Published on March 8th, 2016 | by Biz Books
The Biz Interview: Roslyn Muir
The Vancouver International Women in Film Festival is an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of creative women across a variety of mediums like acting, directing, and screenwriting.
One of the most anticipated films is The Birdwatcher from director Siobhan Devine, which premieres on March 9th and features Gabrielle Rose and Camille Sullivan in the lead roles.
The script for The Birdwatcher comes from the creative mind of accomplished Canadian screenwriter Roslyn Muir, who spoke to us about the film and her approach to screenwriting.
Can you start by telling us a little bit about you and The Birdwatcher?
I’m a Vancouver writer. I mostly write movies-of-the-week and features, and do a bit of teaching in UBC’s Creative Writing Program. The Birdwatcher is having its Vancouver premiere at the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival. I’m especially proud and excited that we’re screening at VIWIFF as I was a programmer of the festival several years ago and it’s become a gem of a festival and big supporter of female filmmakers.
What can audiences expect from the film?
It’s an intimate story. It’s a mother-daughter story. It’s a story about family.
What was the inspiration behind the script?
We all go through loss at some point in our lives and when I lost my sister to cancer it propelled me to write about it. While The Birdwatcher is not a “cancer film”, it’s a fact in the protagonist’s (Saffron) life and there are aspects of my sister in her character. I was also inspired to use the theme of bird watching as I’m captivated by wildlife in the urban setting and can’t seem to get away from it in my work as well.
What was your writing process like in creating it?
I have often retreated to writing as a way to ignore the personal tragedies of life. It has helped in the healing process. I had the idea for the film at the same time I was doing an MFA in Creative Writing at UBC. I wrote drafts of it and workshopped it in Maureen Medved’s Grad Screenwriting class. The script went through many changes and the workshop feedback was inspirational.
I think the biggest thing in writing is not being afraid to try something radical. I switched protagonists and told the story from a different character’s perspective. It worked. Saffron had more agency and I could dig deeper into her psyche and mine it. I wrote drafts with and without the kids in the story. It’s a lot of work taking characters out and putting them back in again, but in the early drafts you’re chasing the story. It needs to resonate on a level that moves people.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of screenwriting for you?
Writing’s really about process. Yes, it’s great to see the film completed and up on the screen, but showing up on the page every day is a big challenge and I’ve really worked on the discipline of becoming a working writer. I work every day. It comes first. If I’m not on a script, then I’m developing ideas, writing every idea down and seeing where they fit with other ideas.
What advice would you give to aspiring screenwriters?
The more you write, the more you write. For me it’s always been easier to write than not write. I get antsy if I don’t write every day. Write, even if it’s for 30 minutes. Write anything.
Don’t give up.
Define your style. What sort of writer are you? What’s your genre? If you don’t know, ask someone to read a few of your scripts. Once you know that, you can hone it and play to your strengths.
What screenwriters do you most appreciate?
Geez. This is a big question. So many great writers out there. I love Jane Campion and Charlie Kaufman. Canadian screenwriters are doing really well in TV, Dennis Heaton (Motive), Tassie Cameron (Rookie Blue) and Semi Chellas (Mad Men) are all stand outs.
What books have been influential in your creative journey so far?
I read a lot of screenwriting books. I tend to go to them if I’m stuck or mulling a problem. I read them over and over. Usually it dislodges something in me and I can solve the problem. I like the Save the Cat books by Blake Snyder. They really dissect the plot and make the structure more manageable.
What other projects are you involved with right now?
Another bird themed movie! Director/producer Siobhan Devine and I are developing a family feature about a lost flamingo and the dysfunctional family who finds it. The Harold Greenberg Fund has funded the development of the project and we’re getting closer to a final script. We’re also in development of a one hour dramatic/supernatural procedural. And I have a new MOW that should be in production soon.
Where can we find out more about you and The Birdwatcher?
Thanks to Roslyn Muir for speaking with us!
See it at the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival on March 9th at 8:30PM!
Tickets available through VIFF.org.