Subscribe in a reader

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Between Iraq and a Hard Place

Dennis (interrupting): Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government! Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony!--"Monty Python and the Holy Grail"

Mr. Bush has presented his plan to change Iraq tout de suite into a thriving democracy, and his plan goes something like this: "Remember all that stuff that hasn't worked for the past 18 months? Well, we're going to try some more of that. And isn't that United Nations that I declared irrelevant all those months ago really a quite charming institution?" We have implanted a government of our choosing. (Is it a puppet government if no one sees your lips moving?) This government was granted sovereignty. (Can a nation have a sovereign government while occupied? Does a hostage have freedom when he has a gun at his head?)

Unfortunately, Mr. Bush and those who surround him have the strange notion that freedom is something that can be presented as a gift, like a pen-and-pencil set or a mountain bike. Like Monty Python's conception of King Arthur, the current administration has no notion that "power derives from a mandate from the masses"; they think they are the power itself.

Ever since the dreadful events of September 11, 2001, we have been witness to an administration that sees itself as lord of the manor and that is answerable to none, especially not to the grubby lot that they govern. In his speech following the attacks, many--myself among them--were hoping that he would call us--the people--to sacrifice some of our comforts and to serve on the Home Front in the war that inevitably lay before us. Instead, we were told to go shopping. "Don't worry," he said. "We'll take care of it. Don't you worry your pretty little heads one bit." And in that moment I understood that Mr. Bush did not see himself as the employee of the people, but as our ruler.

Throughout their stewardship in this dangerous time, this administration has shown itself to be composed of nothing but a bunch of overgrown children who see world politics as a big game of Stratego or, on a good day, Risk. Not understanding from whence their power derives, they wield it clumsily, like a four-year-old put in charge of a ballpeen hammer. And now they think that they can say a few magic words and constitute a legitimate government in Iraq. Can such a government--one formed at the point of a gun and that is dependent on an occupying force for its existence--succeed?

Again, I am reminded of the peasant Dennis in Holy Grail: 'Oh, but if I went 'round sayin' I was Emperor, just because some moistened bint lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away!" Mr. Bush's "farcical aquatic ceremony," held just before the magical date of June 30th, was meaningless since the government that was installed did not derive its power from the mass of the Iraqi people. Hence, there is an insurgency, one rooted not in the wild theories of terrorists or the stubbornness of a few of Saddam's henchmen. It is an insurgency rooted in the desire of the Iraqi people to decide their own fate on their own terms and to not blindly accept a fate presented to them like a plate of cold cuts.

What we refuse to understand in the current situation is that, regardless of how well intentioned we are, we are the problem. The best way to defuse the insurgency is to put a plan in place to remove our troops as quickly and efficiently as possible. As our presence diminishes, so will the insurgency. There will be a risk of a civil war, but not a certainty of one.

Even if the January elections do come off, the result may not be what Messrs Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz expect. The people chosen in the election may decide to do as they damn well please and not as Mr Bush would have them. To me, if the Iraqi people insist on government of a theocratic nature, that is their business. If the Iraqi people wish to form a government that is split along sectarian and ethnic lines, that is their business as well. I doubt that Mr Bush would be quite so understanding.

A government imposed, regardless of the sentiments of those doing the imposing, can never rise above the level of tyranny. Since its power derives from an outside source, it can never be legitimate. Since it cannot stand on its own, it can never be sovereign. And that is why, day-in and day-out, the Iraqi people also quote Dennis and say, "Help! Help! I'm being repressed!"

Having It Both Ways

Okay, so it was only yesterday that I was on about not throwing my opinions in people's faces. After a good night's fester, however, I find that I have changed my mind. Why? Because it's my blog and I can do whatever I damn well please with it, that's why.

On a deeper level, the fact is that we live in very strange, heated, and volitile times, and another fact is that there's not much to report on the radio show yet. (PRI is still playing it close to the vest, the next script is crawling along line-by-line.) A third fact is that I've sent a number of editorials and letters to The New York Times in recent months, none of which has been able to rise above the flood of submissions they get every day. By using these, I can get through several days without having to actually write anything new and these pieces will not go unused.

