The Story of a Screenwriter: Script 0, Part 1
Recently (and by recently, I mean, at some point between the beginning of this blog and today), I had a moment of reflection.
In my short writing life, I’ve written ten feature length screenplays. That’s kind of a lot. Especially when you’re only 22. To keep things in perspective, I didn’t actually start writing until my senior year of high school. Since then, I’ve written ten scripts.
Admittedly, the first three were trial and error scripts. The ones you do when you’re just starting out, that you think are the greatest thing ever but are really terrible, terrible executions of creation. I had three of those. And that’s par for the course. If you want to write good words, you have to get the bad ones out first.
Because I’m feeling nostalgic, and need shit to fill this blog with until I can get the next batch of my Oscar quest entries up and running, I’m going to recount how I got to this point, and all of the scripts I’ve written until now. This is mostly for me, in the future, to read my own autobiography as written by my 22-year old self. It’s partially in case the dementia kicks in early and partly in case I forget all the details I remember so vividly now. So mostly the dementia thing. I don’t want to take my brain for granted. You never know when it won’t be there anymore.
So, for the next few days, I’m going to recount all of the ten feature-length screenplays I have written in my life (more time will be spent on the ones that were thrown out or published in some manner. The ones that are still good and here will not get such treatments. Mostly because — well, I can still sell them. I’m not posting my “good” ideas for everyone to see. I don’t trust you), including the unofficial “year zero” script that got this whole train a-rolling.
Don’t worry, it’s actually a funny story. At least, first one is. The other ones, I have no idea — I haven’t written them yet. This first one though, is worth it.
Maybe I’ll break this first one up into parts. Since, it’s going to be very long. It could be short, but — have you met me? Hi, I’m Mike. I make things more unnecessary than is necessary.
Script zero: The Macbeth.
(Note: That’s not what it’s called. That’s just the chapter title. This is my pseudo book, I’ll call it whatever the fuck I want to call it.)
By senior year, I’d become bored with high school, and it was starting to show. I hated the lack of useful knowledge I was attaining, and despised everything about what they taught. It seemed whatever we learned was geared toward the next thing and not toward the information itself. Everything was about the next test and not about learning. High school was about getting to college and not about high school (and college is just about college, which is where you can really start enjoying life. Unless you’re going to grad school, in which case, boy do I feel sorry for you). I learned pretty quickly that whatever we learned in the first third of the semester would never come back again once we took the test on it. So instead of actually learning, I just learned as far as it helped me pass the test, in the short term, and once the test was over, it was gone. Man, does the New York Public School System suck.
Not to mention, I was always more interested in tangential details over large, sweeping concepts. So most of the shit they taught really never interested me. They taught all this rote memorization when instead I just wrote it down, memorized part of it, and then did my critical thinking on my own (on their time). High school is like the womb (and in my case, the 80s) — I barely got out alive.
While the class was learning about archduke Franz Ferdinand and all that shit that lead to World War I, and then the War itself, all the maneuvering and shit, I was reading up on all this information about trench warfare. Because when they had the two whole weeks they spent talking World War I (probably more, knowing the pace high school goes), they spent about two bullet points in the lesson on trenches and then moves on. It was “they dug trenches, it was stupid, a lot of people died. All Quiet on the Western Front.” Those were the bullet points. I, on the other hand, loved the idea of the trenches. That’s what I wanted to read about. So while they were talking about all this other shit, I was reading all these notes that I got from the internet. I didn’t disturb them, they didn’t disturb me. Fuck if I know who declared war first. They shot some motherfucker, somebody got pissed at Serbia, Austria got Hungary and ate up some troops. Who cares, really? When am I ever going to need that information? The only time it’s ever proven useful is when I’m using it to make fun of it — like right now. And in situations like this, it’s better to not always know all the information, because then your jokes aren’t reliant on the truth. So while they were Triple Entente-ing that bitch, I was learning about duckboards and shit. Which would help me six years later.
One, two, three, four — four. Four shadows.
