Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Devils Don't Forget - The Rewrite - Process

Currently I am working on the latest draft of the DEVILS DONT FORGET script in preparation for our first read thru next week.

This story was performed previously in early 2005 under the title SAVE ME FROM MYSELF. I like the new title alot better. I am also hoping to parse the previous script to kill a few darlings as they say.

The protagonist is an unnamed man referred to as Buster, and his dilemma is a common occurrence in the world of Noir. He has amnesia. Many a penny dreadful depended upon a character waking up after being slipped a mickey or after having been hypnotized or suffering a conclusion... thereby having to spend the remainder of the story uncovering who they are how they got into whatever predicament they are in. The difference with Buster is that he doesn't want his memory returned... convinced that his memory loss was a conscious choice undertaken by him in order to evade something truly apocalyptic in nature.

The thing I discovered during the workshop run of SAVE ME FROM MYSELF is that it's incredibly hard for an audience to get emotionally involved with a character who refuses to share anything about himself. Imagine meeting someone who evades your every question, shrugs at any inquiry, then suddenly desperately pleads for your assistance. Buster is a character who can not confirm his given circumstance and refuses to pursue his identity through most of the story. Empathy without providing you any familiarity.... Well that is the tall order for any writer.

Whereas I think we staged something that was visual, compelling, active, and engaging... in hindsight I think we could have done more... a lot more to make Buster the sort of character that audiences could relate to. So what are we changing in the next incarnation? We are utilizing one of the most renown tools of Film Noir writers and film directors... the voice over. Sunset Blvd, Double Indemnity, Murder My Sweet, Detour... all of these classic film noirs used VO.

I hesitated using it the first time because the pieces was supposed to be the second play in a triptych dealing with Noir. The first play in the triptych, BREED WITH ME, utilized VO to an extreme effect. So, I wanted to see what we could accomplish in the Noir venue without the technique. But as time has passed, that hang up has eroded, and I think VO might be exactly how we can draw the audience not only into the conflict and action, but into the confused plight of Buster as well.

The other issue to address in the rewrite is the character of the Father. The Father is a symbiotic character played by two actors using a vocal technique emulating a song by Laurie Anderson, Bright Red. The two performers speak in tandem each saying every other word in the text (does that make sense...imagine 2 people counting the first says the odd numbers, the second says the even numbers). The result is very surreal, but it also has a sort of lullaby effect. Our experience was that the audience would submerge into the vocal quality of the Father's text, but also often stop listening to the words, and rather let the sound take over. Since the Father had some very important things to say about the resolution of the piece, this meant that even though the Father told the audience twice the rational for his actions, many just didn't hear it. As a result, the resolution of the piece confused some. So, we need to either change the manner in which we employ the vocal effect or rewrite the text so that, the lulling effect is lessened.

If we can elevate these two things in the rewrite, I think the script will serve its purpose better. So, I have been diligently at the task for the past 2 days. This might also mean that I could be off the blog for a few days. I am just going to play it by ear.


Tony Adams said...

I am pretty much talking out of my ass here as I haven't read the script. . .

If you're concerned about the voiceovers because of the use of them in the first leg, what about another tried and true noir technique, someone recalling their (not always on the money)version of an event throgh and obscured visual.

Like when the femme fatal sits down at the smokey desk and tells the detective her side of the events, only you see her reflected through a mirror or through a haze of smoke or a frosted window, etc .

Maybe a different technique for the same effect if you're leery of the straight vo?

Anonymous said...

The majority of the play is a matter of recall similar to what you are saying. The issue isn't what noir technique to use. The issue is how to use the technique to create empathy towards the protagonist's very meta very oscured plight. Ambiguity regarding a character's want can morph into apathy in an audience. Even if they are pleased with the visual, aural, spectacle, premise... they may shrug at the end of the piece whether the protagnost lives or dies.