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:

In addition to the assault itself, “HIS” initial reaction to it is about as poor as imaginable. Perhaps on a par with the physical assault, in terms of the emotional pain and chaos it creates for “HER.” In fact, might his reaction seem almost unrealistically horrific? I think that what might make it somewhat more believable is that she has no memory of the events in question, or even concrete after-the-fact knowledge of what happened, so perhaps(?) she’s not expressing the sort of overwhelming, searing trauma which might more commonly accompany a viscerally-remembered assault.

And of course, his reaction also assumes that he (at that time, at least) was strongly inclined toward viewing their relationship primarily through the lens of ownership (eg, of each other’s hearts/bodies/lives/etc). And presumably, she must also have shared this view mostly in common with him, at least at some earlier point in their relationship.

For her to have any interest 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 I haven’t found an effective way to articulate this very clearly in the short. Just a hint of it–him packing bags, etc. Maybe that’s simply an inherent shortcoming (pardon of the pun) of a short film? Only so much can be articulated clearly in 4-5 minutes of screen time. Or, maybe I’m just not being creative enough?

Also, it would 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 haven’t found an effective way to articulate this very clearly in the short. 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…”

And if it isn’t clear (I hope it is!), her “don’t touch me right now!” reaction at the end is due primarily to his rambling monologue that 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 how to articulate this effectively 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 likely a positive development if their relationship is to continue to heal, although it manifests initially here 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 gives voice to 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. 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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