The first of these pieces will follow later today.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

What Next?

Now that I've gotten that off my chest (and another birthday behind me), I can move forward with this blog. The question is, what the hell am I going to do?

Oh, I suppose I could just log on every day and be bright and witty and profound for a few minutes, but isn't that just a philosophical dead end? Of course, I could try just the opposite approach and tap into my natural reserves of tediousness and share this bounty with the world. However, in the long run, I would like having somebody besides me checking this out, so maybe a different approach is more appropriate.

I could harangue the world with my various political opinions, but isn't there enough of that going around these days? In fact, I've grown somewhat weary of having people I sort of know (you know, colleagues from work, the person sitting next to me on the train, the cars positively wallpapered with bumper stickers) throwing their opinions in my face. And expecting me to agree with them, because, in their opinion, if they believe it, it must be right.

As far as most people go, I don't care what you think. That's your business and, quite often, your problem. I won't bother you with what I think if you don't belabor me your thoughts.

This goes mainly for strangers and acquaintances. If we know each other well, then it's gloves off. It's bareknuckle time.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Plant Your Wagon, Part Four

The first innovation to the second episode of "Plant Your Wagon" that I made was to reprise "The Ballad of Sam Trellis." Since the idea is that the show will be on once per week, I figured that it wouldn't be a bad thing to kind of remind the listener of where we had left off. So, I wrote a new verse and used the same chorus, which seemed to do the trick.

The next four scenes involved little more than polishing the same sequence of scenes from the second version. The fifth scene started out with routine polishing, but I had, in the meantime, sketched out two songs, one for Judge Brand and one for the Sheriff. Judge Brand's song, in which he tells of what hard work it is to screw everyone else out of everything they own, seemed best suited to the scene. The Sheriff's song, which is about his conflict between wanting to be ethical and being on Judge Brand's payroll, was too personal for this particular scene. As of this writing, it is still be held in reserve for Episode Three, upon which I am now at work.

From that point on, I was pretty much making things up as I went along--my preferred method of composition. First I brought the action back to the flower growers' home, the Double Calyx ranch. I thought a bit more than we had originally about the character of Cookie, the elderly ranch hand who makes the meals. In the next two scenes, I was able, through his interaction with Sam Trellis, to bring out more sides to him than just being a crotchety old man.

I did have a goal in all this. I wanted the last scene to be one at the Guernsey Lilly saloon in which the townspeople mistake Holly's pacifist speech for a call to violent action. This last scene gave me a chance to bring Sam and Holly together as the love interests, which worked rather well, I think.

So far, I'm only four pages into Episode Three. I wonder what it will be like when I'm done?

Friday, September 24, 2004

Plant Your Wagon, Part Three

Again, I needed perspective. I switched gears and went back to work on what was becoming the dead end of "The Quality of Marcy." Once that ground to a halt, I thought I'd give "Plant Your Wagon" another read through in order to see if it was salvageable.

When I reread it, I was pleasantly surprised. Although it wasn't really good, it wasn't quite really bad either. The songs were fun, and there were good things here and there, but I needed to rethink it and get rid of anything that slowed down the story or made it needlessly complex.

As always, I started at page one and rewrote word-by-word. I wanted to highlight a character who hadn't even appeared in the previous version, a barmaid named Rosie, so, drawing on the many years I spent watching "Gunsmoke" with my Dad, I made her the owner of the local saloon. In the previous version, I had invented a new first scene which was set in the saloon. I added in Rosie, and tried to sharpen the dialogue.

The next major change had to do with the character of Sam Trellis. In the original version, Sam was the somewhat naive, somewhat incompetent employee of an East Coast flower seed and lawn ornament company owned by two German brothers. I retained this in the second version, but by the third version, I was ready to rethink it. It took three scenes to get Sam out of New York and on his way to Lonesome City, three scenes which barely moved the plot along and included passel of characters who would never figure in the rest of the story. I scrapped it all and started fresh.

