Film treatment: “Two Road Trips”, based on the fiction section of my DADT III book

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The “Fiction” section of my “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book concludes with two short stories that present parallel road trips.  The first is called “Expedition“,  set in the Allegheny coal and strip mine country, and has a character like me about 28 years old; the second is called “The Ocelot the Way He Is“, and has me at my current age in present day, and is largely set on and near an “intentional community” in the Virginia Piedmont.

It would be natural to propose a two-part film based on this material, with each story taking 50-60 minutes.  I might have called this film “On the Road”, except for the fact that such a title has been used for a film about Jack Kerouac.  So I could call it “Two Road Trips“.   Or maybe I could title the entire work “The Home Team Bats Last“.

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The two stories in the book are preceded by a long chapter from my previously unpublished novel “The Proles” (March 25, 2014), depicting my 14-week experience in Army Basic training in 1968 after “volunteering” for the draft.  That section does not lend itself to film by itself, because there is no rooting interest involving other characters actually on site besides me (the novel has external characters who matter outside this chapter). But the period of my military service is important to connecting the two “road trips”.  So I pondered how I would present the relevant material in such a film.  I first thought the entire feature should have a 30-minute middle section, between the two road trips, with my narration, and showing the experience of Army Basic in fast images with relatively little dialogue.  But that setup would involve “author intrusion“. So I need a way to work the material back into the two real stories as flashback material.  And in film, the flashback may show “reality” as the narrator really experienced it in the past, but it must be clear how the other characters “on stage” understand the flashback material, and it must be material in some way to the overall plot.

The first of the two stories  is “Expedition“.  In 1972, “Bill” (Me at 28) attends a going-away-roast for a coworker Mark, whom Bill has admired with “upward affiliation” (today’s post on DADTNotes).  Then, to celebrate his own freedom from Mark’s influence, Bill heads (from a government Naval office in Washington DC) heads for Appalachia, where he will meet up with a former roommate from graduate school, Randy.   The two will tour the strip-mine country together, scarred by mountaintop removal. But Randy will have a surprise for Bill, a fiancee.

The second story is “The Ocelot the Way He Is” is in the book (Amazon).  starting on p. 281).  It is slightly longer but more complex.  In present day, Bill has put his dying mother (almost 100 years old)  into hospice. (In actual fact, she passed away at the end of 2010.)  That night, he goes to a piano concert given by a friend, whom he met at a local church, who is also a freshman in college somewhere in Virginia.  (I guess he will major in music, and he may resemble “Shane Lyons” [played by Timo Descamps]  from “Judas Kiss” a bit; he is charismatic and manipulative, but I wouldn’t say the negative things about the popular film character.) I called him Nolan, after the likable computer magnate [played by Gabriel Mann] in ABC’s “Revenge” — who is also charismatic, but quirky and manipulative.  You get the picture.)

Nolan’s grandfather keeps a hideway cabin for him in the Blue Ridge foothills, not so far from college, where Nolan works in his music and technology.   The cabin is near an intentional community, with its own cast of characters, just a short bike ride or hike from the cabin.  There’s some interesting stuff there, and a gym on the border of the property.

Nolan invites Bill on the road trip out to the cabin for the afternoon Saturday.  In the meantime, there is a threat of severe thunderstorms or tornadoes, severe space storms (like maybe a Carrington Event, with a coronal mass ejection expected to trigger northern lights all the way down to Florida Saturday night).   Bill gets specific directions by email Saturday morning, and then a mysterious visitor knocks on the door (David Lynch style) and makes a threat, and a strange phone call comes.  Bill finds that an computer flash drive has been left by the visitor at his porch, and wonders what is up.

Bill makes the visit, which involves some time recording his own music and making a visit to the intentional community, and, yes, the gym.  In time, it gets more intimate (maybe with a bit of the movie “Old Joy” as a clue.)  Nolan drives him home, where he finds his world in disaster, while he gets a call to the effect that mother has recovered.  The national disaster and Bill’s own situation now get into stuff that would amount to spoilers.

The question, however, is how to weave all the other background material into the two film parts.   And the best way is to work inside out.

In the first story, neither Mark nor Randy have themselves served in the military.  And neither know that Bill had been thrown out of William and Mary in 1961 as a freshman for saying he was gay.

