Restoration – A Writer’s Process

Tim & Luke
Luke & Tim on set of Restoration.

When making Restoration the script was our greatest asset. Not only did it inspire Short and Sharp to shortlist us for financing, but it helped us to hook our incredibly talented cast and crew. I believe this comes down to how well crafted the script was, not just in relaying the story but by painting such a vivid (and a times chilling) picture for the reader. Below I have Tim and Luke break down how they collaborated to create the blueprint for the film.

Where did the idea come from?

Luke: Well, I think Tim decided that I was a good fit for the ‘Blue Harvest’ pod a few years back, which specifically wanted genre films. So he came to me with three really rough ideas, and I tried running out a story with all three of them, but I think what would eventually become ‘Restoration’ was easily the most appealing.

‘The Painting’ from Restoration

Tim: I came to Luke with a rough idea about a painting that begins to manifest in real life, bit by bit, exchanging realities with its owner. I wanted to make a film based on a painting, and that was our starting point.

Luke: I suggested someone eventually being consumed by the image as a more horror premise, and the idea of the swap (with a little inspiration from ‘In the Mouth of Maddness’) came from there. I think it was called ‘The Swap’ briefly, as well as a number of other uninspired things.

How did the story grow?

Luke: Well we started with Francis in his room slowly being sucked into a painting, then we figured he had to be engaging it so he had something to do.

Tim: Obviously the above was not enough, so we made the protagonist a painter himself, not just a regular guy who bought it. Because it was an existing painting, restoring came into it pretty soon.

Restoration_Francis and Benjamin
Francis and Benjamin…

Luke:  Benjamin came in response to use developing Francis a bit, making him an artist, then a struggling artist, and then explaining why he was restoring something (for money and success). We more or less had a story by then. Struggling artist + mysterious benefactor, leads to swap with imprisoned villain.

Tim: We were both inspired by the gothic stories of Poe and Lovecraft, somewhat of a throwback to spooky morality tales. That affected the mood and the weirdness of the story. And lastly we added The Gentleman, because we realised that we needed a clear singular threat. We didn’t over-analyse the mechanics and the origins of The Gentleman. We wanted to leave interpretation open, more appropriate for a short film.

What excited you most about the concept?

Tim: I often look at paintings and travel inside their reality. The idea of playing with that concept certainly excited me a lot. I’ve never done spooky before, so going into that realm was also an adventure.

Luke: Actually I really like the initial idea, things coming out of a painting is so mystical and kind of cool, but the implication that there’s a price for that is way darker, and puts sort of an edge in it. The logical eventuality of seeing a person in the image means you might be the next swap finishes that transition from magical to dark really nicely for me. Also, I was always really taken with the idea of a painting that changes when you’re not looking, to look out at you or get closer, but I’ve only ever seen that as a scare in a movie, never a plot point, so I really wanted to take that idea to a conclusion.

There are underlying ideas in this script, can you explain what they mean to you?

The motivation for Francis

Luke: Well, everyone’s gonna see different ideas right? I mean that’s the fun of a movie as a filmmaker isn’t it?
I like to think this is a cautionary tale from creatives to creatives. No one can hand you validity, no one can hand you success. Francis, out of desperation, tries to manufacture his own success and he gets trapped by it. I think it’s a movie about integrity that way, though I don’t think that makes it cleanly onto the screen – and because that message is idiosyncratic and imperfect rather than a sledgehammer of a moral I think I’m all the more attached to it.

Tim: The usual “be careful what you wish for”, “there is no such thing as free lunch”. And if you see a ghost in a painting, run!

How did you approach the collaboration?

Tim: We discussed it at length. Then we devised rough outline of scenes. Then I went away and wrote it. Then we did numerous back and forth finessing it.

Luke: Tim and I are VERY different creatively. But we have a great respect for each other, so I think we parleyed those differences into a strength. If our methods and tastes are polar opposites our philosophies mesh well. I think as creatives writing about creatives,  we had a shared personal connection to Francis’ struggle for acclaim and quality. Sharing personal experiences let us both bring something to him. That said, I like big alagorical characters, while Tim appreciates subtlety and realism, so I think he got his way more with Francis and me with Benjamin. Having different outlets for out different sensibilities to interact in a single plot kind of let us have some ownership over different parts of the project, while still feeling utterly like we share the whole. Basically I can say I genuinely believe that I made up the bulk of the plot, Tim will say the EXACT same thing. And I think that’s a sign of a true collaboration, when ideas come up so collectively and so organically that you can legitimately both claim them as your own.

What do you find hardest about the writing process? What do you do to overcome this?

Luke: Actually I found collaboration hardest on this one.  But mutual respect, and being totally and unquestioningly ok with no decision being final ’til you both say it’s final is absolutely the answer there. More generally when I’m writing for myself or with other people in the past, I’ve always found the hardest part is fleshing out a screenplay once you’ve told your big idea to your satisfaction. Once I have my central idea out and looking like I want I find it hard to do the menial work of fleshing a story out to time. Generally I look for a little-big-idea. Something smaller, and newer that I can get excited about, but that doesn’t conflict with the big-big idea. That keeps me interested, and it’s also often good for the writing as well… not always though.

Tim: To come up with an interesting premise, the basis of a story. I churn through a ridiculously high number of ideas before I settle on something. To overcome it, I tirelessly test them and, to be honest, often over-think them. The actual writing of scenes, characters and dialogue is a bliss. As far as collaboration with Luke goes, we’re a good match because he’s much more spontaneous and intuitive and has a natural flair for good stories.

Watch the trailer.

LUKELuke Watkinson – Writer Luke is a freelance Director and Editor, a voracious film buff, and occasionally he likes to pretend he can write and act. He’s a proud NZ native, an Auckland University graduate, a veteran of guerilla film-making, and a damn nice guy (when he’s not having to write about how awesome he is). Oh, and he’s pretty easy on the eyes too.

TimATim Tsiklauri – Writer & Director Tim hails from the Republic of Georgia. After spending his youth pursuing finance  and immigrating to New Zealand, Tim realised he couldn’t put away his crazy dream of making movies. He went back to studies, graduated with Directing and Scriptwriting Majors and began making short films. Several years later he made his feature debut “Crackheads”. Despite its humble beginnings and shoe-string budget, the film went on to win numerous awards in New Zealand and the USA. Tim’s lifetime ambition is to make entertaining character driven films that also leave you with something to think about afterwards.


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