I moved the company to San Francisco and made Sam the owner. Instead of Sam being the naive incompetent, I gave him an assistant, named Elias, to perform that function. Now Sam was showing a lot more of an edge, a shrewdness that I figured would help in later on in the story. I put him under the pressure of having his business fail, and replaced the three scenes with one scene in which he is getting evicted from his office. This gave him the impetus to just pack up and go to Lonesome City in order to set up shop there.

From that point on, it was mostly just a straight revision of the second version, which was, after further inspection, a pretty radical departure from version one. The only other significant difference was that, after filling out and smoothing out several scenes, version three reached the limit for Episode One five scenes quicker than version two had. Those would form the basis of Episode Two.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Plant Your Wagon, Part Two

George S. Kaufman once said, "Plays aren't so much written as rewritten." That really goes for almost any kind of writing (even the writing of a blog, if I--er, I mean, the writer of the conjectured blog--took the time to do so). "Plant Your Wagon" could be almost a case study on this statement.

This script originally took shape in the waning days of the comedy trio I was part of. In its death throes, Rule of Three hocked up any number of projects, "Plant Your Wagon" being one of them. Ever since I had first come up with "The Ballad of Sam Trellis," Mike and I had, separately, written some other songs and some bits and pieces of dialogue. For some reason, we eventually decided that it was time to churn out a script, so we weaved together the strands that we had on hand and created a bunch of new dialogue to hold everything together.

I think we took all of two days to do this. For structure, we borrowed liberally from the Hope & Crosby picture "The Road to Utopia," and made the whole thing a flashback told by an elderly Sam Trellis. Once done, we were quite pleased with ourselves and made a copy for our performing partner, who didn't seem quite as excited about it as we were. The script went in the vault, and Rule of Three lurched and crawled toward extinction.

As time passed, the thought of doing something with "Plant Your Wagon" stayed with me. I knew there was something worthwhile in it, and when other scripts failed to pan out, I figured that the time had come to dust it off and see what I had.

One of the best tools in the rewriting process is perspective, and the best way to get that is to put the script aside for awhile. Now, I'll grant you that putting it aside for ten years is a bit extreme, but it really gets you a lot of perspective. And the perspective that I got on this script was that it was more of an outline in draft form than an actual script. Everything needed development. The flashback narration needed to go. It needed to be less hurried. And the dialogue, as always, needed refurbishing.

The first revision I did stuck to the original rather closely, although I removed the flashback narration and turned it into a more straightforward narrative. I slogged through, bit-by-bit, until I had almost 30 pages done. I then asked my wife if should would mind if I read it to her (singing the songs is more effective than merely reading the lyrics). She agreed, and I started in.

About two-thirds of the way through, I stopped dead. It was terrible. It was stilted and brittle and not very funny. I put that version aside and thought it over some more. I was so shaken that I wasn't even sure if there would be a third draft. That beautiful inspiration I had in the shower so many years before might end up as just another fragment on the slag heap.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Plant Your Wagon, Part One

Let me tell you a tale of the strange way that ideas can evolve.

A few centuries ago, I had written a country western type song called "You Got My Woman." Although we hadn't yet tried recording it with the comedy trio, both my writing partner and I were fond of the song and would sing it regularly. Well, one evening, Mike told me that he had been singing "You Got My Woman" that afternoon while he was stuck in traffic on his way home from work, only he had changed the tune. (The original tune was inspired by--perhaps "stolen from" is the correct term--"Stand By Your Man.") He proceeded to sing this new version to me, and I had the new tune down in no time.