But I figured out pretty early how pointless education past a certain point was, and while all the people I was in school with tried extra hard to turn those 90s into 99s (we had number grades where I come from), I was content with 91s with minimal effort. (Everyone who knows me just kind of went, “Yeah, that sounds like him.” Details like this are what keep people from suggesting this was written by someone else. Amongst others. Yes, I know, people, it was a joke.) We were all gonna end up in the same place (dead. Or college. That actually came first). The only difference was — I had more fun. The others, they tried real hard, because, as one teacher put it, “Your grades reflect what you’re going to be in the future,” to which I responded, “Does that mean I’m going to be a failure?” Teachers loved me.
It’s weird to be the sheep that sticks its head up and is like, “These motherfuckers are just pushing us forward because that’s the easiest way to move the pack! I’m gonna go take this shortcut by the river and hang out over here. I’ll catch up with them later. I’ll trim my own pubes my damn self.” Couldn’t help it. Shear was a good joke, though. That’s what I did. The pack moved forward at their pace, while I skipped off, did my own thing, waited for them to catch up, and we were all in the same place. We all threw the hats up at the same time. I got the same grades they did. Only difference was, my nose wasn’t in the ass of the person in front of me.
After junior year, I truly realized just how pointless high school really is — and this is really just the apex of, “Does anyone else see what’s going on? Is it just me?” It’s things like this that kept me from talking to anyone in high school. I’m watching as they lay down the tracks everyone is supposed to follow while everyone else like, “More road!” — they told us, that since we (we being this group of 100 students that were in what they called an “Institute Program” — the name should have tipped us off right there — which they said was an accelerated, more rigorous program for smarter students. Basically, it was a step above the typical “honors” program. Our grades would be weighted, we would be in more “difficult” classes, and — that’s it, really. It meant almost nothing in terms of college because, who the fuck knows what an “Institute Program” is? The work was essentially the same, we took like, four different classes than everyone else had to take, and the 100 of us (split into two separate “science” and “humanities” groups) all basically were separated from the rest of the high school population and only took classes together. But not so you’d really notice, since we were walking the halls with everyone else between classes. So it was basically like spending four years with the same people, taking one extra language (Latin, of all things), and getting weighted grades. I finished high school with an average over 100 points. Plus everyone I knew and was friends with in middle school was going into it, so it was like moving along to hang out with them for four years) had taken every course we needed to graduate —
Pause to highlight this.
As juniors, we had taken every course we needed to graduate high school. And we took extra classes on top of that. And when I asked my guidance counselor, “So, exactly what is the point of senior year, when we got done in three?” she basically said, “Shut the fuck up, you’re not supposed to be asking questions like that.” Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
They told us that since we were done, senior year would be spent taking nothing but AP classes. These were, allegedly, “college prep” classes. But the second they said the only reason we needed to come back for senior year was because colleges want you to take these classes, I called shenanigans and said, “Fuck that, I’m not taking this seriously.” Sometimes it pays to be able to think.
They said the AP classes would help “ease our transition into college.” Bull —– shit. Right, because I was going to take a Physics class in college. And even that history class I took was nothing like the Poly Sci AP class I had. The whole thing was, and is, fucking useless. But, I said to myself, “Self — if I’m going to deprive myself of an education, let’s deprive everyone else, too.”
I’m one of those people that sits and talks all during class, nonstop, adding comments to the lecture, making jokes, cracking wise — anything but learning. Especially after I realized how much of a crock pot of shit it all was. Why the fuck would I even bother doing the work if it was all meaningless? Plus, if I’m depriving myself — let’s take everyone else down with me. So, I’d just fuck around all class, and then the people around me were the ones that got in trouble. It’s the ones who were laughing that get caught. Plus, even if they wanted to blame me, the teachers could never fully accuse me of not paying attention. Even if I wasn’t paying attention for one second, they could never really call me on it. Because I always knew my shit.
I’ll give you an example – this is one of my favorite high school stories. I’m sitting in Global History – that’s what they called it. It was basically everything but America. The way my school structured it was, Freshman year, you get rid of all the old shit. Japan, Egypt, China, Rome, empires, dynasties, Henry VIII, all the shit before the Industrial Revolution. We spent a full year on that. Then, sophomore year, we sort of backtrack over the Industrial Revolution a second time and then go forward to the present. We pretty much spent the year doing Napoleon and all those countries declaring independence and shit, and the two big wars, and then tacked onto the last three weeks was, “Cold War, Communism, JFK, and you know what? Just listen to “We Didn’t Start the Fire and call it a day.” Then junior year was American History. Because 400 years? Shit, we can cover that in one. That’s how it worked. To give you a frame of reference.
