The Media of Screenplays

 

oliver-hotel-santa-rosa

(Email to my friend Eric McLuhan on February 20, 2015.)

Eric,

It’s a time of gathering ideas for me now. Not any work on my projects except for posts up to my websites. Had a thought today how much more intellectual and thinking everyone were around the turn of the century when the Internet was fairly new.

It seems that culture and society today is dumber and more distracted towards things that have little connection to trying to understand the time they live in. Rather, they seem much more interested in being distracted from considering the times that they live in. It is almost as if the current zeitgeist of culture is in some type of trance.

Cats and babies perform funny tricks at home and they become current social media “stars” by getting a 60 million-view post on YouTube. Rap singers have millions of Twitter followers. Bizarre reality shows keep popping up on television. Hollywood continues to make stupid films and will award all in Hollywood who created all this cinematic stupidity with gold statutes this weekend. And of course their bestselling novels I try to read today and stop a chapter or so into it. Unable to slug forward through the heavier and heavier reading chore. The chore itself becoming heavier with the thin to thick consistency of sluggish mud with little sign of a “sun” of wisdom or light of the book relative to my life. Reading, in effect, becomes somewhat of a distraction itself based on the content it carries these days. Images, sounds and talk (dialogue) dominant culture at a particular point in time.

All, to me, seem distractions at this time. All aimed at distracting us from what is all around us. Within the real, natural world. Distracting us from another world that was so real to me not long ago. I’m thinking now of that world around the turn of the century when I was living in the wine country of Sonoma and writing articles on new books being published for a publication called The Industry Standard. In the late 90s, it was one of the leading magazines of the growing fervor in the Internet that was occupying many minds in society.

I think back to that time when I was writing my book Battle of Symbols as well as regular articles for The Industry Standard and a number of other publications. The big thing in Sonoma at the time was the idea of a new type of democracy in America based on local Internet systems. There were meetings. A company that merged its radio operations with local Internet media. A friend of mine (a professor and author of three books) was on the phone with the Editor of the Harvard Business Review about writing an article on the “The Psychology of the Internet.” The editor told us to write the article as if we were writing an article for a seventh grader.

As Vonnegut used to say, when there was nothing else to say, “and so it goes.”

* * *

I sit around now with three started screenplays, a completed novella (you read) and teaching this screenwriting group each two weeks at the library. A great group and class, though.

Somewhat dog paddling around, staying afloat, gathering up things. A direction of putting this all together and in what order. The past projects wait somewhat like an old crew (on an old ship). In the Author’s Note to the novel The Rescue Joseph Conrad writes that this “crew” of old words waited for the author to return to them 20 twenty years after his absence.

Maybe this is how creative projects move forward. Read some fascinating stuff by Howard Gruber today about the nature of the creative process. It is amazing to me that a night before I even discovered Gruber I had written an essay about a new method of creativity. I noted that artists often have more than a few canvas creations in production at the same time. How is one picked over the others in these situations?

All internal process. Yet influenced by the technology and media of the time.

Culture and society. The content in the context of technology and media. The always 24/7 background buzz of one’s culture. The all surrounding yet the all invisible. We are surrounded by culture as a fish is surrounded by water. And wasn’t it someone you knew pretty well that once said, “We’re not sure who discovered water but we’re pretty sure it wasn’t a fish.”

* * *

In screenplays, this whole drama, the battle between the inner choice and the outer world is expressed in what screenwriting terms the wants and the needs of the hero. A screenwriting academic notes that calling them want and need is really mislabeling the two. Rather, we need to see it as a battle between the world where the Hero in the screenplay wants something (the external world) yet really needs something from his internal world. The audience feels this need in the Hero and much of the screenplay involves see when the Hero in the screenplay will fulfill this need of theirs.

The trick seems in presenting the internal story (of content and action) but realizing that it occurs in the external world (scenes and the people, objects, images in the scenes … the time, space, place I wrote about in 93’s Symbolism of Place). Ultimately, a media and context the action and content of the movie have external action in. Much of the problem with our films today begins with our screenplays. And much the problem with the screenplays, the sorry situation of American screenplay structure and the books on screenwriting. Not to mention the courses taught at our greatest film schools.

It’s been a breath of fresh air for me to get away from reading my weekly copies of The Hollywood Reporter (perhaps the best-looking magazine in the nation) to read the posts from the international group (out of London) called Screenwriting Research Network. Here is that truly worthwhile intellectual group in the world today. Doing very important work. More than a bunch of academics challenging the screenwriting rules (dogma) of Hollywood. For instance, one poster asks if it might be better if screenplays were presented in the form of the word and images of graphic novels rather than just the words of screenplays. It relates to the of the director auteur school of film criticism (where the director is considered the “author” of the film).

* * *

This is why the script is the most interesting piece of writing media these days. (Even for those – the great majority of writers – who never see their script ;performed). Who is the real author of a screenplay, a script written at one time for a performance in another time? The words, written at one time by an author. To be performed at another time by someone other than the author. In fact, if one counts in the “crew” of a film, considers it as a media in itself, as one really needs to in the production or “performance” of the words in a screenplay, a screenplay might truly be performed by hundreds of other people. The above line people involved with the film like the screenwriter, producer, director and actors. But it is often the hidden below the line people like art directors, set designers, costume people, cinematographers who offer incredible “performances” in carrying out the author’s words into performance.

The author’s words regarding a scene might be few yet it can involve hundreds of people in the performance of these words. Words have never had such power. Is the director’s auteur theory an attempt to attack the original words of the screenplay? It seems like this. Yet the auteur theory can be expanded out to many other “performers” working for the director of the film.

As you might know, I wrote a regular column called “Script Symbology” for Script Magazine for over a year. The idea was to show how the ideas of symbols and symbolism might be incorporated into screenplays. (You can find these articles by searching under my name on the magazine site). In these articles, I suggest a new type structure for screenplays based on the two key laws of symbolism.

A symbol based on the image of the cross as a metaphor for this new structure. Very different structure than what is currently out there. A type of perception that takes in the movement from a beginning to an end that feels the movement of a particular cycle that feels movement in the first place. But also, a perception that can feel the moment (rather than the movement) of time. Elsewhere, I have discussed as another example (or symbolic correspondence) to the paradox that America was founded on at the intersection of equality (feminine) and freedom (male). But another story. For another performance. I haven’t put my ideas into a book on writing screenplays using my ideas of symbolism.

Anyway, just to update you on some of the content going on inside the context of our world. The former is so loud and rude, it is hard for the latter to get a word in edgewise.

Always good hearing from you.

John

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