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The Fountain, the Art of Screenwriting & Learning to Kill my Child in the Process. . .

May 16, 2007

Very few films have touched at the level and in the manner in which Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain has.

Perhaps 2001: A Space Odyssey, Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, and the lion’s share of Andrei Tarkovski’s films. I am in the minority when I admit to my admiration of Stephen Soderbergh’s interpretation of Solaris. Each of these works has touched me not only as a filmmaker and cinephile, but has gone down deeply and has been embedded into my most primal roots. The sort of stories that become not only a part of your life experience, but your personal fabric.

I just finished reading the Aronofsky screenplay as inspiration for my own work, and while the script didn’t plant the initial seeds of inspiration for my work, it has provided fertile ground for ideas to blossom.

I have had two key challenges in developing the ideas behind my current script: Developing the deep mythos in the narrative, and working within the nearly haiku-like confines of a modern screenplay. My forays into writing have always been centered in short prose, essays and stream-of -consciousness works. Each of these has allowed me to play in a vast landscape of words and ideas.

In coming to my ideas as a screenwriter, I tend to want to write them as the complete filmmaker’s vision where all the aspects of inspiration, visual, narrative and structural find manifestation on the page. But that is the quickest way to get yourself into a lot of trouble as a screenwriter.

In picking up the screenplay, even simply to look at the printed page, one is immediately taken by the vast amount of white space on the page. That certainly isn’t unusual in contemporary screenwriting, but I think the amount of blank page in The Fountain is probably lean even by today’s standards.

To read the script you realize that not a word has been wasted, and at the same time, the foundation of a deep mythos is present: Concepts of life and the interconnectedness that binds everything together. Eastern mysticism meets the Mayan concept of Earth and the universe, aspects of faith, the bridging between the light of truth and the obscuring nature of shadow.

And then there’s my baby. . .

He’s big and fat, still growing. . . Smart too! Of mixed ethnicity and genre, alternative scriptwriting at it’s best! Especially if I don’t let anyone else read it.

But that kind of defeats the whole purpose behind writing it.

Ok, the kid’s fat. Shut him up. Cut out all the extraneous words. . . Done that. He’s still stocky and big boned. At this point if you can imagine a giant Campbell’s Soup Kid attacking New York City instead of the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man, you might have a sense of the beast that I have created.

I am also still in the process of developing narrative aspects of my script, so yes, he’s still growing. I’ve taken countless notes, developed back story, traced the path that my major characters will take. . . So this is probably a good part of why the kid’s got so much girth.

And yeah, the kid’s smart. He’s all over the place. Tested well in Pop culture, biblical and Greek Mythology, the heroic journey and music and film studies. But so was The Matrix. And yet, the Wachowskis managed to get it done in under two hours.

But this cranially “gifted”, portly and girthy kid still has a problem. His daddy hasn’t had the guts to really trim him down where it hurts.

In The Fountain. . . She’s a sexy woman. Curvaceous. Talks in a whisper and most of her intelligence comes through her eyes. If my big boy were to walk into the same room with her, he’d probably get picked up, put over her shoulder and burped. He’d likely leave a little milky puke on her porcelain shoulder, but he’d smile and ask if it was good for her.

Of course, at this point you are probably thinking the exact same thing that I am. . .

You are sitting here writing a blog post about what you should be doing to get your script into shape. What started off as a writing exercise has become procrastination. Another couple colorful turns of phrases and you are verging on masturbation. . .

And that’s what it comes down to. When I am ready to do so (and DAMN soon), I need to dissect the little bastard in hopes that his heart and mind will glow in quiet cinematic glory. Gone are the days where you could fill the page with pithy insights and five dollar words. I’m not going to be able to impugn anyone’s cocksmanship the way that Chayefsky did, and no one will scream your words the way that Andy Griffith did with Budd Schulberg’s. Not unless something comes from somewhere deeper, and quieter.

So now I guess I have to get out the butcher knife and look with loving eyes upon my 147+ page child and think. . .

Where to make the first incision?

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