Late last year, I got asked to work up a little something that would probably open with —
BASED ON A TRUE STORY.
I hadn’t done a based-on-actual-events job before* but I accepted the gig because 1. it paid, and 2. how hard could it be?
The concept was simple enough: a mini-series based on an incident that had happened a decade earlier, was reported world-wide, and it had a gorgeous protagonist to boot. A tweak here and there, and maybe I could work in a car chase, maybe even some gun play. As I researched the heck out of it, a voice in my head screamed over and over, This shit is just writing itself!
It had to be the kind of show that I would consciously tune in to. Which meant there would be no in media res device in the first ep because I’ve had it up to here with —
A wham-bang opening scene, then --
TITLE: One week earlier.
— so much so that when the Lovely Wife and I were trying a new show recently, I said, “If this sequence ends with a title saying, ‘Six hours ear—’ FUUUCK!” that last word making her spill her tea and I had to go and make her a fresh cuppa.
… Where was I? Yes. So. Here I was playing in the biographical drama space and one of my first creative decisions meant I had no wham-bang sequence to lure the audience in with.
What to do?
The development journey was all down hill from there.
* One could argue that Goodbye My Feleni and We Are Many are earlier outings in historical drama but no: they each took an “Inspired by” approach to Samoa and Aotearoa New Zealand history.
THE LOVELY WIFE, a slab of “Owner Builder” MAGAZINES on her lap, glances up at her PET WRITER’s reading: a NOVEL by [a very famous New Zild writer].
THE LOVELY WIFE
How’s it going?
... Ehh. I’m fifty pages in and it’s all been introductions of a whole bunch of characters, all experiencing the same traumatic event, each introduction from their own point of view BUT WITH NO GODDAMNED PROGRESSION OF STORY.
THE LOVELY WIFE
What’d you expect?
Well, with Stephen King’s “The Stand” --
THE LOVELY WIFE
Whoa, there, tiger: they’re two very different things.
They’re both about a small number of people surviving some terrible incident --
THE LOVELY WIFE
Yes, sure, but “The Stand” is a fantasy novel while that --
(re. novel in Pet Writer’s hand)
-- is literature.
He looks anew at the book in his hand:
HOW THE FUCK DID THAT HAPPEN?
The Lovely Wife sighs and resumes her magazine reading.
It’s that time of year when baby birds drop out of nests — or nests themselves drop out of trees — and whomever chances across such sights must decide between nurture or nature. Much as I front as a man of the land, when I come across such a sight, the choice is obvious.
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So, yeah: The Lovely Wifeand I have been fostering some wayward chicks. It’s been a slide down memory lane: a small living being reliant on you for their ongoing survival, eating and shitting and eating and shitting every hour of the day as you continually make sure otherfamilymembers keep their distance.
It’s not that different to shepherding a script or project along, one where you’re the passenger rather than driver, but it’s still something you believe in and hope to help along. It’s tiring and sometimes exasperating, and there might be a few moments where you might wonder to yourself how much easier it might have been to have let nature take its course.
But with each passing day, as you feed it carefully chosen words of encouragement, weathering the noise and smell and energy of it becoming, you notice small things. Things like feathers and claws and a preference for Chefs over Whiskas.
I have a number of reputations to uphold, among them a prodigious appetite for saturated fats. Cheesecake and doughnuts have been a staple for a large part of my life, and I can only presume that obesity and diabetes have been kept at bay only by the love of a good woman and semi-regular exercise.
A recent research trip presented my hungry eye with ‘cream choc donut[s]’, a big-city steal at $2.50 per. Seeing my longing look at it, The Lovely Wife suggested I stop being dramatic and just buy it. The thing was, I knew that just two mouthfuls of one of those triple-threats would be enough — but since a partly-eaten doughnut is anathema to any self-respecting Samoan, I would have to eat the rest of it.
I looked at her and sadly told her that those days were over lied that I was not in the mood for doughnuts. She still saw my final melancholic look at those doughnuts, but being the lovely wife that she is, she said nothing.
The last few years, the consumption of such delicacies has resulted in less of the comforting ‘good sick‘, and more of the just plain sick feeling. I suppose it was the tail end of a longer transition period* where, once-upon-a-takeaways, I could eat whatever I wanted, and nowadays I mostly/sometimes/less-often-than-I-really-should watch what I eat.
I’ve passed a gastronomical milestone in this life. It’s just a sign of age. A constant of life is change, and change is inevitable.
