Recently I have been putting together a script for a teaser trailer we are planning to shoot for our next film, “One Hand Clapping.” To encapsulate a 115 page script into a 7-8 page trailer has not been easy. But then I don’t want to give away too much anyway, unlike what a lot of trailers do nowadays. As I was going through the script I started remembering the history behind it all.
I began the first draft back in the early 90’s, and it has been rewritten the past twenty years at least eight or nine times. Also during that period it has been optioned by three different production companies. Some of the rewrites were because of that. The others were on me, because I kept tinkering with it, never satisfied with how and what I was trying to communicate. Obviously, none of those production companies ever got it off the ground, and now it is in our laps to attempt that long tough process. In a sense it has been reincarnated. And yes, I may have mentioned before that reincarnation is a part of the thematic fabric of the story. Sure, on the surface it is a family drama, but some metaphysical elements are involved in driving the plot.
Which brings me to another little story about the history of this screenplay. Several years ago I had to fly to Texas unexpectedly because one of my brothers passed away. I hopped a quick flight from the west coast and because of some seating problems I got bumped up (happily) to first class. I sat next to a guy with a cowboy hat on. We talked small talk a bit, and eventually he asked me what I did. After I told him I was a screenwriter, a big grin grew on his face. He just happened to be head of production for one of the mini-major studios. That’s when we got into an interesting conversation about film.
Eventually I got around to telling him about one of my scripts that had previously been under option, and that the rights had reverted back to me. Of course, that script was “One Hand Clapping.” After I told him about it, he was very nice and accommodating and told me to send it to him, and he’d have it covered. For those not familiar with that term, that means he was going to have someone read it and give him ‘coverage,’ meaning an analysis. Of course, he was having it covered for their company to see if it would fit into their particular slate. I of course said I’d send it right over to him after I got back to Texas, not really expecting much from it. Because I’ve been around this biz long enough to know how it can and cannot work. I was hopeful but not expectant.
The one thing we did not talk about was why we were each on this trip, other than a mention. Apparently he had lost a family member and was going back to Texas for the very same reason. Of course, one does not talk about death in polite company and or on planes with near strangers. I only mention this tidbit because of how this story progresses.
Anyway, once I got back home I send the script right over to him. I decided not to really think about it, and just go with what I had been currently working on. A couple weeks later I got the script back, with actually some very good coverage. However, the letter also said the subject matter did not fit within the type of films they develop, produce, or distribute. Nothing in it really surprised me. The person I had met on the plane kept the door open and told me to call him about it if I so desired. I so desired, curious what he would say. A very intriguing conversation ensued.
So I called him up and we talked a while about general things, and then I cut to the chase. I asked him why they really weren’t interested in the project, as if to shrug off the pedestrian reasoning of their rejection letter. He chuckled a bit, seeming to enjoy the sparring. And he got real quiet for what seemed like a long time. I decided to brace myself because I felt a tsunami brewing. Then he said it.
Actually it was a good script, he said, but too damn depressing. I was surprised by that, because of all the people who had read it, no one had ever said that. And by then it had been quite a few people. He went on to say that no one really wanted to see a film about death.
Death? I was stymied for a few seconds. Then I remembered a film that was currently out that was getting all kinds of critical acclaim. It had been distributed by this same company, and it was pretty violent. In fact, it seemed a least a hundred people were killed in it. Now there was a film about death. So I threw his film at him to see what he would say. He said right away, ‘but that is death as fantasy.’
Then he went into this involved dissertation about ‘big studio films’ and their ‘death as fantasy’ for their audience. He explained that they sell death as a stylized fantasy not as down and dirty reality. Even if it seems like they depict it that way, the way they present it desensitizes audiences to the reality of death so it doesn’t seem as if it is real death. And he went on to say that indie films, such as the type of “One Hand Clapping” deal with death in a ‘too real’ way. I was blown away because I had never heard this before.
As I finished up with him, I reiterated that in the script we don’t talk about death as depressingly as he presented it. In fact, we presented the concept of reincarnation as a hopeful sign that there is no ‘real death’, only the death of a temporary vehicle for the spirit. He just laughed and said no one believes in reincarnation anyway. And that was just a fantasy. Wow, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He just talked about presenting the reality of death as a fantasy because no one really wants to see death as real, and he then turned it around by saying my screenplay was too real about death because our solution was mere fantasy. Hhhmmm…