12 min read

Interview With Writer Peter Salisbury 

bciff team

April 25, 2022 12 min read

Script – Night Shift

Writer – Peter Salisbury 

 

In the movie Binisutoy by director Atanu Ghosh we hear the protagonist claim that we survive because of stories. They keep us alive, enthrall us and fill us with glee. What place do stories occupy in your life? 

 

I live and breathe stories. I always have since I was a child. Storytelling for me is about taking something fundamentally true about the human condition and exploring it through the imagination. It’s through stories that we are able to share our passions, fears, joys, sadness, and are able to find common ground with other people. I like the way stories transport us into different worlds and open our minds to new experiences and perceptions of other people and the way they think and feel. Stories also provide a link with mythic archetypes, they connect us to universal truths about ourselves and the world. When you enter a story, something magical happens, and for me entering a story on screen is where the greatest magic happens. 

 

How do you believe one can successfully connect the world of the bioscope to the world of literature? Why do you think it is important as the connection would inevitably end up creating something profound and immense.

 

All the elements that are present in literature are present in the bioscope. Plot, setting, characterisation, structure, theme, they all make up the text or screenplay. For me, what makes the bioscope so profound and immense is the added dimension of sound, lighting, camera angle and movement, editing, music, and the human presence on screen. All the cinematic elements that go into screen storytelling. For me, a screenplay is a creative artefact in its own right. It’s a vital component in the filmmaking process. But it can also be a standalone work of art. When I’m writing a script I’m drawing upon both literature and the elements of the bioscope in order to craft something that is a unique expression of my understanding of the human condition.

 

Could you suggest us a few movies and books? What are the books you believe everyone must read and movies everyone must watch?

 

Books and movies that everyone must watch. That’s a hard one. There are so many that have left a lasting impression on me. With books, I’d start with ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce, which I read in my twenties and it completely blew me away and upended any preconceptions I had about what a novel could be. Any collection of stories by Raymond Carver, his first two collections ‘Will You Please Be Quite, Please’ and ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’ are masterclasses in storytelling. I discovered Basho recently and his travel writing with haiku ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Sketches’ is really quite special.

 

I have hundreds of movies in my collection from all over the world, it’s so hard to choose. I can try. I think my favourite movie of all time, just for pure fun and technical brilliance is ‘Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday’ (1953). Jacques Tati only made a handful of films, each one is a masterpiece. Everytime I watch them I discover something I hadn’t noticed before. I love ‘Smoke’ (1995) by Wayne Wang, an independent film based on a short story by Paul Auster, who also wrote the screenplay. It’s a fantastic meditation on the ways in which lives are changed by small details. Two game changers for me would be ‘Cinema Paradiso’ (1988) and Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy (1955-59). I read Ray’s memoir about making the movies when I was a teenager and knew then why I wanted to be a filmmaker. Any film by Hirokazu Kore-eda. His films just blow me away. If I had to pick one, I’d say either ‘Afterlife’ (1998) or ‘Our Little Sister’ (2015). And Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’ is a must watch if you’re a dreamer like me. It’s so difficult to choose just a few films, but these are some I return to often.

 

Tell us something about the process of coming up with the story. 

 

The initial idea for the story came from a mundane ride on the metro in Dublin, Ireland. I was on the train, wondering what would happen if I was to fall asleep and wake up at the end of the line. Nothing special, just a flight of fancy that gave me a character and a predicament to explore. When it comes to writing, my process always starts with gathering ideas, raw materials, into a notebook. Events, fragments of conversation, impressions of places, random jottings and observations. Gathering ‘stuff’ is always part of my writing process. With ‘Night Shift’, I focused on generating ideas around the protagonist, Lanya. This involved creating a backstory for her, making notes on the turning points in her life, the trauma that affects her behaviour, her wants and needs, her fears and dreams. All of which helped generate a picture of who she is and why she does what she does. 

 

There is a tender moment in the beginning of the story before Lanya is interrupted by the grudging supervisor. It is probably one of those rare occasions when she happens to look at herself as a result of a chance occurrence. She sees a liberated and beautiful Lanya without shackles. Do you agree? 

 

That is a special moment in the story. It occurs in the first act and helps set up the world and tone of the story and it locates the character within the storyworld. It is also a moment in the story that, as I was writing it, I felt quite close to the character. The moment in which she looks at her reflection in the mirror is one of several encounters with glass. I use glass as a visual motif throughout the story. She looks out of an office window, she sees her reflection in a mirror, she stands in a shop doorway framed by a large window, and finally she breaks a glass bottle.  Cumulatively, the images of a woman and windows, mirrors, glass, help create a portrait of someone who is trapped and struggling to break free. I would agree that I see Lanya as a beautiful, liberated young woman. But what interests me as a filmmaker is how does she see herself at that particular moment? I’d like to leave that to the audience. Let them experience and interpret that moment in their own way. Her gaze, looking at her reflection in the mirror. Our gaze, wondering what she sees as she looks into the mirror. 

