New Year’s Eve Brings Direction to the Story

January 8, 2011

For the last three months, Producer G. and I have been thoroughly distracted by other projects, other work, and by financing efforts, which has put MOG3 story development on a back burner for a while. 

But good news: We had extensive meetings over the New Year holiday, and the story is moving forward again.

Moving forward AGAIN?—But why had it stopped?

I delivered a 30-page step outline of the story way back in early Spring.  But G. was moving into production on another feature film project, putting this one firmly on hold.  I stopped writing after delivering the outline because, as I explained in this April ‘09 post, without producer feedback, further screenplay development could easily be a waste of time.  

Then, in early October at the close of G.’s conflicting production, I had a brief phone conversation with him.  He had just read the outline. 

And how did that talk go?

G. was generally pleased with the direction the story was taking, but he was concerned with the scope of the story—not in terms of its costs for moviemaking, but in terms of the story itself: with how much we were trying to say or show. 

From that call, it was clear that, before I went any further, we needed a legitimate story meeting to go over his concerns and agree on how I would fix the story to resolve those concerns.  Since we both had conflicting projects, the story was shelved until we could meet.

Which we just did in late December.

So then, what was the rub?

G.’s concern was primarily with the story transition from Joe Cameron the police officer to Joe Cameron the statesman—that we planned to have Joe start off as the former and, at the Act 2/Act 3 point in the story, to take on the latter.   After reading the step outline, he felt that it may be too much story to tell.

Mind you, that’s no small concern. 

One of the underlying themes of the story was the idea that, in a country where the government is dysfunctional, a cop’s best efforts to be an effective law enforcement officer are virtually impotent—that you need to repair or create a healthy legislative and judicial process to have a stable and functioning society.  Thus, since our story conceptualization meetings almost exactly two years ago, the basic storyline assumption was that high ranking police officer Joe Cameron would take radical steps to save his beloved Caribbean homeland, first by unorthodox (and ethically questionable) law enforcement tactics and then, when that fails, by taking on the government, presumably by not only outing the corrupt politicians but by attempting to become a statesman to fill the leadership void.

It all sounded good when we brainstormed the idea. 

It even looked good when I wrote an 8-page synopsis of the story. 

But when I broke it down into a detailed 30-page step treatment, we realized the problem we had on our hands; the story could make a great novel, but it was too freakin’ big to be a movie.  To keep the length of the movie reasonable (under, say, two hours) we would have to rush through the story phases to squeeze it all in.  But doing so would strain the credibility of character arc; if we could not fully develop the major character realizations and transitions, these story transitions would likely feel phony—unrealistic.

How we decided to fix this:

The short story on how the story will change looks something like this:

  1. Kill off the original third act
  2. Build up the legal proceedings phase, originally the end of the second act, to become the new third act

I know—this sounds huge.  That’s only because it is.  More on this later….


Anesthetized

October 23, 2009

Working on a tedious passage of the story’s step outline, my brain needed a little visual stimulation, so I grabbed my laptop and left my home office to go check out a local establishment here in my new ‘hood that advertised good espresso and free Wi-Fi Internet.

As I entered, the atmosphere looked nice enough, but the lack of a/c gave me pause (it’s about 93 degrees here today).  A bevy of big ceiling fans made it tolerable though, so I ordered an Americano and cranked up the laptop.

As I did so, the shop’s sound system loudly pumped out its “background” music. Some instrumental piece with a middle eastern flavor. A tolerable tune, but tediously repetitive.

Well, no biggie; how long can the song be, right?

So, I tuned it out in my mind and got busy on the story.

Good coffee, by the way.

Ten minutes later, I suddenly noticed that the song was still going. And it didn’t seem to build or fade or change keys or …

What the… Could it be stuck in a loop? How would that even be possible, unless they’re using a turntable record player? But surely it was stuck.

So I began paying close attention to the song…

Well, I’ll be hornswaggled.  Indeed, it seems just too repetitive to be anything more than the same three or four bars of music repeating, and there was this little, tiny hiccup in the rhythm that could very well be the skip point causing the song passage loop endlessly.

