6GrIH3eP_sxj8t4a2uKFyukvGuANOXzzVDh_HAXCwBM" />" />" />" />" />

WHERE'S THE DRAMA?

The stuff that dreams are made of

14 INT        RESONANCES        DAY          

 

PAUL THOMPSON 

 

A GREAT STORY : NEWS THAT STAYS NEWS

 

You think of yourself
as a citizen of the universe.
You think you belong
to this world of dust and matter.
Out of this dust
you have created a personal image,
and have forgotten
about the essence of your true origin

― Rumi
 
If death meant just leaving the stage long enough to change costume and
come back as a new character…Would you slow down? Or speed up?
 
Chuck Palahniuk
 
 
All visible objects... are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event — in the living act, the undoubted deed — there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask.  If man will strike, strike through the mask! 
                                                                        
         —  Herman Melville


Okay, the bad news is: you exist. Whoever you is. You auditioned for the part you're playing, remember? No? Well, Central Casting gave it to you. You said you wanted it. You said you wanted it so bad you'd die for it, remember? No?  Give it some time; you will.

Okay, okay, I know there are times - plenty of times - when you find it difficult separating the character you're playing from the YOU that's playing it. Everyone needs a break from the melodrama now and then - that, or turn it into tragedy - or a comedy if you prefer, tho everyone I know reckons comedy is more difficult. I reckon a great story is always difficult, especially if you're struggling to find your character, and even your closest friends don't know you're acting.  Luckily, like all characters, your character - like mine (Billy) and her's (Maya) and theirs (you know who you are) -  has a use-by date. One way or the other your character's gonna be written out of the script. And eventually it will disappear from the story altogether, though there might be one or two remaining characters that'll preserve the memory of who and what you were in the back-story (tho most probably they'll employ the most heavy-handed exposition).

Your character won't go on forever, despite the fact that YOU exist, and that YOU will always exist, and that will never change. The character you play will change, but the fact that you exist won't.

Existence doesn't become non-existence, mainly because non-existence is already full of all the things that will never exist, and there's no room in non-existence for the things that DO exist.Understand? No?  All right then, let's put it this way: existence is the only quality that existence has to be. And that' that.  The bad news - and I really hate to break it to you - is that we are all condemned to exist.

And the good news... oh yeah. Well, the good news is entirely up to you.
 
 
 "When it comes to stories you can’t really improve on reality.
If you try too hard, all you do is make it more predictable."
 
—  Billy Marshall Stoneking   
 
                                                                    -------------------------------------------------------------
 
                                          
 
The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first."
                                                              ― Jim Morrison
 
 
Mostly we authors must repeat ourselves — that’s the truth. We have two or three great and moving experiences in our lives, experiences so great and moving that it doesn’t seem at the time that anyone else has been so caught up and pounded and dazzled and astonished and beaten and broken and rescued and illuminated and rewarded and humbled in just that way ever before. Then we learn our trade, well or less well, and we tell our two or three stories — each time in a new disguise — maybe ten times, maybe a hundred, as long as people will listen.
  F. Scott Fitzgerald
 
Every wonderful sight will vanish, every sweet word will fade,
But do not be disheartened,
The source they come from is eternal, growing,
Branching out, giving new life and new joy.
Why do you weep?
The source is within you,
And this whole world is springing up from it.
 
  Rumi
 
  

  THE ATONAL SCREENPLAY        

One must begin by being chaotic.” - Virginia Woolf

 

Any one that has written a screenplay, especially a feature-length screenplay, and is familiar with the constituent elements of musical form will be aware of the relationship that exists between the realisation of a screen story and the composition and performance of a piece of music. Both are essentially time-arts distinguished by the way in which their common elements contribute to building and releasing emotional energy in time.

Both screenplays and musical compositions have tempo, texture, tonality and dynamics, as well as beat and meter, timbre, harmony, and dissonance. They are differentiated by the fact that the musical experience is fundamentally conjured out of sound and silence; whereas the cinematic experience proceeds by way of images and cuts.

Another element central to both is "voice", which references character. On a rudimentary level, you can delineate the musical  “characters” in terms of percussion, string, brass, woodwind and keyboard instruments, as well as the human voice. In the creation of a musical experience, each participates and contributes to the Voice of the whole. Likewise, with the screen story, one encounters the voices of the individual characters, as well as the voice (or attitude) of the character that is writing the screenplay, and/or directing it, who also gives voice to his or her tribes, allowing them to have their life in the act of speaking through the story.

 

The best screenplays and the best films have a voice. Some might refer to it as style. When crystalized and associated with the specific obsessions of a particular director it some times becomes a genre. It is more than anything else, an attitude, a way of looking at and listening to the world. This filmic voice is not merely composed of the many, individual voices of the dramatis personae; it is the voice of all of the musical elements of the story in concert with each other, and includes what is both visible and perceivably invisible through context and subtext.

Any screenwriter that has ever worked as a medium, that has undergone the initiation of channeling characters and story, understands the essential musicality of the act.  Images have tone and weight; scenes have pitch; a character’s contradictions create texture and subtext; the close-up screams.  For the medium, it is not enough to simply grasp this intellectually; it is important that he/she feels it bodily, the same way you feel music when immersed in it. You cannot enter the drama unless you also enter its music.

The experience of momentum, which is absolutely essential to the creative process, is the dance one does to "the music" one hears in the act of finding the story. By “momentum”, I mean the bodily sense that one is being carried along by forces more powerful and compelling than one’s individual will. As one enters into the music of the story, one tunes in to the inherent rhythms of the characters, images, and sounds. And as one returns again and again to these dynamic relationships, the sluggishness begins to dissipate. To act or not to act is no longer the question. One participates in the dance. And in the swirl of activity one is captured by movement, by action, by change – and the experience is exhilarating.

