What I learned writing an LGBT film
LGBT History Month is all about promoting equality, diversity and education. If you are writing or making a film with an LGBT theme, there is a responsibility on the artist to be truthful when dealing with topics that – for many – are delicate, if not life changing.
In 2006 I wrote and made a film called Edie’s Point of View. There were many lessons in it – not just about how to deal with a sensitive subject, but also some key things about screenwriting in general.
1.Do the research
We often stress to scriptwriting students that they need to build in authenticity to their writing if the audience is going to buy it. In the case of LGBT, that meant researching the issues, people, procedures and law. I consulted with support groups and LGBT Health & Wellbeing (an organisation that supports LGBT people) to ensure the accuracy of mentions of medicine and social care, for instance. One of the support group members became technical advisor during the writing and making of the film. It made all the difference.
2. Viewers respond to story and characters, not topics
Whenever you deal with any kind of ‘social issue’, there is a danger of your film becoming preachy. By all means have a theme or message but the real trick is to dramatise it through characters involved in a struggle. Edie’s Point of View tells the story of a male-to-female transgender woman trying to survive the final stages of her transition. As well as my love of film and writing, I also have a passion for history, art and culture so these things merged together in the script.
My central character models herself on Andy Warhol’s artistic muse Edie Sedgewick. Sedgewick was a beautiful socialite who was also deeply damaged by mental health issues around her looks and worth as a human being. In the 1960s, when Warhol was trying to make the move from art to film, he adopted Sedgewick as his muse, trying to turn her into his own kind of Marilyn Monroe icon. They cut off Sedgewick’s naturally long, dark, lustrous hair, dyed it platinum blonde and dressed her like a Carnaby Street popstar – a mirror image of the narcissistic Warhol.
This idea of changing oneself to fit another image seemed to fit the story of a transgender central character battling to find the right version of her. In other words, the story and characters illustrated the theme rather than stated it. This is key to good screenwriting.
3. Visuals are everything
Telling story on screen is about action and visuals. One of the biggest challenges the screenwriter faces is when characters are struggling with their thoughts, emotions and desires. How do you ‘externalise the internal’?
In our story then, our ‘Edie’ chronicles her day to day life in her new persona through an obsessive use of a video camera (appropriate for her love of superstar Edie Sedgewick), recording every change and experience. The camera becomes a drug though that only helps her avoid reality. This simple device allowed the film to explore the inner world of the main character in a completely natural way.
So, if you are writing a topic-led screenplay, bear in mind how audiences respond to film and how you need to use the medium to tell your story. Part Three of OCA’s Scriptwriting 1 course explores these writing techniques in great detail.
We were happily vindicated for the effort and dedication put into this LGBT film. The film received its premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and was selected for several LGBT festivals around the world.
For more details about LGBT History Month visit https://lgbthistorymonth.org.uk/ #LGBTHM19
Images: (c) Fluid Eye Productions Ltd