Tag Archives: bernie gabin

Adonis made the top ten percent of the BlueCat Screenplay Competition!

They’ve finally begun the rounds of judging for the BlueCat Screenwriting Competition, and I am delighted to announce that Adonis, the screenplay I wrote with Bernie, has made the top ten percent of Features for 2015!

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I am so happy about this. I had been feeling pretty good when we got our initial feedback from the contest, and I felt like it gave us a really good direction for the edit. The version produced for this one was the one that we would be judged on, and I felt it was very strong.

Though this was the last possible version to submit, BlueCat actually offers a second round of feedback on it, which I’d been meaning to write about here but hadn’t gotten around to. Bernie and I felt like our first reader grasped the script really well, giving us both astute positives and valid, useful critiques, so we asked to have them look at our next draft as well, but unfortunately they were not available. That made me nervous, as we had addressed their criticisms specifically. But our replacement seemed to get the piece as well! It’s such an encouragement to see that people with film industry training and perspective can get behind a piece as challenging as this one.

“This is both a period drama with a dynamic twist of fantasy and a powerful love story with considerable erotic frisson. It is set in the era of the Roman Empire – but a version where women are in charge. The screen direction on p.4 lays it out very clearly “Everywhere one looks is the grip of matriarchy; every slave master, every owner of property, every magistrate or enforcer of the law. Wherever there is position of power or authority, it is filled by a woman.” There is no question as to which is the second sex. This storytelling device allows the writers to take a fresh approach to somewhat tired material (a gladiatorial contest) and ask some pointed questions about a civilization that resorts to bread and circuses to keep dissatisfaction contained. It also paves the way for some deliciously bawdy inverted sexism (e.g. Orestea’s line on p.22 “he would make Vesta dampen her hearth” or Tamar’s reference to “Aphrodite’s saddle. The cradle of a horsewoman’s pleasure” on p.24). This inversion of the usual sexual hierarchy is very thought provoking. It causes the audience to rethink attitudes to both historical cultures and our representation of them. If a male general were to have a relationship with a female slave in the way Diana connects with Aidan, it would seem like a well-worn trope. However, switching their genders causes us to think more deeply about the power dynamics in such relationships, as opposed to taking the sexual chemistry for granted. The writing comes from a place of authority regarding such contests, and describes the protocol and the weapons used (e.g. Aquila’s gladii on p.19) with confidence, making it easy to believe in the world on the page. While Aidan/Adonis wins fans in the arena (and Diana’s heart), his sister Morna is sowing the seeds of rebellion. One of the most powerful elements of the screenplay is the slow, almost unnoticed rise of the crippled girl. By the time Aidan faces Aquila for the final battle, his sister has almost as much at stake as he does. Although it’s really no surprise that Aidan manages to strike the triumphal blow on p.95, the screenplay frames it as an unexpected win, triggering the revolution that Morna has so carefully put in place. However, the real victory comes with Diana and Aidan’s kiss on p.107, capping off their romance.”

I like a lot about this, but I think the best and most important line is “It causes the audience to rethink attitudes to both historical cultures and our representation of them.” This is the main theme of the story, drawing attention to gendered epic tropes by changing the customary gender roles, so I am delighted to see such understanding of it. He also liked the meat of the story (Aidan’s progress through the games, the romance between Aidan and Diana, and Morna’s sowing rebellion) as well as the trappings, such as our “deliciously bawdy inverted sexism.” I love those bits myself, so I’m glad they were noticed. I also love that he bought into the ship, considering “the real victory” to be Aidan and Diana’s kiss.