Too many film schools, as well as any number of screenwriting gurus and an obscene number of how-to-write tomes, have made a business of catering to fledgling screenwriters and filmmakers by exploiting their belief that the only thing standing between them and an Oscar is the right kind of knowledge. If only one knew enough, one could easily become rich and famous. Unfortunately, almost all are susceptible to that eternal malady – “that last great infirmity of the soul” – which is FAME.  And whilst I don’t deny the value of technical knowledge, such knowledge matters very little if the story one is trying to tell doesn’t matter, either because it’s incoherent or simply because it fails to make us care.

What most film schools encourage is the uncritical use of jargon and technical competency grounded in information and embodied in recipes. For those that embrace such knowledge, there is no shorter path to success than going through someone else's advice. Alas, there are few things more pathetic than the sight of an screenwriting student eagerly doing the rounds of any number of teacher/script editors looking for validation of his or her undiscovered genius. While not the rule, generally, I have met enough of them to make me more than a little squeamish about some of the well-meaning but misguided philosophies that inform the film school industry.

Where are the schools, the teachers, the gurus that understand the creative potential and opportunities afforded by the accidental, the chaotic, the anxiety of exposure and the way in which the unexpected insinuates itself into the creative process?  These are the elements that make magic possible, and in most film schools they are mostly ignored, played down or, at best, equated with mistakes and shortcomings.

Certainly, the screenwriting enterprise involves choices; that is not at issue. What is at issue is the screenwriter’s uninformed belief that the writer is the only one entitled to make those choices. This can never be the case, not even when the writer insists upon it.

During the 1960s, I was enrolled in a music course at university where the professor argued that the major difference between tonal and atonal music was predictability. Remembering this, I wondered if this notion might not offer an important insight into the process of dramatic screen story-finding, both in its conception and in its realisation.

Screenwriting is often a lonely, isolated occupation. Cooped up in a room, keeping company with disembodied beings, is not the sort of activity most humans would find very appealing. It is easy for the writer to lose sight of his or her own validity. “What do you do?” someone asks. “I write screenplays.” They look back, rather dubiously. “Oh, but what do you really do?” 

I have long believed that the insecurity of screenwriters stems largely from their inability to prove their existence. In fact, one might say they don’t exist at all until their screenplay is made into a film, and even then it is the film that exists, not the screenplay, and certainly not the writer, unless the film wins an Oscar, in which case the award invariably goes to the producer. Sigh...

What most writers want – though few of them would admit to – is a guarantee. They want to believe that what they are doing is going to amount to something, like some bad parent who thinks "all this blood and sweat and tears poured into this 'kid', he better go out there and make something of himself." Ah, if only one could predict the outcome of one’s efforts!  Predictability offers security. Indeed, our ability to predict the future and to have it occur in the way in which we predicted is always a source of great comfort to us. Imagine how disturbing it would be to go to sleep in one’s bed tonight, and, without knowing why or how, wake up in someone else’s in the morning. This is the kind of thing that happens to writers all the time, especially the good ones. So, wouldn’t it be better, safer, and less nerve-wracking if there were some way that the screenwriting process could be made more predictable – some plan that made it possible to see where we were, where we’d been and, most importantly, where we were going?  Of course, it is better if the screenplays themselves aren’t predictable, but what about the process of writing one?  How predictable is that?  How predictable would you want it to be?  And if predictability is not possible, or even wanted, what implications might this have in terms of choice?

I hate to be the one to break the news, not that it should be news, but predictability breeds predictability. You can’t plan for surprise, or freshness, or originality.  You can't consciously choose those things either. The choice is not to be or not to be; the choice is to dance or not to dance. And when it comes to dancing (read: the adventure of finding a story and its characters), the best choices are hardly ever the result of conscious decision-making.

Let me break it to you this way : the best choices are those that are made by the story, by its music, atonal though it may be. What the story shows us, and what it goads us towards, is openness, effortlessness, spontaneity. It is never the story that resists these impulses, only ourselves, clutched by an unmanaged fear that were we free enough to let the story become whatever it might be, it would expose something better left hidden, thus opening us to attack or derision. It is a prospect many find too painful to even contemplate, and so they make story into a fortress instead of an escape plan.

For many, the surprising and credible dramatic story beckons almost inaudibly from beyond the ramparts of ego, teasing and tempting us with some faint hope for what lies beyond the walled-city of our prejudices. There, near the vanishing point of a self-important perspective, it is easier to hear than to see. Attend to the music, to the voices, atonal though they may be. If one is to become part of the dynamic musical chemistry of story one must stop tampering with the energies that are at play. Instead of operating from the mistaken belief that you are creating the music (or the drama)  become one among many free players that are allowing their playfulness to be, and dance.  (Stoneking)


            THE ZONE

                

 

When I’m writing, I’m often in some form of trance and can write for eleven hours. I can just go into a zone, and that zone has taken me so long to get to that I get very pernickety about it being invaded in any way.” - Anthony Minghella

                                                       

What is the Zone?

 

The Zone is all that is pure subjectivity.  The Zone is composed entirely of subjectivity.  Subjectivity extends into space right up to the edge of perception and thought, but it does not extend beyond perception into the Non-Zone.  Subjectivity has its own type of relationship with space and time.  Subjectivity is the part of the human experience that exists as happening right now to one's self.  The Zone is the "inside" part of this realm of pure subjectivity.  For practical purposes, the Zone is pure subjectivity itself, and pure subjectivity is the Zone itself.

Another way to get at this is to use the two words,  "I am."  On one level these words are quite simple, and they can be easily used without really appreciating the implication they clearly contain.  If one repeats these words silently and meditates on both of them for even the shortest time, his mind will be turned so that it is pointed directly at what we are talking about--subjectivity.  Since subjectivity is not an object that can be viewed or imagined directly, it will never be visualized directly.  This peculiar phenomenon--the nature of one's own subjectivity and the intimate knowledge that one has that it exists--is the very beginning of the mystical experience, which is the foundation of the major religions. Having a clear understanding of that to which the word "subjectivity" refers is essential and the first step toward understanding the Zone.

