Sometimes a story theme just cries out for a different writing style — and letting go of tried-and-true techniques is the key to getting at the heart of what you want to say. That’s exactly what happened to Paul Morgan, who came up with the story and penned the screenplay for Hereafter. The film was inspired by a book called If the Spirit Moves You: Life and Love After Death by Justine Picardie. “I was just gripped by it,” recalls Morgan, who wrote also the screenplay for Queen and the play Frost/Nixon, which he later turned into a film.
While Morgan typically outlines and revises his work extensively, when it came to Hereafter, he began writing a screenplay without any clear idea of where it was going or what he wanted to say. In a major departure from usual approach, he was more interested in raising questions than in offering answers. First he imagined one character and then two others quickly emerged. “I was writing instinctively, almost in sketch mode,” he said. “It was all so spare and skeletal that the pages were very white.”
Hoping for a reaction, he sent the script to his agent. It found its way to Steven Spielberg and later, to Clint Eastwood who ended up directing it. Eastwood like the story and the way the three characters converge. He also liked the open-ended style, which seemed in keeping with the spiritual themes the script explored.
“I believe very strongly in first impressions,” Eastwood noted. “When something hits you and excites your interest, there’s really no reason to kill it with improvements.” Ultimately, Eastwood made the film from the original script and never requested any changes. “Clint is incredibly instinctive,” Morgan said. “The set of Hereafter was one of the happiest places I’ve ever been. It comes from trusting yourself and eliminating fear.”
Trusting yourself and eliminating fear — that’s an approach we can all benefit from whatever creative adventure we’re in the midst of.