 

Everything suggests that Lanya is a marginalised character in her society. Roisin appears marginalised as well. Lanya is questioned and criticised more than once in the story by multiple people. Tell us more about the process of writing the couple of characters. Are they the ‘other’ in our society? 

 

The process of developing the characters of Lanya and Roisin began with the setting, in this case the city asleep. Right from the get go, I knew I needed two characters who would be working alone in the city at night. I looked for ideas that were grounded in real-life situations, involving some kind of life struggle that would translate into an authentically told story for screen. Lanya’s character is based on the many contract cleaners who work in Dublin’s financial district. Like many immigrants, she looks forward to the promise of a better life in her adoptive country. As I said earlier, Lanya came to me while I was daydreaming on the metro. Focusing on Lanya and her goal of crossing the city on foot alone at night, I asked myself four questions, “who is she?”, “what does she want?”, “who or what is trying to stop her?”, “what happens if she fails?” and took it from there. After some initial groundwork into the character and setting for the story, I realised that embedded within the story’s premise was something primal, mythic: a woman finds herself in the woods and she is surrounded by wolves. The idea for Roisin’s character came after reading a newspaper report about Deliveroo cyclists getting beaten up by gangs of feral youths and having their bikes stolen. It was quite shocking. One young cyclist ended up in hospital fighting for his life. I knew that Lanya needed to meet someone who would help her navigate the city and I liked the idea of Roisin being a fast food delivery cyclist, who knew the area and its hazards, and who also had the means of transport that would ultimately enable them to outrun the ‘wolves’. Lanya and Roisin are very much the ‘Other’ in the story. They represent people who are perceived as not belonging to society, as being different in some way. Unfortunately, ideas of ‘otherness’ are central to a society’s perception of how majority and minority identities are constructed. 

 

There is a sense of isolation potently lurking around the narrative. There is an invisible force that is evidently pushing Lanya towards an unknown abyss. Deep down Lanya’s desire to get away from all the slander, the prejudices, the bickering for once is evident. Do you agree? 

 

Thematically, ‘Night Shift’ is driven by the desire for order. Lanya’s journey home from work has been thrown into chaos. She is lost in the city at night. She is met with indifference, nobody wants to engage with her. The sense of isolation is very palpable. This almost overwhelming sense of solitude and isolation is very much the effect I was looking for in the story. I like your idea that there is an invisible force pushing her towards an unknown abyss. That’s great. From the moment the supervisor interrupts her at the mirror, she is pushed along by events outside of her control. Until the end, that is, when she is forced into taking action to defend Roisin from attack.

 

Tell us something about the setting of the story. What is the atmosphere like around Lanya? Is it one which is tranquil or is it one which is silent yet chaotic? Something similar happens in the final scene as well. There is a considerable amount of sound  in and around the bus. Yet it is evident that Lanya is in the middle of a profound catharsis. She hears very little to no sound. You have used sound and silence to precisely play opposite roles. Do you agree?

 

‘Night Shift’ is set against the eerily silent backdrop of a city asleep. It’s a pensive, other-worldly landscape with a slightly dream-like quality. Is the atmosphere around Lanya tranquil or silent yet chaotic? That’s a good question. I think there is a tranquillity to the empty streets and silence of a city asleep, especially in the early hours of the morning before anyone is awake. But this is a film in which the city is the antagonist, so I think Lanya’s experience of that environment is silent yet chaotic. The juxtaposition of sound and silence is fundamental to screen storytelling. It’s something I really enjoy playing with, as you can get inside the audience’s head and feed their imagination through their ears. Playing sound and silence off against each other is something I was very much conscious of as I was writing the screenplay.

 

The story is a relatively serene one. However the scuffle in the club, the confrontations temporarily transform the status of Lanya and Roisin and takes them a little away from the margins. Their courage, them being each other’s pillar of strength is a harbinger of hope for everyone. It didn’t just scare the young boy but it had the potential of scaring anyone who possessed the intent of exploiting people like Lanya and Roisin, as their solitude has made them stronger than steel. Do you agree?

 

I would say that is a fair assessment of the narrative’s climax. The serenity throughout the first half of the story is deceptive. In some ways it represents a state of mind. The status quo, for want of a better phrase. The moment Lanya meets Roisin, all that changes. Lanya’s journey is one of transformation, from isolation to connection, victim to saviour. She is drawn into the community, serenity becomes the chaotic atmosphere you mentioned earlier, and she is forced into stepping out of the margins, finding an inner strength, and seeing herself for who she really is. 

 

Do you believe a chance encounter, a cup of coffee, a tender conversation and a little concern are enough to make us believe in life and the glee around it? Does every Lanya find a Roisin and every Roisin a Lanya? 

 

Wonderful! If the story has prompted you to ask that question, then it has done its job. Yes, I do believe in the way in which lives can be changed by small details. Lanya and Rosin’s journey reflects an everyday corner of life, with the intimacies, adventures and relationships that can make us happy. I hope it’s a story in which we are left with the feeling that there is always the possibility of goodness and beauty, even in the darkness of night.

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