verb (used with object), chis·eled, chis·el·ing or ( especiallyBritish ) chis·elled, chis·el·ling.
When writing the first draft of The Talent Scout, I didn’t know anything about grifting or con men whatever – save, maybe, what I had seen on the big screen. In films like The Sting, House of Games, or Nine Queens. Among others.
I understood the basic tropes of the con film: the Maguffin, the double-cross, etc. but I didn’t know anything about con men, per se. Nor did I research the subject – or, for that matter, re-watch any of the aforementioned films. Not for a lack of interest or will-power on my part – I take great pleasure in familiarizing myself, as much as possible, in a given topic. However, for this project, firmly set in the 20th century I opted for a different approach. I would put myself in the shoes of the protagonist – Oliver – and devise my own con. I reasoned that most, if not all, con artists, make it up as they go. What makes them confidence men is their wit. Their gift of the gab. Their natural inclination to deceive and disarm with charm – or whatever other tools are available.
So, that was my starting point: how would I, a non-grifter, grift someone. How could I gain their confidence and in doing so, get what I wanted. What could I promise? What slight of hand could I employ?
This approached proved remarkably successful. By designing my own grift based on cunning and use of language – some of it borrowed “sales speak” from my stint as a telemarketer – I was able to write the film without having to rely on tricks or contrivances to drive the plot forward. I needed to know what each character wanted from the other and how they would go about getting it. This, I am told, is the very essence of dramatic writing; so perhaps, in writing a film about con artists, it made my job easier. As it turns out, every character in the story – of which there are four – wants something from someone else. Something of value. Some succeed in getting what they seek and others don’t. This too, is drama.
There are no happy endings: some characters win, some lose and it should be entertaining.
Finally, I am indebted to my friends and colleagues who took time to read the first draft of the script and give notes – that was three years ago. It was Ms. Anita Abbasi, who would become my co-director on the project, that asked to re-read the script and, based on the strength of that first draft, helped me shape it into the film it is today. Without her keen sense of storytelling, I would have been at a disadvantage. Some credit also goes to her ear for dialogue, which was invaluable in revising and re-writing exchanges between characters.