Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Screenplay Genesis: ESPRESSO

I'm going to go out on a limb and try something. But first, let me set this up...

I made a big deal about this particular project of mine and why it doesn't stand a chance of seeing any funding from SODEC with my letter in the previous post. For those of you who don't have a clue what SODEC is, it's the most important cultural funding agency in this province. It doles out millions of dollars for script development and film production. A wonderful institution, but I suspect somewhat biased.

For those of you who don't have a clue what Espresso is, it's a feature screenplay that I'm in the middle of writing. Here's the log line:

In 1976, a group of Italian-Canadian friends navigate through the decadence of Montreal's disco scene, the excitement and corruption of the Summer Olympics and the gathering separatist storm.

That last part pretty well sums it up. My screenplay will not present the Quebec nationalist movement in a very good light.

Strike One: The script's in English
Strike Two: It's anti-Quebec nationalist.
Strike Three: I called Marcerola, the new head of SODEC, a bureaucratic fossil in my letter (hee-hee).

A quick history lesson: The Parti Quebecois was in power here for the better part of 25 years. During that time, thousands of English-speaking citizens and major corporate head offices moved to greener and less stressful pastures. Suffice it to say that this province, and more particularly, this city (Montreal) suffered tremendous social and economic setbacks because of this party's single-minded agenda: Quebec sovereignty (for those less observant readers, please notice the website I used for this link). In other words, they wanted out of Canada. And, they used every sneaky, devious, underhanded way to achieve their goal of a unilingual French fortress in an English North America.

In the process, many of us, loyal to Canada, were left to feel like we didn't belong. Actually, it wasn't just a "feeling", the PQ institutionalized bigotry with their Bill 101 which outlawed English. Yes, there were varying hues of tolerance in the law, but in the end, it was out and out REPRESSION. Read more about it on-line if you find something like that hard to believe could happen in a North American society. Here's a CBS 60 Minutes report on the issue.

So, the experiment will go something like this:

I'm going to post pages from the screenplay every few days, or as soon as I "get around to it". You writers out there know what the words between the quotation marks mean...

I won't be hearing from the funding agencies for another couple of months. So, what the fuck do I do in the meantime? Work on something else? Get the hell out of Quebec?  It's not like I don't have a dozen or so projects on my hard drive demanding my attention. And, it's not like my career couldn't use a fresh start. So, why, Vince, why are you even bothering with this?


Because this project has been sitting in my head for years.  Because I need to get it out, once and for all, and down on paper. Because it's a story that needs to be told.

Right now, it's a collection of notes, a treatment, script pages.

One day, a few weeks ago, I had a kind of epiphany -- something that happens to us writers from time to time. And when one hits, you just gotta get that shit down, baby. Like I said, this project's been sitting in my subconscious for a VERY LONG TIME. But, it never went anywhere because I...well, I didnt' know exactly why.

A bunch of movies came and went during all those years: The Pope of Greenwich Village, Moonstruck, Goodfellas, Analysis This/That, Mickey Blue Eyes. Let me just add The Sopranos to that list. Just simply, sublime TV. All, more or less, what I wanted to do with this project. So, I figured. It's been done, and VERY WELL. What do I have to add to that marvelous list of "The Italian Immigrant Experience in North America" theme?

And then, it hit me: the missing link. Why not set this in 1976? Montreal. That mesmerizing summer when the WORLD belonged to us -- when I was young and owned my own white suit and danced the night away in discos, even travelling to New York City a few times each summer to pick up the latest dances and music and bring the culture back to Montreal.

I'd like to point out that this was one year before Saturday Night Fever was released, before Travolta strutted his stuff on the dance floor in that iconic white suit.

There's a entire aspect of that part of my life that I can go into, but perhaps I should keep that for another time and another medium. A book? Let me just finish by saying that we used to hang out with a bunch of paesanos in Brooklyn at a place called the 2001 Odyssey Disco. It just so happened that part of SNF was shot there and the film was based on the Brooklyn disco scene. Well, ok. To be more precise, the photos for the article were taken at The Odyssey.Then some freak of nature going by the nom-de-plume of Son of Sam had to go spoil it all by shooting some of my friends' friends and their girlfriends while they chilled in their cars after a night of disco dancing.

Boy, lot's of stuff to draw from. That's why I'm so excited about this script. It all came together for me that night a few weeks ago. A bunch of Guidos from Montreal's East End. Clueless, desperate, ambitious, passionate. Caught in a vortex of conflict, complicated by a terrifying political crisis.

The summer of 76. Lost in the hedonism and thrills of sex, drugs and disco. When thousands of foreigners came here to witness and celebrate humanity in its purest form. When forces were gathering that would suck the life out of this amazing city, stealing its very soul.

Interested in reading more? Come back for a visit. I'll be posting pages in the next few days and we can take this journey together if you care to. It'll be my process but one many writers can relate to.

Oh, and the "going out on a limb" part? Well, I'll be baring my soul with first draft pages. They might suck at times, and at others, I hope, be of some value either to other screenwriters or readers who just want to be entertained. Of course, feedback, whether negative or positive, is very welcome.

The stuff's all copyrighted, so no stealing!