The next morning, we were scheduled to go to our compatriot's house in order to record something, probably a sketch. Mike was going to pick me up on his way. As happens with so many ideas, a great one occurred to me in the shower. The tune that Mike had sung had been bothering me because it was no longer a country tune; it was western. As I hummed the tune, suddenly a new lyric appeared in my brain. It went:

Out in the West, they grow petunias,
Chrysanthemums and roses red.

Well, that's something, I thought. Then another chunk appeared. And another. And then the chorus. Within five minutes, I had the entire song in my head. Furthermore, I knew what story it was a part of: It would be the first song in a musical that told the story of the range war between the cattle men and the flower growers.

I wasn't in the car more than 30 seconds before I started pitching the idea to Mike. He loved it. When we got our then-partner's house, we pitched the idea to him. Grudgingly as always, he allowed as it might not be a bad idea. But he did come up with a title: "Plant Your Wagon."

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Missteps (Not a '50s Singing Group)

It may have seemed, up to this point, that the writing of this series has been nothing if not a breeze. Like Alexander of Macedonia before me, I glide from victory to victory until all the world bows before my glory. The truth is this: Hardly.

I have now been working on scripts for this series for over two years, and I have seven complete scripts to show for it. Now, the biggest reason why usable scripts have accumulated so slowly is that I've had to hold down full-time jobs while still finding a spare moment or two in which to spend time with my wife and son. Writing scripts has been relegated to the same kind of level that some people reserve for things like building a ship in a bottle: it's been more of a hobby than a job.

That being said, I've also followed some scripts down blind alleys while I figured out, through trial-and-error, exactly what this series was going to be. There were three major diversions from the path, each abandoned for a different reason, each with a different future.

First, there was something called "The Amazing Three-Man One-Man Show." Originally, I had put it together as a possible corporate show for myself, my former writing partner, and another guy to do. (We had been a trio doing mainly audio comedy for a time. The comedy team had died by the time I put the draft of this script together, but I had thoughts of trying to revive it. However, I found out, rather painfully, that dead is dead.) It featured sketches and songs, and I figured I could cut it down to take up one episode of air time. I also thought about doing it live (the rest of the series will be taped and edited together like a movie) to give it the feel of a theatrical review. In the end, though, as the series veered away from sketch comedy and toward the telling of coherent stories, I decided to drop it. Maybe someday it will pop up in some form in a small theatre or cabaret, but that only time will tell.

The second dead end I followed was a script called "Such Is Life." In this case, I was adapting some TV scripts I had written (and rewritten) throughout the '90s and into the aughts. On its face, this scheme seemed like a natural. Everyone who has read the TV scripts has loved them. They have good dialogue and characters and an involving story. Unfortuantely, as I adapted the first episode into a radio play, everything that had been wonderful in the TV script evaporated and was replaced by material that was slow, talky, and sententious. This is an idea that wants desperately to be on the tube (and I mean TV, not the London subway system), and I intend to pursue making that happen. Once I can get "Next in the Series" up and running, that is.

The third dead end was with a script called "The Quality of Marcy." This is an idea that I stole from my wife. She had told me about an idea that she had for a rather dark short story that concerned a married couple dealing with a visit from the wife's ne'er-do-well sister. It struck me as being a great idea for a play, and a play with a lot of comedy in it, at that. Over time, Stephanie lost interest in the story, but mine continued unabated. Finally, she told me to go ahead with my idea, as she didn't think she would ever write the story. I'm still hoping that someday she will write her version. I think it would be quite good and very different from mine.

At first, I had started "The Quality of Marcy" as a stage play, but then decided to give it a try as a radio play. This is a script that has always come in fits and starts. I wrote the first seven or eight pages in one go (a huge amount for me) and then it lay fallow for weeks. Then another chunk came. And then nothing. Following this pattern, I was able to complete one entire episode and started off on the second.

