So I’m currently in Whitchurch, a small town in Shropshire, England. I’m working (in front of the camera) on a show entitled “Hat Hair” that’ll premiere on Netflix next year. I’ll be in here for a month and although there is an excitement to see another part of the world and a gratitude to be able to get work as an actor, there has been one downside as it pertains to When Autumn Leaves. This trip has slowed down the rewriting process of the screenplay.
Please understand, I’m not complaining at all. I had a goal to complete the rewrite by the end of October, but I was presented with a great opportunity. I just have to adjust the timeline and do what I can to keep the momentum moving forward.
I had the day off today so I set a goal for myself. I was going to spend the day in my hotel room and rewrite an important scene for the film’s main character, Bryce. I woke up early, worked out, ate breakfast, and got settled in the room. John Coltrane was playing in the background, the laptop was on top of my lap, the sun looked like it was finally going to fight its way though the clouds and… the words wouldn’t come.
I sat there for maybe two hours. Occasionally, I’d type a sentence or two, but they never led anywhere. The music continued to play and nobody, not Frank McComb, Lalah Hathaway, Robert Glasper, Meshell Ndegeocello or the legendary Coltrane was able to help me make any progress on this scene.
So I decided to take a walk.
The payoff began immediately. As the name of the screenplay suggests, the story takes place in Autumn and Shropshire, England instantly put me in the mindset of Autumn on the East Coast. The leaves have begun to change and the 58 degree temperature reminded me of what DC probably feels like at this time of the year.
I’d been walking for a few minutes when I came to a clearing and I saw this one tree that was set apart from the other trees. It was the only one with colorful leaves that had begun to fall off of its branches. The sun had come out and I was initially just struck by how picturesque the scene was when it hit me.
That tree was Bryce, the character I’d been trying to write for all morning! Before you think I’m crazy, let me explain.
Bryce had a tough upbringing and experienced a lot of isolation. As he got older, he coped by detaching from people and situations. However, despite the detachment, he is extremely creative and tends to paint imagery that reflects life as he wishes it to be, full of warmth and hope and vibrancy. Unfortunately, with the latest bad hand that he’s been dealt, it seems that the ability to create in that way has fallen away from him. See the connection? I’m not crazy!
When that realization hit me, I finally had what I needed to write the scene. I guess seeing that tree helped me understand, in a visual way, who this character was and how he might respond in a particular situation.
A major takeaway from this experience for me is the reminder that sometimes, a critical part of the creative or problem-solving process is walking away for a little while. When faced with a block of some sort, the natural inclination is to fight through it. If that doesn’t work, there’s nothing wrong with getting up and allowing your mind to refresh itself.
Whether it’s to listen to music, take a walk, meditate, whatever. A short time away from the project might just do the trick. In my case, I was able to find inspiration in an unexpected place.
Hopefully, this post will find someone out there who’s struggling with that next piece of the puzzle. When you find yourself hitting that wall, don’t put so much on it. Put down that mouse, paintbrush, pen or pencil and take a break. Open yourself up to unexpected inspiration and trust the process.
Note to self: Remember to take my own advice.