Ken Writes a Film
Scroll down for the link to the movie, and to read my original script.
A few months ago, I participated in a 72 hour film contest with some friends. It was a lot of fun, and we actually filmed in my condo — which was quite a blast. Aside from ducking out of the way whenever necessary, my role was to write the script.
The basic premise was that we had to write a horror film in 72 hours with a certain prop, action, and theme. We were given these at 10 PM on the first night, which meant that I had to slam something out relatively quickly. One interesting aspect was that we didn’t actually know who would be available to act, or even how many. So the screenplay had to be easily adaptable. I drafted two ideas by 11:30ish and discussed them with Brian (the director, and a very talented author in his own right). We picked the more promising one, and honed the general idea. About 30 min later, I delivered to Brian the revised script and we decided to go with that.
Below is a link to the film itself, now publicly available. This definitely was a learning experience, and I have to say the actors (David and Elena) were fantastic to work with. Given that they had so little time (filming had to be finished over a mere 30 hour period, from when they first were handed the script), what they accomplished was incredible. One interesting thing I learned was that phrases which read well on paper are not necessarily ones actors find easy to work with. Unusual turns of phrase are enjoyable in literature, but can be difficult to memorize — especially on short order. I imagine an experienced scriptwriter works closely with actors and has a strong sense of what will be executable and what won’t fly.
The thing which surprised me most was post-production. We had a very talented post-production crew, but I had no idea what to expect. Again, there is a vast difference between what is plausible on paper (or seems easily filmed) and what is workable in post-production. As you can see, the final cut is quite different from the script.
This gave me a more forgiving disposition toward Hollywood writers, and a clear understanding that the words (and scenes) set on paper may differ significantly from what audiences ultimately experience. From now on, I’ll be a bit more hesitant to blame screenwriters for the seemingly inane writing which plagues most Hollywood movies. It very well could be due to a confluence of factors which made it difficult or expensive to adhere to the script. Or maybe some idiot executive meddled, or they polled audience sentiment or some such nonsense. We didn’t have any of that, of course — just lots of talented people working performing their roles. So I think such divergences are inevitable. Sadly, no such excuse exists for novel writers.
I still think having a single screenwriter is the best course, however. Having briefly participated in design by committee (or design by pseudo-autocratic democracy in this case), I think the alternative is far worse. Lots of post-its, a chaos of ideas, and most creativity lost in a homogenization driven by sheer exhaustion and a few strong personalities. Writing is best done by a single writer, with feedback at certain key points from the director. In the 2 hours spent “brainstorming,” a good writer could have pumped out 4 draft ideas, the director could have decided on one or two, and the writer could have finalized them. Too many chefs and all that. Then again, what do I know? If I knew what people actually wanted, I’d be rich.
Without further ado, here is the final cut. Presumably it’s available somewhere on Amazon Prime but I couldn’t find the link, so I’m including the unofficial one a friend provided.
And here’s my original script (with Brian’s formatting reproduced as best I can given the blog limitations):
A LIVING ROOM. A MAN DRESSED IN A PROFESSORIAL MANNER IS CONVERSING WITH A WOMAN WHO HAS THE FOCUSED LOOK OF A REPORTER OR INTERVIEWER.
The whole thing is dialog, interspersed with small cuts to other scenes (no voiceovers). The cuts should be smooth and for a few seconds each. No sudden flashy stuff.
"I've been following your work for some time. The unique impact it has."
"I like to think so. Do you know what makes teaching so special? It's a distillation of the noblest human activity: sharing."
[CUT TO VIEW OF WHERE THE RIVER GOES UNDER THE MUSEUM OF SCIENCE (THERE'S EVEN A SIGN WARNING KAYAKERS)].
"Some would take a more cynical view."
[quietly regards her for a moment]
"I'll be honest. I've had lots of advantages."
[he laughs light-heartedly]
"Not everybody has those advantages. Sure, I could feel guilty. But isn't it better to use my strength for others?
When you share..."
[he tenses in poignancy].
"...you can change a life."
[CUT TO VIEW OF ENTRANCE TO GRAFFITI COVERED TRAIN TUNNEL. A CARDBOARD BOX ON THE TRACK IS SHAKING SLIGHTLY.]
"I don't think anyone would dispute this, but *how* you share matters too. Not everyone is ready to believe in pure motives.".
"To most people sharing involves a trade: part of themselves for virtue, for the right to imagine themselves a better person. That's foolish. Sharing is not a transaction. It can ennoble both giver and receiver. A teacher can give without losing."
[CUT TO SHOT OF THE SIDE DOOR ON THE INSIDE OF ONE OF THE TWO PEDESTRIAN TUNNELS UNDER THE ELLIOT ST BRIDGE. LOOKS LIKE A BARN DOOR BUT IN THE TUNNEL.]
"A lot of people don't understand what teachers really do. I mean day in and day out, over and over."
"I expect it can be quite difficult. Do you ever get tired?"
[pauses, and gives a cautious laugh]
"I don't have that luxury. That would be letting down the world in a sense."
[CUT TO SHOT OF MACHINE ROOM DOWN SIDE CORRIDOR (ROOM WITH BIG PIPES AND MACHINERY). PARTICULARLY LINGER ON THE HUGE HUMAN-SIZED PIPE.]
"That sounds a bit grandiose."
"Yes, I suppose it would to someone not conversant with such matters."
"You definitely sound like a teacher."
[looks at him slyly]
"So teach me something."
[CUT TO SILHOUETTE OF FIGURE MECHANICALLY BLUDGEONING SOMETHING OR SOMEONE WITH TRUNCHEON BEHIND A SCREEN.].
[wags his finger and smiles]
"I'll have to charge you. My wisdom doesn't come free."
[grins and suggestively slides her chair right up to him. She's now close to his face and her body quite close to his]
"I'll have to find some way to repay you."
[CUT TO SNOW PILE NEAR ALBANY ST. SOMETHING VAGUELY LIKE A PIECE OF CLOTHING IS STUCK IN IT.]
[clears his throat, clearly a bit flustered]
"Very well. I'll teach you something about teaching. The lessons conveyed through sounds we make are the tiniest fraction of how we teach. It is through subtler manipulations that we imprint our thoughts on the mechanism of this world."
[CUT TO TWO BURLAP SACKS AT THE BOTTOM OF SOME STAIRS, AND M HAS A SMILE "OH WHAT ARE THOSE KIDS UP TO THIS TIME" BEFORE DESCENDING TOWARD THEM. JUST BEFORE THE CAMERA CUTS OUT WE SEE A SLEDGE HAMMER IN HIS HAND.]
"Well, that's quite a mouthful. I guess I owe you payment."
"But I insist. I'll teach you a lesson as well."
[she lifts her jacket and flashes a badge.]
M hesitates and seems like he's about to lunge at her but she puts her hand to her hip and shakes her head, smiling in satisfaction..
M slumps back, and W spreads photos of the various cut-scenes.
"You're here for me, then?”
"In a sense."
[she smiles and puts her hand on his]
"I've been looking for a good teacher."