I was actually a good distance into the second episode when I stopped work on it. I did so because, even though there is a lot of humor throughout it, the script had a very dark underbelly. This dark tone clashed with the tone of the other scripts, and I had to admit to myself that I wanted "Next in the Series," especially this first series of it, to be straight comedy. Since "The Quality of Marcy" was turning into the closest thing to a drama that I'm capable of producing, I decided that it was best to set it aside for the time being. I think I'm going to take what I've got (about an act-and-a-half of a three act play) and put it in stage play format. I think I was right in the first place: This story needs to be seen in a theatre.

These were the major digressions along the way, so far, and the amount of script I turned out on them is impressive. (At least to me.) I've written about 90 minutes worth of material, all of which is now held in reserve, waiting for another time, another medium.

Monday, September 20, 2004

The Road to Hell

About a lifetime ago, I had been slated, with a friend, to perform in a student film the child of an acquaintance was making. On the assigned day, my friend turned out to be sick with the flu. However, since I was doing without an automobile in those days, he very generously allowed me to borrow his car so that I could make the shoot. Everything went fine with the taping, which was followed by lunch at an Atlanta landmark called Manuel's Tavern. At the end of lunch, I went out to the car only to discover that the keys were still in the ignition switch and the doors were locked. Unfortunately, the most logical way of retrieving said keys was to call my friend, rouse him from his sick bed, and have him come down with the spare set to unlock the door. Which is what I did.

Having been such a bonehead put the thought in my mind that there was a good plotline in someone unwittingly disturbing a sick friend. At first, I thought it would do well as the main storyline of the sketch comedy show we were working on at the time, but as that concept died, so did the need for more storylines.

The thought kept with me, though, and when I started writing the Jerry and George scripts it bobbed back up to the surface. I wanted a third script out of these characters and I could see it with Jerry sick and George trying to help him. To add another level, I thought of doing a double parody by having Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in an adaptation of Dante's "Divine Comedy" called "The Road to Hell." I figured that it could be a movie shown on some classic movie channel and that it seems to be on the TV everywhere the boys go.

This script took a while to write, though. I started it off and wrote three or four pages before it stopped dead. After a bit, I decided to put it aside so that I could work on other things while I waited for the whole concept to gel. Everything I tried working on, though, failed to come together. (More of this at another time.)

After a few months had passed, I returned to "The Road to Hell." This time, words came in a torrent. Pages were written at (for me) lightning speed. And all I had to do was to listen to the characters. It's always the simplest answer, n'est pas?

Saturday, September 18, 2004

The Tale of the Weekend Upcoming

The life of this script begins, again, in the "Seinfeld" script that Mike and I wrote in 1993. There was a part of a scene in that script that involved the huge number of items that George was taking along on their purported trip, and I used that as my jumping off point. We had also, back then, discussed a possible second episode, and it was those discussions that I used in building the outline (even though I don't really outline) of the script that would become "The Tale of the Weekend Upcoming."

This again was a very easy script to write. I just typed the characters names and let them do the talking. I was able to develop the character of Jerry's girlfriend, June, who we met as a receptionist in "References on Request." I also added a character named Floyd, who is an acquaintance of both Jerry and George and is the closest thing that George can dig up as a date for a weekend at the beach.

Once, many years ago, I read an interview with George C. Scott in which he said that when an actor plays Shakespeare, that he should just "get on the train and ride." I have the same experience with writing for these characters. (Not to confuse my stuff with Shakespeare's, which I don't think is possible.) There's no struggling, no fighting. And, believe me, that's not always the case.

A footnote on this has to do with the title. Originally, I was going to call it "The Problem of Making Time." Then, while I was at work on the script, one of my wife's co-workers coined the phrase "the weekend upcoming" while in conversation with her. And what I considered to be the perfect title was born.

Friday, September 17, 2004

References on Request

As with so many things in life, this script started with a false start. Sometime during the halcyon days of 1993, my former writing partner approached me with the idea of writing a script for "Seinfeld," which was just then going from being a well-regarded, fairly popular program into being a phenomenon. We discussed plotlines for each of the four major characters and wove them around a central plotline having to do with the four of them going to a beach house together for a weekend. We even came up with the beginnings of a second follow-up episode to this one. (But more of that in a later post.)