And now for the negatives:

“It seems you may be missing a major trick by making Morna and Aidan siblings rather than lovers. It would certainly add urgency to the entire story if Aidan was devoted to Morna, forced to fake fealty to Diana, and then torn between the two women, whom he loves for different reasons. Have you considered a painful (and therefore conflict generating) love triangle, with the slaves lying about the true nature of their relationship in order to stay together, similar to the one in DAYS OF HEAVEN? Although the writing is generally clear and eloquent, it may be a little long-winded and formal in places. Screenplays demand economy of language. Try to keep screen directions more concise. Describe visual beats in as simple a manner as possible, withholding comment or judgment, and describing only what can be seen within the scene. Try to avoid lengthy, dense blocks of description such as the one describing Morna’s ride around the city on p.45. Break it down into a series of specific beats, possibly a montage or sequence of shots. Aim for short, snappy paragraphs of screen directions less than three lines in length. When proofreading your screenplay, check for formatting errors such as character names becoming separated from dialogue over a page break, or scene headings separated from screen directions. Screenplay software should prevent this from happening. Also check for the occasional typo (such as “you sent me for” instead of “you sent for me” on p.60). When a screenplay has this level of overall polish, odd mistakes are all the more glaring.”

On one hand, most of this criticism is TRIVIAL. He doesn’t like how my screenwriting software (which yes, I did use, but it’s just a bad iPad port of a program called Celtx) sometimes separated the sluglines for names and scenes. A tiny thing I can fix manually in a minute. He thinks my scene descriptions were a bit too long and formal– yeah, they might be a little bit, it’s a problem I’ve had in the past, though I’m not exactly sure what “formal” means in this context. It’s actually a pretty good sign when you only get dinged on nitpicky technical things; it means there are minimal substantive things to criticize!

On the other hand, the only real thing he mentions made my eyes pop out of my head– he thinks we were “missing a major trick” by making Aidan and Morna brother and sister, as opposed to lovers. WHA-WHA-WHAT? I can’t even CONCEIVE of that. How would it even work? It kills SO MANY THINGS about the point of our story. In this schema, would he be with Diana and Morna at the same time? We’re supposed to like this guy– wouldn’t he come off as a major cad, boning the powerful person who can do things for him when he has someone looking out for him at home? A huge plot point is that up until he meets Diana, he’s never had the wherewithal to work on moving past his trauma– if he already has a lover, the power of him finally taking all that on so that he can be with Diana is destroyed. And also– a LOVE TRIANGLE? Ugh, that is SO played out.

Bernie was less bothered by it– he thinks the guy was just thinking out loud about what he might have done if he were writing it (in which case, I say “Why does it need to be mention in his response to OUR WORK?”). Bernie says that while it isn’t right for the story we’re actually telling, he could see it working if it were an urequited thing, like Morna loved Aidan from afar and never pursued him due to his trauma, adding an extra layer of tragedy to how she worked to protect and save him even though he loves another. But I am much more moved by the idea that Aidan and Morna are FAMILY, all the family they have, and that is a bond that can never be severed. I think there’s a lot of feeling that the only really powerful motivating force is romantic-sexual love, and I not only disagree with that notion, I want to depict how other kinds of love can be just as powerful.

Perhaps you’ll disagree with me, and I have no proof either way, but while I got the sense that the first reader was a woman, I would guess that this second was a man. If so, that’s actually possibly a good thing, as I think the hardest sell on a story like this is men. But the suggestion about making Morna Aidan’s lover rather than his sister is what clinched it for me. I think that represents a somewhat more typically masculine way to interpret a character like Aidan. I think the idea of having two women after him is sort of a way to “man him back up.” Bernie thinks I’m reading too deeply into it, but that’s what I think.

Regardless, this reader liked it enough that we made it into the top ten percent. Maybe Bernie’s right and it was just musing. I’m not sure what the process is, but I would guess that each reader has to care enough about the script to argue for its inclusions to all the other readers who didn’t see it, and if that’s the case, our guy pulled for us. And I’m really happy about it.

