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Adam Mason & Simon Boyes on Writing 'Songbird' During a Pandemic

January 5, 2021
3 min read time

Screenwriters Adam Mason and Simon Boyes didn't initially plan to write a movie about a pandemic during a pandemic. But when COVID-19 shut down the movie they had originally planned to shoot in 2020, they ended up doing just that with Songbird.

The movie, which Mason also directed, is set four years in the future and uses Los Angeles as a backdrop for its depiction of a world grappling with COVID-23. It interweaves the parallel love stories of Nico (K.J. Apa), an infectious carrier with immunity to the virus and Sara (Sofia Carson), his girlfriend under lockdown in her home; May (Alexandra Daddario), a struggling singer and Dozer (Paul Walter Hauser), a veteran suffering from PTSD.

"[The script for Songbird] was inspired by what was happening around us," said Boyes.

"We were working on a movie that Adam was going to direct and it was shut down and we had to head home. So I thought we should write a movie."

The movie was originally a monster movie set during a lockdown with the monsters serving as sort of a metaphor as to what was going on. However, when producers Michael Bay and Adam Goodman came on board, "We figured that nothing would be scarier than the real thing," said Boyes.

"So that’s when we started talking about what it would look like if this didn’t clear up after a few things and got worse, and [we] explored a more heightened version of what we were experiencing." 

The screenwriters, who have been working together for more than 20 years, said they were influenced by a viral video Italians put together that was circulating around in March. 

"Basically it was them saying,  because they were dealing with the pandemic before the rest of Europe  ‘Look, you need to take this seriously because what’s happening to us today could happen to you tomorrow, even if you can’t imagine it,'" said Mason.

"So Simon and I took inspiration from that video and took the idea to set the movie four years in the future, so the movie was a postcard from a potential worst-case scenario." 

However, even the worst-case scenarios that the duo had originally planned to write ended up coming true in real life. 

"Art imitated life in really eerie ways," said Mason.

"We started writing in March and we were writing these things that we thought might happen in a few years like curfews, and then there were curfews happening. We were predicting things that went from something very sci-fi to something more relatable. That was definitely a strange factor."

The pair consulted with various economists, futurists and scientists as research, who verified for them that things they thought could happen in the future weren't too far-fetched after all.

That's why, said Boyes, they wanted to dive into the romantic part of the story.

"We didn’t want to just focus on the depressing parts of the pandemic. We wanted a love story that was set against the pandemic, kind of like The English Patient or Casablanca; stories that are set against the canvas of war but are really about romance."

The two looked to classic romantic stories like Romeo and Juliet, Beauty and the Beast, and Rapunzel to help weave their stories as they outlined the script. While Boyes and Mason typically write together in person, the pandemic changed their writing process, which meant a lot of phone and Zoom calls. 

"We would spend time on the phone talking about the world we were building and the rules we had to establish," said Mason of how they first started scripting.

"And then we gradually distilled that down into the characters that we wanted to explore. Once we came up with those stories, we carved out those stories individually and we looked for ways as how they could intersect so they could just become one narrative."

From there they took the detailed outline to draft, which only took three days to write, "because we had such a detailed outline," said Mason. 

Despite the challenges of writing and making a movie during the pandemic, Mason said the experience was a very rewarding situation.

"There was a real focus on script and story and performance, which are some of the things that sometimes get lost on a big film production," he said.

"Because of the restrictions and safety protocols, everything was stripped back and got back to its essence. We weren't allowed to have certain equipment, so it was really just the camera and the actors, which just led to a very creative experience."

Boyes agrees.

"It was interesting," he said.

"Creativity and writing and moviemaking is all about problem solving and this was a unique set of problems and it does make you think outside the box. Those types of limitations make you think in a different way, and I think that we will take that moving forward when it comes to telling the stories we want to tell." 

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