In 2015, I wrote and directed a short film called “Castaway, Castaway!” This was very much a passion project. I spent a lot of time wrestling with the script before getting together with some friends and shooting it on a low budget. But what happened during the process of writing and filming it ended up having a profound effect on my life.
If you haven’t seen it before, please watch it before reading the rest of this article (unless you don’t care about spoilers). It’s only 12 minutes.
I hope you enjoyed the film! I’d like to share a bit now about the writing process and the evolution of the story.
The Icky First Draft
I went through so many versions during the writing process. In the first draft, it was still about a guy and a girl who were castaways on an island. But the girl was a selfish, villain character. In this version, she was forcing the guy to hold a radio in the air, because the only way they were able to receive a music signal was by holding it up high. Because the guy like-liked the girl, he was (relatively) happy to hold up the radio up so she could enjoy some music.
Eventually, a better looking guy arrives on the island. This causes a rivalry between the two guys, and they duel for control of the radio. But no matter how hard the main guy fights for her attention, the girl ultimately picks the better looking guy.
The last third of the film shows the main guy depressed as the new guy and the girl are a happy couple. So rather than stick around as an award third wheel, he steals the raft that the better looking guy arrived on and takes off into the ocean. He travels across the open sea all alone for many days before arriving at a new island. Lo and behold, there is a new girl on this island. This new girl smiles as he steps toward her. It appears she’s interested in him. All sounds good, right? But then, the twist… on that island, there was another guy, who glares at our hero. He too is holding a radio.
And thus, with the beginning of a new rivalry, this film would come to its bitter end.
After I wrote this version, I found myself frustrated. I didn’t like that story for a few reasons. It was a story where the girl was a villain, the main guy was a selfish enabler, and the message was: “We’re all stuck on islands, using one another, and the only way to find love is to usurp someone else’s place. The best we can do is travel from island to island, batting others for love.”
It was a terribly depressing and bitter little story, born out of my own frustrations as a single man.
I’ll be honest, I wrote it while I was in a dark emotional space. But as time went on, I started to work on personal stuff. This led to me forgiving some girls in my life who I felt hurt by (not an easy task, but that’s a story for another day). As I began to heal, the script started to change into (mostly) the story that I ended up filming.
The Final Draft
Originally, the girl character was a villain. In the final draft, she was now just someone stuck on an island with a guy. They weren’t romantically involved, and no one was using anyone. They were just good friends. They had fun together in the beginning and were able to enjoy each other’s company. But then, when an accidental fall causes the radio station to change, and romance awakens in the guy, he stops caring about what “she wants” and forces the music to be different and hard for her to dance to. He then tries to kiss her and bring about romance over and over, but it only serves to damage their relationship and drive them apart. When a new guy eventually arrives, and the two dance even without music, the main character realizes that those two are really in love and that it’s over for him.
This new guy, he isn’t a good looking jerk like in my first draft. When casting these roles, I wanted both men to look very similar (they wear the same outfit and have similar haircuts). The idea here was that she didn’t pick one guy over the other because he was better looking or anything. It just wasn’t right for the girl and the main character. Sometimes that happens in real life. There’s nothing one person does wrong. It just isn’t always right.
When the new guy character hands the main character the paddle, it’s meant to be given as a way to love him, not shoo him away. He’s saying “I’ve been there before. It’s hard, I know. But it’ll get better. Take my raft and go out and carve your own story.”
The Raft Fail That Ended Up Creating Meaning
Okay, so now on to my favourite part of the story. Several cool things happened in the actual making of the film, particularly in the end. See, as I filmed it, the original ending was similar to the first draft (the difference being that the main guy leaves on a raft and finds a new island with a new girl on it and the two live happily ever after.) But when we filmed Clint, my actor, leaving with the raft, he fell overboard on the way back and the raft broke apart. We got our shot of him leaving, but we would be unable to show him arriving at a new island on that same raft.
We also couldn’t get the original raft design to work, so we had to strip it down to the boxy thing we have in the final film. It was a decision I thought ended up working well because it looked strikingly like a coffin. I felt God speaking to me in that symbolism.
In that moment, the raft became a symbol of “dying to yourself / your desires” and trusting God with the unknown. As the main character takes off his shoes, it’s a reflection of how people are buried without shoes. After the raft broke, I found we were able to use this as a new symbol. I changed the post-credits ending to show the broken pieces of the raft washing up to shore (another image of death) and used the swimming man as a symbol of baptism. He was literally dying to his old island life and being reborn on the mainland.
The film no longer became a story of “leaving the wrong girl to find the right one” and instead became a story about a guy who is a castaway on an island, and learns to “cast away” his old life, and to find freedom on the mainland and back in society. Although it wasn’t the ending I originally envisioned, it became the perfect ending for the story I needed to work out in my heart.
As cliché as this sounds, making this film helped me realize that sometimes you need to let go of the thing you think you want in order to get the thing you actually need. In the case of my character, his problem at the beginning of the film was not that he was single, but that he was a castaway on an island. He needed to get back to the real world in order to live his life. Likewise, I needed to let go of certain fantasies about romance in my own mind in order to be free to pursue my true calling.
I never imagined I would have learned all this when I first set out to write a story about a castaway trapped on an island with a beautiful girl. But sometimes, the best lessons are the ones that strike us in the most unexpected ways.