Tag Archives: Monomyth

Writing Character: Getting into the mind of Bigfoot

My last three posts (Drafting Pt 1, Drafting Pt 2, and Drafting Pt 3)  were about how, once we had a script, my brother and I had to come to agreement on a version of the story that we both agreed on and connected with. “Connected with…” a generic sounding phrase. What exactly does it mean to connect with the script?

Danny, three dimensions of character goodness

Danny, three dimensions of character goodness

In this case, that connection occurred when we completely changed our primary characters around and added a new protagonist, the character of Danny. Danny was not some stereotype or one-dimensional caricature made simply to fit the mold of a storytelling paradigm. He was kid with a history, a back story  and a personality that came out on the page, and lent itself to reacting to the events of the story. He was someone we could not only identify with as the filmmakers, but to whom the other re-evaluated characters could connect and interact with.

For me, connecting with the story usually begins with my understanding, or rather, my complete knowledge of the characters I am writing. Particularly my protagonist(s) and my antagonist(s). Looking back on it, I feel that the bulk of the difficulty that Tyler and I had with seeing eye-to-eye on the script was due to my blind adherence to using The Hero’s Journey as my starting point. I filled in the archetypes with bodies, but didn’t put my normal level of attention on the “people” who were to inhabit those archetypes. It was new to me, and I let it run the show instead of doing what I knew to be the correct thing to do: focus on character.

Fortunately, it was not a mistake that I made entirely throughout the script. I had given a lot of thought to one character from the beginning, because without him there would be no movie: Bigfoot (the titular Grassman of our film).

Book cover, Monster Manual (original version f...

Monster Manual (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I took the job of writing a Bigfoot very seriously. As Tyler mentioned in his last post on the genre of Bigfoot movies, there are a lot of these types of films these days where the Bigfoot is simply a raging asshole, a generic monster in a part that could have been filled by any creature pulled from your 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. (You have that, right?)

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching many of those kind of monster flicks.  But early on, I decided that I didn’t simply want to write a mindless, generic monster. I may be a skeptic, but I’m the kind of skeptic that wants to believe. I want there to be a Bigfoot, I want to see a ghost, I want to be abducted by aliens (probing is negotiable). So, if I was going to write a Bigfoot story, I wanted to write about a real Bigfoot.

Bigfoot store

Bigfoot store (Photo credit: amitp)

My basic approach was to combine Bigfoot activity as reported in documented sightings, as well as legends, and combine that activity with known animal behavior. I wanted to ensure that I didn’t just throw things in the script because they were “bigfooty” but also because they were behaviors common in other animal species. And since we’re dealing with a cryptid, I could also make some assumptions based on others work on the subject about the intelligence of a Bigfoot.

These things combined to allow me to do the same thing I would do for a human antagonist: figure out what he wants, as an intelligent animal with needs, as a character. And, armed with that answer, I was able to step into the size 26 shoes of that character and provide a rational, reason for every move it takes. Everything it does has some thought behind it which is tied to that central question of “What do I (Bigfoot) want?”

Grassman... doing character stuff...

Grassman… doing character stuff…

So, when the time came to do rewrites, the character of Bigfoot remained the same throughout. When we stumbled across a groups of characters and a story that connected, it was in large part because those characters and story connected with the existing motivations of our antagonist. The pieces seemed to fall right into the place, as if they were always meant to be that way, providing a dimension and purpose to all of them that was missing before. A common thread, a theme, which wasn’t forced, wasn’t the result of using another film as the model to work from, appeared which gave the whole script a feeling of legitimacy.

I hadn’t just written another mindless monster movie, a man vs the supernatural story. It was about people encountering and animal on its own turf, reacting to that, and facing the consequences of those decisions, man vs nature and man vs himself. To me, that’s a much more interesting world to explore as a writer and filmmaker.

Before you think me too full of myself, don’t get me wrong. I know I didn’t write Citizen Kane, or Casablanca. I wrote a Bigfoot movie. I don’t even think I wrote the Casablanca of Bigfoot films.  But, if ever there was a Once Upon a Time in Mexico of Bigfoot movies, this is it. Just wait and see. You’re gonna have a blast.

Cover of "Once Upon a Time in Mexico (Sup...

Cover via Amazon

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Drafting (Part 2): The 2nd, Where Everything Almost Falls Apart

In my last post, I discussed how, although we had a feature length script for our then untitled Bigfoot film, we were only in the beginning of what would be a long, stressful journey to actually filming something we’d both be happy with. The first draft was enough to get everyone psyched to work on the project, but for Tyler and I it was incomplete. Now, we began the hard work of rewriting the draft in a way that blended our creative differences and not destroy our working relationship at the same time…

I briefly touched on all the drafts, but after talking to Tyler, I feel that Draft 2 and Drafts 3 & 4 deserve more detailed accounts. This process was more involved and more difficult than anything we’d ever done before. Part of the reason, I think was the way it evolved. In the past, particularly with our work on the script for Consumed, Tyler and I tended to do a lot of talking and fleshing out of ideas before pen was put to paper, or rather finger to keyboard. We took a lot of time and effort to ensure that we were both in sync on the themes and tone of the story. That was a particularly complex and odd story to work through, and it took a lot more effort on my part to get into Tyler’s head and figure out what he was looking for.

