Writing Death Knock

Death Knock (a short film directed by my brother Jason and co-written by both of us), was recently posted on Vimeo. Like I did with my last scripted project, I thought I’d write a little post about how Death Knock came about as well as describing what the joint writing process was like.

The initial idea for Death Knock came from me telling Jason a story about an experience I had when I was training to be a writer. A lecturer told a room full of students (including myself) that, if we ever wanted to work for a newspaper, we may well be expected to undertake a ‘death knock’ early on in our tenure.

I had no idea what a death knock was, but my lecturer went on to explain that it was a practice which involved visiting the house of a family going through a bereavement, knocking on the door and asking for an interview. It’s a controversial exercise as, on the one hand, a newspaper interview might help get a victim’s story out there, or may help a community to remember someone and consider the issues that led to their death. On the other hand, a death knock could be considered as an invasion of privacy when all a person and/or family might want to do is grieve.

My lecturer also said that a death knock is often one of the first things a newspaper editor asks a young reporter to do; if they can handle a death knock, they can probably handle anything being a reporter entails. Jason thought that the practice of death knocking was something that we as a society should interrogate, and that it was also something that had interesting storytelling potential.

So, together, we got to researching and then writing the Death Knock script. Short film seemed like the best medium to examine such a practice, probably because the process of knocking on a door and asking a grieving person for an interview lives and dies in the moment.

We also decided early on that the film would follow a young reporter reluctant to take part in such a practice, but aware that his job would be on the line if he refused his editor’s instruction. I’ve never undertaken a death knock myself (I ended up becoming a totally different kind of writer), but the research told us that death knocking can be a traumatic experience for all involved.

Ultimately, we decided we wanted the film to examine various aspects of the death knock argument, but we didn’t want to come down too strongly on one side of it. We wanted to suggest both the potential negative and positive outcomes of such a practice, even though this is a story in which a death knock goes wrong.

I wasn’t involved in the actual filming of Death Knock (Jason and his talented cast and crew took care of all that), so I can’t comment on how the filmmaking process went. But if you watch the short I hope you’ll agree that they all did a fantastic job!

View Death Knock on Jason’s Vimeo here.

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