Proposal for Paper Darts
It has come to my attention that Paper Darts is looking for a creative investment opportunity. In particular, I have heard that you are interested in financing a film. I would rather not mention from whom I heard this—suffice it to say that this person is not related to you, and so you should remain cordial and open with your closest family members.
But we aren’t interested in hows and whys, are we? We’re artists, not philosophers. Artists and businessmen. No, keep your “how”s—“how much” is (are) our watchword(s). So let’s get right down to it.
I’m approaching you with this opportunity first because I know you’re a man of creative integrity. (Again, I’d prefer not to say how I know.) To ensure that you have had a chance to consider my script before any other offers were made upon it, I have brought it to you in a somewhat in-progress state. However, even as it is, there should be more than enough here for you to get an understanding of just what it is I’ve put on the table; the ink is green, if you know what I mean. Money.
A positive aspect of you assuming a producorial role at this early point is that you will be able to have a hand in the final shaping of the film. As the writer/director/star, the decisions will, of course, ultimately be up to me. But even though I’ll be the one with the dick, as it were, I don’t want you to feel that you aren’t free to take a thrust now and again. Like a dog against a couch, really—no substantial harm is done to the couch, and the dog can have fun. Did I take that too far? I doubt it. We’re a team, and we can be clever like that with each other.
All of that can be hashed out later when I put on my agent hat. I think we ought to dive in right now, so you can get an idea of what you’ll be thrusting at. And so…
The scene opens on Brian Keller, a young man of tremendous potential, lying on the carpeted floor of his high-rise apartment. Although he may appear physically ill, he is only sick at heart; Brian is overcome with ennui. He has been eating a large bag of flavorless crackers, but he abandoned the pursuit halfway through the bag. He can see no point in finishing it. Nor, it seems, can he find any point in rising from the floor. Until…
A reason to rise seems to find Brian, instead of the other way around. With great effort, Brian rolls onto his back and gingerly places a hand on his abdomen. He cranes his neck back, so that he can look upside down along the carpet down the hallway towards the bathroom. It seems miles away. Brian sighs and rolls on to his other side, facing the balcony, the open door only a few short feet away. Brian’s eyes pull into focus. He sees the sturdy iron railing. He sees the wide-open sky.
Now, originally I had imagined that the soundtrack would fade into something inspiringly epic here, a piece along the lines of the Chariots of Fire theme, or the second half of Hey, Jude. However, while Brian’s life may very well be changing for the better, he is entering dark territory—this is something society may not yet be prepared to accept. I’m thinking the slow build of Henrix’s Voodoo Child might be appropriate, or the galloping hook of Immigrant Song. This is not a baby duck approaching the water with tentative, curious steps. This is Saint George, pants off, charging the dragon. The needle is prepared for Brian, and his thumb is on the plunger.
Brian struggles to his feet and fumbles with his belt and zipper as he staggers towards the balcony. Brian’s life is about to change. The music builds. Everything is sky.
Everything is black.
There is only the music.
Can we afford that? The music, I mean. I expect we can, but music is expensive. For this very reason, I had strongly considered turning this piece into an original musical right off the bat. (You don’t have to pay royalties to yourself.) I’m not one for lyrics, though, and I’m not exactly sure what people look for in a Broadway show; I know very few homosexuals, and fewer women. However, I think that composing the majority of the instrumental score for this film is not beyond my scope. For these numbers, of course, we would only have to pay for musicians, and we all know they work for peanuts. Not literally peanuts. Literally, drugs. It’s impossible to cut drugs to the point where they are as cheap as peanuts, but I can get them in the ballpark.
But you don’t need to worry about this. You need to worry about your wallet exploding. I know you can picture it. This is why I came to you, a man of vision.
Everything is black.
There is only the music. (Right?)
The next scene opens on Brian, sitting in a dimly lit booth. Is it a confessional? It looks like it, but only patience will yield the true answer. (Wink!) Brian leans his forehead against the wall.
BRIAN: I think I may have sinned.
A muffled voice urges Brian to continue.
BRIAN: I took a shit off my balcony.
Is that too much? The shit? These are rhetorical questions, of course. It may be too much for most people, but we aren’t “most people.” We artists at least know that “truth is beauty; beauty truth” is a falsity. Shitting is most certainly true, but it is not beautiful. It may, in fact, be the opposite.
BRIAN: I took a shit off my balcony.
BRIAN: Yesterday. It happened yesterday.
The muffled voice continues, and intensifies. It sounds almost—angry.
The camera pulls out to reveal Brian sitting in the narrow chamber of a highway tollbooth. This is where he works. A woman of a certain age leans from her car window, shrieking at the conflicted Brian. She wants to give Brian her money, and attempts to communicate this in her horrible, shrill voice. But Brian cannot hear her, or he hears something else entirely.
BRIAN: I know, I know. But it felt like a sin.
WOMAN, her awful voice louder, the words now distinguishable to the audience: You took a shit off your balcony? I don’t care about that! Take my two dollars, you little—
BRIAN: Yes, I suppose it was necessary.
WOMAN: I’ll take a shit on you!
BRIAN: Twenty stories. I live on the twenty first floor. So…maybe…maybe it was like a meteorite. Maybe it burned up on the way down.
WOMAN: What the hell is wrong with you? Take my two dollars!
BRIAN, brightening: No, I suppose you’re right. But I felt so alive! It’s like a door opened that I never even knew was there. A door that was—secret. A secret door! How could that be wrong?
WOMAN: I need to get to work, you piece of shit! I wish you would drop off a balcony! I’m going!
