Sunday, August 23, 2009

you are going to die!!!

Not because I'm writing about an Adam Sandler film I liked. This is, what, the third time it's happened? Spanglish and Punch-Drunk Love being the first two episodes of Sandler appreciation. No, you are going to die is the theme of Funny People and it is the primal of primals. It is at the core of every movie. From G-Force to Cold Souls, you are going to die motivates the characters as they move from Fade In to Fade Out. My screenwriting instructor, Allen Estrin, said in his "tricks of the trade" that the stakes of the story should be or at least feel like life and death to your main character. I think the more genuinely and deeply you can get your character to that place of introspection the more successful your script will be.
All those lessons about how precious our time is, how little we have, the urgency of taking THIS DAY and making the most of it. You know, the stuff of refrigerator magnets... he says, cynical as ever. And see, right there, that cynicism is not helping. It's not helping me on multiple levels. Let's just put it this way - I'm not the kind of person who dances at weddings and that, as it turns out, is a serious problem. Okay, so to get in touch with the "you are going to die" of your main character, take them for a walk in the park. Ask them about what they'll lose if they don't get what they want. Do you care? I mean really care? If they were someone you knew would you be worried? No? You don't care? Then I don't either. That thing they want, they've got to want it so bad. It's got to mean everything to them and have real stakes attached. Let's take the standard boy-meets girl. Who cares if boy loses girl forever? Well we do if you lay the right groundwork. "If he loses this girl he'll never grow up. Ten years from now he'll be in the shower in the fetal position screaming 'who the f**k am I?' And then he'll probably become an alcoholic. The end." All that and it's still a comedy - or not. But do you follow my point? This girl (in the boy meets girl scenario) is his LAST chance to get it right before IT'S TOO LATE. Now you have stakes.
In Funny People, it's not the girl. It's the goose-bumps-against-your-will Carpe Diem-ness of it all. He has to learn how to live. His disease is a manifestation of his not living. You've heard of Illness as Metaphor? This is it. It happens in real life, I've seen it; all those "stress related" illnesses. Adam Sandler has a rare and mysterious disease and it's his punishment for putting his time and energy into the wrong priorities. And like in real life, he has this near death experience, recovers and starts to slip into old habits. It's so true. I've almost died like three times now and I still don't dance at weddings. I don't even like children!

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