Researching the 1970s

I’ve been researching the 1970s for Frozen, the science fiction feature I’m writing for the Drafted Scheme. As part of the project we work with a story consultant (in this case, its Caroline Cooper Charles) and also receive peer feedback from other writers on the scheme, right through from initial idea to second draft script. It’s a pretty good way to get from idea to second draft in a relatively short space of time (although I am struggling a little to get my page count up) and I’ve picked up some great writing exercises that I’ve applied to polishing the first feature that I wrote, Interloper.

Anyhoo – Frozen is about a woman who died in the 1970s and is cryogenically frozen so she can reunite with her husband but when she is revived forty years, her husband has remarried and moved to America. One of the criticisms of my peers with my first draft was that there wasn’t enough of the main character, Sarah, being freaked out by new technology and stuff like that. I’ve kind of veered away from putting in too much detail until the emotional content of the screenplay is there but I decided they had a point and to do some research.

So to find out more about the 1970s I talked a lot to my mum who remembers it pretty vividly – about the clothes she wore, the music that was around and what was going on politically. This helped a lot but I still felt I needed to kind of bathe my brain in the 1970s to get a sense of that world. So, last week I went to the Mediatheque at the British Film Institute on South Bank and watched a whole load of films from the 1970s and I discovered some really interesting archives, mostly film adverts and infomercials.

I learned that actually, far from being technologically destitute, the 1970s was the beginning of a technological revolution – with the making of plastic and manmade fibres, the solar cell and introduction of decimals. In an informercial made by Tescos I got a great insight into the 1970s, including what foods were stacked on the shelves and the clothes people were wearing. This film was produced to demonstrate how Tescos was preparing its staff for the introduction of the decimal and new coins like 5p and 10p to replace shillings.

In another film, Rush Hour, made by Nick Nicholls for British Transport Films, the frenetic swarm of the morning rush at Waterloo station is captured. Amazingly this film is actually on Youtube. Brilliant I love it. Here it is…

After spending just over an hour or so in the mediatheque I had to rush off to catch my train back to Manchester but not before I listened to the audio archive which lets you listen to film interviews with Nick Roeg and Sigourney Weaver to name a few. Sigourney Weaver talks about making Alien, her first film with director Ridley Scott – and it sounded like a kind chaos that transformed into the film we see now. Apparently much of the dialogue is improvised and the actors were allowed to just move about the set which created a kind of chaos that he managed to capture on camera.

I loved the trip to the the BFI – it really is a great way to understand British History – I think kids would love it as a way to learn about the past – seeing it on film makes everything much more memorable. Searching the archive can be a bit random – there maybe needs to be a way to save searches you are interested in but the randomness of it throws up some gems. For example, I came across a daring film by Ngozi Nworrah called ‘the Body Beautiful‘ which I probably wouldn’t find any where else without paying through the nose to see it. Her mum actually stars in the film as herself and the film is about her mother who had breast cancer whilst she is pregnant. This had a connection in the film I am writing as my main character, Sarah Walker, also discovers that she is pregnant and has cancer.

Ngozi Nworrah has always intrigued me as she, like me, was born to a Nigerian father and European mother and had a burning desire to make movies. From British history to personal history and back again.

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