Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Making of "Grave Robbing"

In 1999, my friend Carl and I wrote a screenplay we called Grave Robbing. It was kind of a lark, actually; I wasn't in school at the time and I hadn't written fiction in too long, so he offered to give me a fragment of something he had started--revolving around the ghost of a gunfighter who had returned to the site of his death--and see if I could make it work. I asked if I could combine it with a short screenplay called Unfinished Business, which was also about a haunting, but featured two great paranormal investigators named Terry and Juli. I set to work, and I was so excited by the project that it only took me about a week to combine both and set up a fairly decent story.

The story was really Carl's, let me make that clear. I included pretty much all of Unfinished Business word for word (I believe--it's been half a decade since I saw the original, but I think that any additions to it were for the sake of combining it with Carl's other treatment). I fleshed out the characters and situations from the fragment/treatment (most notably we changed the gunfighter, Flint "Sixgun" Murphy, entirely, as well as his motivation), and I added maybe a little more comedy than Carl seemed to care for. But either way, it was fun...screenplay in a week.

I handed the disk over to Carl, who took issue with a couple of scenes (I thought Terry hypnotizing and punching a bloodthirsty bank robber was funny, but as often happened, he thought my sense of humor tended towards the obnoxious--and, to be fair, he's absolutely right). Carl took about two weeks (his job was more involved than mine) to write the second draft. He tightened it considerably, making it more horrific than funny, and toning down some of my more outlandish bits. When I got it back, it already looked better and read very well. It was fast-paced but, I think, it took itself as seriously as it needed to. Scenes that were meant to read emotionally read with some gravity and, in my opinion, an almost surprising tenderness in a screenplay that was dripping with blood and laughs. Carl played to his strengths--humanity, a sense of realistic supernaturalism, and a little bit of sadism--and I played to mine--humor, a total lack of seriousness, and my uncanny ability to poke holes in anything remotely somber. The mesh was perfect; each of us brought something to the table that the other lacked.

Around that time, we made Grave Robbing the title. To me, it was a play on words--not only was this about a dead bank robber and such, but I also had robbed the story of gravity. I wrote over it again, and I believe that Carl did, too, and I guess we felt we were finished. And then it never went anywhere. I don't believe that Carl was ever truly happy with it, but I read it again the other day and I think about 80 to 85 percent of it still works. Another rewrite or two, and it could be something on a par with The Frighteners--a horror film with strange moments of comedy.

Anyway, I was just feeling nostalgic and thought I'd mention it. I liked working with Carl on writing projects. What got me thinking about it was an interview with Richard Curtis on the Blackadder Goes Forth DVD (Curtis wrote the series with Young Ones creator Ben Elton, and he also wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones's Diary, as well as writing and directing Love Actually, and he is one of the funniest writers alive). Richard Curtis was talking about the process of writing, and how he and Ben Elton, in a room together, would talk about music, or films, or other TV shows, but would never actually get down to the bloody writing. Therefore, it became easier to save on a disk and just trade back and forth, each having a turn at writing. Carl and I had exactly the same problem, which is why we finally did it the same way.

It is almost impossible to be a writing team any other way; all the interesting conversation takes precedence over the work.

Friday, August 12, 2005

A Giant Passes

Matthew McGrory, 1973-2005. Seen here as Karl the Giant in "Big Fish," McGrory was a warm, likable actor seen most recently in "The Devil's Rejects" as Tiny Firefly. At 7 foot 6, McGrory was not only listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the tallest actor, he also had the world's biggest feet--size 29 1/2. When he graduated from kindergarten, he was 5 feet tall! A drummer who once attended law school, he was found dead of natural causes on Thursday at the age of 32. I really, really liked seeing him in movies. Rest in peace. Posted by Picasa