Mike was particularly hot on this idea, so I suggested that we work on it the way that Ring Lardner and George S. Kaufman worked on "June Moon"; that is, he would write out a draft, I would mark it up, and then he could add in my edits along with any further changes he wanted to make. I was also in charge of writing the opening and closing monologues.

We followed this plan, assembled a script that we were pleased with, sent it to an agent who contacted the "Seinfeld" people. They informed him that they were no longer taking unsolicited submissions. And there it ended. Dead in the water.

Of the storylines we came up with for that script there was one, George's, that I always liked best. In that storyline, he went to interview with some temp agencies using a resume that he had faked by using only bankrupt companies as his former employers. When the time came to scavenge the files for material for "Next in the Series," this storyline seemed like a natural. Mike was otherwise engaged, but graciously allowed me to use whatever I wished to of our old material.

Of course, that story hadn't filled up the entire script. The scenes I would be working from took up only about half of it. But it was a strong basis on which to build.

My first challenge came in naming the characters. I rolled various alternatives around my head, but none took. Also, the characters actully seemed to want to be named Jerry and George. Those names felt right. Ultimately, I decided to just use those names until some better ones came up. They never did.

I've written three scripts featuring Jerry and George, and this one is the one that most resembles "Seinfeld." It opens and closes with them in a diner. Since I had the voices of two notable celebrities in my head while I was working on it, the tone of the dialogue is similar. Still, I hope that, with different casting, it will have its own life.

Rewriting in this case mostly meant opening up the existing scenes. (There's only one more scene in this script that there were scenes featuring George in the "Seinfeld" script.) I tried to polish the dialogue and enliven the supporting characters. In short, I tried to make it as good a script as I knew how.

This is a script that came easily. Instead of anguishing over every line, the dialogue flowed through me and on to the page. New complications and subtleties presented themselves as often as needed. It was great fun.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Bittle Joinsoin's Adventure Through the Watching Glass

Back before my former writing partner had come across the ad from the production company, I had drafted an audio comedy sketch I called "Surfing." Back then, in the misty mists of yesteryear, before the advent of guides and TiVo, we used to do something called "channel surfing." In this activity, the couch potato nation would point its various TV remotes (or "clicker" as some idi--I mean, people--insist on calling it) toward the TV or cable box and simply visit each cable channel in turn by using the "Channel +" button. After spending as much as several milliseconds on any one channel, we'd flip up to the next one and then the next one until either we found something that suited our fancy or would do until something good came on.

Mike and I had discussed this phenomenon several times and, influenced by The Firesign Theatre's "Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers," I drafted out several pages that moved back and forth between a man who was channel surfing and the shows that he was supposed to be watching.

Right about that time, Mike came across the ad in the paper for the production company, and he approached me about trying to come up with a script for them. I showed him what I had, we agreed on a basic concept, and were off. The material I had written became the basis for the first five or so pages of this new script. We then each went our separate ways and wrote various bits and sketches instead of working at the jobs we then had.

Toward the end of the week, we met a couple of times and stitched together the items we had each worked on, added in a couple of things from each of our files, and even wrote a rather lengthy bit together. By the end of seven days, we had a thirty-page script called "Exit 36--Paramus" and had some ideas for a second one.

Flash forward ten years.

While casting about for scripts to adapt for the "Next in the Series" concept (working under the assumption that it's easier to rewrite than to write anew), the script Mike and I had put together seemed a natural. I was originally going to work on it right after the script that became "The Anniversary Schmaltz," but was a little dismayed when I reread it and put it aside. I was also becoming more interested in telling stories and less interested in writing sketches, so I started working on the Jerry and George scripts instead.

After completing two of the Jerry and George scripts, I got stuck early on in the third one and decided to give "Exit 36--Paramus" another try.

