Sunday, August 07, 2011

Style and Execution

July 17th, 2011

It's been a few beautiful, dry and cool days lately, during which I had to work. (Of course.) Now the 90 degree heat's come back again... and on my day off. (Naturally.) The humidity wasn't scheduled to arrive again until nightfall though, so I grabbed my notebook, Diet Coke & cookie and went to my spot at the Park. The swelter didn't phase me in the slightest as I started the outline for the story, proper. All the backstory work I'd been doing lately fell right into place. The story was originally going to be a real-time investigation sort of thing, but now I see the value of flashbacks and imagined realities in this particular story and they seem to flowing in their places pretty well. It has to do with what the Hero has grown up thinking is a particular truth or two about his past, only to have the actual truth given to him from two or three other people, even as we suspect that those people might be coloring their own particular meaning of the truth in their own way... Flashbacks and such really are the only way to make this come alive visually. I guess noir films use them for a reason, after all.

The key, if I'm allowed by fate to direct this film, is to differentiate between the actual/real past material and the imagined past material, visually. Soderbergh used color temperature in Traffic to split up his Washington/Mexico/Los Angeles based storyline. I'm thinking "locked-down camera" for the false/imagined past and "handheld but not shaky-cam" as the actual/real past. I've long felt that the great films of the 60's/70's always had that handheld you-are-there news camera sort of realism (Medium Cool, for one). Maybe this is a way to go. Or maybe the other way around would be more interesting, almost turning the convention on it's own ear. Will have to think about that...

At any rate: I felt the first, real sense of accomplishment today. It feels like I've planned out the entire film now, from the opening shot to the closing credits, on paper. After four-plus years, the story is now finally all laid out. The tough part's over. Next is the mostly-easy part. The actual writing of the first draft.

August 7, 2011

Spent my last few days off getting life stuff done. Finally relenting and putting the air conditioner in, paying bills, cleaning the room, seeing the occasional film, house and cat sitting. These all cut into my creativity time a little. I did get around to gathering all my little notes on scraps of paper and color-copying them to 8.5 by 11 inch sheets, so now I have fresh new versions to refer to, should I need them. Maybe I should digitize them and keep them on the laptop and iPod Touch, too. Having them available to me at any given moment sounds like a decent idea.

I've also decided to have another sort of back-up plan. The story I'm working on, you see, is sort of a remake. But not really. That is: there is a terrific old thriller that I've always enjoyed. To film-people it's a classic, however to most average audiences it's largely unknown, which is a tragedy since, at least in my opinion, it really should be as recognized as The Big Sleep, Cape Fear, White Heat and a host of others. The thing that always struck me about it was it's amazing opening scene. Not to give it away but it's a tough and sparse slow-burn of dramatic perfection. Beautifully written, directed, photographed and performed... and it's probably my favorite opening scene of all time.

Some time ago, I figured it would be a great idea to keep that amazing opening scene, line by line and shot by shot, exactly as it is in the original film, then veer off into uncharted and deeply personal (to me) territory, as a way of both paying homage to the classic original, while striking off on my own and telling a story that only I can tell.

Only recently did I consider this: What if I were not able to get the rights to the original material? That could be a huge problem, since I couldn't really start with the Scene Two and expect to have the same dramatic or emotional impact. If you can imagine, say, what Reservoir Dogs might be like without the pre-title sequence with the "Like A Virgin" conversation in the diner where we meet Keitel, Madsen, Buscemi and the rest, you might get the picture. The film would just start with Tim Roth crying in the backseat of a speeding car. You'd miss out on the impact of the moment, the shock and some of Tarantino's most well known dialogue. You'd just jump headlong into screaming and blood. It wouldn't work nearly as well. The same would happen with my story.

I then decided to write a back-up first scene. If I couldn't get the rights to the material I needed, I wanted to cover myself. I kept the same general idea but altered the setting, time of day, the players, moved some of the characters around like chess pieces. I brought in a character, someone who wasn't scheduled to show up for another ten or fifteen pages. I'm trying to keep the same slow-burn feel of the original but bringing it another, more shocking and possibly more contemporary place. The only difficulty is that I can think of at least two other movies that start in a similar way, yet different enough - I think - to be considered separate and unrelated pieces. In a genre story, it's surprisingly difficult not to repeat (or even unintentionally steal from) what you've seen and loved in film before. Tough guy dialogue, familiar settings... I'll have to keep a close eye on this. I'd really love for this to be something wholly original, emotional and special.

At any rate, now I'm on the fence in that I really like the new opening. The way I see it in my mind visually, the way that I imagine it lighted, edited and performed... I think it might actually suit the rest of the story better than that classic scene that inspired it. It seems more of the same world, more fitting. Maybe I'm deluded. Or, maybe that's a sign of some sort of artistic maturity. Something the makers of remakes and reboots should try to feel: that it's all wonderful to pay tribute to those who inspire you, but it takes more courage to go your own way...

I guess we'll see.

Theatrical Reviews
Blue Velvet (1985) ****
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part Two ***1/2
Rise of the Planet of the Apes ***
Captain America ***

DVD/Home Video
To Have and Have Not (1944) ****
High Sierra (1941) ****
Naked (UK, 1993) ****
Stanley Kubrick's Boxes (Documentary) ***1/2
Eyes Wide Shut (1999) ***1/2
SubUrbia (1997) ***1/2
Spartan (2004) ***1/2
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part One ***
It Came From Outer Space! - 3D (1953) ***
Outrage (Japan) ***
Blow Out (1981) ***
Judgment Night (1993) **1/2
Times Square (1980) **1/2

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