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A major highlight of 2007 was having my script selected for the Ist Writer’s Initiative. That’s a programme where the New Zealand Film Commission calls for scripts from new screenwriters – they select six from around a hundred submissions and mine was one of the six this time.

The six of us spent a fantastic couple of days working with mentors like Duncan Sarkies and Gaylene Preston. It was an invaluable experience. Here’s the first couple of pages of the untitled script that was selected for the workshop…

INT. THE CHESTNUT TREE CAFE – DAY
The Camera travels along the barrel of a rifle to reveal the grubby solider holding it, squinting through the sight. POV: through the sight — a landscape magnified, the scope lingers over Spanish-style buildings, a barricaded street, sandbags and barbed wire.

Super: MADRID, NOVEMBER 1936

Over all of this:

POLISH SOLDIER (V.O.)
(Polish accent)
You been here long comrade?

JOHNSON (O.S.)
(soft English accent)
Not long.

POLISH SOLDIER (O.S.)
You joined the brigade in Paris?

JOHNSON (O.S.)
Yes.

On the Polish soldier now, squinting his eye shut, scoping and talking.

POLISH SOLDIER
Just like me. I love Paris. So big, modern. Not like Warsaw.

On Johnson for the first time, he sits amid upturned chairs and tables in the gloom peering through a shutter, a crack of sunlight across his face. He’s bearded, late thirties, sunburnt, wearing a uniform of sorts, the numerals IX on a patch on his shoulder.

JOHNSON
You can shoot and talk at the same time?

POLISH SOLDIER
There’s no Fascists to shoot, yet. You seen much of this war here, friend?

On the Pole, he’s seen something. Through the POV of the scope: a grey uniformed figure running behind a wall, occasionally exposed to us. We pan along with the figure, scurrying like a rabbit. On Johnson, leaning back.

JOHNSON
I’ve seen a lot of war. This is no different.

POLISH SOLDIER
You were in the Great War?

Silence from Johnson.

POLISH SOLDIER (CONT’D)
Tell me about it.

JOHNSON
I was in the war but I couldn’t tell you about it.

Through the scope again. On the running figure, a shot rings out, a puff of brick dust shoots out from the wall, the figure disappears. On the Pole’s face, he looks disappointed. He looks at Johnson.

POLISH SOLDIER
You won’t talk about it?

JOHNSON
I couldn’t tell you anything even if I did. You wouldn’t understand it ‘less you were there. And if you were there you still wouldn’t understand it. I could tell you worse things about the peace.

CUT TO:

EXT. RUAPEHU – AFTERNOON
Johnson standing at the top of Mt Ruapehu, the afternoon sun ebbing away, the world below him. He closes his eyes in the sun.

POLISH SOLDIER (V.O.)
Worse things?

A beat.

JOHNSON (V.O.)
Truer things.

From behind Johnson, silhouetted against a golden sky.

INT. THE CHESTNUT TREE CAFE – DAY
Back on the Pole. He cocks his gun, a spent shell clatters away. He squints through the gun sight again.

POLISH SOLDIER
Well brother, while we wait for Franco to show his face. Tell me about the peace.

On Johnson, the bar of sun across his face, staring at the ceiling. The sound of a ship’s bow slicing through water as we
CUT TO… a ship’s bow cutting through the water.