A Writer’s Reflection on Her Adaptation of a Classic

Since 2019 I have been working on a short film adaptation of a play written by the man who wrote Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie. The play is called “Dear Brutus” which is a reference to a line of dialogue taken from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Some days I think, “Really Ebony? J.M. Barrie? Shakespeare? For the first film you’ll have written and directed since college ??” Sometimes I feel crazy, but I cannot shake this play, these characters and their questions.

The week that the coronavirus shut things down, I had been working on this script for seven months already. I thought it would take me at least a year and a half to get it where I wanted it to be before coronavirus came and usurped all my dreams of making this film. Miss Rona swooped in and stole my joy and vision. I couldn’t see how I was going to make a short, low-budget film when there was a deadly virus taking thousands of lives a day. So, I didn’t touch it for over a year. I thought about the script. I thought about what it would be like to make it and then I’d become so overwhelmed with the logistics I would swiftly push it all out of my mind.

Eight months into Miss Rona’s reign I realized that the conditions under which I had envisioned making this short film where actually perfect for quarantining and the most pivotal scenes take place outdoors. Even with that revelation, the thought of opening the script again felt like too much. I couldn’t wrap my head around how you produce a film in the middle of a pandemic. I knew that productions had begun again by that point, but my little film felt like a baby fish trying to swim against a riptide.

And yet, these characters voices and their questions kept breaking through the current and reaching out. I didn’t know what it would take for me to open that script again. I couldn’t see it. The waters were too muddied with the world and all of its insanity. I couldn’t get clear and see a path. Friends tried to help, but I have a very difficult time separating my producing brain from my writer’s brain. The Writer wants to make sure what’s she’s creating is producible and the Producer wants to make sure what the Writer is creating makes financial and logistical sense. As if those weren’t enough voices from the committee I then have the Director come in and say, “I think that’ll look really amazing if we do x!” and “Can’t you say this using x tool instead?” Then all three argue about the best way to make the film ultimately distracting the Writer from finishing her work which is actually the most important, because without her words there is nothing to produce or direct.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the only way for me to get back in the game was to be pushed. Thank God for the friend who said, “You’re going to write this audio play with me right?”. I needed someone to push me out of the headspace I was in with something completely different and original. I needed to write from a place of joy and not having to produce or direct it so that those other voices couldn’t ask me a fafillion questions. Sometimes the other ladies have to sit still for a minute so one can have her say. And in April 2021 the Writer was able to have her say without input from the other two. This freed her to be able to pull out the characters who kept calling to her and begin to hang out with them again. Sitting in their world has been such a joy-filled experience and one I desperately needed after Rona wrecked havoc on us all.

Today, the Director is having her say. Why this play? A play about missed opportunities, dogged bullets, reflection and new opportunities to make life changes at any age? Isn’t it obvious after these last two years?

To be honest when I read the original play it made me angry. There were some beautiful elements, but when reading it you could tell it was written in 1917. The original work has a lot of misogyny and previous iterations lack diverse representation. I wanted to adapt this into a film that brought the magical elements and the characters’ questions of how they see they’re lives and choices into the 21st century. I wanted to center people of color in this fantasy without the content necessarily being about race, but due to who they are and where they live, experience the world through a lens that gives a new perspective on a classic tale.

This film feels important for me to make because myself and many of my friends still struggle with the same questions that J.M. Barrie’s characters wrestle with in the original play. I also love that the play centered people who were middle aged over the younger characters and I find this perspective to be rare in many modern day plays. It is never too late to ask, “What do I want to be?” and then reimagine your life. All the characters in the script are at crossroads and are asking themselves who they want to be and what they want to do. 

There is a lack of representation of the global majority in fantasy. J.M. Barrie’s writings are ones that we grow up learning about and when they are portrayed, those of us from this demographic are usually left out. I want to create a film that includes us in a narrative piece that has all the beauty, wonder and imagination of the classic pieces we have grown to know and love.

I want to dispel the myth that you have to have your life path figured out by a certain age and if you haven’t then you’ve made a wrong turn.

In a November 18th article of the Boston Globe written by journalist Chelsea Klaub, she quotes Margie E. Lachman. Experience teaches us how to rebound from failures and work our way past obstacles, fueling a feeling of control that surges at midlife. We know what we can do, and we’ve got the knowledge and tenacity to take on new challenges. “Many people feel a sense of mastery,” says Lachman. “Midlife is actually a good time. In some ways, it’s a peak time.”

People who lead creative lives are often not following societal norms. Creatives who are following their passions may live differently and when you reach a certain age, society begins to decide that you should “grow up” and do things its way. I wanted to center a group of people who have all followed very different paths from the norm and are regular folks that I know and love. Not all of us are going to be Oprah or Ava Duvernay but that doesn’t mean our lives, work and creativity are any less important because we haven’t reached a certain echelon in life. I know these people and they’re lives are just as beautiful, flawed, inspiring and glorious as anyone else’s. Maybe even more so because they chose a path less traveled. 

This photo was taken during a weekend of location scouting for the film that was extremely encouraging and restorative. It also represents a full circle moment in healing. That’s a whole blog post on its on own that I might write someday.