Eric, so the past is truly the past.

Control (page 66)

The town council steps down in favour of the King. The King’s first announcement is the succession of the new kingdom of Albion from New Zealand.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Albion - what makes a better society?

One of the key ideas behind Albion was that Eric's transformation into King Arthur would lead to a better society. That his personal madness led to a social madness, and that both were good for the society and possibly even the world at large.

This is a simple enough idea, but you can always count on me to bugger up a simple idea by over-complicating it.

First off, medieval society (even the faux medieval society of King Arthurian myth) is decidedly not democratic.

Quite obviously there is a King. The King is in control and makes the law. Around the King there is a court, who hold some level of delegated or advisory power, but their authority derives from their association with the King. This is a model of authority centralised in one person.

Now I'm sure the King is a very wise man (well, he was in most of the approaches to Albion anyway), but I quite like my democratic freedoms, thanks. And I can't quite imagine myself being happy to live in what we'd now tend to define as a dictatorship.

Medieval society had quite a few things wrong with it apart from a lack of democracy. It wasn't liberal, it wasn't educated, or enlightened. Women and minorities were repressed, wealth was centralised in the hands of a few, and a serf class was kept uneducated and poor. Disease, low life expectancy, no colour TVs... Why on earth would we want to go back to that?

I kept on trying to reconcile the modern and the medieval/myth into a better society - after all, that was the purpose of Albion wasn't it? To present a vision of a better world. And I was always struggling with these questions and attempting to come up with a society that actually worked.

Should Albion the society do away with modern amenities? Do away with capitalist modes of production e.g. factories and corporations, etc... Is the society socialist, or is it based on feudal land owners tempered by a spirit of compassion for their fellow men?

And civil liberties and social questions tended to rear their head as well. In one version, Eric's daughter was gay and bringing her girlfriend to the transformed society for the first time. The daughter was worried that the medieval morality of the town wouldn't accept her sexuality, and if I remember properly, there was some idea of her being married off as a political alliance. (So really not an ideal society, where your father would marry you off against your will and sexual preference to stabilise his throne).

In another notable version, I turned against King Arthur entirely, and put the King's estranged wife Gwen and her lover, the weak-willed Lance, at the heart of the story. The story began with the couple being harassed by the King's knights, while the King turned a blind eye. So this version was a situation where modern civil liberties were being over-ridden by a sense of medieval morality and loyalty towards the sovereign.

One thing I feel now is that I tried too hard to deal with the real, and let go of the mythic side too much. Albion is about the embrace of mythic medieval values - celebration, adventure, camraderie, egalitarianism (after all, there was a Round Table), honour, romance, justice, truth, and valour. The golden age of Camelot. It might on the surface look regressive, but given that Camelot never existed, it was actually progressive and utopic.

And I also realise that I didn't need to resolve the tensions of modernity vs medieval/myth. The clash between the two poles is actually the interesting stuff, where the story tensions are being generated. One of the things that attracted me to the idea in the first place was the centralisation of power in just one man, and a crazy man at that.

Albion doesn't need to portray a perfect society. They really don't exist. It just needs to portray an attempt in that direction, and all the interesting things that fall out of that.