Soft Writing: The Non-linear Structure of Drought

    I’ve been talking with friends a lot about the structure of this project. I wanted to put a name there, but I haven’t got one fixed yet that I really like. Right now, I’m calling it “Behold My Fate” but that feels pretentious and Memi said “Behold” is archaic. 

    For now I’ll just have to call it “Drought”.

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    The overall plot is pretty set in my mind. I have the beginning, the middle and the end. I don’t have any of the details. They will show up as I research all the things I don’t know about: Latinas, gangs, survival, the logistics of how California will shut down, etc. 

    I’m not too worried about that.

    What I find really interesting is how the structure is slowly starting to emerge. I have what is about a 5 minute pilot in my head. It was the first scene I came up with and it’s amazing because it tells so much so quickly.

    The more I talk about that pilot, the more I realize it’s actually a crucial point in Jezebel’s life. I’ve got a name for the protagonist. That name might change. But for now I really like it. It feels very feminist, and yet the name has strong religious connotations, causing a kind of foreboding, which is exactly the feeling I’m going for.

    Anyway, the more I talk about the pilot, the more I realize it’s not the beginning of the story but the middle. When that became clear, I realized that pretty much dictates the entire structure of the show: it starts in the middle and then reveals both the past and the future and how they are directly related to each other.

    The really hard part, after I finish all of the aforementioned research, is to make the structure do what I want it to do while still being followable to people who don’t know the complete chronology. 

    To create a structure that switches back and forth, I’ve been paying very close attention to how different movies do flashbacks. Some do it well, where there’s no confusion. Others do it very poorly and I often have no idea what’s going on until the end. While that’s fine for shorter form content, it’s never ideal. If I’m confused, I’m out of the story, unless confusion is the emotion that’s trying to be conveyed. That’s very hard to do without again pulling people out of the story.

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    My younger brother James said I need to make the story as simple as possible. I agree with him, in part. “ALGORITHM” was unapproachably complex, to the point where most people are confused by the ending. While I will never design something for the lowest common denominator, I have to remember that the first key of any movie is entertainment. If I fail at that, nothing else matters. Entertainment is the gateway for anything else I want to do. If people turn the movie/show/book/song off before it’s over, I’ve failed.

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    Another thing I do in this phase of a project, the producer side of me, is to see what I have to work with. What’s possible? What tools do I have? What locations do I have? Who wants to collaborate with me? 

    Almost everyone who was part of “ALGORITHM” is interested. That’s a huge compliment. It means I’m good enough that they enjoyed the script, which is why they signed up in the first place. It also means they enjoyed the process of working with me. And the success of ALGORITHM helps a lot too.

    I’ve also begun to reach out to other people. Nathan James is probably the best blues musician in the world. He’s also a friend of mine. I asked him if he’d be interested and he was excited. Because this project is the transition from our world to a dystopia, I want the music to reflect that. 

    I want it to feel slow. 

    I like slow music. It’s the kind of music that leads to contemplation, to thinking about things. Slow music doesn’t tell you how to feel but facilitates a feeling that’s being cultivated by the other aspects of the project. That’s what I did with “ALGORITHM” and it worked spectacularly. Plus, this is my project. I like slow music and I want to make a movie that I like.

    It’s more than that too. It’s also the bluesy feel which implies that something anachronistic is happening. Blues is a music of the past, of an intense struggle, of a deep well of emotional strife and wrestling against bondage and how that bondage affects perception.

    I also contacted a Daena Jay who does a lot of song writing for daytime drama. I’ve asked her to compose for me in the past and she said she doesn’t do that. She has an amazing voice that I thought would work amazingly well with Nathan James. I’d then like Stu Kennedy to add his composition and producing flavor to it, so it’s got a blues feel, but with hints of technology behind it.

    Daena, Nathan, and Stu have all expressed interest.

    So, that’s awesome!

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    Right now I’m tired. 

    I worked on “ALGORITHM” for 3 years, almost entirely without a break. There were pauses here and there but I always knew that ALGORITHM required more work. I like to quote “Zero Dark Thirty” when I talk about it. There’s a scene where the main character is talking with the CIA director and he asks her what else she’s done since working there. Her reply is, “Nothing. I’ve done nothing else.” That’s how I feel.

    I’m resting right now. “ALGORITHM” might get picked up by a distributor and that will require a little more work on my part but not much.

    I’m allowing myself to rest and for my subconscious to slowly build the story structure of this project. When I feel rested enough, which means I have enough energy to work for another 3 years without a break, then I’ll start researching. 

    This break, it’s not procrastinating. 

    I know I was very close to totally burning out a couple times during “ALGORITHM”. My thinking started to change from being creative to wanting to just be done with the project. That’s not a good place to make the right decisions. I need to design my life so that I can have the emotional clarity I need to do the best work possible. That means letting me know it’s okay to not work for a bit.

    The great thing about being my own boss is that everything hinges on me. There’s no one over my shoulder saying, “Get to work.” It’s just me. It also means I have to be entirely self-motivated because there’s no one over my shoulder saying, “Get to work.” It’s definitely a balance between resting and work and freedom and a complete lack of productivity. 

    After 12 years of it, I’m getting pretty good.