A story has been dancing in my head. Twirling and spinning around my right brain, teasing me with its characters and plot for months, possibly even years. It came to me in fragmented pieces. The scenes whispered to me in barely audible tones. It was always something I would write “one day”. Something I vaguely mentioned in conversation. A dream I would one day fulfill.
As it has developed and grown, I’ve received signs to keep it alive. A bottle of red wine last February with a man I had just met, a man who came in and out of my life like a ghost, resuscitated the dream from near death. He enchanted me with his own story in development and painted a picture so brilliant I could see it clearly in the air around us, as Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable played over the speakers. His devotion to the arts inspired me. It was a nudge that compelled me to read Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat to learn more about the process.
And then it happened. I got kicked. Or perhaps poked. I was slapped into action with such a grand force that I almost fell over. Dazed and scarred from the blow. “One day” arrived with a lightning bolt last September.
Whilst sitting at a bar stool in Toronto amongst the Film Festival buzz, I met a director. He was there looking for distribution for a small film he had made. He talked the talk but I have yet to discover if he walks the walk. He listed name after name of screen legends he had been meeting with, detailed deals he was involved in. I absorbed his tale with wide eyes. He was a purveyor of the Hollywood dream. Selling it like a drug on the street. I took a hit and wanted more.
We talked about my ambiguous story idea. It was more of a theme than a story at this point. The story was the part I was having trouble with. He told me to think about those elements I wanted to include and the story would come.
So I listed it out. Burlesque, history, love, Paris, past lives…
We spent hours one afternoon sitting on a hotel bar patio hashing out a story. We came up with actors and actresses who could play the parts. We cast Paul Giamatti, Joaquin Phoenix, Javier Bardem. We thought it a grand sign when Mr. Bardem arrived on the patio and another sign when the DJ played a particular Paul Simon song we had just discussed. Kismet was everywhere.
Pages of notes were filled with ideas and influences. He told me that if I could write this screenplay, my first ever, in a mere five weeks, he would buy it. Was it supposed to be this easy? Had I fallen into Wonderland?
Returning to Vancouver, I started to write out a summary of the story we had devised – intent on completing this challenge. But the more I wrote, the more I realized that this wasn’t my story. It wasn’t the story I wanted to write – the one that had been seducing me for so long. It was someone else’s vision that I couldn’t see as sharply as he. And let’s be honest, five weeks wasn’t going to happen.
I knew that I would never write it from my heart. I needed my first screenplay to be mine. After an email explaining my thoughts sent to the man who had inspired me to start, I drafted out my own summary. Same elements I hold dear, but different story. Unsurprisingly, he never responded. Perhaps he had merely been a fairy godfather sent to press my play button.
Over the past few months, the story began to evolve into something I cherish. After consuming pain, labour, love, and excitement, I gave birth to a screenplay. Just the first draft, mind you. There are many drafts to come, more late nights, more brick walls to smash and puzzle pieces to link. I know there’s a long, arduous road ahead with ditches, gates, and curves, but it’s the only road I want to take.
I never thought I would love the process as much as I do. I can’t put it down. I can’t get it out of my mind. I dream of it at night and play out the plot during the day. I’m learning every day – watching more films, reading other screenplays, and discovering myself.
This first story has been joined by others. My notebook is filled with future stories to tell. Each day I find more inspiration and more ideas to translate into characters, plots and dialogue.
There’s nothing else I would rather do.
I found my hunger.
I quenched that equivocal thirst.
I see my future clearer than ever before.
My god, this journey has been a twisting one.
Screenplay by Sandra O’Connell.