But there is a small backstory where Bill had visited Mark’s apartment a few months before  (we’re back in 1972),  and Mark had demonstrated his own workout routines with free weights in the apartment. (That’s in the DADT III book on p. 54.) There had been a hint of intimacy, but nothing like what will happen in the second story.  At the going-away-bash, Mark remembers this, and recalls the section in Bill’s “Proles” manuscript where Bill had to work with very primitive workout equipment in Special Training Company while in Army Basic in 1968.  That in turn justifies a flashback, 2-3 minutes, of Bill’s whole experience with STC, including passing the PCPT, his direct commission application, and eventual interview.  Then later, after Randy surprises Bill with his fiancee and baby, Bill realizes he will have the motel room (in a small eastern Kentucky town) to himself.  There are other flashbacks (like the one time Bill was almost arrested in 1971 for trespassing on a stripmine) but then there is a dichotomy that, while Bill hasn’t grown up in a way to get married while Randy has, Bill at least did serve in the military.  Well, he “served without serving” and was sheltered away from combat.  (That stimulates another little flashback about the period in the Pentagon.)  Randy recalls how Bill dreaded the idea of being maimed in war, and how he had said he would never come back if that happened.  Randy, on the other hand, has to admit that he himself sidestepped the entire experience by staying in grad school and being “lucky” enough to get a job in college teaching.  Some more Army flashbacks occur, such as one where Bill learns that most of his Army buddies in Basic got infrantry — he’s practically the only one who escaped.  And he also recalls he left Basic in reasonably good shape for the one time in his life (flashback to a church softball game right after where Bill hits a homer).

In the “Ocelot” story, Nolan knows Bill’s history, having read Bill’s blogs and books.  The military issue has been fading somewhat from public scenery after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.  But when they get to the intentional community, where Nolan has an invitation to bring Bill to dinner, the subject of the military comes up, because an older man (also gay but somewhat “retired” even from gay life) challenges Bill as to whether he was a coward in the way he handled his military service.  The flashbacks here emphasize Bill’s transition from graduate school to the Army (the steps of losing your freedom), and then the periods after Basic.  The period of Bill’s induction had a curious incident, which fits into the theme about gymnasiums and weight lifting (which Nolan also does) — he had spent a night in a hotel in Richmond (put up by the Army) before being sworn in, and had another “roommate” who turned out to have been horribly scarred in the chest area by a chemistry lab accident in high school.

There are other flashbacks, such as Bill’s own period of heterosexual dating, which is compared to Randy’s in the first story.  Nolan has a relationship of sorts with a medical student named Brian, which is also (through videos at the cabin) worked into the story to make a point, particularly at the very end.

The film would require accurate makeup, to show Bill at different ages, not only in the obvious change over several decades between the two parts, but also the subtle changes in his appearance associated with his military service.   In this film, characters are not easily interchangeable as to qualities like race, age, and sexual orientation, since some specific sexual tensions are present in the second story.

At the very end, when the national catastrophe is now clear, there is also another “trick” where Bill can look back into Nolan’s life and solve one more erotic puzzle.

Oh, yes, this could become a “franchise” of two separate indie films.  At the “West End Cinema” the tagline is “All stories told here.”

(Published Wednesday, June 25, 2014, 11:45 PM, EDT)

AFI Docs QA notes: “Freedom Summer” documents the voter registration volunteer effort in Mississippi in 1964, resulting in tragedy

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AFI Silverdocs presented “Freedom Summer”, directed by Stanley Nelson, a film giving the history of the Freedom Summer volunteers who went down to Mississippi in the summer of 1964 to teach black voters how to overcome the state’s system designed to keep them away from the polls.  The violence in the area was shocking, and predicated on the fear among white families that property could be taken away from them if blacks got in office.  In fact, now Mississippu has the highest percentage of African Americans in office in any state.

The newspapers reported the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner.

On Sunday, June 22, 2014,  at the 4:15 PM showing at the Naval Archive in downtown Washington DC, The QA included five people, now in their 70s, who had volunteered that summer.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6


Part 7: One of the former volunteers notes that Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner did not voluntarily sacrifice their lives; they did not intend to be martyrs; “Their lives were taken”:

The film will air in the PBS American Experience series Tuesday June 24, 2014 on most PBS stations.

(Published: Monday, June 24, 2014, at 12:15 PM)

AFI-Docs: QA for “The Homestretch”, a film about homeless teens in Chicago public schools

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I recorded a lot of remarks by the panel after the screening of the film “The Homestretch“, sponsored by PBS, directed by Anne De Mare and Kristin Kelly.  The panel included a former official from the US Department of Education, now a principal in Baltimore, and a teacher from the Chicago Public Schools, as well as the two filmmakers.

