Hula – Would you? Creative collaboration in the development of a BAFTA Scotland winning short
Hula, starring veteran actor Blythe Duff is an award winning short directed by Screen Academy Scotland graduate Robin Haig. Co-written by Robin and fellow Screen Academy graduates Mandy Lee (MFA Advanced Film Practice, Edinburgh Napier) and Claire Nicol, (MA Screenwriting, Edinburgh Napier) Hula tells the story of Clara, an unhappy divorcee who rediscovers the joy of life after opening a B&B in the Highlands. The script for Hula was developed while Robin was a student on the MFA Advanced Film Practice programme at Edinburgh Napier University where she was encouraged by MA Screenwriting Programme Leader James Mavor to collaborate with Mandy and Claire. The blogpost below describes the process of their creative collaboration.
Hula won Best Drama at BAFTA Scotland New Talent Awards 2016 and is currently being screened across Scotland in the Screen Machine.
James Mavor, Programme Leader MA Screenwriting, Screen Academy Scotland
The best part of my job is meeting talented people and then trying to encourage those talents to meet each other and work together to make something special - a story, a script and, if you’re very lucky, a BAFTA-winning film. It seemed clear to me that Robin’s terrific early idea needed a little writerly heft to help develop the main character and ground the film in lived experience and credible psychology. Happily, introducing Robin to Claire and then Mandy seems to have worked a treat. The film is a touching, funny and tender portrait of a middle aged woman running a BnB in her grown-up daughter’s bedroom. Empty nest syndrome brought, poignantly, to life.
Robin Haig, director, co-writer Hula
As a director who writes my own stories I have learnt the strength of collaboration, so when it came to developing Hula I knew I wanted to bring on board scriptwriters from an early stage.
I set about the process of finding a writer by asking for recommendations. Eleanor Yule, my mentor while studying on the MA Film at Screen Academy, suggested Mandy. From knowing my work, James Mavor suggested Claire. Mandy and Claire both felt strongly about Hula’s female viewpoint approach, I had a feeling we would work well together as three, and so the process of writing Hula began. We set out a framework of how we would like to work, making sure we had a respectful working process established before we began. We used Adobe Story to work individually on the same script document and met regularly to discuss and debate drafts. We went on an observational trip to my home region where the story was set to give the writers a feeling of people and place, something I believe is integral to the filmmaking process. In the later stages Lindsay McGee (a fellow Screen Academy graduate) came on board as producer. She had experience as a screenwriter and shared our vision of a female perspective story and so was a strong cog in the final stages of development.
The process of writing Hula took time and hard work, sometimes going back to the start, and when we thought we were finished we had to push a little harder, but all this is wholly necessary to create a script worthy of shooting. Making isn’t easy but it’s wonderfully rewarding when the film you have made moves people, gives them goose bumps and makes them laugh. Audiences often tell me they wish Hula was longer, that they want to know more. The collaboration between the Hula writers therefore continues as we develop the story into a television drama series…
Mandy Lee, Screenwriter co-writer Hula
Robin contacted me about co-writing after a recommendation from Eleanor Yule, a director I’d worked previously with on my MFA Advanced Film Practice film Love Cake. I jumped at the chance to co-write Hula as it featured such an intriguing, multi-layered, very ‘real’ female lead character. Robin, myself and co-writer Claire hit it off early on, so we were able to get through any tricky development stages, where ideas fly around and have to prove their worth. Claire and I worked closely on sections of the script that were then workshopped and rewritten with Robin until we were all happy. Finally it went out for feedback and we settled on a solid draft. I think the script definitely benefited from all the time we took in development, honing our characters and really interrogating the story.You have to have faith (in the story and each other) to see any script through from idea to shoot, whilst trying to maintain a sense of humour and perspective - which we (just about) managed on Hula! It was pretty nice to start Hula’s festival run with a BAFTA too!
Claire Nicol, Screenwriter co-writer Hula
How did our collaboration on Hula come about? James Mavor gathered all the writers together - a bit like Gandalf creating the Fellowship of the Ring and setting the little Hobbits on their Hula adventure. Over copious amount of coffee and cake, Robin, Mandy and I thrashed out story and character ideas. We argued, bickered, laughed, gossiped, dug in our heels, compromised and eventually shaped a step-outline we were all happy with. Separately, Mandy and I would write chunks of the script – about five pages at a time. Then, we’d sweep over each other’s work - blithely making “improvements” to establish a consistent tone. At this stage, it was crucial to be honest and not too defensive or possessive. Robin would then add suggestions and other “improvements” and we’d all meet up and thrash it out again! Lindsay, the producer, read an early draft and added her penny’s worth! And our Gandalf dispensed words of wisdom too.
The whole process took a LONG TIME and although frequently frustrating, was ultimately deeply rewarding. And the BAFTA wasn’t too shabby either...