“I am the sort of writer who thrives on assignments. A blank slate makes me crazy, but if you tell me what you want and give me a deadline, I’m happy.” Garrison Keillor wrote that in his introduction to his printed script A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION (Penguin Books). I can relate. Here I am deciding to create a script for a movie that I have no money for and no one cares. What’s the point? And how do I get started?
First, to the point of why I bother. It’s a little like working out. Sometimes it feels good, but to get and stay in shape you have to be consistent, and consistency can get tedious. But being in shape feels great, so you do it. Like Dorothy Parker said: “I hate to write; I love having written.” I love it whenever someone reads one of my scripts and tells me how much they love it. You could accuse me of being other-directed, but I like reading my stuff too. Also, I know the thrill of being in the creative process. It’s all-consuming. It’s just a matter of overcoming the inertia and getting started.
So, how do I get started in order to begin the journey toward this love fest? I pretend that it is an assignment with strict guidelines. I don’t know what the story is yet, but I create parameters, some of which I already know:
1. The entire movie will be shot in my apartment;
2. I will play the lead and limit my cast to 3;
3. I will spend no more than 50 grand for everything – pre-, shoot, post.
This leads to many influences already built into the above parameters. I look around my apartment and see what I have to work with.
1. 4 walls full of books of every subject, and sheet music, and CDs, and DVDs;
2. a grand piano;
3. a guitar;
4. memorabilia from a marriage and divorce;
6. kitchen utensils;
8. closet full of clothes;
9. junk closet with toolbox and miscellaneous stuff;
10. doors and windows to the outside world;
11. all the other usual stuff one finds in a bachelor pad.
Then, I become influenced by things I’ve been reading lately. Harold Pinter died recently, so I’ve been rereading his biography and plays. He was influenced by Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco, so I start reading Beckett’s stuff. Beckett worked with James Joyce, so I delve a little into Joyce. This is the string that my mind follows. If you know any of these writers, you know that their characters live in a paranoid world (which reminds me of Kafka!) – Pinter’s, Beckett’s, and Ionesco’s anyway. They are masters of minimalism, subtext, economy, understatement, and abstraction.
Somehow, among this reading, I detoured off into reading about and watching Alfred Hitchcock’s works. Hitchcock inspired Francois Truffant and the French New Wave, which led me back to Ingmar Bergman and a whole consideration of telling the story visually and as non-verbally as possible. Being of the theatre, this is somewhat foreign to me because I love creating character scene agendas in conflict through dialogue.
Coupled with the above, I have accepted an assignment to write a horror script recently, a genre that I don’t particularly relate to. So, in the past week I’ve watched a ton of horror movies, classic and contemporary, some guffawishly bad and some pretty good. I actually like the psychological horror, which to me is not horror, but terror. Horror can create terror, but I think you can have the terror without the nonsense of splatter, slash and gore, the supernatural Satanic crap, or stupid characters making really stupid choices. I think the best horror films are those where the protagonists are not victims of uncontrollable circumstances, but have created their own circumstance by dilemma-driven decisions between irreconcilable choices. I think the writer and director can create a feeling of more culpability within the audience that way.
All of these current occupations will influence my story and characters. I have given myself parameters. The next step is to create my character and what he wants. Since I cannot separate myself from who I am, I know some things that I will bring to this character. Underlying all the psychological stuff – the fear manifesting as loss, paranoia, disconnection, frustration, ennui, absurd laughter, etc. – the character will have a spiritual hunger, a need to understand his existence and a fundamental desire to express his purpose. I know this will be an inherent part of the character because it is who I am. I will be writing the character and playing him, so this fundamental trait will come out organically.