Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Golidilocks and the Three Screenplays

Goldilocks (no relation to the brat with the bears) had to read screenplays for a festival.   She opened the first one.  "FADE IN: First the earth cooled."  True, the earth needed to cool for the oceans to form and single-celled life to appear, and for the vertebrates, amphibians, mammals and apes to show up before man could have the meet-cute at the Burger King.  Goldi slogged through the history lesson and was most happy when, on page 18, the characters suddenly came to life in the thick of some hair-brained scheme.  The story slowed down a few times again because the writer decided Goldi et al. couldn't enjoy the whole evolution of the plot without understanding just where Darwin sailed on the Beagle or what kind of beans Mendel used.  Goldi just wanted to get back to the story. Maybe the writer needed all that background, but the reader certainly did not.  "Too soft!" she said, and tossed it aside.

She opened the next script and got a pierced eardrum from writing that screamed Character!, Action!, and Gotcha! at her non-stop.  Lots of things happened as the plot careened and the characters acted with absolute conviction, but Goldi was not convinced.  There was something flat, as if the excitement was caused by popping balloons and if you stepped back, you saw the flaccid, stretched-out rubbery remains littering the party. And once she had stepped back, Goldi didn't want to step back in.  There was nobody she cared about in the story, nothing she hoped would happen to anybody.   Every character was a 'type' with a 'flaw' that you were hit with repeatedly.  Plotwise, the writer popped every balloon as soon as she could and Goldi wanted to take that pin and stick it...but Goldi was a pro and she soldiered on to the end.  Halfway through, the story started making sense, a few of the characters genuinely surprised her, and some of it was belly-laugh funny, but overall it asked too much of stock characters in unlikely situations.  "Too hard," she said and reached for the next one.

Goldi opened the next script.  A perfectly ordinary person did something most ordinary people wouldn't do.  "Odd," Goldi thought.  "I wonder why...?" but the author didn't give her time to wonder once she'd planted the question.  Instead,  the character's life started unraveling, and Goldi had to figure out what the heck was going on at the same time as the character did - the author refrained from telling her - all the while trying to understand exactly what kind of person acted like that - again the author did not tell though she clearly knew.  Goldi cared about the main character, recognized the world and the others in it, and had her own hopes for an outcome.  There was room for her mind and heart in the unfolding story - the author was either generous or disciplined enough to share the story-making pleasure with her audience and not keep it all for herself.  Suddenly there was a turn in the story, and Goldi laughed with delight, "I never saw THAT coming! But yes, it makes perfect sense."  When she reached the end, she sighed, "That was just right." And it was.