the stubborn limbo of dramatic contrarianism

So…so, so, so…it’s been approximately six-months since I wrapped principal for HorrorCon and since then it’s been a long, arduous slog through audio mixing and researching distribution methods. I still have a few clips to shoot, and I haven’t even started on the score which really needs to have a completed mix to begin. I’ve got ideas, but I’m never short of those. Here are a few of them:

Pick up minimalist themes from the main five songs spread throughout the narrative and record them using whatever instruments I have lying around. Those would include a Kurzweil K1000 composing keyboard with two broken keys, an iPad with a few interesting apps, some guitars, my voice, and a host of audio manipulation software. I want mood and a few stabs here and there to heighten the psychological suspense. No one is waiting around a dark corner to kill anyone in this film, but the enemy of one’s tormented soul plays an important role in the dark corners of my characters’ psyches. It’s a film about the unraveling spirit of the disenfranchised and at least one way to survive the ensuing downward spiral – if “survival” is indeed the correct term. I’m looking for disquiet mixed with sparkling despair. I think I can layer something that achieves that. Practical realities are also forcing my hand at scoring this film myself (with a little help from my friends). I just can’t afford a professional with the kind of experience that matches my sensibilities if in fact they can be found at all. No more cooks. This film is all done being passed around.

As I wait for a mix that will hopefully arrive by the end of next month, I’ve taken to dusting off a few scripts and finding homes for them. I do not speak of permanent homes where their acceptance will immediately usher me onto a new career plateau, but one where they might be nurtured into gainful employment – limbos of a sort where they might lie comfortably in wait with a fresh new coat of paint in hopes that someone, the right someone, will drive past and spot their unique and irresistibly engaging sheen. The first script I’ve chosen is Outside Men, and so far, I’ve found one intriguing accommodation: Amazon Studios.

Amazon has decided to slip a newly sprouted tentacle into the film industry pool by soliciting original works to be considered in private or in public, the latter state encouraging participation and feedback from other writers. There’s a not insignificant monetary compensation for those whose works they choose to option (they claim a first look deal with Universal) and a fairly significant one for those that are bought for development. Yet another tidy sum is on offer if the film makes over $60 million at the box office. It’s fairly standard script buying stuff for the most part, and it costs nothing to put up your shingle and upload a project. Having learned about the initiative from a tweet regarding one of their projects called Zombies vs. Gladiators being rewritten by none other than horror royalty Clive Barker, I am both cautious and encouraged. It’s a state I’m quite familiar with, of course. We writers consider optimism as much of an element of our stock in trade as imagination – in fact, it could be said that the two are mutualistically (or is that parasitically?) intertwined – but we’re also no strangers to rejection and heartache. Not whining, just saying, and time will tell if Amazon are any less risk averse than the normal avenues available to screenwriters. Remember, I made HorrorCon because I’d come to the conclusion that spec script sales were a dying breed, and those that got through were far more broad and mainstream than anything I would ever pay to see, let alone write. Time will tell, and it’s sparked some rewrite sessions that have been enlightening in terms of where I am with my craft.

Speaking of spec script sales, I’ve also entered five “commercial” loglines I had lying around into a contest where four winners would have their work deconstructed and reconstructed by a working screenwriter and screenwriting guru over the course of a few months. At the end of the “course”, the projects would be put to market, with said guru acting as agent. I tweaked the ideas a bit to keep them brief yet enticing, and sent them away. There were over 3,500 entrants, and from them twenty-one were selected. Future cuts would reduce that number to four. Thus far, I’ve been passed over, but it’s hardly surprising. My concepts are high enough, I think, but they go against-the-grain and tend to fall in between broad established genres. Think “dark dramedy” as opposed to “comedy” or “drama” or even “horror”. Clever hybrids and those that dig into them to break fresher ground are the kinds of films and writers that excite me – I’m kind of the male version of Diablo Cody with perhaps a little more interest in plot twists – and the contest outwardly favors high concepts with broad commercial appeal. Fair enough, I say, and at least there’s still an outside chance that said guru will indulge a wild hair and offer me some minimal stewardship.

Perhaps there’s another perspective to all of this, one not so flattering to my instincts. Fellow Syracuse University alum Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, The Social Network, “The West Wing”, “Newsroom”) has made an illustrious career writing projects with their own sense of what I’ll call dramatic contrarianism. His ideas for character and premise often zag when audiences presume a zig: the military lawyer using the concept of honor for personal gain before truly embodying it; the outcast nerd who becomes the social king; a White House dedicated to selfless civil service; the cable news program seeking truth over ratings. These ideas scream opposition to expectation albeit in the name of conventional integrity and idealism. The audience is lured in and then carefully and masterfully seduced to Sorkin’s well-argued point of view. Clearly, Aaron enjoyed himself at Syracuse a lot more than I did.

My contrarian instincts feel far more subversive, and often seek opposition to, or at the very least, a challenging opinion on my characters and premises. To what end, you ask? To stir up your comfort zone, probably. To promote new ideas by banging your discord like an elbow on the ivories of a piano. To let you know you’ve had it too easy in your impenetrable bubble of formulaic security, so much so that you don’t even realize you’re no longer being entertained, or at the very least, thrilled. Maybe that sounds too anarchic for an industry who would rather pass on risk, but if you ask me, the auteur era of the 70s – a time when risk drew both audiences and investors alike – is continually mined by popular culture today. Sorkin feels a little more late 60s, with subversion doled out in sugary teaspoons of dysfunctional idealism. Norton knows there’s a few grains of sand in that teaspoon, but he’s not telling.

What does it all mean, then? I guess it means I need to find a more commercially palatable way to respond to my anarchic instincts. Even punk rock gave way to capitalist interests. It’s just…it’s so hard not to write those “fuck yous”, you know? I abhor formulas save the most basic: a three act structure with a beginning, middle and end. But I’m not going to get a return email unless I’m playing the good host. Wouldn’t hurt to include the kids, either. Kids like it black and white with neat stuff flying around, and who should blame them? I loved Star Wars, too.

Completely ignoring my own advice, next on my agenda is a polish of Welcome to Cydonia, a story about a man who kills his family and ends up in “heaven”. If I’m feeling ambitious, I may also rewrite my five-might miniseries, “B.L.O.O.M“, about scanning people into cybernetic containers so that mankind can survive the end of the damn world. How’s that for a cozy night on the couch, huh? There may be no more chance of either of them getting made than there is of HorrorCon giving my career a boost but commercial or not, my little yet overly long film is where I’m putting all of my eggs. At least as of six months ago, I’ve got some eggs. Prior to that I only had an empty basket and the world’s most doggedly determined chicken.

About S. Norton

Writer, marketer, musician.
This entry was posted in B.L.O.O.M., career news, HorrorCon, Outside Men, Screenwriting, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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