In order to make my approach to the script development more academic in terms of reasoning, this blog post aims to explain the reasons why I chose to craft the script the way I did, besides the obvious fact that it was easier to do this film closer to the original story than a new one based on criminals and redemption.
So, first of all, why do a film about a fallen angel at all? You have to first realise that this film was crafted when I was 16 back in 2006, so I hadn’t seen or heard of It’s A Wonderful Life. At the time, all my stories (in one way or another) featured a depressed / alienated teenager who met somebody, and then something happened to him / her, and it took them out of their misery. The trick was to retain the realism and the edginess, regardless of how fantastical everything else was becoming. One kid fell into another dimension, one kid found a potion that gave him uber-confidence, one kid found a fallen angel, one kid ended up with a load of fairies, etc.
You must also understand that as a teenager who felt the same way as most of my protagonists did, I was also attracted and heavily influenced by alternative culture at the time, so gothic undertones permeated every story I wrote, and they were usually represented by the ‘other’ in my stories. In this case, the fallen angel needed to be gothic.
Believe it or not, a lot of the stories I created around this time were part of what I call the ‘chav-bashing’ series, as they usually involved at least one scene where the character meets bullies / hooded youths who end up getting brutally destroyed by the new character in play. These scenes were placed there to show that the characters the protagonists meet – although there to help – also had psychotic sides, or issues that made them dangerous to be around. By helping the protagonists, they found some sort of inner-peace – you could say this was a running theme in a lot of my stories in varying degrees, though I’d like to think different.
In the original story, Amy Carter beats up a gang who attack her and Peter – though do keep in mind that the original took place on a night time prowl around a council estate in Nottingham. This was to show her darker, unchained side. As this film is set in a forest, I was conscious that although I was happy to have her gothic / dark, I would be unable to show her past in any way other than in flashback.
The original also featured Peter as a student on his way to kill himself – as mentioned in a previous post, I removed this as this was also too dark for a short film. Now, Peter was simply depressed. Amy carter was a possibly evil character, but I had no easy way of showing it. And for the sake of simplicity and budget, instead of them meeting in a wood and then walking around the council estate, I kept it to just the wood (or in this case, an isolated forest). As the forest is isolated, it becomes a great place for people to walk around alone and vent their inner thoughts (i.e. contemplate). This meant there’d be no ‘chav-bashing’ in this film.
These are pretty well-dressed compared to the ones in my stories. Let’s see:
Hyde Again – Protagonist kills three chavs in the initial ‘Hyde’ transformation, and hides the bodies.
Peter Has An Angel – Fallen angel beats up a gang before scaring them away by revealing her wings.
Night Age – Protagonist escapes over a wall, with pursuing chavs failing and getting eaten by wolves.
The Tree – School bully gets eaten by the evil tree after thinking it was the nice one.
Zonamind – Serial killer Firefly incinerates the chavs who attacked the protagonist earlier in the story.
Fairy Dust – Chavs get ambushed by the forest vegetation after attempting to assault a helpless woman.
Seven Guns – Basically a whole chav-hunting story of wild-west era times!
Hahaha, ‘chav-bashing’ series indeed! This film may have had something to do with it!
It is in a sense a two-character film, so I’ll start with an analysis of Peter. In the original story, he’s a college student. In the film, he’s a final-year degree student (see what I did there?) I was always told to ‘write what I know’, so it made sense to make my central characters based around myself, as that made the character founded on factual experiences that I knew how to express. Thus, for the purpose of re-writing this story as a script, it made sense to ‘update’ the character a few years.
Peter’s surname ‘Hopsworth’ was created for this film (in the story it is never revealed, supposedly to open his character to just an everyday ‘general’ depressed college student – in retrospect, ‘suicidal’ is anything but ‘general’!). I chose ‘Hopsworth’ because it sums him up pretty well – namely; English, and indecisive (he’s ‘hops’ around a lot regarding his decisions in life – he does not stick to his own plans. This dictates how worthy he is regarding his life ambitions).
Peter feels pressured about graduation, as this is a very general feeling among the campus at present – I do not personally suffer from it myself (I got the lecturers worried when they read the script!), but I can perfectly understand why someone would be anxious about going out into the world after over two decades in academia, and having known nothing else. With the debt, it is of course important to make lots of money fairly soon after graduation.
