28 Jul Where the F**Ks the Conflict?
Yesterday would have been my father’s 76th birthday. Four and half years ago he tried to cross a highway at night wearing all black. He didn’t make it. I’m so much like him that it’s hard for me not to be aware of him in some ways almost all the time.
At dinner last night I was reminiscing about him and I brought up a story about our first film, Half-Cocked. That film was born out of love and respect for some incredibly talented people. If it wasn’t for my father it would have been a total mess.
At the time that we made the film I was in a band and had met a group of artists and musicians who lived together in what was once a mansion in downtown Louisville. It was owned and presided over by an explosively talented guy named Jon Cook. The rooms were filled by other equally talented people who played music and made art together in a variety of configurations.
When my band was on our first tour we had no show set up in Louisville but someone had told me to call Jon to see if he could help us out. He actually made it possible for us to play in a bar (there were no patrons) and he put us up in “The Rocket House” (it got it’s name from the energy in the house, as well as it’s brick turret). We had met up with a couple of other bands the night before in Chattanooga so we brought them along. There were already a couple of bands staying there, so I think the total number of bands in the house including those who actually lived there was…7. Coming from the compressed confines of the East Village- it seemed like this house had an endless capacity for people- and creative energy.
When we got back to NY we all stayed in touch and that year we probably toured through there 5 or 6 times- and we got them some shows in NY. My girlfriend Suki (and future wife) went on tour with a friend’s band and she too was blown away by the creative energy of the place. I talked her into dropping out of film school to make a film about it all with me.
In addition to playing bass in a a rock band I was also a photographer and took it upon myself to document the bands we played with. Suki and I decided to make a movie that would look like my photos and create a document that would capture the full energy of the community. As my background was in documentary, and hers was in classic Hollywood film- we decided to combine our different skill sets.
Over an intense few week period we banged out a script. I would pace around her apartment shouting out ideas and she would type them up on her word processing typewriter. Then we would bounce our ideas off of our friends and roommates. Not everyone had computers then and it was a frustrating process trying to get it down on paper/disc .
We were so enamored of our characters that we wrote scenes that were long love poems about their creative energy. The basic story was there but we knew it needed work. When we had that first draft done I excitedly sent it off to my father. A few people had email addresses in 1993 but I was not one of them Within a week we received the script back in the mail. There were a few punctuation notes but the only real message was scrawled across the cover page.
“Where the fuck’s the conflict” it read in a loping script.
I was kind of devastated but he was right. We had written in a basic conflict that drove the story, but we loved all of our characters too much. We hadn’t been able to bring ourselves to picture them doing anything … wrong… or mean… or … selfish. They were namby pamby goody two shoes that were …. boring.
So we set to work writing in conflict and fighting among ourselves. We made a film called, “Half-Cocked”.
For the past year I have been working with Alana on a script based on her story. The first draft that she showed me had some magical moments, but it was long and all over the place. Most importantly, she wasn’t ready to shine too harsh a light on her doppelganger in the script… or the other characters. My father’s words echoed through my head as I read it. I saw myself in her and her script and I wanted to be like my father and save it.
Over the past month I have put my nose to the grindstone and attacked it. I’ve worked hard to get rid of anything that doesn’t move the story forward. There were a few places that I hadn’t fixed. This morning as I swam at the local pool I was thinking about my dad when it hit me that the one scene I was troubled by in this newest version of the script wasn’t working because …. it lacked conflict. Immediately I saw how it would play out. The one character that needed development would get angry, which made him more real. His anger forced the main character to take a hard look at herself, and the fullness of the scene made it possible for him to come back in the end.
I felt the presence of my father in that pool as I jumped out after only half my normal time. I was too excited to get back to writing, to continue swimming.