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The film should air on PBS Independent Lens in the Spring of 2015, after a theatrical release.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Next video (Part 6) I talk about my own substitute teaching. Kids (in special education, or from underprivileged backgrounds) didn’t know me and I didn’t know them. But attempts to keep it impersonal didn’t work.


Part 7

Part 8>

(Published Monday, June 23, 2014 at 11:15 AM)

AFI Docs: QA’s from “Silenced” and “The Internet’s Own Boy”

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I saw four films at AFI Docs (formerly called SilverDocs) this weekend.

Two of the films dealt with the government, surveillance, leaks, overreaching prosecutions, and the like.  While reviews are on Blogger, I have many other videos from the QA to share.

On Thursday, June 19, “Silenced” played at the Naval Archive, directed by James Spione, told the story of CIA operative John Kiriakou, NSA official Thomas Drake, and US attorney Jesselyn Radack.

On Saturday, June 21, 2014, I saw “The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz“, directed by Brian Knappenberger, at the AFI Silver in Silver Spring MD.  The film will be in general release June 27.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

This was an answer to my question, which involved the DMCA Safe Harbor, Section 230, and downstream liability protection, especially in connection with the SOPA bill in 2011, which Aaron’s protest help defeat in early 2012.

Jack Andraka, the teen who discovered a promising test for Pancreatic Cancer, discusses the problem of paywalls for scientific journals at about the 15:00 mark in the YouTube video of his Stanford speech in late 2013, youtube link here.

(Published Sunday June 22, 2014 at 11:45 PM)

“Titanium”: overview and treatment of my screenplay (2006); How an “alien landing” really would play out in the media

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Titanium” is one of my more important screenplay scripts.  I wrote it in early 2006, shortly after my debacle as a substitute teacher.  The screenplay is intended to be more marketable and provide fewer problems as to content evaluation or appropriateness (possibly even to get a PG-13 rating) than some of my other scripts, so it might be easier to fund., or to place in customary commercial markets if made.

This is also the first major screenplay where the story evolves through the eyes of a character other than myself.

The tagline is “She really went up.”

The logline is “A technology reporter’s pregnant fiancee disappears in a storm where UFOs are seen, and the reporter’s motives are questioned as he investigates; eventually he undergoes the initiation he is looking for.”

The setting is:  Texas (Dallas, and areas of West Texas or the Hill Country).

Justin is a 28-something handsome and popular technology reporter in Dallas.  He has dated Doreen, who is pregnant by him and the wedding is to happen soon.  He has met Doreen at the newspaper, where she works as a religion reporter, and has, at the consternation of the paper, moved away from traditional Bible belt churches to covering rurals cults, particularly near a West Texas town called Teglia (fictitious).   They’ve held off on marriage until Justin looks into one of their initiation rites himself, but she is perplexed.

The movie starts with a report of Doreen’s disappearance near the town.  The tracks simply stop.  There was a big storm nearby and a tornado, but the twister didn’t cross the path where she was jogging.  The town had some damage.

Justin gets stopped by police over the disappearance.  The cops seem to know he has dated another woman, Carla, who is black, and already has a mixed raced child, Pip, to whom Justin acts like a part-time dad.  Doreen knows about Pip, but not that Justin has actually slept with Carla.   Later, we’ll learn than Pip is the son of Frankie, who runs “The Academy”, a career re-education center in West Texas, near Teglia, that FEMA uses as a contractor for disaster preparedness training.   Carla is also into the occult (in a way that Doreen is not) and remote viewing,  She also works part time as a security guard at a big gay disco in Dallas,

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Justin wonders why the cops know so much about his life.  He wonders about NSA spying, for example..  He disobeys orders to stay around and goes out to Teglia to look for her, and finds a strange cast of characters, mostly likeable (these include a young couple, Toby and Shelia, Matt, and a nerdy teen Eric),  disfigured ex-soldier Ali with effeminate and questionable grown son Amos, and finally Frankie, who was Carla’s “boyfriend” earlier.  They find that some of the goings on match the contents of “Bill’s” manuscripts.  Justin learns that Bill has attended “The Academy” while Eric uncover’s Bill’s own family history, having started at the Academy after being “kicked out” after returning home to look after his mother because Bill’s writings had brought adverse attention to the home.  A lot of detail has gone on behind the scenes.

