Friday, August 14, 2015

What Should I Write About?

It's time to write another spec, and as always, this fills me with dread.

I'm trying to find an Idea. You know. A three sentence logline with a flashy hook, one that is both tremendously commercial and starkly original. However, all I find scribbled in my notebook (the The Bucket in which I keep all my Golden Story Ideas) are fragments, digressions, and visions for movies that are utterly preposterous.

First, there's "Hamlette." Over my August vacation I saw Benedict Cumberbatch play Hamlet on stage, and I loved the production. I thought, there hasn't been a movie Hamlet lately, not since Ethan Hawke's GenX Dane back in 2000. What if Hamlet were Hamlette, a woman? Sure it has already been done by Danish silent film actor Asta Nielsen, but what if I switched genders of several of the main characters. King Claudius, the villain, would become Queen Claudia, cruel as any grinning Disney witch. The Ghost would be Hamlette's mother, as terrifying as the vengeful spirits in Japanese horror. Hamlet's mother would be Hamlette's father, trading Oedipus for Electra. Hamlette and Ophelia would have a forbidden Sapphic edge.

Speaking of silent films, this Hamlette (as per my frantic and impassioned notes) would be inspired by the dark, expressionistic sets of Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Hamlette herself would be inspired by silent film sirens like Heddy Lamar and Louise Brooks, only more brooding, violent and existential. The movie itself wouldn't be silent, but perhaps the the play within a play would be a 20s silent film depicting the Queens murder in pantomime. The language would be a surreal mix of silent film subtitles, updated modern dialogue and Shakespearean soliloquy.

The last line about this Idea in my notebook is that the whole thing could be shot in stop motion animation. Hmmmm. Needless to say, this idea doesn't sound like what my agent is looking for, so I keep flipping pages, looking through other Ideas.

There are a couple more horror concepts. One is a kafkaesque spin on Gremlins, in which the characters find gummy, oily, spidery creatures called "Things," which turn out to be the "object causes of desire," that inexpressible Thing that we all feel is missing from our lives. Yet when the characters get precisely what they want, their lives become a living hell. There are all sorts of sketches of these monstrous Things growing larger and multiplying out of control.

The problem with this Idea is it feels too familiar  (another rash of creature-ids run amok?) and in my notes there are several references to both Buñuel and Lacan, which is always a sign that I'm in trouble...

I keep turning pages. There's a romantic, supernatural thriller called The Philosophers, but it's perverse to the point of being like a Lynch or Cronenberg film, and it's not so much a story as a haphazard list of possible episodes all inspired by the work of my favorite philosophers. Again, I realize that that any combination of  period costumes, expensive special effects, and the Ubermensch is going to spell disaster. I continue to dig.

There's a promising Idea of reworking Sleeping Beauty as film noir, in which Sleeping Beauty herself is a femme fatale bent on the Prince's murder. Unfortunately the sketched-out dialogue of knights in full armor speaking in the hard boiled language of Raymond Chandler quickly dissolves into farce. There's a sci-fi, apocalyptic take on the 60's TV series Bonanza. I'll put a pin in that one. There's a supernatural crime thriller about a bunch of con artists who make a billionaire widow believe that they are psychics and have contacted her murdered daughter. I can't decide whether the ghost actually turns out to be real or the con-artists are just turning on each other and fucking with each other's minds. Nahhh, either way it's way too pretentious. What about this story of a narcoleptic who is constantly falling asleep and waking up as a buxom swords-woman in a desert world of alien troglodytes? No. No, swords-and-sandals. I swore to myself, never again.

What the FUCK do I write about??? I close the notebook and pick up the next one on my stack. I'm sure there's an Idea in here someplace...

To find out how I solved this problem check out the follow up article What To Write About...


Germaine de Pibrac JAmes said...

Maybe something dark and twisted like a weird romcom with a little dystopia and horror ? An illegal organ harvester has to stay two steps ahead of his last victim, a really pissed off Special Collection Service (real life CIA/NSA hybrid team) agent who he's fallen in love with, and stop the hidden forces that employ him for their own nefarious ends.

Popped into my head.

gspoljaric said...

Thank you for giving us an insight into your process.

Mindi White said...

Delightful as always, Sean. I had a few thoughts, none of them useful. First, when I first saw "Hamlette," I assumed it was a scrambled egg dish with, perhaps, ham. Second, I saw Dame Judith Anderson do Hamlet on stage and it was astonishing. Third, if you do a gender flip on the play, all the characters should follow suit; hence, Ophelio would be the passive weepy lover. Fourth and most obscure, your "Things" was already done after a fashion by Al Capp in his classic Li'l Abner comic strip; the Things were called shmoos. Cheers.