Interview with Screenwriter L. T. Hewitt (STRANGE MEETING)

1. What is your screenplay about?

Strange Meeting is the story of a sheltered posh boy, Edward, who at the outbreak of the First World War grows sick of his family’s hypocrisy and runs off to fight for his country. While scouting a forest for German deserters post-attack, an explosion knocks Edward unconscious and he wakes up lost with no weapons or peers. On the verge of starvation, he finally comes into contact with another soldier in the boat – except this man is German. The two of them initially fight, then begrudgingly form a truce until they’ve worked their way out the forest together. As they learn more about each other, they realise they are both fighting for their country, both unaware of the real causes of the war, and have no reason to hate each other personally. Their hatred turns into friendship, then eventually romance.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Historical romantic drama. It will, of course, be categorized as a war film, but unlikely most war films, there are very few scenes of violence and bloodshed, making these moments far more powerful when they do appear, and focusing on the character development and dynamics.

3. Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?

There has never before been a same-sex romance in a film set entirely in the First World War. I’m happy for someone to correct that if it’s wrong, but extensive searches can’t find any other candidates for this time – which is really shocking when you consider how many of the great war poets (including Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Rupert Brooke) were LGBT+.

4. How would you describe this script in two words?

Nationalism kills.

5. What movie have you seen the most times in your life?

As far as I can tell, it’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I know I’ve seen it 12 times. Once as a 13-year-old and I found it very disturbing. Again at the cinema when I was 17, where my friends and I all dressed up; sadly, we lived in a small, conservative town and I was the only man there in drag. Then I watched it with some friends before I went to uni. At uni, I watched it nine times in three years, including one afternoon when I watched it twice in a row; my housemate and I wanted to test out the ‘Oz’ version after the normal version.

I haven’t watched it since 2015, so I must have given myself over to absolute pleasure a little too often and gotten sick of it. I think I could watch it so many times because it’s mostly catchy songs, so it just feels like listening to an album, rather than watching a film.

My favourite film is actually A Clockwork Orange, but I’ve only watched it five times, because it’s so intense. And I have no idea how many times I watched Shrek and The Lion King as a child, but it felt like it was virtually every week.

6. How long have you been working on this screenplay?

I write everything on Google Docs, so it saves automatically to the cloud and I can pick it up and write anywhere I’ve got access to the internet and a computer, tablet or phone. Because of this, I’ve just checked back through my edits and can see I started writing the document on 8th June 2019, but the idea had been bouncing around in my brain for at least a year.

The first draft wasn’t an explicit romance, but there was romantic subtext and I had an actor in mind to play Edward. In 2019, I found out he was gay and had expressed a desire to play more LGBT+ roles, so that really seemed like a perfect sign to start writing. Incidentally, one of the actors I had in mind to play Karl also came out as gay in late 2020. And I found out another actor I’d written the smaller role Ben for is also gay.

So three actors I was writing parts in a queer romance for were later discovered to be gay. Maybe the script is just so strong it has the supernatural power to turn people gay. Hopefully that’s a selling point? Maybe not…

7. How many stories have you written?

Now there’s a question! If we’re talking about things I’ve started, it’s genuinely more than 1000. Things I’ve completed is much lower: I’ve self-published ten novels; completed three screenplays; and three stage plays. I’ve also written a few TV episodes, poems and essays. However, I have a lot of projects in the late stages of writing, so ask me in five years and all those figures will probably be doubled.

8. What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the most times in your life?)

Those are very different questions. The song I’ve listened to the most is ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Kate Bush (over 300 plays, mostly when studying the book at sixth form). I always used to say ‘Something’ by The Beatles, but ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’, ‘Golden Slumbers’ and ‘Super Trouper’ are all strong contenders. My next song on the list of most plays is also one of the most beautiful and underrated songs ever written ‘I’m Mandy Fly Me’ by 10cc. It features a strong story, vibrant imagery and a layered musical soundscape. I listen to that song on different days and feel so many varied emotions each time.

9. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

I don’t know if I did face what I’d call ‘obstacles’. I simply had a strong idea, wrote it out and managed to get a lot of producers interested. Once people had read it, I got a lot of feedback and changed a lot of things. The first draft had romantic undertones, but everyone said it would work better as an explicit romance. Then the second draft was a romance between Edward and Wilf, which seems absurd now, Then my current producer suggested a romance between Edward and Karl would make more sense, so I rewrote a lot of the script.

Each time, people feel guilty for making suggestions, but to me it’s just the creative process. At every level of writing, you have to make changes and improvements for the sake of the story, the themes, the audience, etc. We even had a meeting in Regents Park which lasted eleven hours and involved restructuring and rewriting every page of the script to fit narrative conventions.

Some writers start with a formula and fill in the blanks, but I always start with what feels natural, then when I’ve completed a draft, I can go back and restructure things which don’t work. I see a lot of writers, whether new or established, who are unwilling to make improvements or complain about so-called ‘cancel culture’. But really if you want to be a writer, you have to accept that the entire process revolves around constant criticism and development. When someone tells you why a scene doesn’t work or a character is promoting negative stereotypes, that’s your opportunity to learn and grow, so everything you write from then on will be even better.

10. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

So many things. I’m obsessed with learning facts about any and every topic. I constantly regurgitate trivia, and eventually these random tidbits clump together in my head and form a story idea.

I love directing: when I write a screenplay, I always imagine I’m directing it in my head. I actually met an actor I really want to work with recently, and it was so weird hearing him ask my name. In an incredibly narcissistic way, I felt like he ought to know me, since I directed him in a film for months. Then I had to remind myself that the film is currently just a document online and this actor hasn’t actually played the part. Yet.

The most fun hobby I have is acting. Writing is what I live for, but it’s not very sociable. But acting gives me such a rush I don’t get anywhere else. I always thought of it as something I quite liked, but it wasn’t until an (ultimately unsuccessful) audition shortly before I turned 25 that I realised that even my most anxious moments of acting feel my with adrenaline and hope that means I should try to pursue this properly as a career. I’m only just beginning to get film work, but I enjoy it far more than writing. But writing is absolutely essential. I never go a single day without writing creatively.

11. You entered your screenplay via FilmFreeway. What has been your experiences working with the submission platform site?

I’ve used it for short films before, which have failed to get into any festivals. I think 25 minutes is too long for most festivals, so I’ve got a few projects I’m making this year which hopefully stand a better shot, including one I just filmed a couple of weeks ago called A Matter of Trust. But I only started submitting screenplays in December, and I’ve managed to win one award and I was a finalist in a few others. The entertainment industry relies upon your ability to blag, so I’ve been getting a lot more work now I can call myself ‘award-winning writer and actor’.

12. What influenced you to enter the festival? What were your feelings on the initial feedback you received?

I submitted my screenplay to The Black List, but the feedback was quite generic. Getting feedback from festivals has been much more rewarding, since it tends to mention particular scenes or lines which work or not. Plus the film features British and German characters, so I find people based in Europe tend to love the script, whereas producers in Hollywood tend to see things through quite a narrow, Americanised lens.

More Americans died in the Civil War than in the two World Wars combined. Whereas in the UK, most people have relatives who died in one or both World Wars, so the resonance is much stronger with a European audience, especially here in Britain, where WWI is something we feel a strong personal connection to.

I generally wear a white poppy in early November to commemorate the war dead while showing opposition to war as a whole, but many people wear the traditional red poppy and some wear the purple poppy to remember animals who died in war. I think poppies are quite rare in the USA, as is the cultural fascination with WWI as a whole, so maybe that’s why the screenplay isn’t making waves over there.

But I’m honoured that the LGBTQ+ Toronto Film Festival has taken such a shine to it. I think cinema functions as a kind of universal language, so it’s always important to share stories around the world. Of course, white Brits are already overrepresented in the film world, but there are actors and auteurs from all across the world I desperately want to work with. Hopefully now we’ll be able to come together as a global community of filmmakers to share stories again.

Watch the Screenplay Reading:

CAST LIST:

Narrator: Steve Rizzo
Jackie: Kyana Teresa
Erin: Hannah Ehman
Mike/Dave: Geoff May
Claudette: Val Cole

By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival www.wildsound.ca

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