English: This image outlines the basic path of...

The basic path of the monomyth, or “Hero’s Journey”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the first draft, having already worked through and abandoned Tyler’s darker, Bigfootless version, I was left to my own devices to write what I felt a Bigfoot movie should be, while making assumptions about what Tyler would like. I used the Hero’s Journey as a guide and took many of the horrory elements of the Tyler outline and meshed them in. The result was a script that read and felt like movie, which got us both excited, but which also lacked any dimension and felt… set up. I blame that on my first time, generic use of Campbell’s paradigm.

So, Tyler and I got hard at work on discussing what needed to be changed. Tyler had a list of items that he hit me with.

  1. Tone down the Campbellian aspects. One of the dangers of any story structure, particularly the Hero’s Journey, is that it can be easily recognizable and, therefore, predictable.
  2. Make more of a documentary feel, not a found footage thing, but a more handheld camera, natural acting thing.
  3. Make the TV thing more realistic. There was much picking of nits over my complete bullshit portrayal of a television crew on a reality TV program.
  4. Along the lines of the documentary feel, give some thought to the idea of no written dialog. Just a detailed outline. Let the actors improvise.
English: An improvisational comedy troupe in A...

What unscripted dialog looks like.(Photo credit: Wikipedia) 

The first and third ideas I felt made sense, and I got to work on tweaking and rewriting with those in mind. The second and third points, however, didn’t gel with me at all. It was the first of a series of arguments we would have. I could not see writing this script with no dialog. There was nothing inherently wrong with the dialog it had, really. It was more a problem with the characters, but I don’t think that had fully clicked in our heads yet.

The documentary thing I thought I could write, trying to create a more rapidly paced script; quicker scenes, more visual breaks in the action text, more rapid-fire realistic dialog, tinged with humor and sarcasm. Sounds just like a documentary, right?

Not really. I got to rewriting, adding a new opening which I hoped would satisfy Tyler’s desire for a documentary style, as well as a “ghost story” telling of actual Bigfoot encounters. I added more characters, almost doubling the cast, as both a means of adding body count (since this is a horror film) and fleshing out the television program aspect of the story. And, I put dialog in because, damn it, that what writers do with scripts.

At first, I thought Tyler was going to dig it, but I was not willing to show any pages until the whole draft was complete. I normally only do that with first drafts, because I have a tendency to loose steam if I start getting too much critiquing too soon. Tyler knows this all too well, and was less insistent on seeing the pages. This draft was a big overhaul, bigger than I’d ever done before, and felt like a complete rewrite. It was admittedly slightly intimidating, even though it was my script.

Screenplay of Good Omens-Outside Package

A Screenplay from a Great Writer (Good Omens-Outside Package) (Photo credit: Jinx!)

At some point, about 30 pages into the new draft, I think I started to have doubts. Not about the film, but about whether I as capturing what Tyler and I had been discussing. I decided to go against my normal ways, and allow Tyler to read the new pages.

Although, he didn’t exactly come out and say it (sometimes we writers can be just as touchy as actors), he hated it. Honestly, I think he hated every aspect of the new pages, that there was nothing that he found redeeming about it. And, looking back on those pages recently, I must agree. I think subconsciously I may have know that it wasn’t working, that what I was writing was becoming a movie of the week clone, versus something that represented what we both wanted in a Bigfoot movie.

Being the touchy type, however, and not being used to this level of criticism from my creative other half, I went on the defensive, arguing for nearly every choice I had made, and against nearly every aspect of what Tyler wanted me to include and to remove.

Two hawks are arguing over a kill

What Tyler and I look like arguing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He hated the bitch producer character that I had added, the interactions between all of the members of this so-called TV crew, even the ghost story opening. In fact, Tyler disliked everyone of the characters, none of whom had any likability, nor were relate-able at all. It was not pretty, and we at what seemed to be an impasse.

This was actually a first, and a very concerning moment for us both. I was beyond frustrated with trying to make sense where Tyler thought this should go, and he was finding it difficult to convince me that my mainstream approach was making the script flat and without an emotional backbone. In fact, little did I realize at the time (I only found out recently) that Tyler was actually on the verge of ending the project entirely. He was practically convinced that we would never see eye to eye, and would rather not make this film at all than force something that neither of us would be happy with.

Things were pretty bleak. But, an even would occur that would cause us to rethink everything and potentially salvage the project.

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