So, sophomore year, we’re doing the Italian and German unifications. Staples of everybody’s historical knowledge. Were it not for this story, I’d probably have forgotten that these two events even occurred. So, my teacher, whom we’ll call the Iron Chancellor, to tie in with the theme — Greek lady. Nearing her 50s. One of those people with the long last names with a lot of ou’s and l’s and s’s and shit. You know, Greek. She was a hard-nosed bitch too. Not, physically. That would be a Roman nose. It was more, she could be nice, but wasn’t. She was all about the work. Do the work. Teachers like that don’t like me, they tolerate me. Because I do the work, but I don’t go quietly into that p.m. I think of this lady as Sally Field, if she were mean to her children all the time. Like in Mrs. Doubtfire, when she’s kind of a bitch for part of the movie? For some reason that’s the image I compare her to. Anyway, we’re doing the unifications. And I’m clearly enthralled. I’m sitting in the back, as always – they sat us in alphabetical order, and I was always in the first row, in the back, because that’s where my name always put me. And we’re sitting in rows of two. Those long desks that fit two students across. Which means I have five people to talk to instead of two or three. Two in front, person next to me and – well, there was only one person behind me, but you get the point. And I’m just talking and joking and whatever. Not paying any attention, at all. And this bitch decides, “I know he’s talking. I can see him out of the corner of my eye. But he’s not doing it loud enough to where I can catch him in the act.” – I was very good like that. Very rarely caught in the act. And even if I was, I was never reprimanded more than a, “Hey, shut the fuck up.” I know how to work the system.
So she decides, “Imma get this fuck,” and calls on me. Now, she happened to catch me at a moment that I’d never think she’d call on me. It was real sneaky of her. When they catch you so off-guard that you’re not even ready for the question. And almost anything they ask you is met by, “What? Huh?” And you have to replay the question over in your head before you can even think about answering. Which, in most cases, when you’re not paying attention, you can’t do. So I will hand it to the old broad on that account. She did catch me way off guard. And it wasn’t a, “Hey, stop talking,” either. No. This bitch was going in for the kill. She was like, “Mr. DiPrisco, would you mind telling me who the three central figures of the Italian Unification were?”
We hadn’t even gone over that part in class yet. She was transitioning into that next set of bullet points as we spoke. (And by “we spoke,” I mean literally, as we both were talking. Her about the lesson plan, me about whatever the hell I was bothering my neighbors with.) So it was a loaded question from the start.
It’s one of those questions that clearly says, “I know you’re not paying attention, and when you can’t answer this question, you’re going to prove it to me, and then I get to call you out on it and make you look and feel like an idiot for the rest of class.” Only problem was – this bitch didn’t know who she was messing with.
See — I’m the type of person that always came prepared. I learned from an early age that if you’re going to do your own thing, don’t give anyone any kind of rope to hang you with. My father would say to my mother all the time, “Why’s he stay up so late every night?” And my mother would be like, “His grades are fine, he’s a good kid, leave him alone.” As long as I made good with everyone else, I could do what I wanted and they couldn’t fault me for it. Nothing suffered, so clearly they couldn’t ask me to stop for any legitimate reason other than, “I don’t think you should be doing that.” This line of thinking carried over into my schoolwork. Because I really didn’t give much of a shit from early on. I saw how easy it came to me and learned to work the system from really young —
When you get homework questions in the texbook — don’t read the chapter, skim to the questions and find where they are and copy in such a way that it seems like you’re writing in your own words. Have a test? Take notes, don’t look at them until the night before the test, because the only time they’ll come in handy is for that test and that test alone. No need to really remember Bernoulli’s equation when there was never going to be any sudden moment in my life where I’d have to pull it out of my ass. We have the internet now. It’s common sense, really.
— So what I’d do in class was, since teachers for some reason wrote the entire lesson plan on the board and then worked through it point by point for the rest of class, I just copied that shit down immediately once I sat down, to the point where the teacher would start the lecture and I’d be ignoring them and copying the notes. Because, the notes are essentially what’s going to be on the test. Fuck what they say. That’s all anecdotal bullshit. So I’d copy my notes, get done five minutes into class, then have 40 minutes to fuck around. You can see where this behavior has applied to other parts of my life. Get something done in five minutes, then fuck around for the other 40. I’ve just defined college.