I should say something about it to the employee, I thought. 

But, no; there’s a line and she looks busy and what if I’m wrong about the song looping because what if it’s supposed to repeat endlessly in this trancelike way and I’m just being culturally ignorant to not recognize that and then I’d be insulting her to tell her that her music is “stuck”and besides I’m here to work on the script, not stand in a line so I can whine about the background music, which is now utterly in the FOREGROUND of my mind, by the way, and doesn’t seem to be bothering anyone else…

So, okay, I’ll push it out of my mind.

I’ve got brains. I’ve got willpower. I’ll employ both to ignore it and get back to work. 

Which I did.

45 minutes later, I awakened to the realization that the damned song was still playing. 

And, yes, it was the same three incessant, mind-numbing bars.

I looked around, wondering how it’s possible that no other patrons—nor even the employee behind the counter, who had been there the entire time, and who knows for how long she’d been hearing the song before I got here—seemed the least bit conscious of this never-ending musical faucet drip. How is this possible!?

Had they become completely anesthetized to it?

Those brainless sheep!

Of course, before I spent too much time pondering how stupid everyone must be to remain so unaware of this diabolical melodic torture technique (which was probably also insidiously pumping subliminal anti-American messages into our subconscious, right?), I had to first humbly (sheepishly?) recognize that I had been able to work on the story for nearly an hour without any conscious awareness of it either.

Like the proverbial slow-boiled lobster, I thought.

Which made me smile.  Because that’s at the heart of this story I’m birthing—how we all become anesthetized to an evolving or devolving social situation when it happens gradually—how we can come to shrug off a condition that would enrage us if thrown suddenly upon us—how we are numbed into a state of resignation when a distasteful situation is fed to us initially in an eye dropper, and then in tiny sips before more lethally poisoning our system with big gulps of it, until utterly drowning us in torrents of bile—how we’re unhappy about the bile, yet willingly stomaching it when it’s gently morphed its way into being the status quo.

Made me smile?  No, not the bile, and not the slow poisoning of a passive society, but the symbolic significance of the anesthetization that I just went through with that endless musical loop. It showed me how easy it is to fall prey to it—how, even when I was conscious of the situation, I felt pressured by social mores to not make a scene: to take action.

I could use this in the story.

As soon as that blasted song-loop stops!

So, like my protagonist Joe Cameron, I set aside my work to pick up the cause of the people—to save them from becoming boiled lobsters.

“May I help you, sir?”

“Yes, m’am. First, I’d like to say that your coffee is very good.”

“Thank you,” she said, glancing at the tip jar.

“Second, I have to ask … is this song really so repetitive, or could it be … stuck?”

She looked confused for a moment—maybe the word “repetitive” wasn’t in her vocabulary?—and then tilted an ear toward the ceiling, listening. 

After less than five seconds, she nodded. “I think you’re right.”

She disappeared backstage and stopped the song. I heard a collective sigh of relief throughout the shop. 

Oh, wait.  It was just me.

But it felt collective, if that counts.

I guess they really had all been numbed into ignorance. 

Wow.

A hero’s sacrifices often go unnoticed, I figured.  Yep, they may never know the great good that I’ve done for them.  Still, I felt pretty good about taking a stand—about becoming a shepherd instead of a sheep.

That’s the good news. Unfortunately, my social activism had plucked me…

Out of the boiling pot, and into the skillet:

So now, the repetitive instrumental music is gone, replaced with Elton John’s Greatest Hits, which the employee must be very fond of, because it’s playing even louder than the preceding 50-minute-long instrumental loop that I’d just rescued her from.

Like replacing one tyrannical form of government for another.

Yep.

So, with Elton blaring as the FOREGROUND atmosphere of the shop as I write this story, don’t be surprised if there’s a scene in the movie in which a crocodile rocks a tiny dancer on a Saturday night until it’s knocked out by a candle in the wind thrown by some honky cat called Benny who then jets outa’ there before anyone lets the sun goes down on him.

And we CUT TO…