In Which The Author Starts Abusing The Corpses Of Trees
I ended Chapter
Two with one of those cheating little cliffhangers the makers of Republic
serials were so fond of - you know the ones, where the hero is shown
crushed beneath the rocks, then next week we see him roll away just
in the nick of time! Yes, I was contacted by a guy wanting to
make a movie. But it wasn't my movie.
me in a production of Tribute, this fellow wanted me to star
in his production of Ambrose Bierce's An Occurrence At Owl Creek
Bridge. Most people are familiar with the version that already
existed. It had appeared as an episode of The Twilight Zone,
and still gets shown in high school English classes. The problem the
producer/director, Mark Mensik, had with it was that it was a French
production, and he felt everyone in it looked French; he wanted
to make a purely American version.
of you whom high school English is a distant memory (or approaching
reality), Occurrence concerns one Peyton Farqhuar, a Civil
War saboteur who is to be hanged from the titular bridge. The rope
breaks, he swims away, avoids soldiers, makes it home, runs into his
wife's arms - and then his neck breaks. It was all just a fantasy
as his body fell to the terminal point. The end.
to scenic San Marcos, Texas, where a railroad bridge actually runs
over a river in the middle of a park; very good location work. There,
in between trains, we stood in period costume, a noose was tied around
my neck, I lightly wrapped rope around my hands to simulate tying
behind my back, and I proceeded to jump off the bridge.
I can't swim. A particularly bad swimming instructor of my youth drowned
me. I don't go near water. The solution is this case was wearing the
top part of a wetsuit under my shirt and vest; it was like wearing
a Koozie (a foam rubber can insulator) - I could not help but float
to the surface. There were two scuba divers under the surface of the
river, one with a movie camera, another with a still camera, either
of whom could drop their equipment and come to my aid if needed. A
motorboat stood by just out of frame. I felt pretty safe.
went off fine. I hit the water, had a moment of disorientation while
I righted myself, "untied" myself (ever mindful of the cameras)
and kicked my way to the surface. The motorboat chugged up to me,
and waiting hands grabbed mine. Wearing a complete period costume
- including now- waterlogged boots - I was too heavy to lift into
the small boat, so they simply drug me to shore, during which a problem
of the noose around my neck had not been oiled. The hemp had soaked
up water like a sponge, and was swelling alarmingly. By the time I
got to shore, the noose was actually starting to strangle me.
assistant tried to manfully loosen the rope around my neck, resulting
in the loss of skin more than anything else. The blood was beginning
to roar in my ears when one of the producers - Mark's father, actually
- stepped forward with a razor knife and with two whacks, had the
rope cut off, without so much as touching me.
to let my stunt double handle the subsequent jumps.
I have no
idea if Occurrence was ever finished - there was one last day
for pick-up shots that never happened, though God knows that films
have been finished with a lot less footage - but Mark agreed that
it was time to go forward and actually make a feature, and golly,
"Nightcrawlers" sounded like a good start. So I retired
to my typewriter and spent my evenings writing a screenplay.
As I recall,
I had one book about writing screenplays which had a little bit on
the actual format and a whole lot of theory, and a Harlan Ellison
book - I think it was No Doors, No Windows - where, in the
introduction, he reveals what margin and tab settings he used for
screenplays. I was set.
I don't like
to think much about that first draft. Mechanically, it's dreadful,
and content-wise, its still slavishly devoted to the short story.
I did get rid of the happy ending, at least, and finally started
to get a handle on thinking visually. Only started, though. The finished
Forever Evil is quite talky, revealing the stagebound origins
of its writer; but boy, you should've seen the first draft.
visual segments, though, were two big action sequences - the Evil
Dead-like first act, wherein Friday the 13th was reprised
in seven minutes, and Marc and Reggie's final showdown with the zombie,
Alfie: a knock-down dragout fight scene - both sequences had been
firmly in my head since day one.
As it turned
out, neither sequence made it to film - but let's not get ahead of
to say, I never made Nightcrawlers with Mark. He drifted out
of touch, I broke up with my girlfriend, moved out on my own, several
years passed.... and one day I pulled that first draft, that single-spaced,
badly typewritten first draft. The 55 page first draft. I knew one
thing: in screenplay terms, one page = one minute. My baby was short.
Man, a little
knowledge is a dangerous thing.
Writing the Bad Movie. Again.
AND: Enter The Director