Some people encounter a block when it comes to meditation and the phrase, "I am."  This is quite common among regimented people, highly educated people, and people who are pathetically lost in the Non-Zone.  These people struggle to capture a meaningful life. Usually they have no belief in any of the types of truths that emanate from the Zone.  On the other hand, many of these people serve out their lives usefully to society as a kind of personal and meaningless sacrifice from the beginning to the end.  The bottom line is that those two little words, "I am," carry more meaning and more truth in them than all the other words in the language.    

The Zone is the subjectivity inside you - the SCREENWRITER.  Though it cannot be made into an object and studied in that way, the nature of the Zone and its mysterious substance, subjectivity, can be known to some extent and that knowledge, when it is personal to oneself is more powerful, more meaningful, and more truthful than any knowledge that will ever come from the Non-Zone "thinking" encouraged by many of the so-called screenwriting gurus.  Those who cannot understand or see the underlying truth to these statements are living their lives in a kind of continual worship of sticks and stones.

The Zone then is "within," and it is within you.  In the final analysis, it is more "you" than everything else put together.

Finally, any knowledge of the Zone can only be assumed from direct, intimate experience of the Zone itself; no real knowledge of the Zone can be had from information about the Zone that comes from the Non-Zone. This predicament puts the present situation into a quandary because writing and reading require the continual intersection with the Non-Zone by both the writers and his/her audience/reader.  Direct and intimate experience by the person himself is only way of entering and BEING IN the Zone.  Thus, the writer must become the audience (the one that is addressed) and the one that also addresses the writer (the writer's tribe or tribes). 

The Non-Zone and the Zone are adjacent to each other.  On one side is the world and our physical bodies (what Martin Buber refers to as the "it"); on the other, pure subjectivity (what Buber implies by the "Thou").  A curtain of perceptions is the boundary between the two.  On one side of the boundary is objectivity, on the other subjectivity.  The experience of human existence includes the experience of the Non-Zone of objectivity, and it includes the experience of the Zone of subjectivity.  

A relationship exists between the Zone and the Non-Zone.  The relationship is important, and it has many features, not the least of which is conflict. 

 

 

What is the Non-Zone?

 

For practical purposes, it can be said that the Non-Zone is the objective world in which we live.  It includes our bodies, the objects around us, and all of the objective universe, which extends outward from each of us in time and space.  It is our cultural belief that the Non-Zone is real and more permanent than the subjectivity of any one of us. It is also our cultural belief that the Non-Zone is composed of tiny subunits that are, in some manner, contained within a kind of matrix called space-time.

 Science is so far the most successful mental instrument to make some sense out of the Non-Zone.   Science, on the other hand, is altogether impotent when it comes to the Zone.   One of our cultural beliefs is that the Non-Zone had some kind of beginning and that it will eventually have an end.  Another is that the Non-Zone has always been where it is now.  A third is that it was created, presumably by a grand entity whose nature is what?  Subjectivity!  Of course, we imagine the subjectivity of this grand entity to be great and powerful, but still, when we think into it even to a limited extent, it brings us back to the subjectivity of the Zone.  

The Non-Zone, then, is that which is "outside," and that which each of us experiences as being objective in nature.  It would be too simple to define the Non-Zone as objectivity, but for practical purposes, it can be defined that way.

Recall that the Zone and the Non-Zone are adjacent to each other; in a manner of speaking the Zone and the Non-Zone are clasped in each others arms.  But recall also, that they do not invade each others realm, for the Zone and the Non-Zone are separated by a curtain of perception, and that is as close as they ever get.

 

                                  

Why call it "the Zone?"

 

There are many names already for what we are calling the Zone:  Zen, Tao, Samadhi, Kingdom of God, Nirvana, and epiphany, for example. Each of these many names is meant to point at the substance of pure subjectivity that is implied by those two simple words, "I am."  The Buddha is "within" and so is the Kingdom of God.  

I personally like the word "Zone" because it has a ring of drama and mystery about it.  The word "Zone" communicates in its sound and common meaning more precisely what it is meant than any of the other words.


 

What are some characteristics of the Zone?  

 

Though the Zone is only experienced directly, and it is the sort of subject, which requires a certain twist, or precision to the language used to talk about it, the Zone does possess a nature. That nature can be articulated, at least to some extent.  We've already called attention to the fact that the Zone consists of pure subjectivity, so what else can be said about it?

There is only one Zone, not two, or three or more.  The Zone is the same one everywhere.  How could we know that?  Knowledge of this type, that is, knowledge concerning the nature of the Zone, is the result of intimate observation during extended periods within the Zone.  Any of us can experience these periods through meditation, prayer, or epiphany, or through other means, which will be mentioned later.  In all of these instances the conclusion through the ages has been the same--there is one Zone, and only one Zone.  There is no example of a credible mystical observation of the Zone which has concluded otherwise.  This principle of oneness is universally held by all the great religious mystics and saints. It is so definite that any disagreement with this understanding of the essential oneness of the Zone demonstrates immediately that the information is false and does not apply to the Zone.

Any disagreement among the religions over any part of the Zone's nature demonstrates that the Non-Zone has gotten into the picture and botched things up.  The first person who discovered the Zone within himself knew then that there was only one Zone. That discovery was made long ago, before the first man as we know him today.  There has been one Zone forever, and there has been one religion forever that describes its nature.  It goes without saying there was one Zone before Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity.  Any disagreement among religions about the nature of the Zone is over some matter that stems from outside the Zone and is simply irrelevant to the discussion.

The Zone has dimensions in space, though the spatial dimensions do not behave in the same rigid and predictable as the spatial dimensions of the Non-Zone do. Nevertheless, the Zone extends in space and can change its size, in a manner of speaking.  The Zone extends in its own space out to that curtain of perception, wherever that curtain might be.

