I must write a about my script The Death of Old Tommy. An award winning director has shown great interest in it and together we have developed the story to something better than it was.
First of all I got the task of translating it to Swedish. That was a far more horrifying experience than I thought it would be. It is strange that it should be so difficult to translate an English text into your native tongue. What I sent her was close to an outstanding mismatch of all kinds of Swenglish expressions. Somewhat embarrassing indeed.
The story is about a man who tricks death and got to live three hundred more years, then he empties Hell and teaches God some good manners.
I was told by the director that she had shown the script to a known actor she considered playing Tommy, who returned the feedback that Death in its black hood and scythe was too much cliché. She asked me if I could do something else with the character.
This was one of those moments I just wanted to scream “are you insane”, but to all luck I’ve learned to not spill out my first spontaneous thoughts and ruin my prospects. There are of course situations when I’ve been asked to rewrite a script of mine into something completely different, and at those times I should be very careful not to sell my soul. This request was not one of these.
I wanted to keep the classic figure of Death because of the fun I made with the character, when it had to leave its scythe and climb a tree.
I was not asked to do something else with the story. I was asked to do something else with a scene I just loved. I had to look past my love for a skeleton in black robes climbing a tree and see what else I could do with the character - still climbing the tree.
Then there was this final scene with Tommy and God, where Tommy rebukes God. No matter religious beliefs, a god rarely is wrong. And if that should be the case, it’s not really realistic that a human would force a god to defeat, just like that. The whole scene was missing a twist, I was told. It simply wasn’t the ending the story deserved.
I couldn’t have agreed more; now when someone told me. That is the funny thing with screenwriting: you think you know your story best, but you rarely do.
The scene went back and forth a few times and in the end two major changes were made to it:
- God tests Tommy. Tommy dares to rebuke God, but God lets him do this to test him.
- Since God is the one giving Tommy three wishes in the beginning of the story, Tommy reflects on the result of his choices, now when he stands beside God.
Then there was another rather interesting change to the script that demands some background. In the early feedback I got from readers I was asked why he wanted to live for so long. What in his life requested such presences and attention? I inserted a scene showing his love for helping people. We know from earlier in the story that he has a Bed ‘n’ Breakfast and give food to people though he has little to spare. This new scene showed more of this helping hand. This scene is now gone, as it was in the first versions. It did slowed the story down, just as I had a hunch it would do. But I added it once upon a time just the same. I should have trusted my instinct.
Now, why don’t I tell any names? Because in this country it is as hard to find funding for a movie as it is to find a polar bear in Sahara, and the funding for this project is not yet in place. The script is still mine. And very understandable you don’t want your name connected with too many “no thanks”.
Me, I consider this a “yes, please” and I feel it adds to my experience and good reputation to have an award winning director wanting to film a script of mine. If this movie is never made by this director, it is not because of my script – at least not directly (someone still says no to the funding, but the one wanting to do the movie – the one with the good taste – said “yes”).