I started writing Sweet, Sweet Country in June of last year. It came from a number of places. It came from conversations with a number of refugees I’ve meant in the last 10 years. It was common to hear stories about “growing up in the [refugee] camps,” “walking from Somalia to Kenya,” and the like. It came from the exhaustive amount of research I did while studying Anthropology during my undergraduate years. It came from my own family history.
Part of my process of learning the craft of filmmaking is to find out when I’m creating something just because I can and when I’m truly engaged with the story I’m trying to tell. A great example of that conundrum is Haywire. As a film it’s well constructed, it’s beautiful to look at and the fight scenes are amazing. At its core, it seems like a film that was created to showcase the talents of Gina Carano and explore shooting fight scenes. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there really is something wrong with that. I’m conflicted to say the least.
I’ve struggled with my story in the last few months after meeting with a number of refugee families. I felt my story wasn’t serving the subject as well as I initially hoped. I’m not sure where that seed was planted, but I believe it lies in my documentary background. I want to address so much more than just a moment in my character’s life. The short narrative form dictates that I’m not able to be as expansive and detailed as I would like.
In our advanced directing class we go through each script, breaking them down beat by beat, dissecting them. We fill all those pesky plot holes that inevitably pop up, we figure out what to do with set ups that never pay off and we try to flesh out three dimensional characters. It’s said that the story is created in the writing, the filming and then again in the editing. That means there are at least three opportunities to find your story or worse, three opportunities to get it wrong.
What I love most about what film school affords me is the chance to have moments to get it wrong. Some of the worst set experiences taught me the most about filmmaking and about myself. Struggling through a story is so much more significant for me than being absolutely certain about my story from the beginning. By the time I get to the other side, I’ve struggled so much that I’m willing to let it grow on its own and become so much more than I expected.