CAFE NOIR » Tales of an atheist, anarchist, wannabe filmmaker of sorts, and father of three lovable little beasties

Open Source Screenwriting: “Reunion”

Calling all readers! Yeah, you, I see the both of you there!

I’m plodding through post-production of Pumpkin, but it’s never too early to start looking toward the next project on the horizon. Pumpkin and Hell is Round the Corner are both short excerpts/adaptations from a feature-length film project I’m gradually wading into. In fact, I’ve just wrapped up a very rough first draft of the feature-length screenplay, having written the last major missing sequence of the film quite recently. And because I think it might work well as another stand-alone short film, I’ve excerpted that sequence into its own short screenplay, titled “Reunion.”

Here’s where you come in:

I’ve long loved the idea of open source content, and I’m curious to explore that framework as it might relate to filmmaking. I don’t have any grand master blueprint for what that might look like for every step of the process, but it seems at least that the screenwriting stage could quite easily be opened up to a wider community.

And in the case of the “Reunion” sequence/screenplay especially, I need as much collaboration as I can get. It centers on an incredibly difficult and vulnerable subject, namely, the fallout that an act of third-party sexual assault might have for an intimate partnership. And I dare not wade into these waters without first getting as much constructive criticism as I can come by. (Perhaps I’ll even realize or be persuaded that I shouldn’t wade into these waters at all, at least at this time.) I’ve already run it by several trusted friends/colleagues, from whom I’ve received valuable criticism which has resulted in several refinements and improvements. But I’ve been thinking more and more the past few days: why not you all, whoever you might be? So without further ado, here’s a link to the short film screenplay:

http://cafenoir.co/reunion-screenplay/

Spoilers/heavy-handed commentary alert! You might do better to read the script first before reading my notes below, as they might too-strongly color your engagement with the story and characters before you’ve even had a chance to read the script. That said, here are some of my initial notes:

First, I wish I had a better format for this, but the best I can do for now is to ask you to leave comments on this page and/or send me a direct email at jeff@cafenoir.co. Or, you can rewrite the script/concept altogether, and send/link to your version. And you can certainly request/preserve anonymity if you’d like, and I’ll happily respect that. Now to the narrative:

“HIS” initial reaction to the assault suffered by “HER” is incredibly poor. Perhaps on a par with the assault itself, in terms of the emotional pain and chaos it creates for her. For her to have any interest whatsoever in reconnecting with him, as we see at the beginning of the short, it would almost have to be the case, I think, that they previously shared a longstanding, intimate partnership. The feature-length screenplay makes this quite clear, though there’s just a hint of it here in this short–him packing bags, etc. Hopefully that’s enough of a hint? Perhaps, at the very least, on a second viewing? Or is there some more effective way to articulate this here?

It would also have to be the case, I think, that quite a few interim months have passed, and he has demonstrated sincere anguish not only about the assault but moreover about his initial reaction to it. Again, I’m not sure I’ve found a particularly effective way to articulate this in the short. Once more, just a hint of it–“I don’t really know what else I can say but to just keep saying it: I’m so sorry…”

Much of what interests me about this scenario and about these characters is that they both see themselves as modern, enlightened folks.

Let’s take him, for a moment. Would his reaction be a terribly uncommon one? I doubt it; there are probably plenty of guys who might react even worse, and who might never come to feel particular remorse about their reaction. But for him, part of the horror here is in coming face-to-face with his more primitive, animal self. Shattering the internal “good guy” image he previously had of himself. And in the process deeply wounding the person most dear to him–at her lowest point, no less–and perhaps irreparably fucking up the relationship most important to him. He briefly voices this in the short, “It’s a hell of a fucking thing to feel…like a goddamn neanderthal.”

And for both of them: Another element at play here that I think is simply going to fester under the surface; neither one of them is going to know how to address it with the other–and that’s the ambiguity of the situation of the assault. Is sexual assault ever justified? No, a thousand times no, full stop. And they both share in this conviction. Are there statistically unwise/unsafe positions to put oneself in? Yeah, of course there are. And she did. And they both realize it. And he even tried to prompt her at the time, to leave with him (telling her, in effect, “I’m tired. Let’s please go.”) But this is just so damn messy and complicated, and I don’t think they’re going to find a way to address this with one another. It’ll just silently gnaw away at both of them.

Her reaction at the end of the short (ie, recoiling from his touch, prompting him to ask whether she wants him to leave) is due primarily (I hope this is clear!) to his rambling monologue (ie, “I don’t know how to explain any of it…”) which seems almost to ignore her and to place the trauma vividly right back in front of her. For them to have had the sort of intimate, reuniting sex implied at the beginning of the short, it would have to be the case, I think, that he’s generally been much better at creating primary space for her to process. And his own processing, which is vitally important as well, has been voiced much more sensitively to her. So his monologue here must be, I think, a temporary regression on that account, although I’m not sure quite how to articulate this in the short. For what it’s worth, I think the reuniting sex has likely prompted him to let down his emotional guard somewhat. Which is actually a positive development if there’s any deep and lasting potential for their relationship to regrow (I personally doubt there is, btw), though it manifests in this particular moment in a hurtful way.

And on that note, one piece of feedback/criticism I’ve already received is that the film itself mirrors his problematic rambling, by first and foremost exploring his male response to her assault, rather than her female response. And let me say that that’s a very interesting take–I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. I’d like to think that because the film explicitly illustrates the problem here on his part (and she makes clear that problem), that therefore the film itself doesn’t simply echo the same mistake. But maybe that’s too simplistic?

Also, it feels intuitively inappropriate to me (male writer that I am) to try to presume or pretend to speak directly for women on such a charged and delicate topic as this. Certainly I do aspire to speak in a way that’s generously sensitive to the experiences and concerns of others, but yes, I’ll likely tend to focus on male responses and how those responses may be appropriate or inappropriate, helpful or harmful. Again however, maybe that’s too simplistic, or still problematic?

Ahh, complexity overload! One of my favorite moments from Se7en feels fitting here. In the words of Brad Pitt’s character, “You’re right. It’s all fucked up. It’s a fucking mess. We should all go live in a fucking log cabin!”

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