Justin learns about earlier disappearances, and finds evidence of the bizarre history of the Academy partly from an old Beta tape recovered from Bill’s old condo in Dallas.  The technology identifies the age, and gives a lot more material about Frankie, whom Bill learns he had once dated when living in NYC.

Justin then travels to the Academy, and prepares to go to the “Initiation” which will occur on a “Nighthike”.   Justin learns that some of the people will be chosen as “angels” (last post), and that Doreen was one of the candidates (an exception to my “rule” that in my scripts the angels are male — not here; there seems to be no discrimination!)   That’s why Doreen hasn’t cared too much that Justin had been seeing Carla, and proving himself more “capable” of sustaining an unusual heterosexual relationship indeed.

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The thunderstorms come back (“a few storms may be severe”), and after a complex sequence (including a drowning rescue), several of the characters, including Justin, are tested, and some bodies undergo changes.

They wind up on Titan, where the plans for an “invasion” of Earth by angels is revealed.  Toby,  Shelia, Justin, and Doreen all return to Earth.  There is a lot of publicity, with Doreen’s return, and a double wedding.  Just before the wedding, Justin and Doreen present proof that they have been “abducted” and returned.  As the film ends, the Earth waits for the massive UFO landings, which start to happen.  (That would lead to a sequel).

The entire story could be viewed as “here is how it could happen” if direct alien visitation ever occurred, and how the media would deal with it (since the story happens partly inside the news business).  My own premise is that the aliens are “angels”.  They don’t have to be, but that makes things interesting.

(Published Thursday June 12, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT)

Note also: I did present a condensed version of a pitch for this film at a screenwriting seminar in Washington DC in August 2006 at a hotel near Scott Circle.  I recall that someone from Fortissimo Films was there.  I remember there was a reaction from the class that there needed to be more of a sense of “crisis” at the opening.  A young woman’s mysterious disappearance, with tracks that end, would seem to be critical, as would the police suspecting Justin.

There was a case of a female jogger who “went up” in Wyoming in the summer of 1997.

I also presented some of the screenplay in another class in Arlington in 2007.

Classifying my angels

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One Sunday night in October 1983, I was returning to Dallas in my 8-speed Dodge Colt  from a weekend trip in Oklahoma (and as far as Springfield, MO), and had actually hit a dog who had run out in front of the car on an isolated road.  After crossing back into Texas, and driving somewhere around Commerce, I heard a sermon from a fundamentalist preacher, talking about what happens when you “die”.  An “angel” comes and accompanies you as you are processed for your judgment, he said.  He spoke about an angel as a real person, an idea which I found interesting.  Now, living in Texas then, I had gotten used to hearing a lot of car radio sermons arguing for post-tribulationism v. “Pre”, which is beyond me now.  “Pre” makes more sense.

There’s something intriguing to me about the number 144,000.  In Rev.  14:3-5.  One of the interpretations of this number is that it is a count of redeemed make “virgins”.  I’m not quite sure why they would need redemption (except that all of us do, in Christianity), but it sounds like there is something special, or permanent about these men.

In at least two of my screenplays, and in the main novel “Angel’s Brothers” that I will describe soon, the concept of an “angel” comes up , in a few different contexts.  I’ll lay out the “rules of the road” for them in this post.

There really haven’t been a lot of movies about the topic (outside specifically “Christian’ films like the Left Behind series).  One of the best is “Astral City: A Spiritual Journey”, by Wagner de Assis, from Brazil, a 2011 release from Strand.  Of course, we remember “What Dreams May Come” and “Reviewing Your Life” and even “Ghost”.  Some of the leading males in television series and comic book movies (ranging from “Smallville” to “Spiderman”) may be seen as having angelic characteristics.  There is a female angel who travels between Purgatory and Earth in the play “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.”

In the vision, I’m laying out, the characters comprise several kinds of entities:

(1) Biblical angel.  Such a person could be one of the original 144,000, if still alive (essentially immortal).

(2) Original angel,  Such a person would be born with the reincarnated memories of one of the 144,000.   Such a person would not have children.

(3) Ordinary angel.  Such a person has been elevated in such a way that he has some of the memories of one of the 144,000 but only through those of other people, transmitted to him through infection with a bizarre virus (dealt with in the later novel manuscripts). Such a person does not have children after “conversion”.

(4) New angel.  Such a person has memories of other individuals with whom he has had close contact.  He has also been infected by the virus in a superficial, non-symptomatic way.  The number of “new angels” varies with the number of those of the first three types lost in various ways.  The number tends to converge so that the total will be close to 144000. Susceptibility to the right kind of “infection” may result from some kind of supernatural contact early in life. Such a person may or may not have children at any time.

