The Bag Means Your Mind

A delightful mix of insightful comments and ignorant assumptions about screenwriting... and such.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Stand-up Comedy Experience

So I took my first steps into the world of stand-up comedy. It was a frightening place filled with dreadful punch lines and stale material*. I signed up for the class because I want to develop my comedy writing. I also took it because I’m stupid. You see, having someone actually unload bullets into my helpless body during a dream wasn’t traumatic enough. Somehow, my devious mind has found a way to kick it up a notch.

If I’m not to die suddenly in my sleep, I plan to wither away on stage, slowly.

So why am I doing this? Well, I mentioned gaining experience in Comedy writing but that’s all academic. I’m doing it for the experience itself. I’m doing it because it scares the living hell out of me, and even if I bomb I will have the experience of having done it and another notch on my belt (I guess). The “final” for this class involves actually going out to a comedy club-like establishment and performing in front of strangers. Yeah. Scary.

Stand-up comedy is the latest in a series of misadventures. You see, over the past few years I’ve been snagging chances to raise my experience (and possibly level up in the process). I figure that a screenwriter can benefit from a range of experiences, so every now and again I’ll mosey on out of my comfort zone and try something new. Earlier this year I took up Salsa dancing with my wife, and in December we’re flying to Paris for my first European trip.

Whenever I think about balking at a chance to do something new (I do fear change.) I remind myself that it will help me as a screenwriter. Who knows when I’ll write a screenplay about a French roller coaster enthusiast who enters a Salsa competition. Or maybe a tragedy about a budding stand-up comedian who is hit by a drunk driver head on while traveling home from yoga practice. The possibilities are twofold!

The only problem with the stand-up comedy class is that it is going eat away at my time to finish my football script. So I’ve got to complete my script, learn French, and develop a comedy act in the span of a few months. Wish me luck.

*Apparently jokes about the Prohibition Act are too old.

Friday, September 08, 2006

A Question of Death

This is just a personal observation and an expression of what I went through last night, but I feel it relates to survival and what it means to the animal within. There is an outside chance it could help screenwriters with death scenarios and overall character creation. At least that’s what I tell myself to keep from crying. Kidding. I’m OK.

The short of it is that I had a nightmare last night and it really, truly freaked me out in a “I’m never going to visit a slaughterhouse again.” kind of way. It’s the kind of dream that makes you hesitant to go back to sleep in fear that some crooked, bony finger will press the “play” button resuming your paused dream exactly at the moment of terminal fright.*

When you dream, your mind is convinced that what it perceives is real, therefore it's not a huge leap of faith to think that my actions within that world were indeed authentic and valid. I guess this would make more sense if I actually told you the dream. It doesn’t involve clowns or snakes or planes so you can leave your major phobias behind. Most of the details are fuzzy except for the emotion and key actions which I will never forget. There is no backstory that I can remember, so I’m just going to lay it out as I see it in my mind’s eye. It’s a short dream and doesn’t ramble on for untold pages, so don’t think I’m going to narrate from breakfast to bedtime.

I believe I’m in Iraq. Not sure for certain as my dream was lacking in exposition-y dialogue. I don’t know if I was a soldier. I don’t know why I was there or who I was there with. What I do know is that I was charged with leaving the safety of a dwelling to go out and get supplies or something. I guess I got them because I was heading back to the house, package in hand, when things started to get scary.

The scene is a dusty, unpaved road with crude, sandstone homes on either side. Just about everything is a shade of brown or tan. I saw a group of men dressed kind of like soldiers, but they were obviously NOT soldiers of any kind. I’ll call them thugs to be nice. I won’t describe their ethnicity because, honesty, I don’t remember. They exited a vehicle, armed to the teeth, and ran into a house across the street. My only thought is “Get the hell out of here. Now.” So I start to walk and notice that there is another man in front of me who is also trying to get away.

Suddenly I hear a man shout, cock a gun, and tell us not to move. I knew I was in genunie peril. If I run there is a 100% chance I get shot. If I stop there is a 99% chance I get shot. When your life is on the line the choice between zero and one is no choice at all, so I stop and the other guy does the same. He summons us over to him and we wait for the other thugs to get back from whatever misdeeds they were up to in the house.

When the thugs finally emerge from the house their leader, who for some reason I picture as wearing some sort of sash, walks up to our captor and exchanges muffled words with him. Then he takes one look at us and says “Kill them.” Just like that.

