When the screenplay is a life story, but chronology isn't the best method...

Reply Tue 25 Feb, 2014 05:16 pm
A person may have lived a strikingly interesting life, but a screenplay of that life may not be best served by chronology - how does the writer position scenes to fit the format of a movie?

My screenplay is telling the story of a wild, fascinating life that I feel has real meaning to the American experience, but following the chronological path - starting as a baby and progressing through the life doesn't provide the interest or buy-in from the audience to care about the character. I am thinking about showing the man in one of his most desperate scenes as a teaser in the opening minutes and then going back to the chronology to meet him at that point in the so-called climax - but the truth is: there isn't one special "climax."

The pull of this story is the story: The unfolding of a myriad of almost unbelievable mini-stories that comprise his experience.

Movies demand a climax.

The life of Lincoln had a bit of a resolution of the Civil War (he won, yay!) and then the drama or punctuation of an assassination. Conversely, my character's story is exciting and layered, threaded through an incredible time in history, but it falls away toward the end of his life and fizzles.

I mean, I guess this is the work of the screenwriter, and the job falls to me to make an acceptable arc. I assume advisors would say I should find a story with a climax: maybe this man's life is too difficult for a first-timer... But this one story has been bumping around in my thoughts for a couple of years. It demands to be told - fraught with issues as it is. I feel I have to make a serious attempt at sharing it.

There is another issue.

This life story contains deep, sobering issues; however, this person had a comical at times and an almost ridiculous section of beliefs. If I portray him closely to his autobiography, it will seem that I'm mocking him. He's incredibly effeminate and religiously dogmatic: A joke by today's standards.

Due to these facts, I'm considering going with his words, and leaning to post-modern camp, demonstrated by selected moments of rap music and possible direct to-camera facial expressions or asides. So my creative self wants to explore his text and closely represent him artistically - but my historically responsible self doesn't want to make a joke of him.

I think if I do what I feel is "right," I've reduced the audience that could appreciate the portrayal to a tiny group.


If anyone can make sense of this and give me an idea of what you would do, or if anyone has any sense of screenwriting and pitching such a conflicted little tale, I'd love to listen.
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Reply Tue 25 Feb, 2014 05:44 pm
Well, I don't know screenwriting. I just do regular old writing writing.


People's lives don't always devolve into pretty little climaxes and arcs. But the good news is that you don't have to show every moment of the subject's life. Perhaps you'd be better served cherry-picking moments which fit your arc.
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Reply Tue 25 Feb, 2014 05:58 pm
As I was reading your post I recalled a long forgotten book I loved -- "Milking the Moon". It's an "oral biography" of Eugene Walter. I recall it being only semi-chronological and rather anti-climactic.

"Edie" was another good oral biography that was sporadic in it's chronology as many different people tell the story of her life.

I like books that tell stories in many different voices -- "World War Z", "The Poisonwood Bible", etc.

Something like this might work to address the odd beliefs your subject had as the others could provide some commentary to go along with it.

Good luck on your endeavor!
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Reply Tue 25 Feb, 2014 06:07 pm
You are both honeysuckles. Thank you for encouragement and ideas. Boomer, I'll find those examples.
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Reply Tue 25 Feb, 2014 06:18 pm
Good luck on this and I hope you have fun with it while you're at it. I'm not a screenwriter but I was around it for many years.

I remember distinguishing underlying story/storyline and plot and don't see that right now when I look at wiki. But back then during our days and nights on all this, the stories in the scripts were the tales to be told and the plots/plotting were how you told it, possibly in many different ways/timings/through the 'protagonist' or another characters showing up.

Can you throw together some quick and dirty outlines of the different ways you're thinking of dealing with this real person's tale? You sound exuberant re the varying ways to portray him, and I'm interested already in that way of putting it together.

Hmm. Does it have to be a biography of this person or could it be a fictional take on a certain type of person?
Reply Tue 25 Feb, 2014 07:01 pm
Osso, I'd like to honor this man, and inform a multitude of people about his life experiences, so I've decided to use his story, although your idea of the composite man is a good one.

I have a tight bead on the "story to be told" but I'm ranging wildly on how to tell it. Straight and earnest - post-modern with a swagger and contemporary music (think also the jiggering camera of Man On Fire) - from a teacher's POV as she attempts to share it with students (but this would necessitate too many interruptions from different time periods, IMO.) I'm thinking of a large portion of the film to be in black and white, but my main character in vibrant color... so many ways to interpret this guy. (I know a director may say these choices are HER/HIS purview...

Example of jiggering camera Man On Fire: http://youtu.be/3va-KhTMIn4
Reply Tue 25 Feb, 2014 07:16 pm
Well, then, you need to direct. (Not entirely kidding, but mebbe not on the first screenplay.) I got the composite idea from what you were saying, as it sort of mirrored how my ex and his sometimes writing partner handled stuff.

Like black and white a lot myself and can see the mix being tricky but doable.

My mac is too old to see youtube, except the odd once in a while (one of these days...). I'll look up Man on Fire, though.

You'll have to figure out what balance - or imbalance - to have re time change, color change, jiggering camera movement and how much if any jiggering, people... and a story that interests viewers. (Glad to hear you're working on something like this.)
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