The Zone also possesses the element of time, but time in the Zone is overwhelmingly the present, not the past or the future.  Time is flexible in the Zone. Indeed, it can run in either direction.  The past and the future can even be mixed within the Zone.  You might say that subjectivity rules time within the Zone.

The nature of Truth is different within the Zone.  The Truth within the Zone is clear and obvious. Regardless of what matter to which the Truth may be applied in the Zone, that Truth will be agreed to by anyone in the Zone.  There are no arguments about, disagreements about, confusion about, or quibbling about what is true and what is not true within the Zone.  This particular feature of the Zone can be made obvious to any of us who are collected together.   Those persons in the Non-Zone quibble continually about the differences of the truths within the Non-Zone, while the persons inside the Zone agree about the same truths.  It can be said without a doubt that Truth within the Zone is not the same as Truth in the Non-Zone.

 

 

ABOVE : NOTES FROM THELONIOUS MONK

This batch of scribbly notes is actually a pretty awesome find. It’s a personal, handwritten how-to guide for playing with jazz great Thelonious Monk – a man who genuinely marched to his own beat.

Monk’s percussive, improvisational style and habit of deliberately playing off-time made an incalculably large impact on the jazz world. His use of silence and mastery of cognitive dissonance was far outside the playing field for many of his peers at the time, which might explain the content of these handwritten notes.     WATCH STRAIGHT NO CHASER

 
 
Dramatic, screen storytelling - regardless of form, style or genre - has a curious but profound affinity with jazz. Like the jazz player, the storyteller is involved in a time-art. To "screen-play" a story truthfully is to enter into its movement and the tonalities inherent in mood, pitch, timing and timbre. The movement of the story is the long riff of its soul, dug and revealed only by those players capable of setting the music free. But first you have to develop some facility for hearing and then working with the musical phrase, feeling the rhythms, harmonies, discords and rests, which conspire to create emotion with their extrapolation and development in time. Whenever you play, whatever you play, a statement is made. To play from inside the music is to let the music play inside you. When that happens, every statement you make is valid. When you play from outside the music, it comes across phony. Every musician knows this, every musician can hear it. When film makers and screenwriters become so attuned to the music of drama, that they can hear it too, when they become the sound and the rhythm and the pace and timing of it, when they move with the color and tonality of it, striking the right dissonances and harmonies in ways that keep the drama present and moving, the screenplay will wail, and its truth will arrive on time, every time. Strive to get as close to the action as possible - that's where the truth is - and jam on.
 
- Billy Marshall Stoneking
 

     THE WISDOM OF AVOIDING "DRAMA ON THURSDAYS"

 

Resonance is an empathetic feeling for Being in which one’s seemingly separate Presence (dasein) apprehends and is apprehended by the presence of “an other”.

In speaking of resonance, I am reminded of a story my friend and former philosophy professor, Ed Field, once told me concerning an experience he'd had in France in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. From an early age, Ed had had a proclivity for striking out on his own, disappearing for hours or even days into the back country outside Santa Cruz. Being both adventurous and reclusive by nature, he never felt more at home than he did when he was alone in a grove of giant Sequoia trees, or picking his way along some treacherous, unmarked track into the labyrinthine hinterland of mariposa covered canyons. Such odysseys would've no doubt played a part in awakening Ed's philosophical sensibilities.

When the war came he joined the Army, and by 1945 was a 26-year-old enlisted man stationed near Nancy. Still very much a loner, Ed would spend whatever free time he had exploring the old French city. With the same ardor he had for his beloved redwoods, he'd wander for hours up one narrow street and down another. Late, one afternoon, he found himself climbing the stairs into the bell tower of Nancy’s austere, 18th century Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l'Annunciation.

As he stood in the tower surveying his surroundings, some distance away, in another tower, another set of bells began to peal. To his surprise, the large, still bells beside him started to vibrate and hum. Placing his hands upon one of them he could feel the bronze shell resonating, infected by the sound waves from the bells resounding in the other church, 30kms away.

More than fifty years later, when I was staying with him at space 31, in the Blue & Gold Star Mobile Home Park in Capitola, California, he suggested that such was the nature of love. One “sounds” and, in perfect empathy with one’s sounding, one’s beloved sounds back. Someone else might've dismissed Ed’s comment as the expression of a sentimental old man, but I knew what he was talking about, and it was something much more profound than some glib romantic notion.

 

Later, in the scattered writings he did after the stroke had made it difficult for him to speak or even write, he spent most of one day slowly typing out his thoughts. He'd work all day assembling his ideas and fixing them to a page and in the evening he'd get me to read the half-page or so that he had written and we would discuss it. One day he handed me the following:

“Origin means the Source of the essence of something. Essence means that the thing is just as it is. BECOMING an essence means that the thing is NOT YET just as it is. It is the thing promising to become invisible. Becoming is its INCIPIENT Being: its Being NOT YET; its hope of Being invisible and also its faith in negating its present and past visibility.”

Coming upon such a statement without the benefit of nearly thirty years of friendship, would be a confounding experience for most readers, so let me interpret what I believe Ed was trying to express, and then let me extrapolate on how this might apply to cinematic story-finding and telling, if not to creativity in general.

Let us assume, heuristically, that a distinction can be drawn between “the storyteller” and “the screenwriter”. Let us, for an instant, consider the possibility that the screenwriter is a creation of the storyteller, a character constructed from the volcanic drama continually erupting within the storyteller’s imagination, which is conceived in cinematic terms. The screenwriter-character senses and expresses an essence, and that essence is the storyteller.

Our lives ARE stories, replete with choices and errors, victories and frustrations, desires and fears, which we go on enacting and remembering and re-enacting again and again, attempting to place every emotion, every belonging or lack of belonging, every wounding and every significant relationship, in its rightful place, playing out each betrayal and every weakness, longing and sentiment, so that we might certify our existence and identity by sensing ever more vividly the eternal partnering of life and death – and how they dance us to distraction and surrender, into darkness or into light.

