As evidenced by my last post, my free time and brain-space has been heavily occupied by a writing/film project based on a few early works/drafts of J.R.R. Tolkien, including material from Unfinished Tales and The Shaping of Middle-Earth. The project is a collaboration between myself, my brother (visual artist, filmmaker, action choreographer and athlete), and two close friends: Jennifer Wicks (costume designer and actress), and Jack Durnin (local filmmaker/cameraman). While adapting the script, storyboarding, and visualizing the process as a whole (including the inevitable “liberties” I would have to take), I tried to keep this quote from Tolkien himself in mind:
[T]he cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama.
In short, Tolkien wanted people to adapt his work into other media, including films. Consider the following quote, also from Tolkien, after viewing the original animated films based upon The Lord of the Rings.
I would ask them to make an effort of imagination sufficient to understand the irritation (and on occasion the resentment) of an author, who finds, increasingly as he proceeds, his work treated as it would seem carelessly in general, in places recklessly, and with no evident signs of any appreciation of what it is all about.
What stuck with me while working on my adaptation was the last part: “appreciation of what it is all about.” As a longtime reader, I think I’ve got a good idea, but as previously mentioned, liberties must be taken. Where, then, do I take them? I am working on merging two stories, which take place around the same time period in the fictional mythology, into a single film. The myths, which in The Silmarillion read similarly to the Greek Mythos or the Norse Myths, continue onward when the specific sections end. Certain characters were around thousands of years earlier; some live all the way into the latest histories of the mythology. As a rule with a film, however, the story must be self-contained. This film’s budget is out-of-pocket; I’m not planning a Trilogy. I took into consideration which parts of the mythology are important to these specific stories and this particular point in the fiction’s history, as well as, perhaps more importantly, what would be coherent to a film audience who has never touched these books. Simple example: three precious stones. Only one of them matters to this story, and only to half the characters, but the entire story is happening because these stones exist. How much attention should be given to the stone, and how do I tersely explain where the other two are without going into a campfire storytelling session?
I figured it out through rigorous script revision, but listening to the dialogue being spoken on set also helped. I am usually a person who needs to have every nook of a creative project in order before proceeding, especially when it involves people other than myself, but this time I had to let that go (appropriate for a story that is, if we must tack a theme to it, about letting go) and resolve to revise it as I go along. That process is working out well. We’ve had two days of shooting over two weekends, and I’m revising the script after each shoot, on some occasions even editing dialogue while on set – this is different from allowing “improv;” the dialogue is still written, agreed upon and followed. The only way I can describe it is “adventures in dialogue.”
Linked below is a little 10-minute feature we put together after our first day of shooting. Within are interviews with me, Phil and Jen; comments from other cast members in the film; some of our ideas about the project at the onset; and of course, some general silliness. Take note that this footage was shot with a “B” camera in Hi-8; none of the shots, audio or HD footage from the final product is in the video, but you’ll get to see some of the costumes in low quality.