Blanche in one of her plays.

Have you ever asked your parents or your grand parents what their dreams were when they were young? What was it they hoped for? Listen while you get a chance. My mother had to quit school after grade ten. I never realized how much she felt the loss of not finishing high school until I took her to see the movie Educating Rita and I realized that she was crying as Rita struggled to get an education.

I knew a woman who had to drop out of school because of illness. Smart, talented, ambitious but there was no money to pay for her to go back to school. She had to go to work as a servant. Often, as I had coffee with her, I thought how sad fate can sometimes be.

Most of us adjust to the reality of our lives, accept what can’t be changed, make the best of what is available. Nowadays, there are evening school courses, summer courses, education of many kinds is available electronically. You Tube provides short instructional courses on just about everything one can imagine. Yesterday, I watched a short video on how to use a carpenter’s tape measure. I didn’t know three of the four tips.

When I was growing up there was no library in town (a tragedy), no learning to use a library, no books that would create knowledge of the world out there. For adults there were few paths forward. It still wasn’t common for adults to return to school. One exception were the courses for the airmen on the Gimli airbase. The math teacher at our school wasn’t working out to well so I took the course on the airbase to supplement the teaching in the public school. This was an exceptional opportunity. Extension courses were few and far between.

Even with improvements over the decades, access to knowledge and skills can still be hard to come by. College and university are expensive. And can be intimidating.

Yet, most people, if not all, have dreams. If the resources had been available, what would your mother or father like to have done? Your grandmothers and grandfathers? Grandma, you can ask, what was your dream when you were young?

My Icelandic grandmother, Blanche, whom I never me–she died when my father was twelve–wanted to be a successful playwright, actress, director, poet, fiction writer. And she wanted to write song lyrics. Living in a small town, she did all of these, writing her plays, acting in them, directing them, writing poetry, fiction and song lyrics. She knew an actor in Hollywood who was Icelandic and corresponded with him and sent him some of her plays. The family has at least one of his replies.

With four children, living in a small, rural town, she still had big dreams. Even in such circumstances people can still hope to do something exceptional with their life.

I think of this because I was sorting and filing papers over the last few days and I came across an envelope with a copy of one of her published songs.

I wondered as I studied the piece of sheet music what her dream was, did she hope to go to Hollywood? It seems like an impossible dream but there were quite a few Icelanders did go to Hollywood, including Halldor Laxnes, in pursuit of fame and fortune. Laxness stayed in an apartment provided by a successful Icelandic developer. And I wondered how many women in small towns, on farms, in prairie cities harboured dreams of greater things?

Rose Petals

Gimli Film Festival: Bloodflowers2

Most film makers spend more time raising money than they do making films. Budget looms over their heads in development, pre-production, production and post-production. The less money they have to raise, the better chance of getting the film made. That’s one of the reasons that so many bad films are made. The producers who can raise the money get to produce films. Their ability to raise money isn’t necessarily connected to their ability to make good films.

From the writer’s perspective, none of this really matters. There’s a general rule that the writer of the book won’t be hired to adapt it for film. That comes from long experience in which writers were found to be too difficult to work with in adapting. They wanted to stay with the original purpose, the integrity of the story or novel. The film people just want to buy the “property” and use it to raise funds to make a film. They don’t necessarily care about the original work. In any case, film is a different medium and, to be successful, has other demands.

Sometimes, if the producer has some extra money and really wants the property, he’ll buy off the writer by agreeing to his/her writing the first draft. It’s usually a meaningless exercise. A film script may end up going through fifty drafts and six or seven writers. The one still standing at the end gets the credit. Or, the producer will include a clause saying the writer will be consulted on the artistic integrity of the adaptation. It’s nonsense, of course. “Here’s a thousand bucks so we can consult you. Take the money and get lost.”

The truth is that most fiction writers don’t have the training or experience to adapt their work to film. They also bring with them a lot of problems. However, hiring someone else is no guarantee that the film is going to be adapted by someone else who is competent. It’s not unknown for the script writer’s job to go to whomever the producer is currently sleeping with. Even if someone competent is hired, the adaptive process involves many people. It’s collaborative. That is completely unlike what the fiction writer is used to. The fiction writer works alone, perhaps  for years, on a novel, then gets a contract for a book and will work in an uneasy alliance with an editor. Script writing is a team effort and, often, the members of the team change during the process.

So, unless the writer of the original work has experience adapting scripts for film, it’s better to have an agent (yes, you have to have an agent in dealing with film makers, otherwise, they’ll skin you alive) get as big a payment as possible up front. Have her make sure that the writer’s name actually gets onto the screen credits. Film makers won’t just take all the money they can, they’ll take all the credit they can. It’s called building a career. Once the original work, “the property” is sold, the writer should go write another novel. When the film comes out, if it does, go to it just to see if your name is actually in the credits.