Thursday, August 12, 2004


I just finished the beat sheet for the screenplay that I am writing for hire this Fall. It took me about a month of research beforehand, but then, I was able to hammer out the beat sheet in just about three hours this morning. And it is a good one. Not great yet, but I feel very good about it. If I just write the story as I have it now, it will be a solid project that hits the most suspenseful notes in all the right places. It's always a question of getting the notes to be economical enough in the actual telling to fit with the plot program, but it's a huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge thing just to have a story that I feel good about at this early stage. Somebody must be praying for me somewhere...

Quite by accident, I find I have a gritty R-rated movie on my hands here. It's about having a sense of integrity to the material. Any movie about the Spanish Civil War that wasn't R-rated could only be a lie. It is an interesting challenge for me, because I have been going around spouting that we have to find "another non-violating, responsible way to do screen violence." And now, here I am, not having the time to really figure out what that "other way" might look like.

Anyway, it's still too early to know exactly what the story wants its theme to be. My experience is, after I get a story down, I stand back from it and then it reveals what it is thematically obsessing over. The polish phase of writing is to go back and heighten that theme.

And yet, a few very strong themes have already emerged from the story, which made getting the beat sheet done much smoother. A good theme is something that can be argued. I tell my students, "Don't write a movie about the theme 'Murder is bad.' You might as well envision the poster for such a theme: 'Cloying and Annoying.' - NY Times. Write a movie that takes a position that will lead viewers to respond, 'Hmmmm...' " So, one theme that underlies my story so far is, "The lesser of two evils is still too evil." Another one is, "The hour of crisis doesn't make saints, it reveals them."

There is a whole other thematic level to the project which has to do with hatred. I want to background every scene where someone is caught up in hatred with a visual/aural image that becomes a symbol or metaphor of hatred. This is something movies can do that has so much power that it almost defines the art form for me. It's the only way to deal with really heavy subject matter, because mere dialogue will fail to do justice to the truths that are beyond language.

So, one scene takes place with a terrible storm whipping around the two characters. That is, when you are caught up in hatred, it is like being tossed around in a storm - you can't see or hear clearly; you are afraid; you are blown around not completely under your own control.

Another scene has hatred as noise. We'll have a violent act take place in a moment of dreadful cacophony, crashing bombs and drums and gun fire and screaming. The truth here is, when you have hatred in your heart, it drowns out any other voices that might speak mitigating, merciful, compassionate and reasoned things.

I have hatred as weeds. So, one scene will be backgrounded by a garden over-run with tangled, choking weeds. Hatred chokes like that.

I was thinking of hatred as division. Maybe in the background of some scene a guy cutting meat or vegetables in two. Or else a farmer furrowing a field.

I have hatred as a rash. One character will be scratching and scratching. It hurts so good.

Anybody have any other ideas about lyrical images of hatred? Here's your chance to be in the movies... (We'll credit you as "Somebody Who Knows About Hatred"....heh heh heh)


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