Are fathers like prizes? Sketching a screenplay via The Dowse collections

The Dowse recently invited me to come into the gallery for a day or two to observe and learn and see and do, and then create a record of my time – all part of a Dowse initiative called Guest Voices. I love projects like this with plenty of scope, and also the way it could help energize something I was already working on.

At the time of my first visit to the Dowse I had been doing some initial work on a screenplay. On my way to The Dowse one of the characters asked one of the other characters ‘Are father’s like prizes?’ (the conversation was going on in my head, obviously).

I love and loathe when this happens.

One bit of wisdom I’ve latched onto as a beginning screenwriter is that it helps to have a solid scene breakdown on paper before you even begin writing the thing itself. (Trust me when I tell you, it’s a tough moment when you are 85 pages into a feature-length screenplay and you realize the vague ending you thought would work, is still 90% vague and actually only 10% ending). So, a strong sense of what’s going to happen, when and to whom, before you begin is a good rule of thumb. But sometimes bits of dialogue, images and plot ideas come as you write, think, or take public transport.

What do you do when they don’t seem to obviously slot into what the plan is, but are kind of more interesting than the said plan? What I find curious is that these things sometimes inspire you to raise the stakes. You’re only concerned with the particular reality of that story, so it’s a great challenge figuring out how an idea can work in that very specific reality.

Anyway, the good/bad thing was that I had a line that interested me (and that was potentially tangentially connected to the screenplay as I’d so far imagined it) while I was looking around The Dowse, wondering what I might do for Guest Voices. I was drawn to a series of cabinets on temporary display bursting with amazing ceramics from their collection store. A series of large ceramic cats by Bronwynne Cornish were on display as well as a few other works of hers, including some lovely heads with mouths that were to varying degrees open and closed. I returned again and again to the cats though as they immediately sparked some ideas in relation to the screenplay.

So in short, I will be doing a series of blog posts on the process of sketching a screenplay via my explorations of a few pieces from The Dowse collections. I’ll post images from my sketchbooks, and hopefully some drawings that I want to do of Cornish’s works.

To kick things off, here is something new from my sketchbook called ‘Are fathers like prizes?’


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