Tim Williams was a 2020 Writeability Fellow, and worked from Melbourne with mentor Tim Hobart in New South Wales on his screenplay ‘Splint’. Fulfilling fellowships remotely was a particular challenge for our fellows, who took part in workshops and received manuscript assessments, as well as working with mentors on their projects. In this Q&A with both Tims, we explore the mentorship from both of their perspectives.
Mentor: Tim Hobart
How did you come to be involved in this project and the Fellowship?
I’ve known about this project since a few years ago when Tim pitched it as part of his Masters in Screenwriting course. I immediately saw potential in the concept and the themes he wanted to explore, as well as a great way to showcase backdrop of the Northern Territory landscape. Following the course, our paths crossed when we both worked at Matchbox Pictures together. As well as assessing pitches, Tim had some involvement in a number of my series and we enjoyed working together. And a few years later, he asked me to be involved in the Writeability Fellowship, which felt like an exciting way to continue our working relationship.
How have you seen the project evolve during the Fellowship?
The first thing Tim and I did was re-familiarise ourselves with the most recent draft of the script and discuss its strengths and weaknesses. Then Tim went away and embarked on some writing tasks such as examining the characters and the themes of the story. Then we would reconvene and discuss his work. All of this work was before we even talked about plot and structure. Coming to a project that had already been through some drafts meant that some of the heavy lifting was done and the idea was not to throw out what Tim had but to build upon it. Tim was very much in the driver’s seat, dictating the direction we were going.
What has been something that has surprised you during the Fellowship?
During the initial strengths/weaknesses discussion, Tim and I talked about really showcasing the wildness of Australia. Having a protagonist who’s obsessed with science meant we needed to discuss what aspect of science he specialised in and how that factored into the story. I know this took Tim down lots of weird and wonderful research avenues, looking at how crocodile populations are tracked in the Northern Territory and different things to do with DNA. Although it was perhaps a little bit a bit left of centre, it helped in refining the protagonist’s character.
Since this is a personal story, how did you two manage the balance between those personal elements and the fictional ones?
It’s about pinpointing the truthful, universal elements within the story framework. Tim knows what he wants to say with this story so it’s simply about using the characters and the world to most clearly dramatise the themes. I know Tim has brought many of his experiences of growing up with a disability to the writing and this has injected some valuable authenticity to the story, which is what writers strive for.
What has been the most challenging aspect of the Fellowship?
One of the hardest things was just maintaining some momentum on the project since we both work different jobs and the strain of COVID just made things more challenging. Ideally, we both would’ve liked to have sat down face to face for our sessions but it just wasn’t going to be possible, living so far apart and with travel grinding to a halt. It just meant the time we had to use the time we had together effectively.
Mentee: Tim Williams
How has your project changed since you began the mentoring process?
There have been quite a lot of changes to the concept and Tim’s fresh perspective has allowed me to explore many new avenues, try new things and refocus the original material. As an example of this, in the earlier draft of the script there was an A and B narrative and I ended up dropping the entire B narrative, instead focusing more on the main adventure story, which is the journey between the two brothers. This is the heart of the film and Tim encouraged me to really drill down on the conflict between the two brothers since there’s possibility for relationship progression and it’s hard for their relationship to develop if they start out as friends. Also, since these kinds of adventure films often lend themselves to a group or ‘gang’ like ‘The Goonies’ and ‘Stand By Me’, we decided to broaden the narrative out by introducing two more supporting characters into the fold – one who was part of the original script and an entirely new one from scratch. Having a couple more characters allowed for more room for conflict and different ways to explore the theme, which has been liberating.
What has been challenging?
Like a lot of creative people, the past few years have been tough just finding the motivation to be creative and to continue churning out pages. The constant isolation of being stuck at home is not the easiest environment to write in. It feels weird to say but I find I’m much more creative when I can get out and about and see people because I’m in a much better headspace. Just trying to maintain that momentum with certain projects became difficult while being stuck indoors and being anxious about a number of different things. Getting into a routine and celebrating all the wins, big or small, I could get has helped with this. The other challenging aspect has been juggling my creative practise while working a number of different jobs this year. This is also a pretty common for a lot of us in the creative industries during COVID. Trying to squeeze out those creative juices while being fatigued from work definitely proved difficult.
What has been the most helpful part of mentoring?
Part of the reason I wanted to work with Tim is that, having worked together before, we approach story in a similar way – starting out broad talking about theme, then getting into character then talking about the nuts and bolts of story. It’s important to establish that framework early on so we’re both on the same page. Splint is a project I’ve sat with for many years and the problem with this is that sometimes things can grow stale, you can find yourself going round in circles and your passion for it diminishing. I think having that fresh perspective from someone I trust as well as someone of Tim’s experience has reinvigorated some of that passion and opened things up into some new territory I would have never considered otherwise. It’s given me the courage to throw caution to the wind a bit and experiment with some left-of-centre ideas while hopefully retaining the heart of the original piece.
What is something that has surprised you during the mentoring process?
The inclusion of a new character, Violet, into the story has been interesting as well as unexpected inclusion to come out of the mentoring. At the start of the Fellowship, I was keen to put anything on the table and try new things and this one caught me by surprise. It was interesting to create a character from scratch and place them into the world, thinking about how they could best complement the characters already in existence. I don’t usually work like this and try to come to the story with the characters and plot already formed. However, I grew to like Violet and think she adds something interesting to the group dynamic. I think the evolution of Violet’s character is still ongoing and there is still work to be done in terms of figuring out her role in the story but I’m excited to see where it takes me.
What advice do you have for mentees?
Don’t be too precious about your ideas and be willing to try new things. Some of the most left-of-centre ideas can be the most exciting so always have an eye cast out into the periphery. Be willing to experiment, listen, make mistakes and most of all, have fun!
Tim Williams contributed a piece, ‘Locking Down Your Creativity’, to our Writeabiltiy collection, CATALYST. Read Tim’s piece here: writersvictoria.org.au/catalyst-anthology-tim-williams