Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Day 20: How Many Heroes Does It Take To Change A Lightbulb?

I met a hero of mine, at the time when he was still very much a hero, to me.

It was circa 1976 and I, yet to leave my hometown of Portsmouth, was doing some work at the local radio station, Radio Victory. At this point in my life, I had an alter ego, Roger King, who was a mobile disc-jockey of an evening, available for weddings, hen nights, youth clubs and intermittent roadshow work for said radio station.

A friend at the time, one of the station’s on-air jocks, was given a rock new releases programme to helm every week but had little or no knowledge of rock music past, present or future. I stepped up to the plate and selected the tracks for him, from the assortment of new product that would pile up every week from the various record companies. These record companies would also invite him to come up to London and interview many of the artists for use on the programme and by way of a bit of a junket. Like some sort of ventriloquist’s doll, he would take me along to ask the sensible, knowledgeable and appropriate questions.

It was shock, awe and stupification that knocked me off my chair when I was told that the next in line for these interviews would be Peter Gabriel.

If asked what was the first album that I bought with my own hard-earned moola, my quick-fire response would be 'Foxtrot' by Genesis (voted the second all-time Prog Rock album by Mojo Magazine). The second concert that ever I went to, was in 1972 at Portsmouth Guildhall: Van Der Graf Generator, supported by Lindisfarne and Genesis. For purists, this was the real Genesis, the Genesis fronted by lead singer Peter Gabriel, not the later incarnation that boasted Phil Collins as the frontsman (he did have a creditable moment or two in the shoes left by Gabriel...but this was long before winsome solo material like ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’).

It was an earth-shattering day for me when Melody Maker announced that Gabriel was quitting Genesis to pursue a solo adventure, but then part of what I liked about the man was his ability to see things way, way, way beyond my limited horizon (still does). The costumes he wore on stage, the lyrics that he came up with, the bizarre patter between songs when performing live, all were beyond my welkin (Peter Gabriel was also one to favour the use of archaic English).

So this was an audience with Peter Gabriel on the release of his second solo album...the first four or five were all called, in true visionary fashion, I thought: ‘Peter Gabriel’. What threw me, when the moment of introduction came, was that he’d shaved his head that day. Hmm, predictably unpredictable. I can only try to describe it like this: imagine meeting your hero or heroine and suddenly they’ve got no hair?!

Me and the not-so-hirsute Mr Gabriel got on famously and, I must boast, that by the end of the interview, he scribbled down the address of his home in Somerset and invited me to drop in if ever I was in the area. I kid you not.

Pete and I never did chew the fat in the west of England...I think it was necessary for me to keep a distance between me and my hero, essential even. He has his place in my life and I mine. I was to meet him on two more occasions later on in life when I had a brief but successful moment in the music industry, I did not, however, say “remember me?” Suffice to say, his hair was back and he didn’t look at me as if to say “do I know you, have we met before?”

He’s a very interesting and thoughtful man, Peter Gabriel. Go to his website, listen to him speak on, he’s one of the extremely good guys.

Day #19 Tip: How Many Protagonists?
Any screenplay boasts a hero, heroine or heroes, known in storytelling language as the protagonist or protagonists.

Most films boast the single protagonist. using my genre of Crime, I need look no further than the lone wolf detective: Philip Marlowe (Bogart in The Big Sleep), Sam Spade (Bogart again, this time in The Maltese Falcon) Jakes Gittes (Jack Nicholson in Chinatown). One man on one mission with an objective across the arc of a film.

When there are two cops on the same mission with the same objectives, then it’s a Plural Protagonist story: Detective Mills & Somerset (Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman) in Seven.

When it’s more than one protagonist but they have different objectives, we call this a Multiprotagonist Story. In LA Confidential, there are three detectives who have differing quests that sometimes intersect, other times don’t: Bud White (Russell Crowe), Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) and the wonderful Jack Vincennes(one of Kevin Spacey’s finest outings).

Another essential book for the screenwriter to have within easy, daily reach, is Christopher Vogler’s ‘The Writer’s Journey’. A one-time story consultant at Disney, he came across the seminal Joseph Campbell book ‘The Hero With A Thousand Faces’ some years ago and set about developing ideas about (film) storytelling via the mythic perspective given by Campbell. Both books are indispensable to the writer for the screen.

Understanding the hero at great depth is core, screenwriting apprenticeship work. Christopher Vogler and Joseph Campbell’s companion pieces are great guides.

I envy Christopher Vogler’s time working with Disney. Last year I was commissioned to work in a Script Consultant capacity on a feature-length animated film that is currently in development. As an overture to my work, I spent a weekend watching back-to-back Disney and Pixar films. Was that one of the most enjoyable weekends I’ve had in some time or what? If I wanted to find myself a gold star filmic storytelling internship somewhere in the world, I reckon that either of these two companies would be the place to land. Do these guys know how to tell story or do they know how to tell story?

And, who sings & co-wrote the song ‘Down To Earth’ at the end of Pixar’s futuristic Wall-E? Step forward Academy Award-nominated, could-have-been-a-mate-of-mine, Peter Gabriel.

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