I’m still working on transposing my notes into something more cinematic. This is my least favorite part of screenwriting because I find the balance of progress to delay very difficult to manage. It is exciting when you take an idea not yet applied to a visual or dramatic context and give it one. It’s also not an easy task because you have to start over in a sense. If you’re lucky you don’t have to change much and can simply adjust your notes to adapt to the screen. That hasn’t happened for me yet. Being forced to fit every story element into a scene always induces me to consider more dramatic choices and alternative areas to give focus too, which means I wind up discarding some of my cards and filling out new ones. The energy required to follow through with this makes me reluctant to continue, and when I do get to work, I have to fight the urge to rush just to get the job done. Currently, I am looking at two stacks of cards. One, a set of carefully plotted sequences all made up of scenes, and the other a stringy shapeless narrative that serves as little more than a spine for the rest of the story. When the first pile grows I will have a fully formed outline with all the DNA I need to construct an engaging and immersive story, but for now I have to muddle through and take my time to be thorough, but be careful not to slow to a halt.
A couple of interesting things happened yesterday. I popped in an old movie of mine fully expecting to hate it. It was a no budget picture. I mean, literally no budget. I had a friend who served as DP, who bailed halfway through the production. I think he ran off to Canada. His phone was disconnected and I never heard from him. His girlfriend did makeup. She was good, but she left him before he went AWOL. The production is very amateur. We used all the production and editing equipment a $20 annual membership fee could afford (A unique luxury provided by the CAPS station in Ventura, Ca). My friends worked for free. The catch was, most of the cast was in my hometown of Fullerton and The filming equipment could only be rented for a day, unless we checked it out on Friday and returned on Monday. Scheduling was a nightmare and the project almost didn’t get completed. It would have been much smoother if I just had auditions at home and took a month to just hammer it out, but I have very talented friends and directing them was one of the best times in my life.
The production was riddled with off set drama and compromises that come from taking over a year to put together. It isn’t a clean production, or a particularly reverent one. We went with ideas just because they sounded cool or were funny/interesting at the time. I was constantly rewriting the script. Sometimes to get around a filming issue, sometimes to make up for laziness beforehand. I still wound up with a couple of duds where I failed as a director to give the actors something interesting to do. Some scenes made me cringe, but aside from all the apparent drawbacks I noticed something in the movie that I never saw or appreciated before. It’s got a really good story. The takes aren’t all perfect and I could go back and work on it some more and give it a more professional look, but I never would because there is magic in those moments that were created on digital video that one time. Those moments will never be recaptured and I would rather have them than something polished. I walked away from the viewing, not embarrassed or disappointed, but inspired. What I now saw in the little 24 minute slice of life I never took much pride in writing was some real crisp, sharp storytelling that never once occurred to me at the time I wrote or filmed or even edited it. It was like another person’s work, and I was critiquing it, supposing what the writer was thinking, but the writer was me and at the time, I was too close to the project to see what I had done. How’s that for a trip?
Cut to: later on I watch Synecdoche New York for (almost) the second time. I really enjoyed it. Coming from anyone else it would have seemed pretentious, but I think Charlie Kaufman has a gift for turning pretense into truth. Probably because the truth and pretension can be somewhat inseparable and to be more human is to be more pretentious in a way. Actors playing actors on ever shrinking stages trying to get to the heart while portraying the whole has a futility to it that is as quickly recognizable as the irony of gleaning truth from theatre. I love watching Charlie Kaufman talk. I watched an interview afterward, talking about his films and he has great insights, particularly into how he works and what he tries to do in his writing, but even more fascinating is how inarticulate he can be when asked to talk about his films specifically. Of course, subjectivity is a word that always pops up along Kaufman’s name for reasons as varied as the layers in his scripts, but it’s funny how I see something in his or another writer’s movie, and given the opportunity to discuss it, they seem not to see at all what I see and appreciate so much about their work. That’s fascinating to me.
Eternal Sunshine followed by Adaptation are still my favorites, but Charlie brings so much intensity and detailed vision to Synecdoche that is truly awe-inspiring. So, with my work half done and a little pick me up from a master storyteller and some work dug up from my past I’m now motivated to continue with my script today, if nothing else, for the curiosity of what I might find in it five years from now.