To describe the emotion that went through me at that point is near impossible. I don’t know that I have the facilities to express it in any truly accurate way. I felt disbelief, outrage, finality, and terror at the same time. To hear someone announce your death, as you can surely imagine, is among the ugliest and repulsive things one can hear. There is no solace in an afterlife. There is no hoping your life has made a difference. There is only the knowledge that YOU are about to end.

Our captor raises his gun and immediately shoots the man next to me dead. No warning. Dead. I’m sure all of the color drained from my face and my eyes went as wide as saucers at this point. I mean, to shoot me now is too soon. Way too soon. Then I hear the only words that could make the situation worse. “I’m going to kill you slowly.”

He immediately shoots me no less than four times in the legs and chest. I fall over in pain. My breathing is labored. I’m in complete denial of my immanent death. Any onlooker could plainly see I was finished on this Earth.

But I’m not them, and I’m holding on to whatever life I have. I’m going to live! The thug walks up near my head and tells me he wonders if he could shoot me through the top of my head such that the bullet would pass through my body long ways, right down my neck.

My fright is, by this time, completely unchained for I knew that this bullet would kill me. I hear him cock his pistol and I feel the barrel of the gun on the crown on my head. I don’t want him to pull the trigger, but I am completely powerless to affect the outcome. I just want to be back in that dwelling, safe. I may have sobbed, but I don’t remember because in the next instant I find my self awake in my bed, heart pounding. I instantly knew it was a dream as its setting was so outlandish and alien. Fake or not, I was relieved to be out of that world.

The emotion started to drain away, and it wasn’t long before the trauma disappeared. That said, I think the ghosts of this particular dream will haunt me for ages.

What struck me, and continues to amaze me is how much we cling to life. We will lie to ourselves and believe it. We will strive to survive no matter what the prognosis. Sometimes, to the people in peril, there is a staunch denial that death even exists.

A few years back I was in a brutal car accident. So bad that I was flown to a nearby hospital. Hint: when they fly you to a hospital it is because they think you might not make it by ambulance alive. Not for one minute, nay one second, during that ideal (I was awake for ALL of it) did the idea of death cross my mind. I knew I was hurt bad, and that I’d have to get a new car (funny what you think of), but death? Not even.

An animal will chew off its limb to survive. What do you think you would be capable of if the lesser of two options was death? This reason, above all others, is why I could never watch Saw or any of its offspring.

Many movies involve death of some kind. After all, it is an easy start and end to conflict. I think the drowning scene in The Abyss is one of the better scenes where a character faces death. Lindsey elects to drown so that Bud can drag her back to the hatch and possibly revive her. Needless to say she reneges on her choice once she knows the air is gone.

*I'm no girly man. This dream was pure, unadulterated, load in your pants terror.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Evil Tom?

In one of my vainglorious moments I decided to google my own name. Being as unique* a name as it is, I can revel in being listed at the top and have to date thwarted no fewer than zero attempts to google bomb my good name. This time, however, I made a startling discovery. While writing my football story during the past year I found the time to write and self-publish a book called Mr. Stick. Don’t believe me? Look at this!

Some fellow by the name of Thomas Crymes has written a book. Could this be my doppelganger? My evil alter ego that I have written about many times (2) before? I wish him well, but have not ruled out the possibility that we will one day do battle in some kind of epic setting. Who am I kidding? If he is as lazy and apathetic as I am we’ll probably say an uncomfortable hello from afar, walk away and tell our respective people that we got the better of the other.

I’m actually thinking about plunking down a fiver and buying this bloke’s book. Maybe you should too. Although I do acknowledge that there might not be room for two Thomas Crymeses (Crymes'? Crymesi?) with a wry sense of humor and a penchant for writing in this world. What will happen? What indeed.

Since Tom (Can I call him that?) has actually published something, even if it is self-published it looks official enough, he has the edge in the contest for now. So for those of you keeping score it is:

Thomas Crymes: 1
Thomas Crymes: 0

We’ll do the shirts/skins thing so you can tell us apart. I’ll be “skins” so I can show off my rippling physique.

*Well, it’s not literally unique as there are more Crymeses out there, but it’s certainly more unique than Smith. And yes I know that “more unique” is analogous to being “a little pregnant” but you know what I mean so please shut the hell up!