In this draft, I tried to remain faithful to the original concept, although I did add a new character. I gave the main character, Bitlle Joinsoin (pronounced "Bill Jonson"), a wife named Bettle (pronounced "Betty"). This simple change allowed me to do away with having a character spend most of his time talking to himself and allowed me to add some dramatic tension by contrasting their individual tastes in television. I also polished the dialogue generally and tried to find aural equivalents to what had previously been visual segues and cues.

By the time I finished it, I knew that it still needed more work. In fact, it would need an entirely new draft. I put this second draft aside and returned to the third Jerry and George script.

When I returned to the script for the next draft, I found myself to be dissatisfied with it. I found that I wanted more of Bitlle Joinsoin's story and fewer TV parodies. In preparing my proposal to PRI, I had rewritten a scene in which Bitlle complains about his cable service over the phone to a customer service representative. In the "Paramus" script, Bitlle gets electrocuted when he tries to disconnect his cable himself. When next we meet him, he is entering the cable company's office singed from head-to-toe. In my rewrite, I changed the device to a satellite dish and had him fall off the roof while trying to remove the dish. (I felt that getting electrocuted while trying to pull the cable from the wall was far-fetched and wanted something more believable.) When next we meet Bitlle, he is in a hospital bed and is going to get the dish removed by talking to a rep over the phone.

As I reworked the scene for the proposal (drawing heavily on my experience as a CSR for MetLife), I pondered where the script went from there. In both the original script and my rewrite, the CSR tried to persuade Bitlle to not give up his service by showing him all the wonderful programming he'd have access to. The trouble was, since everything they were watching were parodies, there wasn't anything on that would persuade anybody to do anything other than to throw their TV out the window. It was then that I decided that, in the next version, I would jettison half or more of the material and play out Bitlle Joinsoin's story further.

The first scene, of Bitlle and Bettle watching TV with growing frustration, would remain. I did make some changes within it, however. First, due to a disagreement I had with our then cable provider (I won't say the name, but it rhymes with Bombast), I changed Bitlle's connection back to cable. His injuries then came when he pulled the entertainment center over on himself while trying to disconnect the box. I then moved the scene with the CSR (still set in the hospital) up, and ended it with the CSR having persuaded Bitlle to change from MegaComm cable to MegaComm satellite.

The final scene, in which Bitlle and Bettle wait for the guy from MegaComm come to set up their satellite service, was taken directly from my own life and my dealings with Bombast. In fact, there's about a page of dialogue that's almost a transcript of an actual "conversation" I had with some bubblehead who works for Bombast.

Throughout this rewrite, I was able to sharpen the dialogue, add bits of satire, and just improve the whole thing from stem-to-stern. I may never do a straight sketch show again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Script 7 Is History

Part 2 of the three-part epic, "Plant Your Wagon," was finished just a few minutes ago. It sure beat doing the work that is piling up on my desk. Now, on to Part 3.

The Anniversary Schmaltz

About ten years ago, Mike, my then writing partner, had come across an ad for a production company here in Atlanta that was looking for comedy shows to produce. We came up with a concept in which events would take place "six months in the future" and in which the sketches would be linked in some way or another--usually by free association or by having a TV parody take the viewer to a television in a living room--and the sketches would interweave with a straight storyline. The original version of this script was the second that we wrote as part of that pitch. (For the record, we submitted our stuff and never heard back. The "production company" was probably out of business by the time we got to the elevator.)

My first notion for the concept that came to be "Next in the Series" was to take that sketch comedy concept and adapt it to radio and see if I could sell it that way. I decided to start with this script because I remembered it as adhering to the original concept better than the first one. I asked Mike if he wished to be involved, but he declined.

Back then, in the olden daze, I had also written an audio sketch (called "Superhighway Robbery") that featured the same main character in the same situation. (A young man who leaves a business conference on the day of his anniversary sans present.) The sketch showed him in an airport dealing with a "cybernetic teller machine." And, although I think we originally intended to insert it into our script, I think we just plain forgot, and the scene was omitted.

