Pulling the Apron Strings
Pulling the Apron Strings
Pulling the Apron Strings
Script to Screen’s July Writer’s Room featured three of the key creatives behind this year’s film festival opener, Apron Strings. Caroline Grose (screenwriter, producer and script consultant) led the discussion (with Apron co-writers Shuchi Kothari and Dianne Taylor, and producer Rachel Gardner) about the project's journey from a chat over a steaming bowl of noodles to the big screen.
Shuchi began the discussion by describing Apron Strings’ genesis: “You always have ideas you want to write about but how do you make a story?” Shuchi met up with her friend Dianne Taylor in a London noodle house, ideas began to take shape over the bowls and the collaboration that culminated in Apron Strings began. “We decided to write a film about the people who ran these businesses here in Auckland,” said Shuchi and Dianne agreed, “You have to start somewhere and we started with a location - we actually sat there!"
Dianne explained the central question in Apron Strings: “How do people, particularly mothers, use food to both nurture and control their children? We focused on this tension between nurture and control.” Shuchi added, “In Apron Strings food was an anchor right from the start...and it still is, it’s in every single scene. There are certain things you won’t let slip during the writing process."
Tandem Narrative Structure
Apron Strings has two storylines of equal importance, which run parallel to each other throughout the film. Moving away from a dominant single-narrative was inherent to the writers’ idea from the outset. Shuchi said, “Some decisions that you feel strongly about don’t change.” Dianne added that they even played around with multiple-narratives at the beginning but decided it was too hard to do this structure well because one story almost always dominates.
Rachel then spoke from a producer’s perspective, saying that films with more than one central story are difficult to tell on a low-budget, “You have double the cast and double the locations."
She added that if Dianne and Shuchi had opted for more than the two core narratives she wasn’t sure how they would have done it.
Shuchi spoke about the film’s dual structure and its relation to the thematic content of Apron Strings. “People are very similar. That’s what we wanted to explore.” So the writers looked at parallel lives as a way to do this, ensuring that their collaborators clearly understood their decision. While many people would have preferred the stories to connect in a grand finale, “both Rachel and Sima (Urale: director) didn’t feel the two narratives should come together,” said Shuchi.
Dianne and Shuchi were both enthusiastic about co-writing. Shuchi stressed how fundamentally important it is, “to have the same vision so that everything is working for the story."
Dianne explained that constant debating over material can slow down the process but the end result of this debate was a strong first draft. “If my bullshit radar wasn’t working on a particular day then Shuchi’s was,” she said.
Rachel believed the first draft of Apron Strings, “probably the best first draft I had ever read”, was more like a third draft. The writers thought this was due to the amount of discussion and planning that took place before they actually wrote the screenplay. Shuchi said after a weekend writing in Karekare, she reported to her husband that they had done another step outline and his response was: “Another step-outline!"
Both writers said it was easier to avoid getting “stuck” when co-writing. There is someone else to bounce off. Dianne felt, “co-writing really kept up the momentum and helped keep the sense that you are not totally deluding yourself”, and Shuchi said, “it is far more fun to be stuck together than stuck alone.” The two spent a lot of time together discussing their different childhoods and lives. This chat informed the writing of Apron Strings.
‘Getting it off the ground’ and the Creative Team Apron Strings took two years part-time to write. The script sat for another couple of years before the Signature Films Initiative provided the right opportunity. Shuchi laughed, “I actually encouraged one of my students to go for it. Then I was talking to Dianne and I said hang-on - we should be going for this!"
Rachel assured the audience that “every good project has an audience and if the funding isn’t there at the time it’s ok to put it aside and wait for the right time."
Caroline asked: how did the rest of the team assembled around this very collaborative project?
Shuchi explained: Sima Urale was directing Coffee and Allah, the short Shuchi wrote and coproduced, so Shuchi took the opportunity to give Sima the script of Apron Strings. “I didn’t assume for a minute Sima would do it.” Urale was known for turning down several scripts but came back interested. Shuchi and Dianne then approached Rachel Gardner to produce it. “It all moved very quickly from that point on,” said Shuchi.
Shuchi and Dianne submitted the script in April 2006 and it was ‘green lit’ by July 2007. Rachel stressed that this was unusually fast and due in part to how well structured the script was already when it was submitted.
Pre-production and Production
Clarity of vision was important, especially given the restrictions of a small budget. Rachel explained, “Sima had a strong vision right from the start and she and I had very strong ideas about HODs”. She added that they ended up with a 3.5 million dollar film on a budget of two million, “We pulled in massive favours in every department - from film stock to locations to expertise.” From a writing point of view the re-writing at this point was driven primarily by production concerns. But Dianne and Shuchi did take Urale’s input and “went deeper,” strengthening the character of Barry in particular.
Rachel stressed that moving into pre-production changes everything, "Everything becomes real."
Shuchi said that once a schedule is compiled some things have to go. There was a scene in the original screenplay where the character of Barry went into a travel agent. Instead, Sima chose to simply have Barry stop outside. Rachel explains, “The scene is really about Lorna so Barry didn’t need to go in. Instead Sima wanted to focus on Lorna outside the travel agency. It ended up being an easy choice to save money here to put more resources elsewhere."
Other scenes expanded during the shoot, for example, the older Indian couple’s anniversary.
“When the actors rehearsed this scene they said, ‘We’d dance here’,” said Rachel, “So, we went for an hour and a half overtime and made it happen...and that was a great use of resources and probably my favourite scene in the film.” Rachel used this example to empahisise the importance of having the right producer and director for a project – if they understand the material and the writers’ vision then such decisions can be made successfully.
All three panelists agreed it was important and beneficial that the writers stayed involved throughout the entire process.
Rachel said her two favourite parts of the process are script development and the edit and she pointed out their similarities. “In the edit you’re going back to a step outline stage and putting the script to one side and you’re doing drafts.” Rachel said that as a producer she is intensely involved but at the same time tries to remain the objective eye.
In the case of Apron Strings, Rachel said, “It was interesting because we had three funders and two of them had a creative role, TVNZ and NZFC. Usually you would only have one funder giving feedback.” On top of this the two funders were trying to satisfy two different audiences - one for television and another for film. “So there was a constant pushing and pulling.” But Rachel saw a positive, “You need pressure in post and having it from two directions really made us work out what was important."
It was noted that this was an all-woman team in terms of the driving creatives on the project.
There were different observations around this. Rachel felt that women are very open to collaboration, good at sharing the vision, and that this worked well for this project. Shuchi added that she had never considered taking this project to men to either direct or produce. But the panel also acknowledged the important roles filled by men, including the production designer, the editor and the executive producer.
Shuchi concluded, “We were four women who had a lot of fun working together and all of whom felt very supported by each other at different points."