So the notes are down. And when something down, I retain some of it for a period of time, whether it means anything to me or not. Basic human memory. And here’s bitch trying to catch me off guard, like I’m not listening to what she’s saying. Which, I wasn’t. Not even a little bit.
But I still knew my shit.
Without more than a moment’s hesitation, thought that moment was palpable — it was enough of a moment to make it seem like I’d fallen into the trap. That moment the boxer opens up his face, knowing he’s gonna catch a beating, but in doing so, knowing his opponent will drop the arm and give him a chance to strike.
In that moment, if you could freeze-frame time, you’d see — me in that momentarily confused look, with her looking at me, her eyes going a fraction of an inch wider as she thinks she’s gotten her pray, a quarter of the class turning and looking at me like sheep since she asked me the question, another quarter of the class looking at her, and the other half not giving a shit. In that moment it looked like I was cooked.
And that’s when I knew I had the bitch.
Not a split second after that “uhh” of hesitation, the memory recall clicked in and I said, “Mazzini, Garibaldi, and… Cavour.” Giuseppe Garibaldi, Giseppe Mazzini and Count Cavour. Those motherfuckers saved my motherfuckin’ ass. I have no idea who they are or what they did, but god damn it if I don’t still remember their god damn names.
It wasn’t a particularly hard thing to remember, as the three of them had their own bullet point — rare, in the gloss over history of high school — and two of them had the same name. Slight pause on remembering the third guy and boom — that’s right, you can’t catch me, motherfuckers!
I finished and gave her that look of “I just made you look like an asshole. She sort of paused for a second like, “You motherfucker,” and, having absolutely nothing to call me out on, because I wasn’t even definitively talking and disrupting the lesson, she just said, “Good,” and moved on.
You think you can trip me up? Fuck you, you can’t trip me up. I take trips to the Bahamas, motherfucker. I trip on acid, I do not trip on your questions. I am a motherfuckin’ gangsta. You can’t ever defeat me.
That was a big moment in my life,
because I’m a sad little man because it felt as though I’d sent a message of, “The reason I’m talking is because I got this shit understood and am bored out of my mind hearing you go over it so goddamn slowly.” It also told me I could pretty much get away with murder as long as I continued to know my shit. So, when I found out the only classes left to take were college “prep” classes, I’d pretty much checked out.
It was painfully obvious to anyone taking pains to observe that I really just didn’t give a fuck. Starting junior year I started bringing a newspaper with me to school every day. While the teachers would go over their lessons — particularly in, surprise, surprise, the American history AP class they made us take junior year — I’d sit there reading the newspaper. Often times in front of the teacher. I remember my desk was in the last row, second seat. To the left of me were the lockers, which were essentially the wall of the classroom opposite the board. The teacher would lean against the lockers and lecture, and I’d be sitting right next to her, paying zero attention, newspaper opened fully on the desk in front of me.
I failed the AP test, but who gives a fuck? Over 80% of my grade failed with me. So I think that’s actually a reflection on them more so than us.
It’s quite the math problem, actually. If you don’t give a fuck, stop bringing books to class and just show up with a newspaper every day, and then are told that your entire next year you’ll be taken four classes that are meaningless, all you need to do is maintain a certain grade level so the colleges don’t reject you after accepting you, and even that is only until January, and even if you try to work a little bit, only one of those classes will ever matter in terms of college anyway, while the other three you will never take again in your entire life — what’s gonna happen?
So senior year was essentially a free year for me. I learned very early on in the application process that colleges (at least the ones I applied to) only accepted credit from one AP exam. I had to take four. Which meant – effort? I don’t have to give you any stinkin’ effort. Fuck that. I mean – AP English? Seriously?
