When a story traverses from stage to screen it can often be a less than rewarding experience. Those beautiful flowing prose which wow audiences in the theatre become somewhat redundant in a medium which has 'show don't tell' as one of its most abiding rules. Even worse is the monologue, which requires action to stop whilst we concentrate on an actor's singular delivery, often direct to camera (admittedly Neil Labute pulls this off to disturbing effect with Jason Patric's frank 'confession' in Your Friends and Neighbours). The fact that many filmmakers have attempted and failed in this translation endeavour makes the recent duo of projects from Sydney-based Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) Boot and Bat Eyes, all the more impressive as powerful pieces of short cinema.
There is some NSFW language here. Here's the first short, Boot:
And the second, Bat Eyes:
Both films began life as part of ATYP's Fresh Ink playwriting development programme, which collects the best new monologues together to be performed as The Voices Project. Following the initial stage performances, Fresh Ink manager Dan Prichard approached director Damien Power about adapting one of the monologues for film. After reading the programme's 10 monologues, Power says he was immediately drawn to Bat Eyes and Boot, written by Jessica Bellamy and Joanna Erskine respectively:
When I read the BAT EYES monologue (then titled LITTLE LOVE) I there was a truthfulness to it’s depiction of the casual cruelty of teenagers and the confusion of first love/sex. And I loved how the WB Yeats poem colours the whole piece with its tone and rhythm.
I’d long been interested in representing short-sightedness on screen. It struck me that the eye test was a great way to frame the action of Jess’ story, and a great metaphor for the short-sightedness of Adam’s past behaviour.
The BOOT monologue felt like a film on the page. It was very easy to visualise. It also struck me as very dramatic – the stakes couldn’t be higher – but (importantly for a short film) contained.
Each monologue required a slightly different adaptation approach, the original writers reshaping their work with Power to preserve the narrative through line, whilst allowing for deviations from story specifics as required for clarity, dramatic tension and shoot requirements. Both films were shot back to back on RED in Sydney's Inner West by Simon Chapman, a regular Power's collaborator, with the crew working rapidly over the three day combined shoot.
Bat Eyes and Boot both successfully retain the authenticity of voice which made for compelling monologues, but open the stories up visually, utilising motifs which speak to the subtext of the stories. Interestingly, despite initial plans to employ sections of the monologues as voiceover, neither short ultimately does, further divorcing them from their stage bound origins.
Here is director Laura Scrivano's direct to camera monologue of Boot, for a comparison:
And here's the monologue version of Bat Eyes, titled Little Love at the time:
How do you think Power's shorts hold up against the monologues? Have you adopted stage plays into film material yourself, and if so, any tips for others looking to do the same?