Friday, April 16, 2010

Day 8: A Cheque Book Will Not Solve Your Creative Problems

Whilst preparing a Leek & Potato soup yesterday afternoon (tip: I always begin with a smoked ham hock as stock, as though I were making pea & ham soup), I had one ear on Millionaire Hot Seat; for those of you unfamiliar with this tv game show, it's a speed-dating version of 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Anyway, a young guy, a journeyman actor, is in with a chance of winning $50,000 and fast-Eddie asks him what he would do with the money. His reply: "I've got short script that I've written that with a bit of padding-out could be a feature". The question: For which film did Julie Andrews win her Oscar: The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, Victor-Victoria or Thoroughly Modern Millie?

But let's leave Julie out of it for now. I have no truck with game shows, indeed a follower of this very Blog, my good friend Russell Cheek, is a veritable and accomplished doyen of this television genre and has my utmost respect for his track record in this field. The problem lies for me in the fact that someone intends "padding-out" a short film to make a feature. Gee, I look forward to spending 90 minutes, that I'll never get back, in the cinema with that movie....I think I already have on numerous occasions.

I'm on the Tropfest preselection panel most years and every January, I and others trawl through plenty of 7 minute films that could have been nailed in 3 mins. After I left NIDA, I spent one November sitting in on the acting auditions (with the idea of making a documentary about the audition process) watching aspiring thesps perform the longest of monologues, because they were working on the theory that "the more you see of me, the more you'll like me". Not if you aren't very good I won't, then it works the other way: the more I see of you, the more I might start stabbing my arm with a compass.

It's not impossible, but one of the most difficult feats of screenplay adaptation, is to take short-form source material and turn it into long-form feature format. What pretty much happens, is that in the hands of a craftsman, something new is created from the original material that inspired a spark. In the hands of the amateur, we watch "padding".....a one-idea film that could have been told in 3 minutes. By and large, I liked the Australian film Somersault, but was it a short film idea that was stretched out to 90 mins?

Day #8 Tip: The Index Cards Will Set You Free
The beauty of working on Index Cards (see Day 6) to create my 40-60 scenes/screenplay moments, is that I'm no longer at the mercy of linear thinking. Reason, logic and rationale will come into play in 2-3 months time, but for now, I can dream up any scene I like, whip out an Index Card, jot it down and add it to the pile.

My crime story - we'll call it Jerusalem, as a working title - begins with the discovery of a crime and sets the detective on the path of solving this crime and maybe I'd like to give my imagination full steam to roam and think of scenes without censure, without my head telling me what a crap idea that might be.

Here's something: my story is set on the fringes of the Barrington Tops National Park, in a two-horse country town, the hometown of my protagonist. He's at a low ebb, this character of mine, having just been dishonourably dismissed from the NSW Police and everyone in the town knows why; the not-so decorated hero back from the smoke of Sydney to lick his wounds. My one-time detective makes a discovery: he comes across the wreckage of a plane that's been lost in the forest for over 15 years (I'll tell you how he came across it another day). He takes a picture of the plane's index number on his mobile phone and takes the photo to the one-man police station that night to report his find. Between him and the cynical desk sergeant (he knows our guy's corrupt backstory), neither has the wherewithal to Bluetooth the picture and so the sergeant tells him to return the next morning. Our hero goes to one of the two hotels on the town's main drag and drinks...boy does he drink?! Next morning he wakes up on the couch having drunk himself into blackout and without his jacket, wallet and phone; he must have left them in the hotel. He retrieves his jacket and wallet, but his phone is missing. Returning to the police station, there is no record of his visit of the night before and the desk sergeant who was on duty is now on leave and uncontactable. With the stench of alcohol still on his breath and his reputation having gone before him our protagonist's story is dismissed as delusion.

The last bit of the sequence above - the scene where my protagonist returns to the police station - that's a scene where the central crime plot turns from the positive (+) to the negative (-). I'd write that down on a 3x5 card and add it to my pile.

I don't think there's padding there but if there is, this process will weed it out.

Spurn thee padding!

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