Q&A with screenwriter Andrew Harmer (Biopunk)
Biopunk by Dresden pictures is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter to fund the first 10 minutes of the feature in a concept short film. The dystopian sci-fi adventure is set 30 years from now and stars Kristian Nairn from Game of Thrones. We sat down with Biopunk's writer Andrew Harmer to 'pick his brains' about the process.
How did you get involved with Biopunk? Liam (Director) and James (Producer) had produced my first feature film, The Fitzroy, so we had a very good working relationship. We were in the pub discussing various upcoming projects that we all had and they mentioned Biopunk. It immediately piqued my interest as it sounded truly different and ambitious. Biopunk falls into the category of films I love; adventures with a darker, mysterious edge. It felt like it would be a very entertaining film, full of action and drama, while still focusing on the emotions and personal journey of the key characters. It is at its core – a personal story of love and family – but set against a massive canvas.
What appealed to you about the project? One of the big things was (and still is) Liam’s passion for the project, the material and the characters in the film. He has a real drive to tell this story. But not just tell it, he wants to present it in a cinematic way. That’s wonderful for me as a writer as it gives me room to play and imagine these large visuals. He’s very clear on what he’s looking for from the script. What was the writing process? What did you do at the start of the project? Liam had a document that told the story in broad strokes – particularly the beginning and end. It included dozens of reference stills and ideas. I took that document and fleshed it out into a fifteen-page treatment. We then went back and forth on the treatment half a dozen times – changing characters, set pieces and basically refining the story.
It’s quite tricky when world-building (and this is a massive world with its own mythology), not to become carried away with all the cool things. We had to keep bringing it back to Resha’s (the protagonist) story. One thing Liam was very keen to do was to tell the story from her point of view. So you have this world in chaos, on the edge of civil war, but all she’s concerned about is trying to survive and save her brother.
How does it differ writing this for another director, compared to something like The Fitzroy, which you wrote and directed? It’s a very different process, and much more pleasant. When I write for myself I’m constantly second guessing myself and it takes three times as long. Writing for another director gives me the opportunity to ask ‘what do you think of this?’. It makes the whole process much more sociable and quicker. We do have a lot of disagreements about certain points, which is a good thing. I tend to lean towards comedy but Biopunk certainly isn’t a comedy. So I’ve definitely had to tone that down. But at the end of the day, I think both Liam and I are just trying to serve the story well.
Have there been any particular films you've been watching for influence when writing the script? Before I started writing, Liam and I had many discussions about other films, TV shows, books and popular culture that we enjoyed and had inspired some of his initial thoughts. These ranged wildly from post-apocalyptic films like The Road, Children of Men and 28 Days Later, to things like Shadowrun. I probably shouldn’t tell you this but when I was working on breaking the story there were two films that were quite integral, and they couldn’t be further from each other in most regards. One was Finding Nemo and the other was Come and See. It’s a heck of a double bill but you have to do it in the right order!
Is it a different challenge to write a concept short for a feature film? Maybe – I don’t know! I’ve decided at this stage to not even think about the concept short, I’ve just tried to write the best feature script I can. Hopefully the concept short, which is the opening sequence to the feature, will stand on its own and showcase what we want to achieve with the final film. It will be an interesting process and fingers crossed we will be able to see these characters brought to life on the screen before we go into actual production on the feature. That doesn’t happen too often, and will be a golden opportunity for me as a writer to further hone the characters and story.
Is there anything in the feature film you’re particularly excited about? Yeah, loads. But I probably can’t say what they are. There are some amazing set pieces – if we can pull them off they will look stunning on the big screen. But I think what I’m most pleased about is the personal nature of the story. It has real stakes. Despite being set in this fantastical (albeit horrific) future, the story is very relevant to today. It deals with a lot of issues that we are dealing with: the polarisation of people and ideas, the fracturing of society and then on a personal level the importance of family and finding oneself. Oh and there’s some good monsters in it too. It should be a blast.
You can follow Andrew on Twitter: @AndrewHarm
You can follow Biopunk on Twitter: @BiopunkFilm
For more information about Biopunk and to get involved with the project please visit the Kickstarter page.
Andrew is the writer and director of The Fitzroy – the first feature produced by Dresden Pictures. The Fitzroy is currently seeking distribution, having recently been picked up by sales company Blue Fox.