The life lived dramatically, like the story told dramatically, is a story of passion, vide: suffering. As such, it is an active story in which one constantly bets one’s life, risking everything for what one loves or hates, embracing great efforts in the face of eternal hopelessness. In the dramatic story world there is no place for indifferent characters.

The struggle for success at another's expense, whether it comes easy or hard, is the core deception that inhabits the deep structure of every dramatic tale, whether tragedy or comedy. It is this deception that renders the dramatic character, as well as the storyteller, a victim of the situation of irony that is the defining mark of both the product and process of every dramatic adventure.

The irony, continually dramatized by effective screenplays and the films they inspire, is that in our weakness is our strength, in our courage is our cowardice; in our servitude is our freedom. AN irony played out large in present time, forever and ever, both inside the script and out.

In essence, to be is to be a storyteller – a tribal storyteller, insofar as each one of us expresses our original nature. But not all storytellers are screenwriters. And not all storytellers have bothered to write down the stories that they tell. Whether our passions are expressed in screenplays, or poems,  novels or making bread, each of our seemingly unique and individual stories has an origin and is possessed of a mythic dimension that is in evidence everywhere, and is just as commonly ignored or denied everywhere, almost all the time.

Such a dimension is found in the story from Genesis 3:1-21, which narrates the Fall of Wo/mankind, and is continually recounted in our everlasting history, which serves to dramatise our recurring readiness to sacrifice freedom for non-freedom (servility) as consummate proof that we are free. As such, my story, your story and our story – they are all rooted in situations of irony.

For Ed Field, freedom resided in the act of withdrawing – a withdrawal into what he called “the resonance” - the continuing sound of his own solitude. “There,” he wrote, “one finds one’s genius: the bell-ringer in the tower.”

Each of us – like Ishmael at the masthead - has always been there, in our own bell-tower, as poet, prophet, composer of speech and actions, withdrawn from all rules governing those language games by which the world goes on with its economic commerce – from which even dramatic storytelling is not immune.

“The genius presiding over first-person singularity,” Ed once wrote, “has always been there as the necessary bowman of the cello, which makes the music of humanity; necessary for the becoming, the future, the not-yet- past of Man.”

When considered from this vantage point, it becomes possible to understand “resonance” as one of those illuminating, first-person-singular experiences that conducts one ever closer to the source of one’s Being.

When William Blake wrote: “to the see the world in a grain of sand / and hold Eternity in an hour”, he was speaking of such an experience. Likewise, the fractal designs encountered on the great mosques in Isfahan stand as graphic metaphors of the resonant interconnectedness of all Being, what A.N. Whitehead referred to as “the withness of the universe”.

Of course, one could, without applying Ockham’s Razor, indulge in an eternally frustrating game of addition, invoking storyteller upon storyteller as mere characters of each preceding storyteller. Like the Hindu who, when learning that the universe rode on the back of a Turtle, enquired as to what the turtle was riding on, and in reply was informed, “It’s turtles all the way down.” So, too, might one say, concerning the character of the screenwriter, it’s screenwriters all the way down”. Hence, for the sake of keeping the argument robust, let’s posit a storyteller that in some way stands within, behind and beyond the screenwriter, and understand the screenwriter as an imaginary character/friend/colleague of the storyteller’s who works best when s/he understands that the most important part of any screenplay is PLAY. 

In other writings, I have talked about screen storytelling as being an act of both faith and love. Interestingly, it was an email from an ex-student of mine – Matt Hawkins – that started me thinking about resonance and its relevance to dramatic film-making, and that ultimately encouraged the writing of this essay.

In his email, Matt reminded me that the directing department at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School - where I worked for seven years – had, as part of its full-time programme, coordinated a “resonance workshop” in which teams of filmmakers would “get together and share aesthetic notions before shooting (their) films.”

The principle creatives would talk over their vision for the story, bringing in photos, drawings, physical objects, pieces of music, whatever “resonated” or otherwise connected with their understanding of the film-to-be. It was a way of informing one another of the different places each member of the team was starting from in their quest to realise a unified, coherent and fully collaborative final product.

It would be inaccurate to say that the exercise was unhelpful. It was probably better to have had an opportunity to present and examine one’s views about and connections with the story than to have not had the experience at all. However, by transforming resonance from a verb into a noun, by making it into an event that merely occurs at a certain time and place, one runs the risk of sub-rating its real meaning, thus turning the experience of authentic receptiveness into a wilfully conscious activity that has more to do with personal taste and habit, than it does with genuine openness. To say: “oh yes, we did ‘Resonance’ on Wednesday” makes about as much sense as saying “we did ‘Drama’ on Thursday.”  One either works dramatically or one doesn’t; one either resonates with one’s characters or one doesn’t. When resonance is reduced to a specialised activity informing a school exercise it is next to useless.

One is either IN the drama or OUT of it. There is no halfway house in which one vicariously “feels” the energy whilst remaining thoroughly safe and immune from the rigors of confrontation.

But resonance has more to do with what’s going on outside the script than what’s going on inside it. If one is to find and tell a transforming story, then one must be transformed by the experience of finding the characters, and having the patience and courage to listen and wait for their true voices. For this to happen, one must be faithfully open to them, especially to the character of the screenwriter who, when in danger of exposure, will do almost anything to lie and cheat and scheme his./her way out of a jam.

Great drama is full of jams. Jams occur when we least expect them, and they frustrate, defy and challenge us with their presence. A jam is the screenwriter’s equivalent to the protagonist’s obstacle. The story has an inner and outer plot. These two resonate with each other. The script mirrors the characters; the characters mirror the script. The trials and tribulations of the characters inside the screenplay reflect the trials and tribulations of the characters outside the screenplay. The experience of resonance is central to the finding of all dramatic stories because resonance is really what the process and product is all about – connection and disconnection and the need to reconstruct the connection that has been broken. This is the essence of drama. A present time account of Being, with which we – the filmmakers – must resonate if we are to find ourselves in the story and the story in ourselves.

