Safari Picture Update #1
I got the first draft of my treatment to the producers last week, and had a phone meeting follow-up on Wednesday (yes, freelance screenwriters sometimes work on national holidays). When I sent it over to them in the first place, I knew it still needed a lot of work. And this meeting underscored some of the issues, and highlighted some others.
First of all, though I've done quite a bit of research, it is still really hard to write about a place and situation where I have no firsthand experience. I felt that while I had some good ideas, etc, I was quite clueless about many of the logistics of a safari adventure. And it clearly showed in the treatment. The good news on that front is that the producers understand this, which is why they've mentioned taking the writer of this film to Botswana for the safari research right from the outset of our first meeting, long before I was hired. And in our recent phone meeting, we did discuss a few of those logistical issues, and we're all fine with leaving some of those things a drop rough around the edges before we head down there, knowing that things are likely to change once I've been there.
I also felt that perhaps I had tried to do too much with this treatment. Like I was trying to keep too many balls int he air at once, when what it really needed was to be simplified somewhat. That is going to be a main thrust of my revision of the treatment -- trying to pare down some of the extraneous characters and moments to make a cleaner picture overall.
Along similar lines, I had an imbalance of attention to the various characters. While I had intentions for many when I did the character descriptions (the part of my treatment that the producers liked the best), some of that never came through when I did the actual story outline part. In part this was due to the aforementioned too-many-balls-in-the-air issue, so some less significant characters got neglected while I was trying to juggle things. So that was the first thing that I've already started to fix, more clearly delineating the beats in each main character's story arc. With this, I intend to trace their various points of intersection so that changes take place at different times throughout the film.
I am finding that this is becoming more and more an ensemble piece, and I'm not sure how good that is. I'm obviously running with it for now, but I still think the ensemble needs to be cleaned up more and perhaps shrunk. I've never written an ensemble film before, though I've often written about a smaller group of core characters -- usually around four. I'm thinking that I'm going to have to research this more.
One issue that arose, and which I'm going to have to figure out how to make work, is a sort of philosophical difference in the screenplay. I was moving into the serious action of the film much earlier, around the end of the first act. But the producers are pretty insistent on a slower build. With this they hope to be able to portray the grandeur of safari, one of the reasons they were interested in making this picture to begin with. I'm fine with this, of course, and want to show that beauty as well, but I'm concerned about maintaining audience interest for so long. That's something that is going to require a lot of my attention as I move forward on this.
Perhaps part of it will be simply adjusting my idea of what type of film this actually is. While before I was thinking of it as a large-scale actiony adventure, now perhaps I need to refocus on seeing it as a more quiet adventure with pensive moments interspersed with the action. Something more along the lines of The Ghost and the Darkness. Hmmm. This will take some more thought.