Friday, January 24, 2014

Adapting à la Adaptation

I know it's still early days in this blog back and forth we've got going on, but I want you to know, I have been doing my best to keep up my end of the deal (according to the totally arbitrary terms defined by me). Since I started blogging about this particular film, I have been trying to post something at least once a week. I always aim for Wednesdays, but I don't sweat it too much if Thursday gets a little love too.

But now here it is, 5 bells on Friday. So, I'm definitely late to the post this week. 

In my defence, however, I plead productivity. 

This week, I had my hands - and head - fairly full finishing my scene by scene mapping of that road trip of the mind I've been telling you about. And now, at roughly COCKTAIL HOUR on Friday, I am happy to report that it's done. From Fade Up to Fade Out. For this weekend, at least.

I feel I have to qualify the time window because really, until the film's shot, edited and actually on commercial screens, the writing of a film is never really done. And even then...

In my experience, the script you're writing - or, too often NOT writing - goes to bed with you, it wakes up with you, it sleeps with you - or it keeps you from sleeping while it gets some maddeningly undisturbable shuteye and you lie awake beside it doing all the thinking. 

In short, it moves in and makes itself at home - usually smack dab between you and your loved ones - until you find a way to physically remove it. This is most efficiently done by handing it over, as a finished film, to a distributor (or equivalent).  

And even then...

I think the best way to illustrate the uniquely strange state of being squatted by your screenplay is, in a multi-layered word, Adaptation

As a Charlie Kaufman/Spike Jonze fan, I first saw this film about a screenwriter struggling to adapt an unadaptable book when it came out in 2002 and was charmed, bemused and challenged by it. But at that time, I hadn't yet embarked on my own journey of writing features for the screen - let alone tackling the adaptation of someone else's existing work. Which, if it hasn't already become obvious, is what I am in the middle of doing right now. 

Needless to say, when I re-discovered this house of mirrors of a story about storytelling recently, I felt like I'd found my celluloid soul mate.

So if you're here because you have even a mildly morbid curiosity about what the inside of a screenwriter's mind can look, smell, sound and taste like while she's in the midst of trying to crack the nut of the screenplay she's supposed to write - take my advice, stop reading this blog right now and go experience that film! 

Because man or woman, young or old, at one point in the process of adapting to living with our scripts, we screenwriters all become obsessive, compulsive, balding, calcifying, self-loving, self-loathing, A.D.H.D., hypochondriacal, procrastinating protagonists in our own stories of creation. And it feels kind of good watching someone else doing it for a change. Especially when it all turns out well in the end - sort of.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Straying the Course

So far, I'm happy to report I've been pretty much on track for finishing my scene by scene breakdown by the beginning of next week. 

But when yesterday, my recent writing roll ground to a stubborn halt - somewhat suspiciously - right around lunchtime, I decided not to fight it. 

Instead, I followed the principle I set out in prior posts, and sought out a little productive procrastination. 

Click here for a screenplay side project sponsored tale (and pictures) of the second stop on my poutine walkabout...

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Back to the Beats

Happy tippy top of the year to you, dear reader(s), 

I hope, like me, you were able to spend what felt like an extra long holiday fully resting, recreating, and replenishing yourselves. Or, as Bruno at the front desk of my local Y (to which I recently returned after a four - that's 4 - year absence) called it, "Heffing". 

To understand the meaning of Heffing, conjure up an image of the semi-infirm, perpetually bath-robed lord of Playboy mansion and you'll get the picture - both of Bruno's holiday attire and my general level of physical activity over the last four years ...

Anyway, I hope, like me, you're happily Heffed out and now feel full to bursting with gym memberships, inspiration and overflowing optimism for all that you're going to be able to accomplish this year.

All my unabashed r and r and r'ing aside, I know some of my rejuvenated January juice can also be attributed to an invigorating script meeting I had on Christmas Eve with my producer, Barbara Shrier, in which we discussed my progress on A Nutshell of Infinite Space. (That's right, from the same people who brought you, The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom comes another mouthful!)

Anyway, for those of you who might not know, Nutshell (as we've taken to breaking it down) is a film adaptation of a critically acclaimed play by George Rideout originally mounted in 2010 about a fictional meeting between Quebec's Michel Tremblay and America's Jack Kerouac. While Rideout's sharply-observed, dialogue-rich play deals with many and sundry themes, all interesting and vital, my film adaptation shines the brightest light on my own personal favourites: identity, belonging, cult of the personality, as well as the struggle for self-determination and the courage it takes to assert it despite the cost. 

Sound like fun? 

Okay, fair enough. No one really goes to the movies to see "themes". 

So, seeing as it's still a bit premature to talk about that thing people do go to the movies to see: "stars", see what you think if I give you the same elevator pitch I gave Barbara.

After kidnapping a legendary American writer, Michel Tremblay's attempts to repatriate his hero to Quebec are derailed by Jack Kerouac's suicidal tendencies and his estranged, enchanted daughter.

Based on a true story. That could have happened. If a few facts were slightly different.

I don't know how you feel at this point, but I could tell Barbara was interested. Still, she wanted to know more, needed more detail. What was the film going to look like? Smell like? So I tried this slightly expanded synopsis out on her:

It's about this bookish, fish out of water French Canadian guy named Tremblay who's just lost his beloved mother, his job, and his faith in the emerging Quebec independence movement. At a loss as to which way to turn next, Tremblay receives a sign at his mother's graveside that compels him to seek out and repatriate Jack Kerouac, the seminal American author with buried Québécois roots, believing him to be just the kind of hero he and his people need. 

But when Tremblay succeeds in tracking down his white knight on the rundown side of St Petersburg, FLA.,the charismatic writer unexpectedly turns the tables - blackmailing the impressionable young Québécois into kidnapping him, and dictating the terms of his own captivity - terms that include a spontaneous, surreal last-rites ritual that takes them both across bloodlines, timelines and story lines. 

Quite early on in this road trip of the mind, Tremblay discovers the famous writer he had hoped to be the "poster boy" for a greater good, has actually been living a lie - he's been drinking to distraction, recycling old work, passing it off as new and even buying his own books to keep up the illusion he's still selling. 

Tremblay, who's determined to bring home a real live cultural hero, starts trying to reshape Kerouac to live up to his own legend. When the author finally does start to write original work again, however - in the form of his own ransom note - it sparks a surreal, darkly comical, cathartic manhunt that ends - happily - in one man dying and the other discovering all that he has to live for.

That, along with the possibility that there might be mermaids, had Barbara believing we were making progress.

So with these very broadest of strokes nailed down, we decided to go away, have a very merry Christmas, and in the first few weeks of January, I would come back and draft up a lean, mean beat by beat road map for this admittedly ambitious, possibly delicious, certainly revisionist telling of the death of one great writer and the birth of another. Each on their own terms. 

Happy New Year. Here I am.