Monday, March 13, 2006


In this blog I wrote a few days ago I was discussing how I'm planning to write a screenplay with lots of violent, disturbing content. Well, today I pitched my idea to my class and the teacher sort of shot down one of the major aspects of my idea. I get what he's saying but I also think he is WRONG and I wanted to talk about what happened.

Basically, the protagonist of my story is a woman who kills people indiscriminantly! Now, see, that's sort of simplifying it and that's probably part of why my teacher was telling me I had to develop it further, but, at the same time, to some degree it is sort of still that she just kills people all willy-nilly.

The thing is that my teacher (although he's only in his thirties) seems pretty grounded in the notion of direct storytelling with motivation and character development and all that nonsense. He doesn't even seem to take into consideration that this is the era of the indie film, in which you can get away with ponderous pseudo-narratives with no definite point or clear drive! Now I'm not excusing bad storytelling here. I'm just saying that I feel as though some things can be left up to the viewer's imagination and have far more impact that way. This is not a new concept, obviously, but look at what I'm dealing with here:

My story is going to take place in a post-apocalyptic, kill-or-be-killed type setting. I plan to establish the rules of the society through various externalizations pretty much immediately. I think it will become apparent that the main character's only killing people who threaten her or get in her way or try to kill her. Granted, it will still seem extreme at first, but I think eventually (in the context of the film, mind you) her behavior will appear to be somewhat justified. It's a crappy future! Everyone's against everyone...yeah! Kill some people! It's easier.

I actually presented this idea initially to an introduction to screenwriting class I had in college. My current teacher behaved basically just like the students in that class with their "WHATS!" and "NOS!" and "YOU CAN'TS!" but when I actually wrote the opening to the thing, they really liked it. They still thought my character needed some motivation established, however.

Now, believe it or not, I thought of this idea before I saw any of the movies it immediately recalls, like Natural Born Killers. The reasoning for the murderous nature of the characters in that movie (which I'm no huge fan of) is that they had horribly abusive, weird-ass childhoods. My sister pointed out that she thought this was kind of lame because lots of people have horribly abusive childhoods and they don't grow up killers. Unless you were literally raised by a crazy person (and how'd they get crazy) with some sort of belief system built on killing others, what makes a person into a serial killer? INSANITY IS WHAT.

Crazy people are CRAZY and you can't pretend like you know from crazy unless you ARE! Slapping some kind of backstory on there just seems like a lame attempt to pad out your movie in the appropriate manner because, if you think about it, it doesn't REALLY explain anything. The reason I want to leave my character's murderous nature open to interpretation is that then you'll have to wonder, "What the hell screwed her up so bad?" and make it up for yourself and whatever you come up with is certainly going to be a lot more sensible than anything I could muster.

That said, I'm not going to leave the character totally flat. She's not a Terminator (which is what my teacher kept saying she seemed like). She's got other dimensions to her and even turns out to be human. IN FACT, I largely want it to be about how she's lost all of her humanity but it comes back to her by the end of the film (obviously, after all she's done, it's devastating). I just want to make it clear to people that THIS IS HOW SHE IS. I don't want a crappy backstory. I just want it to BE. Hopefully, you grow to like her based on her other characteristics and the human parts of her that do show through. There'll even be a little backstory for a later event but, as for the killing, I don't think anything I do is going to ring true, so hell if I'm doing it.

Incidentally, the movie Badlands is about a couple fleeing across the country. The guy kills anyone who might be a threat to their getaway and the movie makes no attempt to judge them. The girl had a controlling father, certainly, but there's absolutely nothing trying to justify the guy's murdering streak. In fact, he's a really nice guy who gets along with all the police after he's arrested.

Honestly, it wasn't the greatest film but I accepted that this was how the guy was, even though there was no apparent reason for it. Thing was, this movie was based on the story of an actual couple. So if I just slap "Based on a True Story from the Future" on the beginning of my movie, I think I can get away with pretty much anything.


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