For two weeks Dory and I worked on the screenplay. It was more complicated than we thought. I looked in the local library for any books that might help but it was small and didn’t have anything so I asked dad to drive the two of us to a Borders book store in Harrisburg and we scored So You Want to Write a Screenplay?
A screenplay is simply a story written for the camera, a story without all the flowery fluff and stuff that you find in books. Descriptions are muted and character’s inner dialogue is removed. A beautifully written setting for a chapter in a novel might become something as simple as “Dark empty city street at night - rain”. Instead of a character going through a whole bunch of thoughts as a monster approaches (What is that thing? How will I get away?), a screenwriter will put, “Barbara screams and runs out the door.”
Usually authors aren’t too happy with what a screenwriter does to their story because they take out a lot of the colorful stuff and break it down to only what can be shown on a movie screen, Sometimes the original story and the screenplay are very different pieces by the end. Sometimes whole parts are removed because it doesn’t make any sense in the movie.
“Remember Jaws?” I asked Dory one night as we sat over our third bowl of Fritos and were only halfway through Penny’s story.
“Ever read the book?”
She shook her head. It was getting late and we were both tired.
“Well, in the novel, there’s this whole part about Hooper sleeping with Chief Brody’s wife.”
“Yup. And there’s a whole other part about the Mayor being blackmailed by the mafia and that’s why he keeps the beaches open.”
“And it's not in the movie.”
“Right, because who cares?” The guy who wrote the screenplay...do you want to know who wrote it?”
“Fair, fair. But what do you think of first when you think about Jaws?”
Dory barely paused. “A big damn shark.”
“Exactly. The audience wants to see the big damn shark and the guy who wrote the screenplay knew that. All that other stuff would have just slowed the movie down. That’s what a good screenwriter does. Breaks a story down to its basic elements.”
I saw a light go on in her dark green eyes and she smiled. “And the audience here wants to see...atomic frog people, right?”
“Exactly. Atomic damn frog people.”
When we finished over a week later, we thought it only fair to show the screenplay to Penny and, as expected, she had a lot of questions. Fortunately, her original story wasn’t really long like a novel so we didn’t have to change too much but we did cut out the part about the Frog People developing a society of their own, complete with leaders and warriors.
“But that was one of my favorite parts,” she complained after reading it. “And there wasn’t a character in my story named Dr. Willingshire. Or Rebecca Tierney.”
“Right, but when you’re writing a screenplay - ”
“Look,” Dory interrupted, “When they wrote the screenplay for Jaws, they had to cut out entire parts of the book because it made it a better movie. Not necessarily a better story, you know, but a better movie. Get it?”
I could see that Penny didn’t really get it but that was okay, too. When she left wordlessly I turned to Dory.
“Look at you listening to me,” I said.
“I’ll go home and type this up,” Dory said as she took our legal pad and got up..
“And then we’ll need to make copies,” I added. “You can type?”
“My dad has an electric one and I’m pretty fast.”
“Okay, sounds good,” I smiled.
Two days later Dory showed up at my house with two copies of the script, typed and double spaced.
“Well done,” I smiled.
“What’s next?” She asked after we read over the lines of the script together.
“Well,” I said, not really wanting the words to come out because once they were out they would be free to float around the room and make us think about them. “We’re gonna need a lot of help. There’s no way we can pull this off on our own.”
“Figured as much. How many people do you think we’ll need?”
“Do you know how to run a movie camera?”
“Nope,” she said.
“Well, there’s one,” I said and wrote down ‘D.P’ on the legal pad next to me.
“D.P.?” Dory said.
“Director of Photography,” I answered and grabbed a handful of chips.
“Is that the cameraman?”
“Yep,” I said. “Or camerawoman”
When we finished it came to about thirty people or so and we tried to see how many jobs we could double up. The story itself called for about a dozen roles and then a bunch of extras. That was where we could double up and it wouldn’t be too hard.
