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Adapting “Charlie’s Mother”

I’ve published… ten?… books, but I’m still relatively new to screenwriting. Before a few weeks ago, I had written two features. One of them went out to two festivals: it was an official selection at one, and it placed second in the drama category at the other, so I got pretty lucky. The other went to a production company, got read (yay!), and got rejected (boo). And that was it until, recently, I started a mission to adapt several stories from my collection Leaping at Thorns, due to be republished soon by Three Bitches Press. I figured that getting the stories some exposure in the film world might help out the book, so I should try my hand at some short scripts. The collection starts with a story called “Charlie Mirren and His Mother,” one of the most horrific things I’ve ever written, so I figured there was no reason why the adaptation couldn’t start there…

Well, there was one big reason. In the original story, the title character, Charlie, is kidnapped, and something unthinkable happens to him. Later, something even more unthinkable happens to Charlie and his mother, Sharon. The original story is locked in Charlie’s perspective, so a lot of what it narrates takes place deep inside Charlie’s head. When events begin, he doesn’t know what’s happening, so he imagines different possibilities. When events involve his mother, he thinks about his relationship with her, reflecting on key moments from their past. All this thinking and imagining occurs, of course, with no dialogue or present-moment imagery. It’s a natural way for Charlie to escape what’s happening to him, but it’s not at all screen friendly.

Charlie’s past and his imaginings ultimately give his fate much more power, so I knew I needed to bring them to life somehow in the screenplay. I had to break down my prose and start over, building up a script. Luckily, with the help of an old gift certificate, I had recently acquired a copy of Final Draft software, and it has a handy mode that allows you to represent your story ideas as “beats.” I took my story and tore it into pieces, separating chunks of text into beats representing crucial moments or possible scenes. I then color-coded beats from Charlie’s past–using ROY G BIV to show their chronological order–and lined them up next to beats from the story’s present. With the story cut up in terms of time instead of consciousness, I figured out a way to run it so that the impact might unfold in a viewing audience’s mind like I had presented it unfolding in Charlie’s mind for my original readers. For instance, I took one of the earliest chronological moments, a tense-and-then-tender moment between Charlie and his mother, and made it the script’s starting point, whereas it appears in Charlie’s mind about halfway through the original story. While a couple of scenes from the past might play like flashbacks, overall they have more autonomy. To give them that, I had to flesh out the dialogue and characters more. Charlie’s past became more immediate, more real. I think the story might be better in script-form as a result. In any case, the audience gets more of him as a person, as well as more of Sharon, who hardly has a name in the original story.

Another major obstacle to adaptation was the original story’s tendency to lavish description on Charlie’s extremes of psychological terror and disgust. A good actor could do a lot with those emotions, but I needed more than acting. The solution I decided on was to have Charlie’s kidnapper observe his distress and talk about it with him, savoring the details. The kidnapper was already a sadist, but this new dialogue makes his sadism even more distinct. Again, by bringing the inside outside and detailing it, I think I have made the story more potent–I leave “better” to the judgment of readers or viewers who experience the sadism for themselves.

All in all, adapting was a good experience, far more creative than I anticipated. I’m happy with the results. I hope someone will come across them and want to film them… in capable hands, I think “Charlie’s Mother” could be an unforgettable horror show.

Leon Wordcaper Got Out

My site, long neglected, has been co-opted for use by Leon Wordcaper, who lives in, well, a confined space that’s none of your business. You can read what he has to say about me and my ideas here: http://landrewcooper.com/wordcaper/

Sharpening Teeth in the Dragon (Con) Mouth: My 2015 Schedule

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Title: Autograph Session
Time: Fri 02:30 pm Location: International Hall South – Marriott

This is early in the convention, and I’m not exactly a bestseller (yet), so don’t expect lines. Or perhaps much company. But I will sign things! I prefer to sign things I’ve written or otherwise been involved with… which means probably not your body parts… probably

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Title: Exploitation!
Time: Fri 10:00 pm Location: Peachtree 1-2 – Westin
Description: A discussion about the wild world of exploitation, cult, and midnight movies!

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Title: Haunted Ground: Ghosts and Other Traumas
Time: Sat 05:30 pm Location: Peachtree 1-2 – Westin
Description: The importance of setting in horror fiction

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Title: Squeamish Folks Need Not Apply
Time: Sat 10:00 pm Location: Embassy D-F – Hyatt (Length: 1)
Description: Panelists on writing horror, dark fantasy, & scary, horrible, gory, putrid stuff. BYO airsick bag!

Illustration from "Worm Would," in my collection LEAPING AT THORNS

Illustration from “Worm Would,” in my collection LEAPING AT THORNS

 

Title: Historical Horror
Time: Sun 11:30 am Location: Peachtree 1-2 – Westin
Description: The usage of history in horror fiction

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Title: Reading: L. Andrew Cooper
Time: Sun 04:00 pm Location: University – Hyatt

I’ll read something new (one of stories in my forthcoming 2016 horror collection PERITONEUM, most likely, and perhaps a nip from my mainstream thriller THE BLUE JACKET CONSPIRACY). Do come.

 

The event is spread across 5 hotels and the AmericasMart.

The Marriott Marquis 404.521.0000
265 Peachtree Center Ave.
Atlanta, GA 30303
Hyatt Regency Hotel 404.577.1234
265 Peachtree Street NE
Atlanta, GA 30303
Hilton Atlanta – Downtown 404.659.2000
255 Courtland Street NE
Atlanta, GA 30303
Sheraton Atlanta Hotel 404.659.6500
165 Courtland Street
Atlanta, GA 30303
Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel 404.659.1400
210 Peachtree St.
Atlanta, GA 30303
AmericasMart Atlanta
Building 2
230 Ted Turner Drive
Atlanta, GA 30303

Paranoia Engine 1: They Are Everywhere (Blue Jacket Conspiracy)

Classic conspiracies talk of black vans. In Burning the Middle Ground I warned you about the white ones. Classic conspiracies also talk about the men in black, who blend in. No. Look around you. See them. These are just random images I found online. But what if? Spread the warning.

They’re here already! You’re next! You’re next! You’re next…!

#BlueJacketConspiracy

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051512 - PALM BEACH - David Renna, Director of the Club division at The Breakers, poses for a photo to illustrate the versatility and tradition of the blue blazer.  David oversees all of the resort's club membership programs, The Breakers Ocean Club Membership including golf and tennis operations, The Breakers Rees Jones Course membership and the Phillips Point Club by The Breakers membership sales and services. David is also a father of two.  Photo by Tim Stepien

Photo by Tim Stepien

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