Sunday, March 8, 2009

In Which a Star is Borned

Well, all righty. Counting down to show here, boss.

If we're going to submit a completed script to Bill in seven days, we need to write it in no more than six; and since we both have full-time jobs, we need to get busy tonight. We get home, pop the tape into the VCR -- note that this first work o art is some epic titled The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, which just happens to be referenced in our handy dandy Psychotronic Encyclopedia -- and commence to watch.

About ninety or so minutes later, the truth is clear: this is incomprehensible dreck. I'm about to radically revise my long-held belief that nobody wakes up one morning and decides that he or she will spend the next twenty-four hours doing the worst job possible in his/her appointed duty for the day. As best as we can tell, this is some sort of revenge tale about assorted eurotrash cads of various sexes; but the movie itself is at least fifteen minutes shorter than its alleged run time, if the tape is any kind of faithful to the film image then the film stock has aged to the point that the colors are leaching out to a bluish muck, and I am damned if I can keep track of which unlikable pouf is doing what unspeakable deed to whoever irredemiable scoundrel, where said unspeakable deed is being done, or whether what we're watching is flash forward, flash back, flash sideways, or Flash the Wonder Cat. There is no way any half-awake person in his or her right mind would sit through the first reel of this nonsense. At least as far as this particular movie is concerned, it's of no help or use to us: we're on our own.

We watch it again Friday, with a notepad and stopwatch, scribbling notes and run times on whatever catches our attention positive or negative. We're holding on to the unready for sub-prime time framing story, and some movie-related stuff is sticking to this framework. On a whim, we decide that we'll throw in a viewer mail segment and lard it with fake letters: who knows, maybe someone will take the bait, and anyway it's knocked out quickly. Barb and I are basically talking trash back at the movie as it unspools, in the time-honored tradition of talking trash back at the movie as it unspools. I make no claim for anticipating MST3K, my high-skool buds and I did the same thing at the Rio Show in the late 60s, culminating in Uncle Rich Ungar growing so irritated at a Godzilla and the Teensy Princesses epic that he shot the screen and was promptly barred from the Rio Show for life plus the unfortunate incident being Duly Noted on his Permanent Record, the bullet hole allegedly prominently unpatched until the Rio Show fell to the demo crew in the early 80s and my brother-in-law rescuing the glow-in-the-dark clock over the exit, which it can still be seen in his kitchen. But I digress.

Saturday morning I fire up my trusty Commodore 64 and head the page: Monsterpiece Theatre/Show 1/The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave.

Fade in on Elmer at the guard entrance; shade the shot so that the outside door can clearly be seen. The door bangs open and MILLIE barges in.

Where does Millie come from? Not in any character backstory sense -- how'd this character suddenly become Millie? We've been calling her Millicent for the last three or four weeks. No matter -- once I start writing, I write straight ahead in two to three hour stretches, pausing to check the breakdown or refill my coffee. So Millie barges past Elmer, barges into the empty studio, starts barking into the empty air ...

And suddenly here are some words on the paper for Director Keith. And the camera has followed Millie into the studio to show some camera guys lolling about, and here are some words for them as well. And here's how this show is going to work, and the words start writing themselves bit after bit, and Barb looks over my shoulder at the draft and starts reading the written words out loud and adding more words and what-ifs, and this show is going to work because now we know what this show is about:

Millie is Teevee Talent. There is no backstory -- she exists only as a Teevee Image. Her frame of reference is a) her teevee show and b) herself. She blows into the real world of the real teevee studio, surrounded by real people, who have to deal with real things. Millie does not deal with any reality, nothing that refers to the real world except as it is revealed on television, she is not real, she is a teevee character who only knows teevee things. The teevee studio guys, and in particular Director Keith, are the audience's avatar: they don't have the luxury of Millie's self-contained and self-referential foolishness. Their goal is to get through the show without having to deal with Millie, the movie, or the show falling down.

And the show takes shape: Millie does this, Millie does that, Millie gives out misinformation, trashes movie, station, crew; misrepresents the scene in progress -- we time out a bit where we'll matte her into a scene to argue with a character, never mind that the guys say it can't be done, if it's in the script then we'll have to find some way to do it; blows off the movie entirely in Ketchup Theatre; the set falls down; Millie garbles the outro, which will be a Preview of Coming Attractions; Millie proclaims the entire evening a success, to the dismay of the studio guys. By midnight Sunday we've got a draft script; Monday night we read it back to each other, marking rewrites that range from tightening and tweaking to tossing pages out and putting in something new; Tuesday night we rewrite front-to-back, print out two copies, and insert them into two envelopes -- one for Bill, the other for Keith. I drop the envelopes off at WLEX during lunch Wednesday, and when we get home Wednesday night there's a message on the answering machine from Bill: he likes it, has a couple of notes that would simplify production, and approves it for broadcast with the revisions. He suggests that we arrive at the studio a little after 11 Saturday. No writer's credit, of course; but as long as it's kept loose it will look ad-libbed, and that's what the audience wants.

We are not going to argue: it's showtime, folks.

1 comment:

  1. "borned..."

    Hope the first show recap is next, I'm anxious to read it!