There are ways that angels can “fail”.  These would include

(1) Moral corruption, similar to ordinary human failing (call it “Satanic” if you like).

(2) Being challenged and failing the challenge. Failure can come from (a) not recovering lost appearance or function or (b) enjoying defeat in a morally inappropriate way.  But some angels are not challenged.

My manuscripts present only males as being angels (partly as a result of the “144000” idea).  In fact, the characters are depicted as white males., from Bill’s “world”  There is nothing wrong with the idea of female angels (as in the play by Andy Guirgis) or those of other races.  But in one of the screenplays, “Bill” will become involved in the process of “choosing” who can become a new angel, and perhaps who (among those already established) can be challenged and survive.  Bill, in a different sense, makes a similar choice in the novel (among a smaller set of people).

In “my world” (especially “Angel’s Brothers”), the rest of the population comprises

.(5) Old souls (“Bill” — although Ephram was called an “old soul” in “Everwood”).  Such a person can survive indefinitely but “intermittently” through a new angel, but usually must have children first. The old soul is not an angel himself.

(6) “Ordinary People” — and that was the name of a hit 1980 movie.

Infection is supposed to happen through a micro black hole or quantum mechanical black hole embedded in a retrovirus, with generally low but somewhat unpredictable transmission. The surface of the micro black hole would hold the information or track records of other people’s lives., sometimes even living people.

In general, the screenplays depend on various characters knowing the content of Bill’s later novels, particularly on the idea that “Angel’s Brothers” has been published and established.

Does the concept of an immortal or nearly immortal human make sense?  (In NBC’s “The Event”, the aiien humans could live ten times as long as us.)  It could make space travel a lot easier.  (In a couple of the screenplays, I’ve posed the idea that the angels use Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, as a base.)  On the other hand, entropy is part of physics, and a cycle of reproduction, procreating new beings with new instances of free will, seems to be a way for nature (or “God”) to counter entropy.

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There is something disturbing, however, about the idea that the character “Bill” has invested so much in identifying and nurturing angels or “superheroes”.  What about those who are not so gifted?  (Conservative columnist George Will has written about this issue in his own family, as he recognizes a divide between those who are gifted [like in sports, intellect, arts] and those who are no,; a discussion for another time.)  If it is acceptable to ignore them when they come knocking, then that can have very dangerous consequences for society (as history proves).  Perhaps for someone like Bill, a requirement to “pay your dues” is the only answer.   On the other hand, when Bill accomplishes and finds “what he wants” be becomes more generous with his time and attention.

 

(Published: Monday June 9, 2014 1t 3 PM EDT).

“The Signature of God”: this is a series of sermons (not a film) reconciling the Bible with cosmology, sort of

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The Signature of God” is offered on Netflix as a rental DVD (from Questar), running 81 minutes, dating from 2003, where Grant Jeffrey explains the physical and historical evidence that “the Bible is the Word of God”.
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In fact, it seems to be a series of sermons (there is an audience) about various categories of evidence for creationism and that the Bible is an authoritative scripture of the Word of God. The series accompanies a book which Jeffrey promotes here.
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There are some interesting ideas in the sermons. Jeffrey mentions entropy, as actually being noted in Genesis, as the idea that in nature things run down. One could say that a Creator can reverse entropy, but one can make the argument that it is life and reproduction (especially sexual reproduction) and the possibility of free will that counters entropy.
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He talks about physical evidence of the Tower of Babel in Iraq, underneath an artificial “mountain”, looking rather like a landfill, that covers the ruins of Babylon. All human languages, he says, comes from one root.
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He also talks about the billions of other galaxies, and about the idea that elements (including ice and water) are found in the far reaches of the Solar System, as evidenced by comets. Why would God create billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars and solar systems, without other civilizations?
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Our own civilization has made amazing progress in the past two decades in communications, allowing anyone to become a publisher and broadcaster and make his own reputation without having to navigate the previous modes of competition (or even form and preserve a family). It hasn’t made comparable progress with “man in space”, despite the initial promise of putting Man on the Moon in 1969. Perhaps that progress will come suddenly, with the ability to communicate with the Afterlife, and deal with wormholes or new experience of space-time. I don’t think it can happen in my lifetime, but maybe it will in the lifetimes of younger adults whom I pay attention to.


(Published Saturday June 7, 2014 at 12:45 PM EDT)