So, there I am – story time – I’m sitting in AP English, and it’s around Halloween – maybe a little later, early November – and the way AP English worked was, we read six books, all year. Very fucking slowly. And we’d just talk about them. Stupid, English major bullshit. So in a way, it was preparation for college. It prepares you for how stupid and pointless the English major is. I learned that I could pull it off with a minimum of effort. I got through that entire year reading only one book — and why I read it is the point of this entire fucking story — and all of my work was done in a haphazard fashion in which I basically fucked around and had fun with it. Cut to college, the English major — I read, maybe three books — guess why? — and did almost no work, and all of it was done in a haphazard fashion in which I basically fucked around and had fun with it. (This coming from a guy who wrote a film analysis paper on Bring It On, and finished the paper with the sentence, “…but little did they know, it had already been broughten.” One day I’ll tell that one. Along with my Kino story. But that’s a story for another day.
So we’re in English, and now we’re onto Shakespeare. Macbeth. Oh boy. Just what I need in my life. Just slit my wrists and put on a puppet rain dance right now. I wanted some slings and arrows to shoot at whoever assigned this to us, but then they gave us Hamlet instead. Those bastards.
So Shakespeare sucked. I fucking hate Shakespeare. You’ll learn all about it once a Shakespeare film comes up on my Oscar Quest entries. Shakespeare for me is like Spinal Tap — I like that it exists so I can reference it, but I don’t want to go anywhere near watching/reading it, because as a whole it’s boring as fuck.
But, the one saving grace to this class was the fact that it was taught by a fellow named Mr. Warren. Now, Mr. Warren is one of those teachers that everybody wants to be taught by. He loves teaching, is very nice, and is willing to let people slide as long as he knows they give a shit (or in my case). I’d already had him sophomore year, and the only reason I took AP English was purely to have him as a teacher again. In fact, he’s the one who steered me toward Wesleyan as a potential college to attend. I, who knew nothing about college whatsoever, as no one in my family had attended one worth attending for undergrad (all, three of them that had actually gone to college), was pretty much applying to everything across the map. sixteen schools in total. Ranging from a tiny Jesuit college in upstate New York to Ivy League. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. I had no rubric to go by. And then he said, “Wesleyan — my daughter is about to teach over there. You should check it out. It’s the kind of school a person like you could do really well at.” Thank god I listened to him.
Anyway, my point about Mr. Warren was, he was the kind of guy who let me get away with not giving a shit. Instead of actually doing all those stupid homeworks assigned day in and day out, he let me be myself and do my own thing, as long as I turned them in. By this point, I was pretty sure I wanted to write in some capacity, but I wasn’t really sure what. I knew I could write funny shit and knew I could do it in such a way that people would enjoy it. So when the boring ass homework assignments would come around, I’d use them as an opportunity to make jokes. You had to, with these assignments. We got one while we were doing Hamlet that was something like “Create your own rules for ghosts.” It had something to do with Hamlet’s father or some such shit. But you can see the type of assignment we’re dealing with here. And I’d just go off. I’d be like, “First off, don’t wear a sheet over your head. It’s tacky. Unless it’s Halloween, in which case, go ahead, you blend. Second, don’t do what Patrick Swayze did.” Shit like that. And he’d give me 10s on all the homeworks (his marks were from 0-10. I don’ know why). Maybe 9s and 8s if I strayed too far from the actual assignment and didn’t do it, or if I didn’t give a shit enough or couldn’t think of anything good enough to turn in, so I’d half-ass it and turn in the equivalent of something Ron Weasley would turn in. But I was getting the confidence to just write stupid shit, and through experience, and more importantly validation, along with the attitude of not giving a shit, things happened. It all came to a head with Macbeth.
So we’re sitting there, reading Macbeth, and I’m bored out of my fucking mind. I’m doing whatever I did at the time to pass the time, which did not include doing the reading, paying any attention, or even being mentally conscious at all in regards to anything academic. By this point I was constantly staying up until 2, 3 in the morning, talking to my friend on Skype, playing online poker or whatever, and then be up for 7:15 in the morning. And this class was the last of my day at noon. After this I could go home and sleep until 3:30, 4 o’clock. Clearly, I didn’t give a fuck about it. This was standing between me and sleep. No way was this gonna win. I’d openly read other books in class, write, anything but pay attention.
