Saturday, January 14, 2017

Hello again....

Jame Franco in The Long Home
So I was abducted by aliens, taken on a trip around the universe and, thanks to the dilation of the spacetime continuum as a result of my superluminal speeds, six years have passed since my last post.

Think that'll work as an excuse? No?

Okay then, the real reason I've been away from blogging is that I have no reason. I want to correct that and get back to blogging at least once a week. Hopefully more.

But I've been working. Prediting away, as it were. Doing the videos for Yelp, Zillow and the others, but I have to admit: that's been feeling more and more like a "day job" to pay the bills. The perks are still there - if I do a Yelp video for a restaurant, for example, the client will still likely as not feed me, as any good host would. There's no great ceremony involved: if we shoot a restaurant, the restaurant will want to promote its chief asset - namely, its food - which means that they'll make up some menu items for me to film. Then, after the filming is done, they'll feed the dish to me rather than simply throw it away. Not always, though. From time to time, they'll just whisk the food back into the kitchen after the shoot is done. Bastards....

Anyway, it has started to feel like a day job. How can it not? You do something for 12 years, it's bound to start feeling old. So I've been exploring other avenues of endeavor. Making films and videos for other outlets, for example. And, of course, writing. 

The big news has to be THE LONG HOME, a feature-film adaptation of a novel of the same name by William Gay which I co-wrote with my good friend Vince Jolivette. The film starred and was directed by James Franco, who is Vince's partner in Rabbit Bandini productions. Vince has produced a number of James' films, including SPRING BREAKERS, and was the screenwriter for CHILD OF GOD. I'm sure I've talked about him in earlier posts.

The way this all came about was this: Vince called me up one day out of the blue (which is how many of my stories involving Vince start out) to say he had this project he wanted to work on with me. Who am I to turn down a writing gig for James friggin' Franco, so of curse I jumped on it. Vince made the trip here to Philadelphia in late 2014 to outline the script and then, after he returned to Los Angeles, we wrote the script itself over the Internet, with Vince writing the first act, me writing the second act, and us tag-teaming the final act. 

I really didn't expect things to move as quickly as they did after that. After we came up with an acceptable draft, an opening apeared in James' schedule and THE LONG HOME was rushed into production. It was shot near Vince's hometown of Hamilton, Ohio, in May of 2015. It's likely to be released theatrically sometime in 2017, Vince says.

Adapting a novel is quite a unique challenge for a screenwriter. I remember being told once that short stories are actually easier to adapt into films than novels, and this experience has taught me why. There's just so much material that has to be jettisoned. And Long Home isn't that long of a novel. I can just imagine what they had to do with something like War and Peace.

Probably the first and foremost challenge is fitting the story into the standard three-act structure of a film. These days, many novels are written - whether consciously or not - in that format, and I suspect that the reason (aside from making it easier to attract film producers and screenwriters to the material) is that novelists of this generation have been reared on movies as much as books. That three-act format is written into their DNA.

Not necessarily so with The Long Home. Gay, a devotee of Southern Gothic writers like Faulkner, follows a literary tradition that isn't bound by the rules of Hollywood. In fact, Faulkner's stream-of-consciousness style almost precludes manhandling it into that standardized format. William Gay (who died in 2012) isn't as un-cinematic as Faulkner, but seeing his words transliterated onto the screen doesn't appear to have been that big of a priority for him.

And what lovely words they are. Gay writes in a visually rich style that recalls a languid summer afternoon in the South. His prose is poetic and dense, which rewards patience. A novel like this is not just a quick beach-day read. So how does a screenwriter transfer that emphasis on language to the screen?

What I did was try to pay close attention to the imagery being conveyed by the language. Images are something that can be filmed, and so gaining an understanding of the metaphorical lexicon Gay was compiling with his images was key to adapting the novel into a film. The rolling lineament of a western Tennessee landscape, the thrilling portent of an approaching thunderstorm, the way each relates to the myth-like story Gay is telling, with words so evocative you can almost hear the southern drawl in them  - picture that in your mind's eye, get that picture on the page and, hey, it's a wrap.

Alright, well, there are a few more steps involved than that (like hoping the director sees the images in the words the way you do), but it's a start.

And it was a start. I've since been hired to write a follow-up Gay project called LITTLE SISTER DEATH, and I'm flying solo this time - no co-writer. Vince also flew me out to L.A. last summer to do some script-doctoring on a Mad Max-like opus called FUTUREWORLD, and Vince assures me that a couple spec scripts of mine are in the production pipeline at Rabbit Bandini.

So, as they say in the TV biz, stay tuned. I ain't goin' nowhere.

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