“Being sounds,” Ed Field once wrote; “it does nothing but sound. Earth, which prepares solitude and foregoes society in its favor, continues the sound. Listened to from the proper distance, the revolving Earth is solitude: it resonates with the primeval tone of creation as on the first day. In that continuing sound the first-person singular came to be-not-yet. Not-yet is a definition of Eternity’s ever becoming. It is also the definition of genius presiding over the singular solitude of whoever the first-person is, whose autobiography is now underway but just begun.” 

 

“Do mountains of preparation kill spontaneity? Absolutely not. I’ve found that it’s just the opposite. When you know what you’re doing, you feel much freer to improvise.”  –  Sidney Lumet

HEY! YOUR SCREENPLAY IS FULL OF BULL!

Adapted from an ancient Taoist fable 

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Preamble

In the clamber to live and then live well, in the struggle to compete and acquire and get on in the world, in the never-ending “battle of the sexes”, and the presumptuousness that encourages and sustains one’s ego drives, human beings are invariably lured into a state of waking sleep – of forgetfulness - concerning their own essence, their own Being.

In Zen thought, this essence, or original nature, and one’s attempt to regain it is dramatised in a series of images known as the Ten Ox-Herding Pictures.

It occurred to me the other day that these subtle and marvelous pictures might also be interpreted as conveying the principles and archetypal relationships of powerful cinematic stories - the stuff of which drama and the dramatic story-finding process is composed. A man pitted against a bull, where the man is not quite Man, and the Bull is so much more than bull.

Quite suddenly it seemed that in their simplicity these images evoked a whole and entirely fresh view of the subtlety and profundity of humanity’s eternal drama. Assuming this is the case, I surmised that they would be applicable to all modes of human activity… so I asked myself: what might the Zen Bulls tell us about dramatic screen storytelling?  Here is part of the answer I came up with.  BMS, Ed.

Okay, just for a moment, think of your story-idea as a giant, unfenced, unmapped paddock that stretches further than the eyes can see, and ever so much further than yours or anyone else’s ears can hear. Somewhere out there in your own vast hinterland are a whole bunch of “characters”; only – because we’re using the metaphor of a paddock – let’s call them “bulls”. These bulls aren’t only the characters that inhabit your screenplay, either. They also include your audience, your tribe or tribes and yourself – or at least that part of yourself that you imagine.

Now, the first time you show up for a look-see, you stand at the fence-line of your paddock and you can’t actually spy any bulls at all, or if you do they are more probably cut-outs or mannequins, not unlike those decoys duck hunters employ to attract real birds. From where you’re standing there’s no herd in site, only the idea of one, and being just a tad bit blind and almost completely deaf, and never having walked over this spread before, at least not in THIS lifetime, you’re not even sure where to look. All you know is there’s something that’s telling you this is good cattle (character) country and you want to discover what’s out there. Hell’s bells! There may even be some really valuable bulls roaming round your joint! - bulls that folks’d pay a lot of money to look at and ride.

Naturally, there’s nothing quite as unpredictable or unreliable as an untamed bull, and I have to tell you straight away that all of the bulls on your property are wild. But that ain’t nothing. And anyway, it’s no good complaining about their dissolute nature if you can’t even spot one.

So the first thing you have to do is go out and track one down. You only need one. You see, you can’t ever get down to the real work at hand – the wrangling and the roping and the writhing (oops, I mean “writing”) – until you can find some way of materialising the bull and sorting it out from all those false bulls, not to mention the snakes, grasshoppers and tourists that DON’T belong in your movie.

If you were to meet a Zen screenwriter who had just returned from a quest to realise a dramatic screen story, and he’d handed you a diary in which he’d recorded his exploits, you shouldn’t be very surprised to discover something like the following:

  

1. SEEKING THE BULL

“In the pasture of this world, I endlessly push aside the tall grasses, searching for the bull. Following unnamed rivers, wandering lost and feverish amid a chaos of mountain paths and unmapped crossroads, my strength failing and my vitality exhausted, I cannot find the bull. Alas, I only hear locusts churring through the forest at night.”

INTERPRETATION - Trekking into the paddock of the unconscious, the screenwriter pushes into an uncharted land in search of character. Curiosity and imagination goad him/her ever onward, as one penetrates the unfamiliar realm. But, alas, the bull is nowhere to be seen. One must have hope and proceed ever deeper into the unexplored hinterland, or  - if one loses hope –run back to the fence line, defeated by a wilderness whose secrets will never be revealed. In such desperate circumstances, fear and exhaustion are kept at bay only by courage and faith.  

 

2. FINDING THE TRACKS

“Along the riverbank, I discover footprints! There, under the trees, trampled grass. I see foot- prints. The Bull has been here! Deep in remote mountains I find encouragement; after many acts of faith and perseverance, I find strength. These traces no more can be hidden than one's nose, looking heavenward.”

INTERPRETATION - Adversity builds character – one must not give up. Perseverance furthers. One continues the quest into one’s own wilderness. When all seems lost, the tracks appear – the evidence that ”Drama” is near. One is not alone.

NOTE: This is the Robinson Crusoe moment of discovering the presence of another human footprint on what was taken as a deserted island.

 

3. PERCEIVING THE BULL

“I hear the music of the nightingale – in the morning the sun shines, the wind caresses; the willows are green and alive. My senses work as one – seeing with ears, touching with eyes, tasting with my entire being - everything coheres. Insight: The bull cannot hide when one’s senses are harmonious.  He speaks – I hear his voice. It is not just any bull I seek, but THIS bull.  The voice assures me it is not a false bull.”

