Ante Tomić about writing the script
The first morning in the USA my body still lived by central European time. I woke up having had a good night's sleep although it was five o'clock in the morning, and looked out the window. It was dark outside, not a soul in sight, with only a roe-buck calmly grazing on the lawn in front of the hotel, barely visible under the light from the parking lot. When you are ruffled and with gummed-up eyes, dressed only in shorts, watching a roe-buck graze in front of your window at dawn in American mountains on the other side of the world, it is reasonable to ask yourself "what the hell am I doing here?"
The shortest answer to that question would be – I was forced into it by hard necessity.
Rajko Grlić and I had been toiling on the adaptation of my book "The Miracle in Viper's Glen" for two years and finally, after six or seven drafts, had reached a version we were both happy with, a funny, twisted, fast-speed script for which Saša Antić from TBF had already made several attractive songs. We had a hit in our hands, a bull's eye, a cinema blockbuster the nation would fall in love with, but alas, its production would cost around ten million Croatian Kuna by a conservative estimate, which was twice as much as the amount we received from the Croatian Audiovisual Centre.
The rest we hoped to obtain from the National Television, but the bureaucratic moloch ruled by Goran Radman, that huge, sluggish, sleepy and self-suficient beast barely stirred when we came. The amount of the money they approved would not have been enough for a half an our documentary about Carnival tradition in Moslavina region. There was nothing we could do to persuade them that our funny story with singing and shooting was something that the National Television should produce. Insufficient was the fact that our former film had been distributed in twenty countries around the world; all other unforgettable films Rajko Grlić had made ("You Love Only Once", "In the Jaws of Life" or "Charuga") were not enough; neither was my "What Is a Man without a Moustache" which was re-run two million times, or literary and theatrical success of "Viper's Glen" and more than seventy thousand people who had seen it on stage. The authorities on National Television remained indifferent. We made fools of ourselves, pulling faces and flailing our arms, weeping and begging, but all we got in return was one tired and listless: "Oh, well."
It was embarrassing and humiliating and it had to be stopped. Finally, about a year ago, Rajko and I were dispiritedly looking at each other on Skype and I timidly dared to suggest.
"How about we drop this expensive story and make something completely different, something not too demanding, low budget, something we can raise the necessary funds for?"
"To be honest, I've been thinking the same", Rajko sighed.
Several weeks later, I woke up in the middle of the night with an idea haunting me. It had to do with transvestites and it came to me when I listened to Mary Gauthier's song "Drag Queens in Limousines". I turned in my bed for half an hour trying to go back to sleep, and then I got up and, leaving the lights off not to wake up my family, typed forty lines of a skeleton for a plotline with only two characters in an apartment building in Zagreb. It was no more than ten minutes of a film, but Rajko liked it. He answered on two pages, elaborating the plot and adding one more character. Then we sat at the table together and slowly, patiently worked on the structure of the story, shaping our characters, testing their weak points.
Rajko is more unhampered, more impertinent, pushing the characters to the edge, while I am more timid, more conservative, pulling them back. I think that is the key to our cooperation. We have been working together for more than ten years, and it is always the same: he lures our characters into the dark, and I invite them to light. We meet somewhere in the middle. Actually, we usually meet somewhere closer to the dark side because I realize that his idea, which I at first find objectionable and inacceptable, is something that can take the story in an exciting and unexpected direction, and flabbergast the viewers the same way it flabbergasted me.
However, we never insist on something the other party is dead set against. True, we snarl at each other from time to time; he sneers at my cowardice, I call him perverted, but we nevertheless come to an agreement quickly and easily. In all these years I've learnt to meet his sometimes impossible, crazy requests. I work my butt off trying to fit eleven pieces of information and eight emotional states in three short lines of dialogue, and when it's no go, I lie down on the carpet and pretend to be dead.
I'm not saying Rajko has it easy with me, poor man. He is a hard worker, he enjoys working, while I find work, sui generis, abhorrent. I want to go for a walk, have a cup of coffee, listen to the music or just sit doing nothing, while he is turning into a bundle of nerves. I can feel his nervousness vibrating in the room, crackling like an old neon pipe, but I can't help him. Kill me, but I simply can't. "Shall we?", he finally asks in a seemingly calm voice, and I remember I should pay another visit to the toilet. And stay there for half an hour. Heroin addicts spend less time in toilets than me when I am expected to work.
Still, we do experience those amazing moments when we both get carried away and the story starts unfolding in the dull rhythm of typing, a character tells us something neither Rajko nor me expected they would ever say, or suddenly break down and burst into tears, or they stun us with their cruelty, reveal themselves better or worse people, break free from our plans with them. Then we know that we are holding something live in our hands, something that needs to be handled with care. It took us several few-day-long sessions in Rajko's apartment in Zagreb to put this story together from the beginning to the end, and write 30 pages of a detailed treatment, and once we finished it, we knew that the nightmare with "Viper's Glen" was behind us; we were making a new film, "The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia".
The next step was to write the first draft of the script, for which it was best if I came to the University of Ohio where Rajko has been teaching film art, because it is miles from anywhere and I would have nothing else to do but work. You have probably seen "Misery" in which a deranged nurse imprisons a writer in her remote cottage; that film depicts my American life perfectly – I was locked there to write.
Every morning I walked for twenty minutes from the hotel to Rajko's studio, and the roe-buck from the beginning of this story was not at all a rare sight. Roe-bucks, deers, rabbits and squirrels often crossed my way. In Athens, Ohio, one has the feeling of being in a Disney movie, except that the animals there don't sing.
Before entering the building, I would smoke several more cigarettes hungrily, literally sucking them in to fill my body with nicotine, and then I would walk in, say hello to mister director and plug in my laptop. We worked till dinner, we wrote so much that at the end of the day we just looked at each other in a daze. "We're good", we assured each other, but the truth was that after the whole day of writing we were both too exhausted to know it for sure. When all ninety pages of the script were finished on a Tuesday afternoon, I swear I had no idea what I had written. Our first readers, Nada Pinter, Srđan Karanović and Ivica Ivanišević liked it very much, they thought we'd done an excellent job. Rajko and I, however, were still too close to it to be capable of seeing it with objective eyes.
It would take few months for this experience to settle; then we re-read the script with fresh eyes in order to find its weak spots, tighten it where it was slack or loosen it if it was too tight, fine-tune the characters, maybe find a hidden motive behind their acts, and make the story a bit more ghastly, a bit darker. Although it was already dark and ghastly enough. As much as "Viper's Glen" was cheerful, light and charming, written to be adored, this new story, "The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia", was difficult and gloomy and to be honest, it would probably make most of its viewers angry.
In only three characters, two men and a woman, and claustrophobically small space of two apartments in Zagreb with almost no exteriors, we have set an evil, political story in which everybody is in a way a member of a minority group, but they still hate each other. They can't stand each other with almost beastly, instinctive dislike. It was difficult to write that. It was not pleasant to get into the minds of morons, to find a grain of humanity on the bottom of their ruined souls. We didn't laugh much while we were doing it. All our previous films were far more amusing. Still, I'm glad we did it. After all, this story is very personal for both Rajko and me. Though we have nothing in common with our characters, we have both experienced hatred of our own environment.
As for "Viper's Glen", I don't know what to say about it. It will be filmed sooner or later, I guess, at a better time, when better people are in power. Knowing the circumstances, I'd say it will be later rather than sooner.