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into the world of the screenplay

published: 2012-10-25

I am writing a film about cancer, based on a novel by Henk Pröpper. A woman dies of it and leaves a boyfriend behind. That’s quite a challenging premise as it’s too thin for film. At some point today, the thought crossed my mind that maybe I should read Leaving Las Vegas. And The Hours too. Then my mind skipped along some more and had me considering writing an entry about a friend of mine. A few days ago, he had a tumor removed from his ear.
A few friends of mine have gone through cancer. As their friend – the outsider – you never quite know exactly how to, when to and sometimes even whether to, address the situation. In order to get what you want – namely: a communication with the friend who is sick – you are to sacrifice many aspects of what you’d naturally be inclined to do. You have to sit still want closely watch their every move. Be very careful or they will run away, shut you out, maybe even fight you.
The friend with the tumor in his ear had chosen to downplay the situation. Right before his operations, I noticed his eyes were different. As casual as his body language stayed and as light-hearted as our conversations purposefully were, his pupils had become tiny black pins. He was scared. But I, as a friend, was to react to the optimism, not to the eyes. Two weeks later, all of the cancer had been removed and his eyes rested comfortably pleasant in his head again.
It is these things, the struggles of survival that lie between the lines of life, which I want to bring across in the screenplay. The question being how?
I often watch reality shows on TV, or sentimental programs about Xtreme make-overs or people who haven’t seen each other in 20 years and are about to be reunited. This is the stuff one could consider low-brow. Yet I love those programs because of the insight they give you into various personalities and people. How have they become who they are? What happened? How do they move, eat, drink, speak and even more importantly: deal with their emotions, their frustrations and fears?
This evening, I was watching a TV show called “The prettiest girl in class.” The point isn’t the pretty girl, it’s: how life has hit her. In this particular case, it had hit her hard. I became acquainted with a woman who’s father had been a con-artist and who’s mother had neglected her entirely. She turned punk and ran away from home. After she had her first child, she was hit with a post-natal depression. She decided to tell her mother she never wanted to see her again. To me, it seemed like a miracle that she had managed to get her act together. She now had three kids and was a loving mother. She explained it was because she knew exactly what she had missed herself. Meanwhile, a score of music was added to the images. It was the score to the film The Hours.
Sometimes, everything around you seems interconnected. This is when, as a writer, I know I should try and listen to those signs. So here’s what they’re telling me: reread The House first, before Leaving Las Vegas. After which I’ll watch the films they were turned into. Perhaps I’ll then know my way into the world of my screenplay.

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