Flash back to a month or so earlier. Probably more. My mother comes home from work and tells me one of the girls she works with just broke up with her boyfriend. It was a bad breakup. And apparently he was a CSI nut and left one of the seasons over at her house (Season 3, in case anybody out there cares). Clearly he wasn’t getting that back. And she apparently knew I was into movies and shit and she asked if I wanted it. One of those, “would he want this?”, but really she just wanted to get rid of it so it was basically being given to me whether I wanted it or not. Who wants to be reminded of that cocksucker on a daily basis? I’m assuming he was a cocksucker. I think she was pretty hot. But I got the CSI, and, nothing happened. I was always very anti-TV (explanation on that eventually) and didn’t need to start watching a show that is essentially the same thing every time. So it ended up sitting on my desk for a long ass time.
Then, finally, one of those weekends while we were reading Macbeth — the way it worked was, we read a book over the course of about two months. Give or take. Macbeth, for example, we started on Halloween. The whole “Double double, toil and trouble” shit. And we’d spend about two weeks going over acts I and II. Then another two and a half or so on III-V. And then in between, we’d have tests and shit on them. So, Macbeth started on Halloween, and finished just before Christmas break (which was the day before Christmas Eve. God forbid the New York School System give us days off). One play. That long to read it.
So on one of those weekends – my brain is telling me it’s November 13th. Either the 6th or the 13th. I just went back and checked. Those were actually the weekends. That’s fucked up that I can remember that – I decided, because I was doing one of those sweeps you do every few months or so when you decided, “The room is too high on the chaos scale, I need to clean everything,” and then you clean it up, it looks all nice for about a week, and then it slowly starts climbing toward chaos again. So as I’m putting shit away, this box set is on my desk. And it was either then, or never. So, I popped in season three of CSI.
And I went on a binge.
Let me tell you something about CSI, my friends. It’s not that it’s a landmark show. It’s not that it’s even any good. It’s just that, like virginity — once you pop, the fun don’t stop. No matter the quality — its heart or its shoes — there’s something about the procedural that gets you involved. And once you’re involved, you just cycle through them, one after another after another. Literally, over the course of Friday to Sunday (which might have actually been Halloween weekend, and the 6th/13th weekend was when I ultimately came to my decision. Whichever it is, the 6th/13th is the anniversary date. That’s the one that matters), I sat in my room, shades closed, blanket over my head, the only light in the room being emitted from my computer screen, watching CSI. And I loved it. Now I won’t go back, because I don’t like it enough to go back, and it would be like a junkie relapsing. I have better shit to do with my life. But, over that weekend, I watched an entire season. So it’s safe to say it was on the brain.
Flash back to class. I’m sitting there, reading about Macbeth killing the king and what not, and I’m bored out of my fucking mind. And we’re talking about all this stupid shit that doesn’t matter, and I’m like, “This fucking play would never have taken five acts if the CSI people were on it. You put Gil Grissom on the case, he’d have that shit done in one hour, plus commercials.”
Or more like, “wah wah wah wah wahhh.”
You know … like the theme song…
Yeah, see, you get it.
That ding, though, was the idea bulb going off in my head. In case you thought the microwave was done or something. Don’t worry, no one’s at the door, you can keep reading.
Meet my new distraction.
Are you there, distraction? It’s me, Margaret.
Anyway, Mr. Warren was one that liked to give extra credit for creative writing assignments. Just a month earlier, I got extra points for going to see Roman Polanski’s Oliver Twist in theaters and simply writing about my experiences seeing it. Not even about how it related to the book. Just about what my experience going to see it was like. That was fun. I still have it, too. It’s very much “me.” Maybe I’ll post it soon. Maybe I’ll post it tomorrow. Drag this story out a little more. Everyone likes a cliffhanger.
I think Mr. Warren did things like that so he’d know which movies were worth going to see with Mrs. Warren. He’d have all of us write the reviews for him. But, since I always liked Mr. Warren, and had the habit of staying a few minutes after class to talk to him each day – because I despise crowds. Let the idiots rush out, and I’ll be leisurely strolling away three minutes later, down a clear path — I told him my idea, and he said he’d give me boatloads of extra credit if I went and turned Macbeth into a CSI espisode.
Enter CSI: Macbeth.
…which will actually enter tomorrow. Or after that. Because I already have like 5,000 words and I haven’t even talked about the actual script yet. Which, just so you know, is not an actual screenplay. But in terms of my development, it’s just as important as one.