Sunday, November 6, 2016

It's great when everyone's making the same movie: an evening with Mike Carey

Last month @rae102011 and I caught writer Mike Carey in conversation as part of the Birmingham Literature Festival

Until recently, Mike was best known for his comic and graphic novel work, most notably Lucifer. However, that may now be superceded by his post-apocalyptic zombie-esque novel and film The Girl With All The Gifts, where Mike did double duty, not only writing the original text but the screenplay in parallel.


He gave us a sneak preview reading of the opening to the follow-up to Girl..., a prequel which may or may not end up being called The Boy On The Bridge and then fielded questions from the audience.   

Of particular interest to me was the discovery that working in comics had transformed him as a  writer - it had given him a prescribed form to work within in terms of structure, length and pacing and that had helped a great deal when using the ostensibly freer form of the novel.

Mike had been fortunate with his venture into the film industry - not only writing the screenplay for Girl... but having a sympathetic producer and director who were very much open to collaboration. As he put it, 'making movies is great if everyone's making the same movie.'  

So the film got made with a shared vision of how best to adapt the original material, what would translate between media and what needed to change. For example, the book's interior lives and multiple viewpoints - the very things that novels excel at - got largely sidelined in favour of focussing on Melanie, the girl of the title.  

This isn't a film review, but as an aside it's worth reiterating what you may have heard elsewhere: Seenia Nenua who plays Melanie is outstanding and the narrowing of perspective certainly pays off.  

Similarly, casting knowledge also helps to shape the script. As Mike pointed out, if you know you have someone of the calibre of Glenn Close attached to a role you'll darn well find yourself writing for her.

However, he also identified the temptation in screenplay-writing both to over-write and over-prescribe what was happening on screen; not only do you have to leave room for the director to cut extraneous dialogue and even scenes as they go through the film-making process, you have to give them the space to decide how they want to shoot the film. And of course for the cast to play it in their own way too.

Much like the distinction between the text of a play and its perfomance, I suppose, but I hadn't really thought about it that way before. 

A most interesting evening, and worth mentioning that Mike was a lovely guy who stuck around with his wife Linda (also a writer) to sign books and chat to attendees.

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