Bites, Kites, and Light — The Third Act: A Guest-post by Mary Katzke

Screenwriter Mary Katzke, our February featured writer, is adapting Kathyrn Harrison’s The Seal Wife for the screen — a process she has been describing in her weekly guest-posts.

We left off in the middle of the second act. The second act is always the hardest because one usually knows where to start a story and where to end it — but the niggling second act has way-laid the best of them. This week I am finishing the first draft of the full script. This is driven by deadlines, both real and self-induced. Then it’s time to go back in and work the scenes so they each have an arc. I’ve decided to add some voice over — sparingly — like good seasoning. This is tedious work, nothing like the breezy first pass. We are done with ski camp and into our routine. This is not all good, not all bad. I find I get far more done when removed from the daily grind, even with the chaos of moving around and packing. Then again, there is no place like my writing spot at home, early spring sun spilling in on the chaise. Pillows, comforters, coffee mug, phone in the nest — all set.

There is a war going on in the world. Bigelow is being stalked by a mute musician. A seal has bitten our hero. A nasty bite needing medical attention.

Not something I’ve heard of happening in Alaska, so again I ask the Kathryn, the author.

I think of the woman, the seal that bites Bigelow, and the kite as three expressions of the same thing: Bigelow’s attempt to possess a kind of sublime and maybe unknowable, un-possessable, female deity. He reaches, and fails, and tries again. The kite is as much an attempt to perceive the divine as it is a scientific pursuit.

I asked her how much of the weather information is accurate and was informed that if it isn’t accurate, it’s plausible, and based on real research. The idea of predicting weather by mathematical calculation was a viable one around 1900. The army signal corps was the origin of NOAA.

Then she tells that while she didn’t intend all this meaning in her writing, it was more like one might be able to interpret a dream after waking.

That makes sense — kind of like coming out of a fog, and finding meaning in vague shapes once you can see them more clearly. Anchorage will never feel exactly the same again to me. I have this tiny feeling of “missing” the work when I save and close for the day — it is getting inside me now. I am bonded and invested and all that good stuff. The music score is tinkling in the background –folk music of that era with big screen airiness. Bigelow has also entered my dreams. That is something that happens deep into nearly every writing project. While writing Dancing for the Hunter, I spent a night on some attic stairs, captive of my strippers. They wouldn’t let me out of the attic until I finished. Bigelow is behaving more like a gentleman.

I like the flow and feel of the script. It is very arty as one might imagine and has every opportunity for a fresh new way to look at Alaska. Casting will be critical because so much is done without speaking. Ada will need to have a “talking face” as we say. Many locals could play the bit parts and have fun doing it. A major actor for Bigelow would complete the formula for financing. Probably a negative pick up deal. Perfect for the Alaska film incentives program.

Time to polish, get feedback, polish more, then put the pen down…and put on the producer’s hat.

Somebody in the other room has a dream to tell me about. It has to do with flying, only this time, with one arm — he is carrying me. I tell him this is a big dream, a dream about growing up and becoming a man. It’s such a nice moment.

Mary Katzke has produced over 30 documentaries and feature films. She was interviewed at 49 writers a year ago about her recent film, About Face.

1 thought on “Bites, Kites, and Light — The Third Act: A Guest-post by Mary Katzke”

  1. I love these posts, Mary – the way you weave bits of your life with your son and your dreams with your creative process mirrors the dreamlike atmosphere of The Seal Wife – the book and, no doubt, the film.

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