Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Day 47: Five Fruits

A favourite dinner party game of mine: stranded on a desert island for the rest of your life you’re allowed to pick five fruits and that’s all you’re going to get to eat forever. What are your five fruits?

Over the years that I’ve put this litmus test to friends and acquaintances, I’ve found it to be very revealing, giving me an insight into someone’s character make-up, which up to that point, I’d never picked up on. I’d even consider running the fruit question past someone that I was considering working with, it’s that dependable.

I mean, if I’m thinking about writing a screenplay for someone - let’s say a first draft which is going to take up to six months of my life and who knows how many years after that - and the first fruit that they pick is a Red Delicious apple, then I’m outta there and leaving the commission for some other nut. Red Delicious? Why would you even bother?

Prospective dates...give them the fruit test, you’ll soon know whether compatibility is remotely possible...if you hear the words “seedless grape”.....run for the hills and don't look back.

I’ve given this plenty of thought, which you can probably tell. Before I reveal myself, via my choices, a rule: no avocados or tomatoes or any of those confused species that don’t know whether they’re a vegetable or a fruit; they end up in salads not fruit salads and that’s the ruling.

Now, down to business. Pick of the bunch has to be the banana. It’s a different texture, it’s filling, high in potassium and it's unlike any other fruit that you’re going to come across. Second up and I’m reaching for the mango. Part of me wants to say that if there was only ONE fruit then it would have to be this, but a word of warning: make sure that it’s a Kensington Pride. Forget the Calypso or the EMc2 or whatever it’s called or the green and red coloured varieties. It’s the Kenny Pride or nothing.

An apple has to be included, but which one? This is going to depend one where you come from. If I were back in the UK I’d be choosing the Russet: small, brown, a little sour, even tart...my kinda apple. If I could rely on the heritage apple man that used to be a regular stall holder at my local Saturday morning market here in Kings Cross, Sydney, then I’d be picking his London Pippin or the King David. Given that I haven’t seen him for a while and can’t rely on his coming through for me, I’ll go with what most people consider to be the queen of Australian apples, the Pink Lady.

Two fruits left and, whilst I’m thinking about this, let me tell you that you’ll hear some people come up with the craziest ideas in this game, people really not thinking through their choices or trying to be controversial. Just last week someone nominated Limes!!! Their rationale: so that they could squeeze the juice on the other fruits. Two months into their stay on the remote outpost, as they squeeze a little more "lime" juice onto their four other fruits, do you think that they might be wishing they chose a pineapple? I’ve just about heard it all...even passion fruit? People, there’s very little fruit bang for your buck with the passion fruit.

I think I have to go a citrus fruit and for me that’s the mandarin. Lemons - no point. Grapefruit - too kooky. Oranges - too much peeling business. Tangelo - sounds stupid, looks stupid.

The final choice and this is where I might go a little out on a limb. The lychee came close, blueberries were there for a second, but I will bestow my fifth and final fruit choice on the black cherry. Luxurious, sensual, sour, sexual....I know, it’s more of a treat than your practical everyday fruit, but maybe it’s the fruit I’m reaching for on a Friday night on that desert island, the special occasion fruit: “Ah, the weekend’s here, time to kick back and bring out the black cherries.”

I will say that I admire those who pick the coconut (milk and meat), I think those people, those fruit-pickers have given great thought to that choice and I’ll always be envious of those who choose the plum...I can make a good case for a plum. And then there is the fruit gulf that is paw-paw. Me, I’m a paw-paw guy, but we don’t number many. I think think it’s an olfactory thing for some people. Good....plenty more for me.

What’s all this got to do with screenwriting? Let me try and enlighten you.

Day #47 Tip: Know Your Kings & Queens
This thought holds good for any stage of the writing of any draft that I'm working on. Whether it’s sifting through the Index Cards, trying to reject and select as I reduce the pile down to 40-60, or it could be when I'm making choices in scene writing or coming up with arbitrary inclusions for a character biog.

What do I do when faced with choices? Do I go this way or that? Does the character do this, that or the other? Which location, what month of the year, doe he leave her or does he stay?

The process of screenwriting from the first bubble of inspiration to the last bead of perspiration will constantly and continuously bring me to forks in the road where I must choose. McKee counsels that before making my choice, I should ask myself this question: “what’s more powerful for my story/screenplay?”

My version of that is to think of my work as though it were a chess game. Surveying the kingdom that I have created, decide on the value of everything, just as the different chess pieces have value. I can play chess - I’m certainly no grand master flash - but, at the risk of referring to something that I am no expert in, I do know the rudimentary value attached to each piece. Prawns - sorry that’s pawns (a lame attempt at humour) - are two-a-penny, everything else less so. Rooks (lovely word rook, don’t you think?), knights and bishops mean different things to different people. One man’s Bishop is another man’s knight. The queen out-trumps those three (the most powerful moving piece) and the king is the most important piece on the board. Lose your king and it’s goodnight-god bless, game over.

When I’m faced with a choice in my work, a choice that could see me move in one direction or another - both valid - I think of Mr McKee’s questions and then I try and work out - of the elements involved - which bit is maybe a pawn and which is rook, knight or bishop. If I can assign values to each part or facet of the choice I’m faced with, then maybe I’ve got a chance at knowing what to let go of and what to hang onto. If I designate something as a king or queen, then I protect that at all costs and guard it with my life, it’s obviously beyond-vital to the script I’m writing, the story I’m telling: “I’m happy to lose that character, sure the gun can go, kill her and him off, but I am not, repeat 'not', moving this location from the desert island. Not for all the tea in China nor all the mangoes in Queensland.”

I will return.

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