Halfway to Heaven

Halfway through a first draft! Converting this story from outline to script is taking time and a lot of effort. The first challenge is finding the right tone. The blog this film is based on is very dramatic, but hilarious. I was afraid to make this strictly a comedy, but there's humor on almost every page. I think there's enough drama to balance the funny. Dark comedy?... Might as well embrace it.

The next issue is structure. The blog is told in first person perspective, and I always saw this as a voice-over (VO) style film. I'm a huge fan of Martin Scorsese pictures like "Goodfellas" and "Casino." I recently re-watched "Wolf of Wallstreet." Heavy VO. Multiple perspectives. Yes. I just pulled the script offline to use as a reference - I guess the studios publish scripts publicly now? I remember living in New York when street vendors sold scripts along the sidewalks. Oh, the good-old days. Actually, it's better now, because they're free.

o-THE-WOLF-OF-WALL-STREET-facebook.jpg

Storywise, the very beginning is proving a little tricky. I've got this great "prologue" based on a story I read about agents watching films at Sundance and getting frustrated that all indies seem to have suicide in them. Instead, in my story, a movie executive is reading the script to a film the main character (MC) is submitting (this film?) and likes it, until he reads the suicide part about MC killing herself (spoiler alert!).

However, I'm finding the need for a bit more backstory in the first act, prior to MC moving to LA. How did MC fall in love with movies? How far back should I go? There's some discussion of high school in the blog. Nothing to do with college and film school. Odd. Maybe I need to show how MC develops a love for movies as a child? Maybe the inspiration comes from her father? The blog creator has a contentious relationship with her father, and I'm curious what his role was in shaping her dreams (and despair). Not much about him in the blog, but seems like many motivations and struggles emanated from this relationship.

I'm also curious about how to end the story. I know the return of the wedding album will be the conclusion, but there may need to be more. If we learn MC dies in Mexico in the beginning, shouldn't Mexico also be the end? May need a denouement. Something with butterflies? There's such a prevalent emphasis on butterflies in the blog (Burning Butterflies and Origin Story to reference a few instances). Such meaning. Such personal connection. I've been thinking about the great monarch migration to Mexico. How could I get MC down to Mexico at the end?

butterflies-crop.jpg

Finding the Story, Part 2… This time, it’s personal.

Ever watch a film that was all over the place? No clear focus, no clear direction? Good chance the script began with no big idea. Or too many writers. Or cocaine.

It's time to get personal. It's time to figure out the story. What is this movie really going to be about? What's the big idea? There needs to be a clear purpose before any writing, or even an outline occurs. I want the audience on the same page about what the movie is trying to say. I want to know what the main character is trying to achieve and how that factors into the big idea. Sure there can be a handful of themes. After all, the journey Jaime took in her blog covers 7+ years (and continues here). A few things can happen in 7 years. But I need to find the core theme from which the entire movie is going to be built.

Here's a partial list of themes I'm coming up with... with which I am coming up... with which I'm developing:

  • Coming of age story from girl to warrior.
  • About marriage/relationships, finding love, finding oneself. Loving yourself for who you are.
  • About growing up but never giving up (on dreams, talents, love, friends)
  • Need for home, for connection, success, love, redemption, purpose.
  • Whether we are destined for things or we create our own destiny (or both).
  • What it means to be a writer and the sacrifices of being an artist.
  • The struggles (and psychology) of mental illness, depression, suicide, self-harm, insomnia, and the creative mind.
  • From dependence on meds to coping/resolving problems - healthy living, healthy relationships.
  • Figuring out how to escape an awful place and persevere.
  • The struggles of the poor/working class.
  • Perception vs. reality - what we want to see and what is actually in front of us.
  • The effects and need for change and how it affects us all.
  • Things don't turn out the way you expect.
  • America circa 2009. Great Recession. Slow journey back from the brink. Life before Obamacare. Allegory for American journey/dream.
  • Being reborn, starting over, moving on.

The Writer as Editor

Have you ever watched a movie a second time and felt like you watched a completely different movie? It's amazing the details you miss on the first viewing. To find the story, I had to reread the entire LA Stories blog. It took a lot more time than I was anticipating, but it was worth it. There's a lot of great material here - in fact, a ton of it. A few key entries that stood out even more this time: Red Flags & Cockrings, California Dreamin', Best Served Cold. There's something about this line that I love: "...he is not exactly what I'd imagined, but everything I'd hoped for." Where in the screenplay can I use this?

Editing normally happens after you write a first draft, but with adaptation, I'm finding it comes into play early in the writing process. So it's time to put on my editor's cap. I need to find key elements of the blog to be able to create a concise narrative suitable for the screen:

Theme/Message: What is the thesis? Purpose? What am I trying to say?

Metaphors/Objects: Jaime Jessup, the writer of the blog, is a very figurative writer. Lots of metaphors. Objects are symbolic or have specific meaning to characters. An eagle feather, wishbone necklace, butterfly journal, red '67 Mustang.

Characters: Who are the key players? MC (Main Character), MC's husband, MC's close friend in LA (Hope?), Tribe of artist/street performer friends, homeless man in parking garage, Shit-Tits!, LA - the city is a character in this story.

Character Traits of MC: who is she, what does she want, where is she trying to go? What are her flaws? What's preventing her from achieving her goals? Why does she want to write for TV and movies? Did specific shows or films influence her as a child? What is her arc?

Character Traits of MC's Husband: What drives him? How and why does he change over the course of the film? How to portray him honestly without being one-sided in favor of MC.

Character Traits of supporting characters: see above.

Structure: What are the basic plot points for a three-act screenplay? What conflicts move the story along?

Scenes: What are some key scenes I see being part of the movie? How does movie begin and end?

Specific Lines: See highlighted lines from blog

Tone/Visual/Music Elements: What genre is this? Comedic drama, dramatic comedy, dark comedy? How should story be told? Firs person? Voice over? Relatable to girls and guys - window into a girls mind, but not simply demeaning towards men - NO F'ING LIFETIME MOVIE. Magical realism, but not too much. "Ride" by Lana Del Rey. Cheesy '80s power ballads.

 

Thoughts/Ideas/Questions: What stories are missing? There's some stuff Jaime has told me that's not in the blog but needs to be in the movie. How did certain events/places look? What can I change or alter? How much artistic license can I take? Focus more on relationships vs. entertainment industry. Needs to be a story that's bigger than a single person. Need an awesome title.