“Look, whoever we cast as, say, Tommy Braden, then we could put a moustache or a wig on him and he can also play a townsperson if we have to,” Dory suggested.
“Yeah, and if we have to we can also double up on the frog people as well. They’ll be in costumes so no one will guess if it’s the same person from an earlier scene, right?”
“Right,” she said. “Speaking of costumes…”
I picked up my pencil and wrote down “Costumes?”
“So, what else do we need? So far we have about fifteen people.”
“Well,” I said and softly tapped the eraser to my forehead, “we need someone to do the lighting and someone to do the sound.”
“Doesn’t the camera come with sound or a microphone or something?”
“Yeah but you can’t get good sound from that. We need a boom mic.”
“A what what?”
I looked around my room for something to show as an example but saw nothing. Just blank walls and posters. For a moment I forgot it was even my room.
“Come with me,” I said.
I led Dory down to the basement. In the corner, on a wooden pallet, was a stack of boxes.
“MY SHIT?” Dory laughed as I handed her one of the boxes. I grabbed a couple and we started back upstairs. “I knew there was a reason I liked you, girl.”
We sat on the floor of my room and I methodically pulled out my collection...my models, VHS tapes and books. I spread everything on the floor.
“Eww, who the hell is this guy?” Dory chuckled as she held up one of the models.
“Hey, a little respect. That’s the Creature from the Black Lagoon,” I said and scooted closer to her with the Film Magicians book in my lap. She patted the creature’s head and placed him gently next to her. I flipped open the book and found a page that showed a photo of a working film set. In the background was a man holding a long pole with a large microphone attached over the heads of the actors.
“Boom mic,” I said proudly as I pointed to the picture.
She nodded. “Looks like a damn boy scout meeting.”
“What do you mean?”
“No chicks,” she said pointing to each person in the picture. “See?”
I nodded slowly. “Well, we’re going to change that.”
It was midnight before we finished our list and it was a bit overwhelming to be honest. We stared at the jobs and were just quiet for a while. The list went for two pages but I was pretty sure I got everything. Dory let me take the lead on this seeing as I had the most background knowledge on what a film crew needed. I’d seen a million of them roll past me after the end of each movie I watched and I was the only person I knew (other than mom) who actually sat through them untl the end. I always wanted to see where it was shot, who did the costumes, who was in charge of the props. It never failed to amaze me that even on the lousy movies, it often took well over a hundred people to make a movie.
We didn’t have a hundred. Not by a long shot. Hell, I only had Dory and doubted I could count on the few folks I had met along the way since coming here.
Dory pulled out the stuff I had packed away months earlier and began putting them around my room once more. She put my models on one shelf and my movie books on another, sliding the CDs over to make room and she found space on the walls to put up four of my posters. Jaws, she said, she knew was a must have.
“Definite must have,” I said as I glanced around the room. “Thanks. Why are you doing this?”
She shrugged and smiled. “It’s something that’s a part of you. You shouldn’t try to hide it away.” She finished taping the last corner of The Blob poster and hopped off the chair to join me at my desk. “So what’s the final number?”
“Well, if you include cast and we make sure that everyone has at least two jobs...it looks like we need, and this is being conservative, about twenty people.”
Dory looked up to the ceiling and took a breath. That got me nervous. I didn’t know anyone really yet and was hoping she might have an -
“I have an idea,” she said and then nodded to herself. “It’s late and I have to get home but I’ll fill you in tomorrow.” She gave me a quick hug, got up and then stopped. She picked up my Creature from the Black Lagoon model. “Can I hold onto this? Maybe use it for inspiration?”
“Yeah,” I said. “You can keep it but only if we watch the movie this week. I have it in my collection.”
“Oh, I saw your collection, believe me. It’s a deal.” She picked up the model and smiled. “I have a feeling we’ll be watching quite a few of these movies over the next week or so. You provide the popcorn.”
After Dory left I looked around my room. Yeah, I liked what I saw. My old friends were back.