Friday, October 02, 2009

You Don't Have to Scream the "O"

more fun the gang at McSweeneys
(if you are offended by the setting here, keep reading)



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Thanks for having me over and listening to my movie pitches. When my fiction-writing classmates at the Iowa Writers' Workshop heard I was headed to Los Angeles to make it as a screenwriter, they called me a sellout. But if "selling out" implies meeting with the industry's most respected producer of hardcore pornography—well, then, quand même.

Is this your Adult Video News award for "Best All-Girl Feature"? I never realized how heavy these things were. And so accurate to scale! Some day, Lord willing . . . .

Sure, if it helps you focus, I don't mind if you pop Lolita 6 into the ol' DVD. I'm partial to the Kubrick original myself, but I can see where there might be room for character development. If you could just turn down the volume a splash, I'd appreciate it.

My first idea is based on a story that won honorable mention in the 2008 Omaha Review debut fiction contest. I envision shooting it with a Raymond Carver-esque minimalism. My God, can you imagine what that will look like? I actually can't, so I was hoping you or your Director of Photography would. You don't use a DP? But I see it listed on all your films. Double-what? Wow-wee.

Anyhow, Suburban Afternoon focuses on a stale marriage between a couple in their mid-fifties—maybe early fifties if you want to skew younger. The wife's quotidian routine is interrupted one afternoon by a succession of muscular young refrigerator repairmen, pool boys, and pizza deliverymen all gamely offering her their "services." But here's the twist! By the end, we find out that these young guys were indeed presenting commercial services and nothing more: the fridge really was broken, the pool desperately needed cleaning, and her husband had, indeed, ordered an extra-large pie with sausage—some nice metaphorical possibilities with that. And here's the "money shot": an extreme close-up of this woman's face as she has a Joycean epiphany remembering the first time she slept with her husband when they were young and reckless romantics. We don't see it in a flashback—kind of gimmicky—but it's etched across her features as surely as her crow's feet.

Come to think of it, that might be less Carver and more in the realm of Dick Yates. No, he was a writer.

Roxxxanne Bangs? As the female lead? But she's in her late thirties—a little young, right? And she's really a "porn star"—for this I see more of a "porn character actor." You mean she's coming in? Well, I don't see why not. Perhaps she'd be interested in the next pitch? Sure, I can film you while I talk. Now, this is what I call a detached third-person point of view! Yes, you're in frame.

In Locker Room Confidential, the star high school quarterback has a voice-over—I know that's a cardinal sin in film, but this would be a retrospective voice-over about his senior year, so the tension between his present and past selves will create a Barthesian seam of pleasure for the audience. Close, but more like a mental seam of pleasure. The quarterback—let's call him Nick, for the Gatsby-like unreliable narrator—has been flirting all year with the head cheerleader. We play against type here; Franny's sexy, of course, but her dialogue is loaded with wry observations reminiscent of the young Virginia Woolf. Virginia. There you go, like Dick Yates—you're catching on. After the team wins the championship game, Franny finds Nick alone in the locker room. What do you think happens next? Bow-chicka-bow-bow: She reveals she's lost faith in the spiritual world and he divulges his anxieties over having to live up to the masculine ideals of his horse-wrangler father. Hel-lo! Talk about your denial of character expectations!

Absolutely, the more the merrier—it's a free country and a spacious finished garage. Lisa Lipps and Hunter Pierce! Gosh, forgive me if I'm a little star-struck! That's all right, I'll just move back a few feet.

Can you hear me while you're upside down like that? Super. My last concept is kind of experimental: Lower Education. It's a campus satire in the Lucky Jim vein about a brilliant but unsung graduate student. Also, he's extremely well endowed—and, trust me, I'm not talking about his measly graduate stipend! The story is a frank look at his relationship with a beautiful undergraduate whose class he TAs. Uh, teaching assistant. The frisson between them is a literary dance of seduction whereby the undergrad writes a novella ostensibly about migrant laborers in the Depression, but which, to the astute reader, is subliminally packed with unquenched eroticism. And the grad student reciprocates desire through sexually charged line-edits—"Beautiful simile," "Elegant verb," "Never split an infinitive, unless you must."

Still with me? So, the revision process rises to a frenzied climax until, thanks to all his hard work, "From My Dusty Hands to Your Chapped Lips" wins the grand prize in the 2008 Omaha Review debut fiction contest, she signs with some hotshot literary agent who just happens to know her aunt, and he realizes that publishing is all about nepotism and not the quality of the writing. And off he heads to La-La Land on a Greyhound with nothing but his wits and a dog-eared copy of How Hollywood Works. You're probably asking: Where's the sex? Well, there isn't any! Except for the off-screen sex the co-ed is probably having with that blond idiot communications major she always hangs out with in Der Rathskeller. That is, a porno not weighed down by pornographic content! I'm mostly interested in subverting genre here. But if we throw in some subtle allusions to Cleland's Fanny Hill: Or, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, the audience will definitely get what we're doing. No, not "off"—just "get."

Were those three consecutive shouts of "Yes!" in response to my ideas, or . . . okay, let me just set this camera and boom mic down and leave all four of you alone to mull it over. Make that five—didn't see you down there, Qarizma. It's funny, but all of this kind of reminds me of an ending to a Flannery O'Connor story! A sprinkle of sad, a dash of redemption, and a healthy dollop of messy.

"O'Connor." You don't have to scream the "O" part. She wrote "A Good Man is Hard"—never mind.