Thursday, December 21, 2006

AROUSAL: The Story So Far

I thought it would be fun to do a clip show to track the progress of Arousal from its first baby steps. Here goes:

A discussion with a fellow filmmaker about gratuitous sex in films fires up my engines. I ruminate.

Still mulling over the discussion about gratuitous sex scenes, I stumble across a related concept which might be a cool idea for a film. I run it by my wife for medical plausibility and it seems feasible.

Think some more. Ultimately, I decide the idea is worth spending time turning into a script.

I write the Origin of my Arousal.

In trying to get my head around who the characters are, to clearly picture them in my head, I start trolling Myspace for some random souls to be my visual placeholders, which I talk about in The Beauty of Myspace Casting. If you've already read the script, can you suss out who's who in the picture at left just on their eyes alone?

Research begins in earnest. Writing a horror film means I need to know the genre, to anticipate the audience's expectations. I start adding films to my Netflix Queue. Here is my list as of today:

My Netflix Queue for Horror Research
Repulsion (When it's crossed off, I've seen it!)
The Vanishing
Wages of Fear
Diaboliques, Les
Come and See
Knife in The Water

Cabin Fever
Wrong Turn
Ju-on: The Grudge
High Tension
Night of the Living Dead
Dawn of the Dead
The Shining
The Haunting
The Innocents
Eyes Without a Face
House of 1,000 Corpses
Shaun of the Dead
Cannibal Holocaust

Films I've already seen
Blood Simple
28 Days Later
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

While toggling work on other projects, including being a Script Super on a feature, I think about Arousal in all my free time. Daydream is more like it... I wake up thinking about it, I go to sleep thinking about it, I eat with the TV off and drive while thinking about it. Could all this be considered billable time?

JUNE 2006
It's time to start hammering the errant ideas into a story of some kind. Do I tell one person's story, or many? Do I tell a nonsequential narrative like Jackie Brown or The Limey? How should the story end? How can this film be different than all the others that came before it while still be fresh and surprising? At last, I feel it's time to get Aroused, so I spend most of June fine tuning my five page single-spaced outline.

At some point in the mix, I write about Throwing Rocks at a Tree, which is getting your characters in a mess, make them think they find a way out, but put them in an even bigger mess. Wash and repeat.

The dam bursts! All my many months of troubleshooting story problems culminates in what feels like divine will. Draft 1 is written within 10 days (spaced out over 35 days), and I provide updates at 14%, 19%, 22%, 39%, Halftime, and 67%. At 77%, I talk about the coming denoument of the plot, and at 83%, I talk about Shane Black's good news/bad news theory of action. Not surprisingly, the five page outline I had started with changes a lot as the story is translated into finer details. Character motivations pull the story down unexpected paths, plot holes once glossed over in the outline become gaping holes not easily spackled over.

As Draft 1 comes to a close, I throw out an invitation to chat with me via Instant Messenger as I type out the final pages of Draft 1 (which haven't changed much in Draft 3!)

On September 6th, 2006, the news becomes official: Draft 1 is 100% complete!

I go over that first draft and am generally pleased how much of it I like. Sure, it's got flaws and is nowhere near done, but I don't feel like I'm going to have to rewrite it from the ground up. After an two hour extension for my self-imposed deadline, I announce that Draft 2 is officially ready for scrutiny! My growing list of readers has queued up to read this draft and I implore them all to be brutally honest.

The first of the feedbacks trickle in... and one reader in particular, while entertained for the first half, is so shocked by the degree of violence in the second half that she stops reading it. Had I not prepared my readers for the anguish within? To offset that kind of reaction, I issued an Arousal Warning.

Feedback is an indispensible tool of the trade and, while I half-expected some adverse reactions from those who don't like gore, I had also not expected any reactions that severe. It got me thinking about what exactly I was aiming for with my story. Some people like gore for its own sake, while others consistently prefer suspense over gore. Was I writing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or Scream? If I were showing gore for its own sake, then that would be—technically, at least—gratuitous. And if that were true, had I lost sight of my original intentions? And if so, was I bad, sick and wrong for that choice? Thus I had a long internal (and external) debate about Gore vs. Suspense.

I always try to collect as much feedback from my readers as possible to allow the proper context for the feedback as a whole: if 1 of 20 people hate the story, I can probably ignore that 1 person's feedback. If all 20 people hate the story, I need to take heed. Because I have relatives in town, I extend the deadline not just once, but twice.

For a second draft, I am happy to see a lot of really positive feedback. There is also much constructive feedback, so I compile it all and let it percolate in my head for a few weeks.

As I begin rewriting Draft 3, I remember what Harvey Weinstein had said about Clerks, so I pay particular attention to Arousal's first 30 pages by dissecting it into a whammy chart.

Knowing that I need a little extra time, I give myself an extension (my readers expect nothing less!) and yesterday, I decide it's time to put the pen down: Draft 3 was done.

JANUARY 2007 (projected)
While some people think there are three stages to a film—pre-production, production, and post-production—there are actually only two: making a film, and selling a film. For scripts, this truth becomes glaringly obvious. Now that I've written this script, I expect to follow my own advice in submitting scripts to Hollywood. Oh joy of joys.

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