I’ve had this story kicking around in my mindchamber for about two years now. And it’s the best kind of story to be constantly thinking about because it’s all plot; there’s nary a theme or character arc within fifteen miles of the logline and poster that’s been burned inside my goddamn head since that one fateful afternoon I smoked too much pot and got a little too confident with the pen, crafting the outline for an intricately layered genre film while unabashedly borrowing pieces of works that I greatly admired* and others that presented interesting yet ultimately under-cooked ideas**. I threw it all into my usual mirepoix of dialogue-heavy black comedy and inactive protagonists, hoping for a ragged commentary on reality television and our fame-seeking culture. But hello darkness, my old friend: doubt surfaced and I began to fear and still fear I am not clever enough to write this shepherd’s pie of social commentary. It’s maddening because it’s like I have a bunch of nails and nothing to slam them into the wall with.
Plot without theme and you’re just running around looking for the fucking Wizard because you want to hang out. The Lion doesn’t get his courage and Dorthy doesn’t go home.
Character without theme and you’ve just got a bunch of assholes talking to each other about the weather. Maybe the Tinman is just really depressed and never deals with it throughout the course of the story.
Theme without the aforementioned two and you’re probably a poem or an abstract painting.
So where do you start? Nowhere. First, some discouragement:
In the time since I graduated film school- those years I spent honing my craft***, working to find my voice with a goal to eventually get paid to make up stories- there have been several instances in which a movie or television show has premiered and I have had some variant of the following conversation with myself:
“Well would you look at that!”
“That goddamn movie. You wrote that two years ago. Why the fuck didn’t they make your movie?”
“Uh, well.. Cause no one knows who I am? Cause I’m not in LA and I don’t have an agent and no one reads my stuff?”
“And… and cause my version was shit?”
“Yeah. Yeah it was.”
“Well that’s a little harsh.”
“It’s tough love, you piece of shit. You gotta buckle down and crank out some original masterpieces, and then you gotta figure out how the hell you can sell those things so they get made before some other jagoff has the same idea. So get back on horse and try again.”
“Okay. But maybe we should watch Paul Blart just to see if our mall cop movie is any different becau-“
“No, and fuck off with that talk! You need to do another draft of that R-rated high school coming of story with the house party third act cause lord knows that is a void pop culture desperately needs filled. And you are the ONLY one who can fill it.”
“Are you being sarcastic?”
“No. Probably. Fuck you.”
But it ultimately doesn’t matter. Someone once said it far more eloquently, but I think it goes “We’re all a bunch of meat-suits walking around in the same world drawing from the same inspirations, each living through similar rites of passage, relationships, hardships and joy. People are going to create similar pieces of art. There’s no sense getting your dick in a knot over it.” ****
So what’s a good theme? The loss of innocence? Revenge? Man versus his environment? Man versus himself? Who’s my protagonist besides the guy who HAS to escape the controlled reality television show he’s been is thrust into without his consent, because unless someone is there to do that then there’s no plot all we’ve got is back-story and exposition and all that shit is over by the end of page five? I don’t know. It’s 6:02 AM and I haven’t been to bed yet.
I wish I had $55 million dollars and unlimited free time between Monday and Friday. Maybe then I could figure out this fucking story.
* Blade Runner, Seven
** Gamer, The Condemned
*** Drinking; making poorly-lit but otherwise earnest sketch comedy videos; making poor decisions while drinking in dimly-lit but otherwise earnest pubs; sketching Ernest, as portrayed by actor Jim Varney in the movies of the same name, etc,
**** I think it was Hemmingway. Or Stalin.