Obviously writing a screenplay is different from writing poems but I’m a little surprised because I’m a poet and working now on a screenplay and find the process to be more different than I expected.
For example, when I’m writing a poem, it’s all about writing, the physical act of fingers and pen, hand and page, and breathing, and getting out of the way and letting the rhythm of the words be the rhythm of the ideas which are the rhythms of the great “I don’t know” that surrounds me when I’m in this space.
In this way, starting the screenplay for “Poco a Poco” was the exact same. I was writing in my notebook early on a Wednesday morning shortly after attending a Rebel Heart Film workshop in Portland which was really, really good and, for whatever reason got me off of working on “The Bailiff” film project and looking for something that is more personal to me. Something more like a poem.
So there I was early morning April 1 before work which is when I write and started writing sentences beginning:
- Our protagonist takes a journey but in his mind. (I think the image here was a sequel to Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil.”)
- An old poet living out somewhere (I’m sure this meant something to me when I wrote it, but no images come to mind.)
- Mounting a play—in the woods. (I see lots of imagery here but no story—I still really like this concept which led to):
- A musician—in the woods—Pacific Northwest/Idaho. A young woman, after college, played professionally and was managed poorly—they made her look sexy and no one ever took her music seriously.
So that’s the idea and with a poem it would generally take another hour or so to get the basic concept and overall rhythm down.
This is kind of what happened to me in the next hour of writing but not fully formed as typical with a poem. And by fully formed I mean I get to a place where I understand the materials and concepts I’m working with enough that I can come back to them and remember intellectually and emotionally what it means.
Not so with a screenplay. Obviously. It’s a longer form. The rhythms are necessarily different. I still have no idea what happens to our lead cellist, but I do know that I was able to begin and commit to a concept as soon as I had both a concept and a character.
What is also interesting to me is that location, Idaho (where I live), provided a context in which only certain things can happen. In fact, I’m thinking that much of this film will take place in natural, outside settings around Idaho providing even more constraint for how the narrative and story must progress. This is really interesting to me (I’m in many ways a formalist). I enjoy finding the constraints that force creative solutions for myself as a storyteller which, I think, is how characters come alive too—if I have to work hard to understand narratively what’s next, this transfers to my characters. And I don’t mean some basic “A-Team” scenario where, and always, the military locks up the A-Team in a machine shop—I wonder how they’ll ever escape? I mean forcing myself into uncomfortable emotional corners that hurt to work through. It’s the working through that seems to be important and this rhythm falls out purely when I’m writing a poem. With the screenplay I’m finding that the conflict stays with me, sitting in my gut and I feel for the characters. What can’t we all just get along?
Finally, a poem must supply all the specific ideas and images to inspire these in a particular way in the reader’s imagination. Sometimes the images presented in a poem are specific as in William Carlos William’s poem “The Wheelbarrow.” We “see” this poem in our mind. In other poems, what we “see” in our imagination is more abstract, more of idea than a thing, as in Mary Jo Bang’s “And as in Alice.”
A screenplay is similar except the screenplay itself should provide an inspirational context, which is the story and narrative (the way the story is presented), that inspires and attracts other artists to want to contribute their specific art and craft toward the details of realizing this narrative as a finished product we call a film. The details are in working together toward a singular vision that the story and narrative inspire.
I hope that’s what’s happening with the screenplay for “Poco a Poco.”