Time, perhaps, for a new food-oriented reputation.
* The first sign would’ve been when The Boy, then eight years old, began to out-eat me at most meals.
Speaking of nerves, the extended Mamea aiga attended the opening night: our Stern but Loving Parents, Awesome Sister and her girls, and Staunch Bro and his family. They said they enjoyed the show and I can’t ask for more than that. The Lovely Wife was not called on to take one for her husband so it was quite the lovefest and very validating for this writer.
It’s all “Still Life”-this and “Still Life”-that, some of you are carping. I can’t help it. It’s a big thing for me.
It’s a week out from the show’s Wellington premiere and my anxiety has increased considerably.
Why the nerves, you may ask, when 1). box office returns must be pretty good, and 2). touring is the fun part of being a playwright. Yeah. Well. I’m taking my mother to the premiere next Wednesday and I’m experiencing a very familiar feeling like I’ve done something very bad and I’m going to have to own up to it.
It’ll be fine, my siblings have been telling me, our mother’s gonna loooove it. But I recognise the tone in their voices: the kind of tone where they know I’ve done something wrong, too, and I’m going to have to take my lumps, and boy are they glad they’re not me.
I shall hold onto a couple of thoughts over the coming week: how Simon Wilson describes the play best as a hymn to [my] mother; and how The Lovely Wife will be on my arm at the premiere where, if necessary, I can use her as a shield.
The lead up to the opening has been more public than I expected. The write-ups and mentions continued in the Herald, the Listener (hardcopy only), and Tagata Pasifika have been nice to read and watch.
On opening night I was accompanied by The Lovely Wife, The Girl and The Boy, and I was very, very happy to have my family with me. The opening night audience liked the show — that’s always grafifying. The early reviews in BroadwayWorld and Concrete Playground are positive.
For some reason this doesn’t feel real. Maybe it’ll hit me at some point — soon, hopefully, maybe — that I’ve achieved something tangible, something to be inordinately proud of. Instead I’ve been looking over my shoulder, waiting to be awoken from some impossibly good dream.
I’m biased so I shan’t exhort you to see the show. But I will point you in the direction of the Facebook page and Twitter feed so you can decide for yourself.
I’m always writing notes for one thing or another. It helps pass the time if I’m waiting in a very long bank queue, or trying to look busy and productive.
At some point, those scribbles on recycled paper are scrutinised in the hope that something interesting has popped out of my idling brain.
Below is an excerpt of an idea I’m doodling with:
-- an idealist who will be corrupted
-- an innocent who will be sacrificed
-- a damned soul who dares to seek redemption
As I looked at that role call and its accompanying notes, I admired my subconscious mind: this could be the beginning of something. Those three characters, executed with care and precision, could exceed their archetypal origins and become players in a story that an audience could care for — cheer for, even — unaware of the cruel fates I have in mind for them. Why, this story —
INT. FORTRESS MAMEA -- DAY
Our PET WRITER turns to find his LOVELY WIFE reading over his shoulder:
The first warning signs showed a couple of years ago.
Fortress Mamea runs on 10.6 Snow Leopard, an operating system that’s now seven generations behind the current OS.
We like 10.6. It works for us. The Lovely Wife can still watch ponies galloping in slow motion on Youtube, while I can keep in touch with friends and colleagues near and far (and still write, obviously). Online schmoozing sometimes required Skype which has been a no-brainer.
I guess the Macbook Pro is slowly but surely headed for pure writing duties.
Last Sunday was the eleventh anniversary of this website.
I kid you not: unless my maths is awry, we opened in 2006, our first anniversary would’ve been 2007, which means 2017 makes this site eleven. Years. Old.
I’ve a few productions under my writing belt, I’ve been published, and now I’m also writing for theatre. I have representation. Various projects are in various stages of progress. There are a disturbing number of people out there who I’ve never met who know my face and/or my work.
I reside in a new, improved (and defensible) Fortress Mamea. I remain enthralled by The Lovely Wife whose love and calming words have kept me out of jail all these years. Our children are making their way in this world. Our animals are happy and healthy and loved.
A touch over a decade on, I feel considerably more comfortable with referring to myself as a writer. I’ve a better grip on my process, my grasp of the rules and tools is less tenuous, and my slate of projects means I’m rarely short of a story or an idea to explore or develop.
… Yeah. I think I might have the hang of this writing gig now.