The actress Juliet Stevenson, star of Minghella’s first major film Truly, Madly, Deeply, recollects that Minghella had a mind like a sponge. He would absorb all sorts of details from his daily experience, including anecdotes people would tell him, and integrate them into his writing.
She recalls telling him, before the film was in production, about a rat infestation in a house she once lived in, which was dealt with by a very peculiar gentleman from the municipality. Imagine her surprise when she read the script and found the incident back in the story, complete with the man from the municipality and all his idiosyncrasies!
This habit, of being constantly alert to interesting and intriguing aspects of everyday life and individual people, is absolutely something to emulate. It’s so easy to overlook the material that’s all around you, staring you in the face, as it were, while trying far too hard to concoct something “original.”
The programme got me thinking. I asked myself this: What have I heard, seen or read about recently that might be worth noting down? Here are just a couple of the many things I came up with:
- A friend of my wife’s had a terrible leakage in her flat last week. The entire place was submerged, furniture ruined and an immense conflict has been sparked with both the neighbours and the landlord. The exact same thing happened to her a year ago.
- I stumbled across a blog written by a gun-toting ambulance driver in the US, called A Day In The Life Of An Ambulance Driver; a veritable goldmine of harrowing and fascinating tales.
- I heard of a couple who enrolled their son in a particular high school at the last moment before the holidays, on recommendation. They have since discovered that the school is 99% Muslim (they aren’t), and they are mortified. They don’t want their son to be such an exception, but they don’t want to be seen as being anti-Muslim (they aren't). In any case, it’s too late to change schools.
- A few evenings ago, my neighbour’s children locked themselves out while their parents were at friends. Their keys were visible on the kitchen table, but only a tiny top window was still open. I duct-taped two little coloured sticks with magnets attached (from one of my kids’ toy fishing sets) to a garden hoe, and very carefully fished the keys out of the kitchen through the tiny window.
And so on. There’s always a story, a character trait, a scene or even just a beat waiting to be spotted out there!
Go ahead, make a list for yourself and ask yourself what you (or Bruce Willis, or Helen Mirren, or Oliver Hardy) would do in the same situation …