I don’t know if we’ll go any farther in this contest. I really hope so, though I probably shouldn’t get my hopes up. But I’m so proud of this piece, and I believe in it so much. Special thank you goes to, in no particular order, Jenn Giorno, Matt Kamm, Shannon Moore, Ben Federlin, Tegan Kehoe, Charlotte Oswald, Sam LeVangie, Caitlin Partridge, Frances Kimpel, Eboracum Richter-Dahl, and anyone else I’m sorry to be forgetting, who read the script and gave us such amazing and useful responses. You guys did so much to make it as good as it turned out to be.


Musing on muses, part 1

Artists have a long tradition of drawing inspiration for their art from various muses, and the more I think about it, the more I realize I do as well. The traditional artist-muse relationships tends to be a man being inspired by a woman, but I have always been prone to drawing creative energy from people, particularly men, that stirred something in me because of their awesomeness of some variety.

Those who know me well, or have known me for a long time, may be aware of how deeply my imagination was captured by Draco, the dragon character from the movie Dragonheart, my all-time favorite film. My love beyond reason and sense for this character strongly shaped my vision of heroism and goodness, which in turn has very deeply influenced how I write heroic fiction and drama. When I fell for Bernie, his particular brand of honesty, decency, and fortitude found itself creeping into my work in the same way. And it isn’t even always men for me. crearespero’s awesomeness, for example— the way she looks, her acting talent, her dreaminess, her athleticism —has made her a frequent muse of mine, from her playing Hamlet in my production to the visual model she provided for how I see Mrs. Hawking. Hell, I even cast her to PLAY a muse, when she was Andromeda in To Think of Nothing. A recent example for me was the case of Adonis, it was inspired by Chris Evans in the most classic way possible– his extreme beauty motivated me to make a piece of art. I feel like this is not something that people think that women do, or at least nobody pays attention to when they do, but it’s definitely part of how I practice my art.

People in general have a tendency to ascribe meaning to those things they find beautiful, be it a flower, a mountain, a piece of architecture, or a person. It’s often something as simple as the very well-documented phenomenon of how we tend to expect a good-looking person to be nicer and smarter than their more ordinary-looking counterparts. I know that I’m prone to it, both in the more mundane and the more poetical ways.

In Adonis, I went kind of meta with this. I know this phenomenon contributed to the existence of the story. But it’s in both the subtext AND the text as well. A major theme is the examination of what comes of what comes of somebody’s gaze interpreting another person— what it drives the gazer to do, and the effect it has on the gazed-upon. But more than that, some of the characters are ACTIVELY endeavoring to manipulate this in order to affect how people act. The story is about how they can raise a revolution of peasants and slaves to overthrow the most powerful empire in the world. In order to accomplish this, Aidan’s sister Morna, the mastermind behind it all, is working to position Aidan as a source of inspiration for the populace— if he can capture their imagination as this beautiful, heroic figurehead for the rebellion, their belief in him could translate to belief in the cause.

This is going to be an even more major theme in the next part of the story—particularly what a hard role it can be to play. I started picking at that notion in this scene I wrote for 31P31D. Aidan has very few positive associations with his status as the object of gaze, which makes it difficult for him to take this “muse” position on. This will also give a source of conflict for Diana and Morna, as it’s Morna’s idea, and Diana finds it to be making unfair, mercenary use of Aidan when it’s so hard on him. By contrast, Morna sees their situation as desperate enough that they no choice but to utilize this effect he seems to have, when they have so few other resources to accomplish their herculean task. I think it’s a very interesting issue to explore, especially since I’ve seen what an effect it’s had on me.

Someday, if all my dreams come true, I can imagine myself on the set of the film with my muse about to play the character I wrote for him. And I will probably weird him out as badly as Stephenie Meyer weirded out Robert Pattinson when she met him on the set of Twilight. But I’m okay with that, because then I’ll know I’ve made it. 😉

In part 2, I’ll talk about how things have inspired and influenced me so deeply I never even realized they were working on me. 🙂


Encouraging feedback on Adonis from BlueCat Screenwriting Contest!

