Friday, May 11, 2007

It's a good day....

...any day you turn in a screenplay. Which I do today when I turn in the first (actually third...I never turn in a first draft) draft of the Jane Austen adaptation (more of a resetting)/ Santa Barbara polo movie that I have been working on since last Fall.

Screenwriting is such a weird activity, in that you go from complete ignorance on a subject to the level of unbelievably abstruse intelligence. Screenplay research requires a minuteness for detail so that you can allow the audience to experience what I think of as the rush of arena fascination. They want to learn without realizing they are learning, and this all happens in the teeny little flourishes of detail that the screenwriter picked up in a letter that she found in a long-out of print book at a Church used book sale on an island somewhere in the geographical middle of the Black Sea....

The weird part is how much you want to share what you have written, while at the same time dreading having people read it. especially people who know you. I want to sit under the elbow of every one who reads my script registering every flicker of muscle movement on his or her face as they traverse it line by line. "Why are they laughing there? That wasn't supposed to be funny." "Why aren't they laughing there?! The Neanderthalism! That is hilarious stuff! Or else maybe I have no sense of humor?! I might need therapy instead of more screenplay jobs...." "What just made you jolt?" "Why do you look like you are in a sitting coma?"

Then there is the character attachment. The screenwriter creates characters who - after a while, you can't believe aren't really real - because their psychology and choices becomes the default object of your thoughts for months or years. You spend much more time with your characters while writing than you do with most of the real people who pass through your life. While you brood over your characters' speech, your imagination spends hours and hours in their homes and favorite haunts - which you also have to create. You dress them up, and make them fall in love, and break their hearts and you try really hard to not make them too obviously like anyone in your immediate circle of friends and family.

Anyway, then, you turn in the script, as I will today, and it's not just yours any more. Your pat them on the shoulder and send your characters and ideas into the treacherous and often (for the characters) barbaric terrain known as Notesville. Notes. When people who have read your script once quickly in between watching The View and picking the kids up from kindergarten, get to tell you that a character's choice is unmotivated. Notes. In which a moment you thought is haunting and profound ends up becoming just one more derrivative proof of everything that is wrong with movie writing today. Notes are very great when they are good, and they are necessary, but wow, is it humbling.

I often experience envy of the guy down at the hall who bags gorceries at Mayfair. Nobody ever takes him aside at the end of the night and says, 'What did you mean by putting that shampoo in with the Raisin Bran? And in a paper bag?!??! Don't you realize that every other grocery bagger is packing ceral and hair products just that way? How could you be so unoriginal? It just doesn't work for me. And that weird little thing you did with letting the lettuce peak out of the top of one of the bags? What the hell was that? The customer isn't going to get it, when the lettuce is all wilted by the time she gets home. You are going to have to find another way. Tomorrow we will talk about this weird cliche you use in putting the heavy stuff on the bottom of the bags. Get over it already. "


Anyway, so, I turned in Polosuasion today. Now I wait for notes, and then I spend another month on a rewrite. And then I wait for more notes. And then I spend another month on a polish.

And then, I am done with horses and Argentinian polo and Santa Barbara whale watching and waterfalls and Samoan welcome dancing and birthing breeched foals and tango dancing and all of the other areas that had to become daily bread for my imagination while I was working on this project. I will be done with Anne and the Colonel and Admiral Croft and his wife Sophia and Frederico and Carlos and Elizabeth and Adelaide Russell, and Manuel the Latin butler who I really like very much.

And then, I have to start rading books about growing up in Indiana during the Depression, and C.S. Lewis and Oxford in the 40's and WWII at Pearl Harbor and the theology of conversion and yachting in the Carribbean and all things A Severe Mercy.

It's a weird way to make a living....But very cool too.

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