In terms of money, the recession is something I’ve added which will cement this film in the current timeline – it will date the film in the future, but it is a price to pay in order to help communicate the message I am trying to portray – money plays a factor in the pressure that students undergo at the time of their graduation. It also makes the film contextual to the modern-day, which can be important when using a ‘fallen angel’ design that’s based on ancient folklore.
Peter is also unlucky in love – something used so much it is almost a cliche. In order to combat the cliche, I made Amy’s words guide him towards a girl other than the one he loves. At the end we see Peter happily with a girl, but it is not the one he describes as being in love with. This was to show that Peter was in a fantasy more than Amy was – certainly, Peter was depressed, but only over trivial things. Amy Carter had experienced much more, and although she is a fantasy character, she is, in and of herself, more well-grounded ‘on planet Earth’ than Peter is.
Romance is something everyone can relate to – I was once told that romance sells short films the most. Because of this, I decided that Amy Carter should explain she is a dark character based on a romance she’d had rather than a killing spree (or the like). This made the film more melancholic, and allows the audience to relate to Amy more as a human character rather than a fictitious one. This in turn makes the audience care more about her predicament, and as this is a two character film, the audience need to care about both in order for the film to work.
Peter’s also worried about his parents arguing. This is to show that the recession is not only affecting him and his friends, but also his family. Importantly, it is affecting people outside of academia. This is not to try and aim my film at a different audience – it is simply to communicate to my intended academic audience that there is a world outside academia that is suffering from the same problems we are. If anything, the fact that his parents are feeling the recession is a comforting factor – it means he is not so different from everyone else when he graduates (aside from his debt of course!)
Angels have often been a comforting presence in mythology, the only thing I’ve changed is that she is a fallen one.
Amy Carter is of course the antithesis of Peter’s shy, reclusive character. Sure, she has a reclusive side to her, but she is not ruled by it. She is portrayed much more as a carefree character, but more importantly – that Peter is innocent regarding life and real problems, and she is not.
In order to make Amy dark, first she had to look that way. Gothic themes got that pretty much figured. Next, I needed to show she was dark, but since we’ve removed all character par her and Peter, this was difficult. It is arguable that she sends him signals on the log, but this is only to lead up to revealing her dark side during her ferocious response when Peter tries to hit on her.
In truth, the audience want to know what they’re working with – in essence, is Amy good or evil? We can figure that Peter is wet and soppy from the start, but it was important to keep the audience guessing about Amy, as this is the mystery that keeps them watching. She has been bad, because she is a fallen angel – but yet must have been good to be an angel in the first place, otherwise she would have been a demon?
I had a lot of fun writing her character in. The original violent character was re-crafted in something that I felt was both much more realistic and believable. She had to be pure and innocent herself at the time of her death, otherwise she would not be granted angelic status, yet if she simply died and went to heaven pure and innocent, there would no reason for her character to change. Thus, this had to happen at the point of her death.
This raised an interesting question in the narrative – what if you deserve to go to heaven at the point of death, but actual event of dying changes your spirit? In this case, she would have to suffer a horrible fate – raped, tortured and murdered by a serial killer. Something like that could believably make you lose faith in humanity. She had it, she was murdered, and then she lost it. After the experience of death, perhaps people are not the same in heaven as they were on Earth. Death changes people on their outlook on humanity. I thought this was an interesting plot development.
The problem then was turning her from someone confused into someone who did something to be cast out of heaven for. If she in turn tortured, raped and murdered an angel, the audience would not warm at her at all. She would be actively despicable character (and none-redeemable). But if she suffered that sort of fate, she would not want to do that to another being anyway.
I instead turned this into a fear or hatred of men. Mentioned that her killer was a man called ‘Benny’ states that she suffered at the hands of a man. It is natural that she could develop a phobia of all males in death, and that she would feel safer in the company of women. I then added her virgin status as a catalyst to her death as well – to have only experienced any sort of serious intimacy once, which was her own execution. These two factors draw her to become intimate with a female angel, and this is turn leads her to being cast out of heaven.
