Sunday, December 05, 2004

[Film] My Writing Process, 2004

Lying in the bath yesterday trying to rest my sore back, I started thinking about how The Limit - even though it's about 2 fathers - would never be played on Father's Day. Too violent. But it'd be good to write a movie that was guaranteed to be played on a certain day every year. You had that Father's Day movie with Williams and Crystal a couple of years ago. What about a Mother's Day movie. So what follows is my ideas on how to write a movie to pitch for Hollywood - as of right now.

First thing, Father's Day had 2 dads. I want more mums. Okay, a twisted history. Woman who donated an egg, surrogate mum who carried it and gave birth, adoptive mother - because the baby was then given away for some reason, and a mother-in law ('cos whoever the guy - I think - is in this situation is married). That equals 4 mums.

Now: end of Act 1. I wanted to brainstorm 20 ideas for what could set this plot in motion - I think I reached about 12. Unfortunately the list existed in my head and has therefore disappeared this morning, but after going through initial stuff like "Son turns gay" and "Son wants sex change", I had the idea that whatever TP1 is, it should "Unite the mothers for the first time". So I went with "Son disappears".

I like my Act 1 turning points to represent an utter failure for the heroes, so this is okay - but I'd be prepared to brainstorm some more to come up with something more original.

Anyway, that's where I was by the time I went to sleep last night. Then I got up at 3am and watched the Spice Girls movie - how do you form an opinion about something like that? It's an artifact from outside of our space-time continuum. Back in bed I started to think about what would happen next. Well, the obvious question is "why did the Son run away?" And two ideas hit me at the same time - the Wife is pregnant AND Act 3 is about her giving birth.

Sweet, so now I have: set up the '4 mums' situation, son disappears, we find out it's because his wife's pregnant/he's running away from the responsibilities of being a father, the 4 mums bring him back, wife gives birth. But that's not what this movie is about, right? The Son isn't the main character - it's about the mums. The son disappearing is just an excuse to force them together, probably get them on the road, have some character development, have some laughs.

Right, well who are the mums? To start with, they're played by 4 great actresses: Susan Sarandon sort of territory. And we can play with their stereotypes - so Goldie Hawn could be the shy quiet one who finds her voice through the course of the movie. The important thing is that they don't get on, that there's friction between them. And we spend Act 1 setting that up - 1 scene with each mum making a single demand from the son (and show the son consistently depressed throughout this sequence - an emotion we don't understand at the start, but understand very well by the end) - then a scene showing they don't get on as a group.* They've got four different attitudes towards being a mother ... and in fact, that's the key question of the entire film: What does it mean to be a mother?

All of the comedy (ideally) should come out of - or revolve around - that key question : What does it mean to be a mother?

That brings me to the second time I woke up today: now. I have all that, now fill in the blanks of the structure: they're searching for the son, so one of the mum's is a detective. Maybe a cop - that could be funnier. Oooh, I want to cast Jane Curtin (Kate and Alley, 3rd Rock from the Sun). They need to find/get the clue to where the son is, they need to meet/find the son and realise why he won't come home, they need to have adventures whereever the son is, the son needs to tell them that they are terrible mothers (a confrontation) and they need to argue/lose their growing unity/doubt themselves. Throw in at least a couple of big comedy setpieces in each half of Act 2 and I think we've got a start here.

And I need to keep reminding myself - this is not a movie about the son. He only serves to throw and spin the 4 mum's plot around.

So that's that. Pretty much a raw thought process in as much chronological order as I can remember it coming to me. What's the value of it? I tend to make those sorts of judgments later ... but I'd be tempted to say what I have is a cookie-cutter Hollywood structure with some characters I'm really interested in. Oh, and I think I've got the killer ending - or at least the right one:

Wife gives birth, pan up - all the 4 mums are silent with happiness. CUT TO: 'one year later', son and wife are living an ideal life ... one of the 4 mums is dropping the baby off, the other 3 are arguing about whose turn it is to look after it next. Finally, their attention has been deflected away from the son and onto something else. Son is happy. His wife asks him to get her a drink, he says "Yes Mum" and he realises he's now in a world with five of them. Oh, and it's a baby girl.

Motherhood, birth, strong female character - remember to keep the focus on the mums as much as possible, give them strong motivations. Maybe one of them has a bad marriage, one of them has boyfriends all over the country ... ah, those aren't the motivations, just more details of traits they could have. I'd move that sentence into the 'Who are the Mums' para six up, but this is all first draft, right?

So, question to leave it with: what does the son do when he runs away? What does he run away to? It should be funny, and offer comic possibilities. If you're interested, number your ideas and leave 'em in the comments, start your numbering where the person above you left off. I want 20 to choose from. Here's 4 to get going:

1. He's a cowboy.
2. He's a hippie.
3. He's in Las Vegas, gambling ... maybe living the high life.
4. Film industry.

Catch you after I finish moving and reconnect the PC ...

* Act 1 also needs a scene with the son and his best friend, where the son sees how horrible it would be to be a parent - real nightmare kid stuff.


Anonymous said...

Svend says...

Whatever the situation, he's presumably doing the Fish Out of Water thing... in fact, you could probably have a series of one-scene vignettes of him trying to Find Himself on a ranch, in a commune, trying to be a playa in some trendy bar...

One possible structure - the mothers arrive at point X on the trail. They find someone who interacted with the son while he was here, and we get a flashback with that person and the son; the person then points them to the next place to go. (Whether the flashback is styled to suit the person/situation would depend on the feel of the movie - having the section where he was on a ranch being filmed grainy and with a Sergio Leone soundtrack might be fun.) This gives a nice series of obvious social challenges that could be tailored to highlight each character's strengths and weaknesses to both the audience and each other.

Of course, none of this is answering your original question, so here are a few possible situations/professions:

5. Bee keeping
6. Alligator farming
7. Professional wrestling
8. Maitre d' or sommelier
9. Lumberjack (and he's okay!)
10. Test subject at old school chum's demented toy factory.

Of course, all but number 10 are only funny if he's no good at it. :) It might be nice if he's actually good at (and likes) his job back home; possibly, it's not a job that *any* of the mothers respect, for their own reasons.

hix said...

Svend, I love that flashback structure.

I had a further thought on the story during the Big Move, but I'll post that separately, probably tomorrow.