Monday, February 22, 2010

To Write a Script...

I've been asked to turn my play, Praying Small, into a screenplay. Now, I am not a screenwriter. Never have been, doubt I ever will be. As I mentioned before, everybody and their grandma has a screenplay out here. I suppose that's only natural, since this is the film capital of the world. I was chatting with a neighbor, nice lady, retired, used to be a secretary, I think. She came to see my last play. She liked it, I think. So, I'm out on the front lawn bringing in the trash barrels (LA has some strange "trash pick up" laws). And she sees me and wanders down to tell me about her screenplay. Actually, she's "pitching" me the screenplay. Like I might have the power to greenlight it somewhere. I think it had something to do with evil alien secretaries.

Hemingway said everyone has at least one great novel in them. He was, of course, saying that everyone can tell their life story. Out here everyone has at least one great screenplay in them.

This weekend, Angie and I picked up a low-budget film starring our friend, John Bader. It's a western. Not very good, really. But John is good IN it. But what struck me is this: someone spent a lot of time and money and passion on this thing. And it's simply not very good. Hackneyed, unoriginal, uninspired. I told Angie, "Why would someone take so much time out of their lives, when life is so short and immediate, to do this?"

Before I left Chicago, I was offered a chance to do the lead in The Scottish Play. It's my favorite Shakespearean role, even more than Hamlet or Dicky III. And I considered it, I really did. But finally one night I thought, "Do I have anything new to say about this guy?" The answer is no, I did not. So, the next day I called back and said, "You know, I'd love to play The Dark Scot. And I think I might even have a good one in me. But in the final analysis, it would take about five months out of my life. And I'm not ready for that kind of trade-off at my age."

The same John as mentioned above said to me after he'd seen From the East to the West, "It made me remember why I rarely do plays anymore. It's just too much damn work."

There is a story of Joe Papp running into Brando in midtown back in the mid-seventies. He rushes over to him and says, "Marlon, come back to the stage, you're the greatest American actor, come back to the stage and do Lear. I'll produce it. What do you say?" Brando smiled and looked off into the distance, you could see him considering it, his eyes lit up. Papp said later he was shocked; what was this? Brando was actually considering doing this? Oh my God, he said later, Marlon Brando is actually thinking seriously about doing King Lear at Shakespeare in the Park! Finally after a bit when Brando hadn't said anything, Papp said, "So, what do you think?" And Brando said, "I just did it in my mind, Joe. I just saw it all. It was great. But that's as close as I'll ever get to another stage role. In my mind. It's just too hard."

Today, I start adapting Praying Small into a screenplay. Like I said, I know zip about screenplays. But I went to the library this weekend and picked up a bunch of shooting scripts: four by Woody Allen, Magnolia by P.T. Anderson, a few others. So like everything else in my life, I'll teach myself how to do it. I don't care what anyone says, the greatest education to be had on the planet is in your nearest public library.

The big thing to remember is advice from Hitchcock, though. Film is about imagery. Theatre is about words. Praying Small is a very wordy script. So that's my job. Turn the words into images. Because here's a truism: A picture IS worth a thousand words. At least in the film business.

See you tomorrow.