So Judy and I have begun week 2 of redrafting ‘Rocketboy’
Regular blog readers will know that Rocketboy has been on the cards for many years – it was in fact the genesis of ‘Gone Fishing’.
Over the years and between other projects, we have written draft after draft, attempting to nail it – each time we would get so close, but never quite get all the way there. All the ingredients of the story (for me at least) were brilliant and the way in which they weave together kept readers you engaged… but still we felt something was not right.
The answer turned out to be rather simple.
The problem was tone.
We nailed this tonal problem last week when, with fresh eyes, we sat down and watched ‘Bridge To Terabithia’ together. For me, ‘Terabithia’ was as close to ‘Rocketboy’ as any film that I had seen. Of course a it’s a very different story, but it’s shares a common central theme – a boy and girl meeting and developing a ‘first’ relationship, living that time through their own magical reality world. It has that same charm.
‘Terabithia’ captured that very specific time in my life with authenticity. The transition from boy to teenager. It also captured the simple joy of being young, the summertime and discovering the world around you. No high stakes conflict, no world to save, just discovery of the world, community and self.
‘Rocketboy’ has all of that too. But it was weighted down by drama with the adults.
What struck me about Terabithia was that every scene was taken from the kids perspective. There were no scenes with just adults. And when the adult problems and themes bled into the kids world they were explored from the young persons perspective.
We took inspiration from this ‘view’ and shifted the tone of ‘Rocketboy’ – no scene could feature just adults. When grown up stuff needed to happen, we would re-tool it literally from the perspective of our 13 year old leads, Connor and Becky.
It’s been a breath a fresh air, with page after page being cut, or rewritten into simpler, less heavy narrative. Suddenly the young characters are jumping off the page with their love of life and crazy mad ideas.
As much as I love ‘Stand By Me’, that’s a film for older people remembering childhood – that’s where ‘Rocketboy’ was headed in the past, and it wasn’t working. Like Terabithia, ‘Rocketboy’ is now a film about childhood for children.
You can follow updates to Rocketboy on the Facebook page here… http://www.facebook.com/ProjectRocketboy
Onwards and upwards!
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Tone is a classic issue for adults writing about childhood, for children. I report on it constantly. I grew up on fantasy movies like LABYRINTH, LEGEND, NEVERENDING STORY & DARK CRYSTAL and all four of these films nail the difficult shift from childhood to adolescence and beyond, from a child’s perspective – even if it doesn’t actually feature “real” children, such as the puppets of Dark Crystal or Jack in Legend (though Tom Cruise was an adult, we’re meant to see Jack as an adolescent). All four movies take really difficult, complex issues at their heart – losing a parent in Labyrinth & Neverending Story; responsibility in Legend and Dark Crystal – and ensure there is layer after layer of meaning for children to decode and relate to their own experience. I hate it when people say a story is *just* for children. This is bullshit. Children have the most open minds of all of us. Writing for them then is a HUGE responsibility – and not to be underestimated.
Lucy you are 100% right – I understand why studios shy away from dealing with bigger ideas in kids films, but the life lessons in the movies I saw as a kid, the ones that stayed with me, are the films that have endured. Bambi is a great example.
So far we are breezing through the script, it’s like we suddenly have this laser focus. Can’t wait for the next draft to be complete for you to help us with.
Yes, for me too it was very important to get the tone right for my feature film “Majid” which deals with a ten years old boy. While writing it, I had to remember at all time how i used to view the world as a child, how i would react to events and it wasn’t always so easy. The resulting film was successful with children and adults alike and i had a sold out screening for it in London in November and a successful charity screening in January 2013. I plan now to do a third screening for it in London and contact cinemas for a limited release.
The trailer for “Majid” is here:
The following are three links related to the successful screening of “Majid” in London:
“Majid” film review:
“Majid” film interview:
Another English review of “Majid”:
Have a great day,
film director & screenwriter of “Majid”
Chris, it would be interesting to know why Transplant was abandoned, after having decided upon it a week earlier. What was it that made you decide to go for it first? Why did you choose to keep pursuing Rocketboy instead? All the best.
Hi Tito, I wrote about the change of direction yesterday
My last film, which is currently in post, centred on a child and much against my instincts I agreed to reduce the child’s part by half because of the problems with child licences etc. This made sense from a practical perspective but played havoc with the story I was trying to tell. As it was my first feature and we were working to a very tight budget my main priority was just to get the film made.
Now, however, I am developing a new script which is also a coming-of-age story and again I have been under pressure to cut the size of the children’s parts.
This time, though, I will hold my ground. As you say, the tone of a film is so critical to it’s success and it just isn’t possible to tell a child’s story through the eyes of an adult.
Thanks so much for your perspective, Chris.
I liked Bridge to terabethia when I saw it a few years back but I never thought it was a great film even for kids as I thought it limited itself by only looking through the kids eyes but also ideals with a very sombre subject. I think disney have lost their way after the 70’s But it kept my attention because I wanted to know more about terabethia and I thought it was leading somewhere interesting. It didn’t .Only a reality check ending. And there, for me, it lost its magic.. I don’t think I would want to watch it again personally.
A much better film tonally is where we see adults and children meeting on the same level like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Mary Poppins that have adult characters that make a childhood special by caring deeply and allowing the kids to take part in a sort of kids/adult world that also see’s it from an adults perspective that brings back memories of childhood security but with bells on.
Hi Mark, well the bottom line was that the Bridge To Terabithia was a sleeper hit for Walden Media and Disney.
True true. I wonder how much Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Mary Poppins made compared to Bridge to terabethia. But I understand could be the tonality that made a sleeper succesful. I didn’t like Skyfall or JJ Abrams start trek. Both massive hits so what do I know!