INTERPRETATION - When the six senses work as one, the screenwriter forsakes his/her preoccupation with self and ambition – one is alert to BEING and. if one is adventurous, beholds the bull bodily. The qualities that are innate to the bull are also innate to the screenwriter. The screenwriter begins to recognise their shared origins. When the screenwriter’s origins intersect with the bull’s origins, ORIGINALITY becomes possible.

 

4. CATCHING THE BULL

I seize the bull. There is a terrific struggle. His will and power appear inexhaustible. He is infatuated with beauty and peace – he continually longs for the sweet grass of a carefree life, untroubled by problems. His will is to run away to a high plateau far above the cloud-mists, or to stand stubbornly immoveable in an impenetrable ravine where nothing can touch him.”

INTERPRETATION – The bull has dwelt in the unconscious so long, it has become like its own force of nature. It is the will to persist in its own state - unformed and undisciplined. The inclination towards passive enjoyment and pleasure – the longing to avoid drama – must be wrung out of both screenwriter and bull. The drama of the story begins with a drama between the writer and the bull (two characters, striving for something). In the exchange the screenwriter and the bull are constantly changing positions.   

 

5. TAMING THE BULL

“The whip and rope are necessary, else he might stray off down some dusty road.
Being well trained, he becomes naturally gentle, then, unfettered, he obeys his master.”

INTERPRETATION – The bull (character) must enter the DRAMA – the world of striving. The whip is the grammar by which the bull becomes the embodiment of emotion. Working under the whip and the rope, the bull is able to focus on what he must do to avoid the whip and the rope. Galvanised into meaningful action – aimed at a goal that is clear to the bull – he is free to act as he sees fit and all is well.

 

6. RIDING THE BULL HOME

“Mounting the bull, slowly I return homeward. The voice of my flute intones through the evening. Measuring with hand-beats the pulsating harmony, I direct the endless rhythm. Whoever hears this melody will join me.”

INTERPRETATION – When the bull is at one with the writer, they will reach their destination together. The writer gives and gives to the screenplay, pouring into it all his/her passion, fears, hopes, inspiration. Initially, it gives very little back. Then, one day, it takes over and starts giving to the writer. Suddenly the writer needn’t force it to move and be anything other than what it is becoming. One rides on it, assured that it will take one where one needs to go. Faith.

 

7. THE BULL TRANSCENDED

“Astride the bull, I reach home. I am serene. The bull too can rest. The dawn has come. In blissful repose, within my thatched dwelling, I have abandoned the whip and rope.”

INTERPRETATION – The character has its life – it renews itself without the help of the writer. The writer need not add anything other than to appreciate what he has found.

 

8. BOTH BULL & SELF TRANSCENDED

“Whip, rope, person, and bull -- all merge in No-Thing. This heaven is so vast no message can stain it. How may a snowflake exist in a raging fire?  Here are the footprints of the patriarchs.”

INTERPRETATION – The story transcends writer and character, transcends time. Art is NEWS that stays news. In the ever-recurring revivification process of being itself the story’s life enters eternity. 

 

9. REACHING THE SOURCE

“Too many steps have been taken returning to the root and the source. Better to have been blind and deaf from the beginning! Dwelling in one's true abode, unconcerned with that without. The river flows tranquilly on and the flowers are red.

INTERPRETATION – Through the stories we keep everything alive; through the stories the spirits keep us alive. The purpose of storytelling is the transcendence of stories. The ultimate meaning of drama is FREEDOM, which involves servitude to nothing, including the idea of stories and characters. There are no stories in the place from which all stories come.

 

10. IN THE WORLD

“Barefooted and naked, I mingle with the people of the world. My clothes are ragged and dust-laden, and I am ever blissful. I use no art or magic to extend my life; now, before me, the dead trees become alive.”

INTERPRETATION - Enlightenment

THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS OF DRAMATIC SCREENWRITING 

 Adapted by Billy Marshall Stoneking 

  1.  Life is Suffering

Drama, by definition, presents and explores suffering; which is to say, it presents characters in the grip of ANXIETY.  

In a dramatic story, suffering (or anxiety) is synonymous with disconnection.

Birth is suffering (disconnection from the mother).

Aging is suffering (disconnection from one’s former self, from one’s youth or one’s past).

Sickness is suffering (disconnection from health – i.e.: dis-ease, without ease). 

Separation from one’s beloved is suffering.

Not to get what one wants is suffering.

Drama is an investigation of what humans or human-like characters do when faced with some form or another of disconnection (suffering).

 

 2. The cause of suffering is Desire

One wants what one doesn’t have; if one had it there would be no reason to want it.

Dramatic action is largely the product of characters actively seeking ways of regaining something that has been lost or taken from them.

Dramatic desire = frustrated desire.

One wants what one doesn’t have; if one had it there would be no reason to want it.

Dramatic action is largely the product of characters actively seeking ways of regaining something that has been lost or taken from them.  Or the movement toward an idealised dream, a goal, a vision of human potential, their potential.

Dramatic desire = frustrated desire.

Without frustrated desire, drama is not possible.

Therefore, drama is concerned with characters that are possessed of a desire for something they do not have, and which they must satisfy short of some other terrible calamity befalling them.

 

3.  Suffering can be overcome 

Drama always involves the potential for, and the actuality of, change.

Through a character’s actions and the potency of those actions, there is hope that the suffering might be transformed or overcome.

Drama presents the journey a character makes in order to overcome or transcend the anxiety – or suffering – occasioned by the frustration of desire.

Drama allows us – as audience – to explore and find (or not find) with the character a solution to the suffering.

By way of the dramatic journey that is the story, we experience the possibility and sometimes – at least, vicariously – the actuality of hope and healing.

 

4. The Eightfold Path

A story-journey involves a series of choices and actions, and proceeds from beginning to middle to end along a pathway that is the character’s journey to answer a challenge, effect a healing or overcome an adversary.