My first notion in doing the adaptation was to find room for "Superhighway Robbery." I started out hewing pretty closely to the original script, just finding aural ways of presenting ideas that had originally been presented visually and doing a standard rewrite of the dialogue, which means removing anything trite, false, or unfunny and replacing it with allegedly better material. I also expanded the role of the main character's co-worker so that the guy, Mel, would spend less time talking to himself and have more pressure put on him at various points.

I also updated the technology a bit. We hadn't anticipated the rise of the cell phone--back then they were generally about the size of your shoe--and that gave me a chance to put a newer spin on a scene in which Mel tries to order flowers for his wife via a voice response unit over the phone. When I got to the point in which I was going to drop in "Superhighway Robbery," I was able to use him still trying to order flowers over his cell phone as a linking device to get him (and the listener) from the conference to the airport. I rewrote "Superhighway Robbery" to include the co-worker as a way of adding dramtic tension and polished the dialogue. Once that was done, I was left with the need to cut at least three minutes from the rest of the script.

It was at about this point that I started to better understand the theme, the idea that the reason why you're better off dealing with a person than a machine is because people are forgiving. This made itself felt soon enough, when I was approaching a scene showing Mel shopping for an anniversary present at the local mall while on his way home. I needed to be able to establish, aurally, exactly what kind of store he goes into for his present. In order to do that, I wrote a new scene in which he goes to a "holographic concierge" booth in order to get a recommendation.

Armed with a theme I really liked, I rewrote the next scene, which takes place in the store, to make one of the salesgirls into an animatronic salesgirl. I was having to cut sketches to make room for the new material, and the scrubbing and burnishing of dialogue continued unabated. I gave the wife a friend to chat with while she was at home preparing a surprise party for that evening.

The final challenge I faced was the ending. In the original, Mel wound up sleeping on the sofa in the family room having accidentally humiliated his wife at the party. Since the theme I was working with concerned the unforgiving nature of machines, I had the wife, having had the chance to calm down and get some perspective on the situation, offer her forgiveness. Instead of being trapped and alone, Mel was offered redemption.

At least, that's how it works on paper.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

And So It Begins

"Next in the Series" is the title I've chosen for a radio show that I am developing. The show is audio theatre that is devoted to the works of me, Len Cassamas. It's a comedy semi-anthology show. By this, I mean that I will not take a set group of characters and one basic premise, combine them, and flog them until every bit of value has been extracted. No. My show will have new casts and plotlines throughout the series, some staying only for individual half-hours and others arcing (to use the show biz term) over two-or-more episodes. Whatever it takes to tell the story, but, I hope, not a bit more.

And while I cannot completely guarantee that there will be no plotline concerning a by-the-book fill-in-the-blank and a free spirit fill-in-the-blank who start out as enemies, but soon develop a grudging respect which eventually lapses into them being either friends or lovers or both, I will do my best to avoid it. I have the same policy concerning cholera.

What is the purpose of this blog? I'm not completely sure yet. I'm going to feel my way through it. At the moment, I hope to keep the world (or the tiniest segment thereof) apprised of developments with the proposal I have submitted to Public Radio International (about which more later), discuss the genesis of the scripts and the production itself, get a few of my idiotic opinions off my chest, and just goof around. I hope some others will join in from time-to-time.

And so, let us begin.

I submitted a proposal to Public Radio International in February. Their stated turnaround time is "within two months." It's now been seven months, and they are still considering it. This is much better than a rejection, and I hope it augers well for things to come.

I've completed six out of the first thirteen scripts (which is what I pitched as the first series), with the seventh about a page away from completion. Two are adaptations of a sketch comedy show I developed with a former writing partner some years back. Three are single episode adventures concerning two fellows named Jerry and George. The sixth and seventh scripts are the first two-thirds of a musical comedy western. That is also a relic of my former writing partnership, as is the first of the three Jerry and George scripts.

Over the next several posts, I'll discuss the development of each script in turn.