Now, I’m not one to fly the flag strictly for LGBT people here, although there are still issues within the church even to this day about gay vicars and the like. That Amy essentially has a lesbian affair with another female angel, and both get cast down was to stir up a nest of vipers in my eyes. Although I was actively using Christian mythology since the story’s incarnation, it was not strictly my intention to offend, challenge, or provoke the church in any way (or at the very least, I’d try and do it as little as possible). Thus, to counteract this radical twist in the story, I made the affair with a female archangel instead. Now the problem was hierarchical as well as sexual, which balanced the argument more in my favour.
So we have a depressed student and a confused fallen angel in a forest. Naturally both are sad, and so an isolated forest is a stereotypical place to find both of them – neither have any friends, and thus nobody to talk to. In this situation, both are stuck in their predicaments until they find each other. This is the chance ( / fictitious) aspect of the film, that sets the tone to be quirky rather early on.
And how to resolve the issues? It is easy to see from the first few minutes that all Amy needs to say to Peter is ‘stop being such a pussy’. What may have the audience more interested in just how Peter, all wet and shy, is actually going to try and resolve the issues of a woman who’s been raped and murdered, and kicked out of heaven for experiencing the only intimate happiness she’s ever had.
True to form though, the irony is that Peter doesn’t have to do anything other than take her advice. She is portrayed as a confused character that has not only lost faith in humanity, but also in herself (being cast out of heaven, who wouldn’t?) Peter can show to her that there is still innocence and willingness to do good out there (and he can also remind her of her former innocent self when she was alive), but by listening to her advice and improving his life because of her advice, she can feel she’s helped someone, and in turn prove to herself that she is capable of doing good.
One idea I kept toying with during the creation of the script was doing ‘three good deeds’. As Amy is not really an evil character (simply confused), one good deed would be enough. She helps Peter get his life back on track, and in doing so, is allowed back into heaven having made peace with her own tormented soul. Can helping one innocent man turn your soul away from your own haunted past? Well, in cliched terms, this has worked in so many films before it there’s too many to list!
Redemption through helping the innocent:
(convicted man helps put family mystery to rest)
(ex mountain climber foils terrorist plot to save his best friend)
(boxer cheats the mafia to escape with his girlfriend and the loot)
(cons try to save their Christian orphanage by reforming their old band)
(group of soldiers risk all their own lives to save one)
Peter ultimately ends up happy by taking her advice, and she ultimately ends up happy as she gets back into the heaven (hence the prop of the white feather, to show that her wings have become white once more). In the original, Peter falls in love with Amy, but after Amy goes back to heaven, he falls into a depression again, and returns to the bridge to top himself only to have a girl walk past him (giving him ‘the eye’) who looks like a spitting image of Amy herself – possibly reincarnated. This ending is a lot simpler. Remember: simpler = better.
Ultimately this wraps up my approach to the script, but why the flashbacks you ask? This was a simple visual ploy, as claustrophobia is not something I wanted to create in the forest. The forest is open, big, and deserted. They are not trapped there, and neither is the audience. The characters can leave at any time, but won’t. They are compelled to stay to try and find answers to their life problems. Thus taking the audience out the forest was inconsequential – it gives them something different to look at, and different people to look at as well.
It was important to show aspects of Peter’s past life, yet we see none of Amy’s. Originally, Amy’s parents were in the script, but I took them out as they did not affect the narrative in any great way. Thus the only flashbacks needed were the ones of her monologue where she recalls her death and subsequent time in heaven – I decided to do this as a simple shot of her face, as not only would these flashbacks cost a bomb, but also less could be more in this case – don’t show the audience what the rape looked like, for their imaginations are probably a lot worse than anything I could conjure up. Likewise, don’t show heaven either – everyone has their own idea of what heaven is, so it is much better to give my actress her chance to shine as she recalls the events in one single long take, and let the audience create the imagery themselves. If I had done long takes with Peter’s two flash backs as well, this approach would not have worked. But then again, the film is ‘Peter Has An Angel’, not ‘Amy Has A Student’. We need to know more specific details about Peter than we do about Amy, as we are seeing the events through his eyes.