The journey a character makes in order to “set things right” – to re-dress a wrong,  or re-establish order, or attain some degree of balance and harmony that will ultimately lead the character to achieving his or her true desire or goal – is conducted via the eightfold path, which is composed of the following:

          T H E   E I G H T F O L D   P A T H

A story-journey involves a series of choices and actions, and proceeds from beginning to middle to end along a pathway that is the character’s journey to answer a challenge, effect a healing or overcome an adversary.

The journey a character makes in order to “set things right” – to re-dress a wrong,  or re-establish order, or attain some degree of balance and harmony that will ultimately lead the character to achieving his or her true desire or goal – is conducted via the eightfold path, which is composed of the following:   

 

·Right View – The beginning and end of the journey

To see and understand things as they really are.

It may be that the “right view”, which the character possesses at the beginning of a story is sabotaged or undermined by actions of others by events that have been authored by others. What is crucial is to remember that difference characters have different agendas, which are expressed in differing plans of actions. When one character’s goal and plan of action are incompatible with another character’s goal and action conflict happens.

Conflict – or any dramatic situation or action - interrupts the “rightness” of a character’s world, forcing him or her to either capitulate (the passive character) or “fight for something” (the active character) – Dramatic character when faced with conflicts, obstacles or complications strive to find a new way of making things “right” again.

Also, the action of a dramatic story often begins with anxiety and ends with a complete understanding of the true nature of things as they pertain to issue being dramatised.

 

·Right Intention – Goals and plans

This involves a commitment on the part of the main character(s) to the ethical, physical and/or mental improvement of a situation. This improvement is expressed as a goal and is dramatised by the actions of the character in pursuit of that goal.

The character’s intention to achieve his/her goal manifests through what the character says and does as well as through the other characters’ reactions to what that character says and does.

 

·Right Speech – The power and impotence of language

“Choose your words carefully before you let them fall, lest they mar your fortune.”   This is the essential wisdom that is the recognition that words can make and break lives; they can provoke enemies and encourage friends, start wars or create peace.

“Right speech” means:

 1)      To avoid telling deliberate lies or to speak deceitfully;

2)      to avoid slanderous speech and not use words maliciously against others;

3)      to eschew harsh words that offend or hurt others;

4)      to abstain from idle talk that lacks purpose or depth.

 

·Right Action – Externalising the emotions

This involves what a character actually does. When the action a character manifests is not appropriate for achieving the desired goal, the possibilities of achieving that goal decrease. 

A character’s misconduct will aggravate the disconnection that lies at the heart of the drama. However, when the main character’s actions are founded upon sound and moral principles, and when he/she acts upon a plan that acknowledges these principles, and is appropriate to the goal that that character wishes to achieve, the possibilities for obtaining that goal increase.

 

·Right Livelihood – Navigating the material world

A character is known by the company he keeps and by the company that keeps him!

A character’s livelihood may have a significant impact upon the character’s ability to effect a healing, and thus overcome the problems that are causing him/her pain. 

Characters can be victims of inappropriate occupations, both formal and informal – and are frequently only able to effect positive change when what they do to earn their keep recognises that good fortune and health are not usually possible short of finding them through moral and legal means.  

 

·Right Effort – Managing Time & Action

Dramatic actions must not be idle or passive. A character becomes dramatic when his/her efforts are directed towards clear and credible goals.

To expend right effort means to act in accordance with one’s true goal, and not to indulge in misguided actions out of mere idleness or because you can’t think of anything better to do. It also refers to those actions of the main character that have the potential to transform dramatic situations in favour of increasing the character’s chances of attaining his/her goal. 

 

·Right Mindfulness – Wisdom or the ability to “care and not to care – the ability to sit still

This involves recognising and respecting particular people (including oneself) and the situations in which they find themselves. The appreciation of a person or a situation for what it is (in its “suchness”), and not for what one hopes or wishes it might be or could be.

It is the mental energy that is the force behind right effort, which stops the character from confusing aggression and violence with righteousness and benevolence.

When a character is focused on the “here and now” and not confused or misguided by idle thoughts about “there and then”, he/she attains the lucidity that is the hallmark of right mindfulness. 

 

·Right Concentration – The art of single-mindedness

To be utterly attentive while at the same time maintaining a calm and steady demeanour.

To have the strength not to be side tracked or distracted  by actions and events that would lead one away from one’s goals. 

                          THE FOUR ANXIETIES

Suffering is characterised by anxiety. The central character of the story - for whatever reason - has his/her desire frustrated. This frustration gives way to a feeling of unrest, or a sense of isolation or disconnection, or pain – that is, anxiety.

The character’s dramatic quest is to resolve the problems produced by this frustration and to overcome the anxiety that has been produced by the frustration.

In powerful and well conceived dramatic stories, the anxiety is often aided and abetted by the main character’s own belief system, which must be confronted during the course of the journey if the character is to have any hope of achieving his/her ultimate goal.

The transcending of inadequate, inappropriate or false beliefs (the “psychological wounds” of the character) is ultimately the character’s inner journey, which finds its outer manifestation in him/her realising his ultimate desire or goal.

There are four basic anxieties – each of which contains many possible sub-sets.

The four anxieties that form the basis of drama and the impetus for dramatic action are:

the anxiety of Doubt

the anxiety of Guilt

the anxiety of Death

and the anxiety of Meaninglessness

A PHYSICAL/VISUAL/AUDITORY DEMONSTRATION OF THE ART OF MEDIUMSHIP

 

Imagine being so tuned in to a character's being that you were able to sense their voice, gestures and expressions  so intimately that they began to inhabit your very being, or as if you  might become them, metaphorically  echoing their  vibratory energy  in your words, actions, thoughts and creative problem-solving,   and   all     within   the  electromagnetic    spectrum   perceivable   by   a   normal   audience.

The clip above presents a physical manifestation of the mediumistic interplay of subject & object.