A novelty here at TRUE LIFE! Thought I would divert the conversation for a moment away from my narcissistic ranting and talk about, well, writing. ‘Cause apparently that’s supposed to, you know, be kinda important to me and all.
This is an email exchange between my new friend, J, and I. He’s a great guy. A pretty prominent non-fiction writer whose also had op-ed pieces in “big” papers and such. He’s a working writer.
What he isn’t, however, is a screenwriter. Yet, his wish is to turn the story he’s talking about into a screenplay (whereas it started as a novel, but felt like a novel was the wrong medium to tell the story). Though it will likely look more like the blind leading the blind than enything else, he has asked me to help him navigate through the screen storytelling maze. And in exchange, when I am ready, he is going to help me work through “The Bottomless Pit” (ah, yes, kids…someday. Someday…).
We sat for a few hours last week and chatted about, among myriad other topics, the screenwriting form. More on that another time because it will take thousands of words to have that conversation. Suffice to say, though, I was quite the shaman that day, going on about screenwriting as “religion”… You’d have had to be there. Yet, It all makes sense when you think of the zen nature of following the pattern and working within the form–the screenwriting construct, if you will.
And, like religion, the form is a man-made construct. A “context”…is that the right word. More appropriately a vessel in which to contain and give shape to the very personal and intangible “message”…? Is that the word? Or do I say the “art”? I dunno right now. But that thing, of course, is not man-made. That thing is like the faith. (Right, Pigger?)
Anyway…that’s not what this conversation was about. Hopefully, it won’t bore you to tears. Enjoy.
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From my friend J…
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I thoroughly enjoyed coffee at Nina’s last week, and I was energized by our conversation. I’ve acquired Doc Hollywood and am enjoying it. I love Michael J. Fox, but I’m after something richer, something deeper, but similarly quirky. Sort of Local Hero meets Sleepless in Seattle meets Bridges of Madison County. The coming of age of a middle aged man. Let’s do some scene mapping. Back at Nina’s?
Also re: Doc Hollywood. I hear ya and agree. Thought, however, that it would be a good structural example. It feels something like what you’re trying for. And remember, if it IS a RomCom, as they call them, BRIDGES should be less of a model than SLEEPLESS, which is a lot more like DOC HOLLYWOOD.
Talk to you soon…B
And yes, it is a RomCom. Let’s take that form and cook it. Why are dramas always richer than comedies? And Bridges was a bore, actually. Screenplay was great; movie stretched like sands of time blowing aimlessly across the desert….
Re: “richness” in drama vs. comedy. That’s a question for the ages. Remember, though, that comedy is tragedy pulled inside out.
The beauty of comedy, I believe, is that it is pure subtext. It’s almost passive-aggressive in nature because it says, “I am in pain, but I am going to do EVERYTHING I can to NOT let you know I am in pain.” There is a richness in that, I think. It is, however, a different richness. Almost, I believe, a deeper one.
Drama wears its emotions on its sleeve. With comedy, the real message is more deeply embedded and obscured. So much so that its easy to take its that message–and its impact and effect–for…granted? Or at least to miss it on a conscious level because of the more subtle and transparent (with seems odd, considering the very overt and opaque nature of most comic storytelling) way it operates on our being.
I mean, in the movies, look at anything Charlie Chaplin ever did. I am tempted to say he invented film noir (a stretch, I know. I am not serious, but bear with me for illustration’s sake) because of the underlying sadness and, more to the point, existential hopelessness that is ever-present in his stories. Yet, we laugh our asses off every time he gets booted in the ass and falls on his face. The Tramp is a deep guy. He is Everyman turned on his head, with big shoes and a bowler hat. Or maybe more accurately, Sisyphus, except replace the boulder and the mountain with that damned banana peel (though–speaking of sad sacks–I believe that was probably a Buster Keaton invention, evolved from Vaudeville), perpetually underfoot, ready to lay the poor chap out on his back again and again.
Of course, the problem is that comedy can be ruined just as easily as drama, I believe. The deeper point can be missed or ignored, just like it can in drama. It can be hackneyed, just like drama. It’s just that–I don’t know…do we forgive it more easily because we still get a chuckle? And perhaps the presence of so many BIG MOMMA’S HOUSEs–these saccharin confections–deadens our senses somewhat to the qualities inherent in the…well, more quality comedic stories.
I just keep thinking Neil Simon and everything that man ever wrote. THE ODD COUPLE. It could have just as easily been a straight piece. But the magic was that it wasn’t. He spun it around and because of that, he was able to say some pretty hard things for the time (and some hard timeless things, too) that would have either fell flat or simply been too uncomfortable and hot to handle if said with a straight face or without his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. Of course, that’s another benefit of this gift of humor, isn’t it? It helps us say the hard things. It knows, however, that a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down. And thank God for it.
Then again, what do I know? Just noodling for myself as much as for anything else. Can you say freakin’ dissertation?
Just got off the phone with J. Thurs. is a go. see you then…B
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P.S. And no…I still don’t have a new shift key. I am simply suffering. For my art. For you. For this TRUE LIFE. Aren’t I deep?
…Yeah. I know what you’re thinking. “Not necessarily, Bill, but it’s sure getting deep in here.”
Have a good day, all. I head back to the Apple Store today to order the new key. Will keep you up-to-date on the progress of this very important journey.