by Angela Bourassa (@angelabourassa1)
When developing a new story, do you start with character or the big idea? For me, I basically always start with the hook, the “what if?” But I know plenty of writers who swear that you absolutely must start with character.
I’m not sure if Archie Borders is the swearing type, but with his new film Under the Eiffel Tower, he and his writing partner David Henry started with character and ended up with an interesting bag of lovable misfits.
Archie and I recently spoke about his process for writing with a partner, the inspiration behind this story, and the psychic ability he wishes he had on film shoots.
Angela Bourassa: Is this the first script that you and David Henry have written together?
Archie Borders: This is our second script together, after Pleased to Meet Me, which was released in 2013.
Angela Bourassa: How did your writing partnership begin?
Archie Borders: We began discussing the characters and plot for Under the Eiffel Tower not long after that. Once we had a number of drafts we were happy with, we took the film out to talent. I had seen Judith Godreche in The Overnight, and offered her the part. Once she came on board, as both producer and lead actor, she, David, Matt and myself began a number of lengthy phone conferences (since we’re all in different cities), and Judith began reworking her character, fleshing out the background and emotional arc of Louise. She was also instrumental in writing some additional scenes to bring out Louise’s on-screen relationship with Girard (Gary Cole).
Angela Bourassa: What is your process for writing with a partner?
Archie Borders: David and I have been writing together for many years but it always begins with a conversation. Over a drink or coffee, we usually start with character. Once we have a character or characters that we really love, it’s fun to come up with the obstacles to bounce off them. You can have the catchiest concept in the world, but if you don’t have characters you’re invested in, then the film won’t work as fully as it could.
Then Dave and I take turns. I’ll go off and write the first 40 pages or so, then Dave will take over, or vice versa. Then, once the first draft is complete, there’s a lot of revising and rewriting to get it where we’re comfortable with showing it around. By the end of these drafts, it’s difficult to remember who wrote what.
Angela Bourassa: How do you handle disputes when writing together?
Archie Borders: Fortunately, we haven’t had many. And of the disagreements we have had, we simply write out or try out each other’s idea and lay them into the script. Once it’s on paper, it’s much easier to see whether or not an idea is working within the overall story.
Angela Bourassa: What is it about Stewart’s journey in the film that pulled you into this story? In other words, why was this the story that you needed to tell?
Archie Borders: I related to it on a personal level because, like Stuart in the original drafts, I had been divorced and unemployed and at loose ends. I think it’s something that anyone in that situation can relate to. Feeling like you’ve failed, you’re not going to find the happiness you long for, feeling empty. Plus, since this story was based on a true one, told to me by a dear friend, that made it resonate even more.
Angela Bourassa: Tell me a bit about this unique cast of characters? How did you go about developing each character?
Archie Borders: Again, it starts early. You build the people and then decide what other characters will allow you to bring up thematic elements that will provide a challenge. While Stuart has the most obvious story, that of an emotionally immature man who has to better himself to be worthy of an emotionally aware Louise, the characters around these two provide the commentary.
For Stuart, Liam, is the man-child who represents the guy Stuart would remain if he doesn’t change. Frank, Tillie, and Rosalind provide more of a functional — or slightly dysfunctional – ideal. They bicker and argue, but they are devoted to each other and they have built this familial example that Stuart longs for. Louise, on the other hand, is coming into her emotional own; she’s beginning to break free of another man’s expectations and is at the place where she has begun to be in charge of her own fulfillment. But she’s still learning to trust.
Angela Bourassa: Did you always intend to direct this script, and if so, did that affect your writing or story process in any way?
Archie Borders: Everything I write, I intend to direct. And that’s been the case with each of my four feature films. It certainly hastens the beginning of pre-production, meaning that you’re already visualizing the movie as you’re writing it, figuring out the work of how the scene will play out before you’ve even had a location scout.
Angela Bourassa: What did you learn through the process of making this film that you wish you’d known at the start?
Archie Borders: It’s the same thing with each of my films — I wish I had the psychic ability to know which scenes would be eventually cut from the movie. Then, we could have had more time to work on the scenes that weren’t cut. You always want more time on location. And it never fails that there are scenes that seemed so vital, so necessary throughout the scripting process and in the filming… and then you get into the edit and go, “Wow, well we’ve already made that point so let’s cut it… sigh.” If only we could have had that half day or full day back to spend more time on the scenes that ultimately did make the final cut. But it happens on every picture.
Under the Eiffel Tower is currently in theaters and available On Digital and On Demand.
Angela Bourassa is the founder of LA Screenwriter and the co-founder of Write/LA, a screenwriting competition created by writers, for writers. A mom, UCLA grad, and alternating repeat binger of The Office and Parks and Recreation, Angela posts articles through @LA_Screenwriter and unique daily writing prompts through @Write_LA.