Ideas bounce around in my head that I know I want to include in my story. For instance, yesterday an employee from a drugstore called me to ask me if I had any prescriptions I wanted to fill. I have had prescriptions filled at this store before, but wouldn’t I know if I needed some prescriptions filled? Wouldn’t I just call them and have them filled without their prod? I posed this logic to the eager employee and she asked me if I knew how to get in touch with them? It all went downhill from there. That’s just one of the many recent experiences that I know I can include in my story.
But, before I start on this journey to chart my way through making a no-budget movie, I ask myself why do I want to tell a story in the first place? And why do I want to do it through the medium of film? Why would I go through the rigors of dreaming up a story, structuring the character and plot and theme, scripting it, asking for money (Yes, a no-budget film costs money to make!), finding a crew, a camera, and all the paraphernalia to do the job? It’s a lot of work, much of it tedious.
The answer is that I live in the realm of stories all the time. Stuff just comes to me. When I was a boy, all the kids in the neighborhood would come to my yard and I would cast them in my fantasies. I didn’t think of myself as a “leader”, but as I look back I see I was definitely the one with all the ideas and all the others would just go along for some reason.
There was one kid who lived across the street that my parents didn’t want me playing with. Pat Dover was a latchkey kid who lived with his divorced mom who worked nights. Pat ran around barefoot in dirty clothes and was a little wild, but he was a great and willing actor in my scenarios. He was Huck Finn to my Tom Sawyer.
I had stories that went on for weeks sometimes. It would take us from our back yard, up trees, across the roof of our garage, down the alley, to the railroad yards where we absolutely were not supposed to be. When I was called for dinner, it didn’t matter how many arrows, knives, and bullet wounds I had, I would tell Pat “to be continued” and run in to eat. He always showed up the next day knowing exactly where we left off.
The interesting thing about these stories is that we would battle each other, two quest seekers always at odds with each other, and wind up realizing we were blood brothers. Even if I was the Indian and he was the sheriff looking to arrest my renegade ass, we would discover our kinship with a matching medalion, or matching birthmarks, or some other device I had dreamed up. We would then team up victoriously against a common enemy. Then, somehow, we would forget that we were brothers and become enemies once again. It was a great couple of summers!
When I was an adolescent, I enlisted my sister and brother to record mock radio shows complete with disk jockey, songs, commercials, and radio dramas. We would use our dad’s reel-to-reel recorder that we were told not to ever touch and threatened within an inch of our lives if we did. But the desire to create was stronger than the fear of punishment. Years later as an adult, my dad, now divorced from my mom, told me he wanted me to hear something and played one of those tapes. He told me it was his most treasured possession and had listened to it hundreds of times.
I don’t know where this urge to create stories comes from, but I do know that the structure of story, as codified by Aristotle, is in everyone’s DNA. Ingrained into us by many thousands of years of story telling around the village fires for teaching purposes, we all instinctively know the elements a story needs to be successful. If we are not story tellers, we are at least story listeners. One of the basic tenets of good story telling is to give the audience what it expects, but not how it expects the outcome. If we don’t do that well, the audience is savvy enough to hit the gong.
I think that it’s important during these turbulent times with cultural, religious, and regional lines being drawn in the proverbial sand that we remember the common bonds of music and story telling. All cultures grow their roots in a mythology that becomes uniquely their own. Yet, as Joseph Campbell shows us in HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES, there is a commonality in the multiplicity of mythologies because the human experience is universal as a result of our similar nervous systems. Mythology helps us to understand our experiences and preserve the past.
When I asked my brother what kinds of movies he likes he told me he only watches movies to escape. I asked him is his life was so bad he feels he has to escape. “No,” he said. “It helps me to relax.” Of course, if a story teller can bring an audience to this relaxed state, that is a great time to sneak a little life lesson in under the radar as well.
I think there is a continuum from pure escapism to interpretive story telling. On the pure escapist end of the spectrum, stories are tightly structured with a familiar story-telling template so the audience doesn’t have to think much. They just sit back on the roller coaster and take the ride. On the other end of the spectrum an audience is required to be a part of the story-telling experience. By virtue of experiencing less formal unique structures of character, plot, and thematic information, they reach some greater understanding of the values they bring to the process. As we bring our personal values into balance with conscious understanding, while being entertained, we create the inner fabric to build a more unified outer community. This unified community brings joy to the individual. That, for me, is the purpose of telling stories.