Script to Screen: A Quack in Time

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Back in 2011, I made my student television debut on SX:TV with a script about a magical rubber duck. You can read all about the writing of Rub-a-Duck in a previous blog post, but that’s so half a decade ago. To celebrate the fifth anniversary of The Rub-a-Duck Saga – because, yes, it actually spawned a couple of follow-ups and a small but dedicated following of loyal fans – I teamed up with the fine folks at Light Gap Productions to produce the fourth chapter in the story: A Quack In Time!

This isn’t just “yet another Rub-a-Duck film” though – there’s a story behind the story. If you’re looking for an insight into the creative processes behind the sequel that nobody asked for, then read on and prepare to be amazed…

First things first before we get started – if you haven’t already seen A Quack in Time, go watch it right now! This feature will be discussing spoilers in depth, so here’s a handy YouTube playlist for you to enjoy the full 20 minute film in all its glory:

All caught up? Right then, let’s quack on… (ahem)

Our mantra for A Quack in Time was simple: if we’re going to do another one, we’re going to do it well. Or at least, that’s what our mantra became. You see, the story you’ve just watched isn’t actually the one that we started out with. In fact, A Quack in Time has been through at least two or three major revisions since we first agreed to seriously consider a fourth chapter. The very first draft was what I like to describe as “full-on fifth anniversary” with callbacks galore to the original trilogy. It centred around a new, original character finding the Rub-a-Duck in the same way that Guy had done, before being caught up in a whirlwind of events that took place in real time, five years later. This was very much a “kitchen sink” script – the Henchmen would have appeared as comical talking skulls, the Mastermind was going to be the big bad as an ethereal super-being, and the world would have been saved by the almighty power of people shouting “quack!”. On paper, it sounded like a hoot.

But then we realised something. The whole “#Quack4More” joke had essentially started as a means of winding people up because Rub-a-Duck didn’t have the best reputation. Its former home, SX:TV (may it rest in peace), all but abandoned comedy and drama altogether after the release of Quack To The Future because it was felt there was too much focus on in-jokes and silliness. The second/first chapter (depending on your chronological perspective), Henchman Training, has all but been purged from existence due to its questionable quality. So we decided to change tact – let’s not just make a new film, let’s make a legitimately good one. And so Script #1 went to one side and we started again, this time with a more serious narrative in mind…

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I won’t tell you what that particular script was about though. Partly because I want to move on to talking about the final version of A Quack in Time, but mainly because there were a lot of good ideas in it that you may or may not see in some form one day. Rest assured, it was a marked departure from the first draft, and for a long time it was very nearly on the cards – but in the end, we decided against it for a number of practical reasons. Which led to another rewrite, which sort of merged the tone of the second draft with some of the throwbacks from the first… and voila, you have A Quack in Time!

With a script locked in, we wanted to make this the Citizen Kane of Rub-a-Duck films. Literally. Just as Quack To The Future was loosely based on Back To The Future (and Rub-a-Duck loosely based on Aladdin), A Quack in Time is loosely based on Orson Welles’ defining work. You can see the similarities for yourself – compare the opening scene of Kane with the opening scene of Quack. We’ve tried to recreate it as best we can, right down to the title cards at the beginning:

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The decision to kill off Guy, the main character from the first three films, was not an easy one. We always knew that it would be incredibly unlikely that we’d get Karam Grover back (our budget didn’t stretch as far as air fare from India, sadly!) – but in the first two versions of the script, Guy was alive, just away from the action. For this script though, he had to bite the bullet. However, the one thing that never changed was the phone call at the end. Sure, the words altered a bit to fit the context, but that was always, always going to be how the film ended. No matter what, I made sure that stayed in. I’m absolutely thrilled that it’s gone down as one of the most emotional and memorable moments from A Quack in Time, and I can’t thank Karam enough for agreeing to do the top secret recordings for us and keeping his appearance a surprise.

“Hello, old friend. I don’t know if you will ever hear this. Although the boundaries of time and space now separate us, I hope you are well, wherever and whenever you are. I wanted to call you, to make things right before the end. I can’t believe it’s been a lifetime since I last saw you. I know we had our rough patches, but I hope you know that I have never forgotten you, and that you are always forgiven. You may have done wrong, but you’re a good person at heart. And you were right about me too. I was far from perfect. Life didn’t come easy, not even with a magical rubber duck. I had to get it the hard way. But you know what? I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I suppose you’re wondering: the real Rub-a-Duck? It’s out there, somewhere. Maybe someone will find it someday. Maybe they won’t. Who knows. Let it live in mystery and legend. That’s what I wanted to pass on to you, from one dreamer to another. That’s why I set up The Rub-a-Duck Toy Company – to remind people that, no matter what happens, a little hope can get you through. You won’t always make the right decisions, and you won’t always be able to make everybody happy. But whatever you do, never, ever stop believing in magic…”

Which leads nicely onto the themes that we settled on for this film. After the first two scripts, it became apparent that we didn’t need a brand new character at all – there was still a lot that could be done with Penn, my character. His evolution from Rub-a-Duck to A Quack in Time is quite something, moving from a one-dimensional “friend” to arguably the most fleshed out character in the whole series. This allowed us to build on the themes of friendship and redemption, exploring Guy and Penn on a deeper level than ever. It also gave us the opportunity to do something we’d never done before – a story without an obvious hero. You’re positioned to root for Penn because he’s the one you’re familiar with, but he’s not a good guy. Coda, his captor from the Tempo (a shortening of “Temporal Police”, if you’re interested), is more morally in the right – but at the same time, you don’t want him to win either. And in the end, neither of them do. Coda goes back to the Infinity Sphere empty handed, and Penn is left to wander the world of 2076 alone with no friends or magical rubber ducks to aid him. The theme of legacy is also prevalent throughout the film, making it a story all about Guy without actually having him in it at all, bar the very beginning and very end scenes.

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Personally, I like to think A Quack in Time is a film you can enjoy on many levels. On its surface, it’s a (hopefully!) fun and accessible time-travelling adventure with hints of comedy and emotion along the way. But there’s more and more you can pick up on with every subsequent viewing. If you’re a Rub-a-Duck follower, the throwbacks are still there, just a bit more subtle – did you spot the Mastermind and the Henchmen, or the fate of Guy’s girlfriend/wife? Parts of the script have even been written with some tongue-in-cheek meta level jokes in mind. Listen carefully and see how many you can find!

“So, Penn. Tell us. Tell us the story of this rubber duck. Where did it all begin, and why should anybody care about it?”

All in all, A Quack in Time was in the works for over a year, excluding the fake #Quack4More teaser trailers we came up with beforehand. Production took exactly five months from the first day of filming to the day of release (2nd April to 2nd September 2016) and, to our relief, it’s been met with positive reception so far. I like to think we did the originals proud, capturing their charm and spirit while reinvigorating them with better cinematography for a new generation. Moreover, I think we did ourselves justice – despite the absurd premise, I believe this is one of the most accomplished and profound scripts I’ve written. Not two words I’d ever thought I’d associate with a film about a magical rubber duck!

So, what does the future hold for The Rub-a-Duck Saga? Who knows. We’ve certainly re-lit the flame with A Quack in Time, and there’s definitely potential for it to continue someday. If you look really closely for subtle plot points then you might even find some clues as to where a hypothetical fifth chapter might go. Whether or not it will though is another matter entirely. But if this is how the saga ends, then I’m happy that it’s bowing out on a high.

DOWNLOAD: A Quack in Time (Shooting Script) – PDF version

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The End…?

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