This past month I submitted Adonis to BlueCat, one of the more significant screenwriting competitions, which before they judge gives you feedback on your script. I nervously opened what they sent me about Adonis, and I was pleased to find it encouraging!

"What did you like about this script?

The opening of the script is incredibly effective. Without ever going into any unnecessary explanation, we see from the very opening that this is an interesting subversion of the usual gladiatorial epic. There are so many stories of the hardened soldier who is made to see how the other half lives when he falls in love—and then to go native as a result (“Avatar” also immediately springs to mind); that this gender flip seems so obvious and clever, it’s almost hard to believe no one else has done it before.

The scene in which Aidan is forcibly held down and raped by a group of Roman soldiers is quite chilling; it also really effectively demonstrates what many men are unable to grasp about sexual assault. By envisioning a world in which women had dominance over men, the film acts as a sort of subtle feminist corrective to ancient history, and perhaps it will force men to see the historical patterns of subjugation have existed since the days of Rome.

The script hinges on the basis of its characters, and it succeeds based on the fact that they are each given their own legitimate grievances and motivations. Diana's need to maintain the status quo makes perfect sense within the context of her character’s position as a general, as does Aidan's need to see the system changed, because he is a slave.

The script never tries to make its characters “right” or “wrong” however; Aiden’s arguments with his sister Morna over which is preferable: to live as a slave, or to die seeking freedom, have a real emotional complexity and weight, precisely because neither is wrong; it depends solely on one’s vantage point.

The most emotionally affecting parts of the script then, are watching Aiden's confusion at Diana's behavior. He cannot understand that she wants him to love her, as he has only ever lived in a world where he has been someone's property. This is the kind of story line that we are so often used to seeing in many gladiatorial films, but the gender reversal brings it into sharp relief; again it's the sort of thing, where it is strange to watch men being stripped of their agency–and it is only then we realize that the script is making a very salient point about the treatment of women throughout history."

This makes me feel good about it because this person GOT it. They got the point of the script, the flipping of the gender conventions to make a feminist point about behavior– and of storytelling –down through history. They even seemed to think it was something new and never before been done! The point of Aidan's assault came across, and had the desired creeping effect. They bought the characters and found their relationships and interactions compelling, which are the heart of the movie.

I can't tell you how glad I am of this. It's proof of concept that our ideas READ, and that there exist people outside our little sphere who are able to read them. An actual reader, trained in the studio process of evaluating scripts, got the point of our transgressive film! That is huge!

"What do you think needs work?

While there is something to be said for the element of surprise, the fact that we never see more of Morna's plan coming together, almost makes the uprising feel less impactful than it could be. If we could see her passing the messages back-and-forth, or even more moments of Brigin helping her discuss the plans, I feel that the beat would land better.

And given the importance of Morna's belief in rallying the slaves to seek their own freedom, it seems a little strange that we never see her recruiting the other slaves, nor do we ever see them discussing their options. It would be intriguing, and the theme of freedom versus slavery could be taken further, if there was dissension among the ranks, and some did not want to fight. Aiden may be a symbol among the slaves, but this does not make him the stand in for all slaves, or all the plebians of Roman society.

And all though the successful uprising certainly does not mean they have won, something feels incomplete in the ending. Yes, we know that the greatest fight is to come, but it would be nice, if we could focus on their successes just a bit more, before we fade to black."

This is good criticism, though. It's useful, doable, and on-point with the rest of the film. That's the best kind. Basically the reader wanted to see more of the mechanics of Morna building the revolution so they could believe in its existence more. That was something that was challening for us the first time around, so I can understand it still needing more to come across. We can definitely add more with a little effort. And the last part, wanting a little more character presence in their victory at the end, is a very easy fix.

It's possible to edit and resubmit before the final judging. Bernie and I definitely think we will do that. The fact that an actual respectable screenwriting organization responded so positively gives us hope that this script has a prayer of getting somewhere in the real world.