The W Files

Profiling Screenwriters at Work

Ken Scott's Seductive Success 

By Mike Chamberlain

It's a cold January day when I meet Ken Scott at his favourite café in the fashionable Outremont district of Montreal–but the screenwriter behind La Grande Séduction (Seducing Dr. Lewis) could not be hotter.

Days earlier, the film won the audience award in the world cinema drama category at the Sundance Film Festival. The previous week it had garnered 13 Jutra award nominations (it would go on to win 7 Jutras). And in the days following our interview, Montreal's La Presse newspaper named the 33-year-old Scott one of the 25 most influential people on the Quebec cultural scene.

As Séduction goes from one success to the next, Scott is already hard at work on his next project, a screenplay based on the life of hockey legend and Quebec folk hero Maurice “Rocket” Richard. (The film's production company actually held a press conference to announce that Scott would be writing the Richard script.)

Scott, who writes in French, is the son of an English-speaking father and a French-speaking mother. He grew up in the Montreal suburb of Laval, and the way he sees things, all this success will probably not change his life that much–though he says the calls from friends and the media have cost him several days work on the Richard project.

La Grande Séduction has enjoyed enormous success since its release in July 2003, becoming the second-leading Quebec film of all time, with a box office take of over $8 million. In addition, the film has been picked up by a number of countries, although the Americans have not yet bought it.

The success of La Grande Séduction might seem to be a bit of an anomaly, in that comedy doesn't always transfer very well between languages. Nevertheless, the story of the people of a remote fishing village trying to attract a doctor seems to have struck a chord with people all over the world.

“Maybe it has a universal theme to it and the comedy is not too regional,” says Scott. “Actually, the first country to buy the movie was South Korea. They saw it over in Cannes and they said, 'We're buying the movie because this film tells our story.' That's very funny because it's a story of a small Québécois village. But I guess throughout the world people are leaving these small villages to go and live in the city. So they bought it, and so have all kinds of other countries.”

Scott places a lot of emphasis on the importance of structure to his writing. For La Grande Séduction, “there were different kinds of themes I wanted to write about. I wanted to write about seduction versus manipulation. We are always trying to seduce people–putting forth a façade. And it's interesting to see where this façade finishes and where the small lies, the white lies and then the bigger lies start. And then the story of this small group of people with very little means who want to reach this goal, which is very big for them. That, for me, was a great way to write good comedy but also to have a very strong dramatic structure to the movie. So those were the building blocks for my script.”

The humour in the piece is deeply rooted in the structure and the characters too.

“I work on the script, develop the structure and the characters in the same way I would for a dramatic piece. After that, I try to build comedy on that dramatic structure. Putting in the comedy, I try never to sacrifice the credibility of the characters or the credibility of the dramatic structure. And that was very important for me and for the director too. We talked a lot about it. Even though there are some characters that are very comical, they are also credible.”

Scott adds that he is grateful for the close working relationship that he enjoyed with director Jean-François Pouliot–one in which he was very much an equal.

The Richard script represents a unique challenge for Scott. The job is bound to carry a lot of pressure. If, as the saying goes, Montreal has three million people who feel qualified to coach the Canadiens, there must be at least as many ideas about how Richard should be treated on the screen.

The project requires a lot of research, and Scott is determined to get the details right. He is reluctant to discuss his approach–many journalists have tried to pry details out of him–but when he learns that I am a bit of an expert in radio broadcast history he doesn't miss the opportunity to query me on a radio-related point for the Richard story.

“It's very exciting to get the chance to write this very important story. In fact, it's a privilege. Everybody has his own idea of what the story should be, and I don't intend this to be the definitive version of the life of Rocket Richard. It will simply be one version of his life.”

Canadian Screenwriter summer 2018 is on newsstands now. View excerpts, and subscribe here.

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NOVEMBER 29, 2018
  • Writers Talking TV

NOVEMBER 29, 2018

Writers Talking TV

Writers Talking TV, presented by the Writers Guild of Canada, is a writer-to-writer interview held at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.

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