The woman throws a handful of change from her window onto the pavement. It might be two dollars, but maybe not. There is no way for us to know.
BRIAN, to the woman, who is accelerating through the closed mechanical arm of the tollbooth: I will! I promise! I will!
To the dismay of the line of cars in Brian’s lane, Brian hits a button in the booth, changing the overhead sign from “Open” to “Lane Closed.” He leans back on his stool, a smile of satisfaction spreading across his face like spilled honey. A police cruiser, its siren screaming, pulls the horrible woman over. Her day would be ruined, if it had ever contained anything worth ruining.
This would be like magical realism, if Brian weren’t actually shitting. But he is for sure shitting. Yes, it’s a metaphor for something bigger. But it’s also real. It has to be real, you know? Google "de Sade." Or don’t. De Sade was a pervert, like so many others. But, unlike so many others, de Sade understood the importance of “le shitte.” He recognized that if we didn’t shit, we would literally die in one of the worst ways possible. (In fact, he considered it to be the worst way possible, but this was before Ebola, space travel, and testicular bleeding.) And so, de Sade figured, we might as well dig in. More often than not, when you dig in le shitte, what you find is more shitte. But now and again—now and again—you find something special. A treasure*. A diamond. A revelation.
(*Preferring his own gastrointestinal distress to the social mobility of his servants, de Sade was an infamous coin-eater. So any of his literal discoveries must be taken with a grain of salt. But as metaphors, at least, they are practically diamond studded.)
The second act will be montage-heavy.
After Brian’s revelation in the tollbooth, he leaps head first (or backwards, as it were) into his new lifestyle of shitting off his balcony. It is a shit-storm in the best sense of the term. Brian practically skips home from work, rushing straight to his balcony. The sliding door is replaced with something you might see in an old west saloon. He tries to increase the fiber in his diet—if he could eat twine, he would, but he can’t (he’s tried). There’s a spring in his step, and a magazine rack on the balcony.
Close-ups of Brian’s face, screwed up in concentration, abound. Music accompanies all. Perhaps something Wham! or, failing that, Coldplay.
The montage fades out on a close up of Brian’s B-face. (B-face is “Bowel movement-face.” Many people aren’t familiar with this yet, but they will be. I see merchandising opportunities—“Show me your B-face” T-shirts, B-face Halloween masks, B-face sour candies, B-face lunchboxes. Although…maybe not lunch boxes. “B-face” has strong fecal/sexual connotations, themes that, traditionally, have been kept out of the lunchroom. I don’t want to sell B-face’s potential short, but we’re going up against 5,000 years of tradition.)
As the montage fades to black, we hear Brian’s voiceover, telling us, “I think I may have fully realized my potential.” There’s a certain amount of reverb on the voice, so we know it’s inside Brian’s head. Or is it?
Brian is standing in his building’s elevator. It is going down now. (Symbolism?!) His neighbor, holding a cat on a leash, stands near him. It is a small elevator.
BRIAN, miles away: What?
Brian looks at the cat, confused.
BRIAN: What? The cat?
NEIGHBOR: My cat? What? No. You just said, “I think I may have fully realized my potential.”
This is what Brian was thinking about. Apparently he was speaking aloud as well.
BRIAN: Yes—I may have done that. It’s wonderful.
NEIGHBOR: That’s good.
BRIAN, becoming enthused: You should try it!
The elevator door opens on the ground floor. The neighbor puts his cat on the ground and his nose in the air.
NEIGHBOR: I’m doing just fine, thank you.
Brian follows his neighbor as he walks out of the foyer onto the sidewalk.
BRIAN: The cat, you mean? Walking the cat makes you feel like you’ve fully realized your potential?
NEIGHBOR, not looking at Brian: In fact, yes. It’s very healthy. For both of us.
BRIAN, quickly becoming agitated: You’re kidding! You’re—you’re—you’re out here walking your cat, and you think you’ve fully realized you’re life? We’re speaking different languages here! But your language is wrong!
The neighbor, still walking, turns to confront Brian.
NEIGHBOR: Excuse me? I don’t even know you! Why are you following me? I don’t—
The neighbor slips and takes a tremendous fall. The cat, being leashed, will be a part of this action somehow.
How do you feel about animal abuse? I’m not a fan, per se, but I don’t have any particular objection to it. I do, however, object to poor puppetry, and all puppetry is poor as far as I’m concerned. What I’m getting at is, if we have a bit of animal slapstick here (I think we should), it would be a travesty to pussy foot around with a stuffed prop. If you want a bunny to fall out a window in your movie, don’t throw a plush toy out the window; tip a real bunny onto the street. If you want a scene where a ferret gets caught in the timing belt of an old Honda, use a real damn ferret. (But, by all means, use a fake Honda engine. It’s easier.) They grow bunnies and ferrets on farms for this very reason. Save the lies for your children—this is CINEMA.
The neighbor has fallen into something ghastly. Something just horrible. It’s all over the sidewalk. He has fallen, so to speak, right into Brian’s revelation. The accumulation of several days is—profound.
The man cannot regain his footing on the horribly soiled sidewalk, and he flails about like a turtle on its back. The cat has recovered from whiplash, and it clings desperately onto the man’s chest, like a cat that very much wants to avoid stepping in human feces.
NEIGHBOR: Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!
BRIAN, whispering: Oh God.
NEIGHBOR: What is it? Oh, God! It’s—oh, God!
BRIAN: Maybe… maybe it fell from a plane?
NEIGHBOR: What? This is terrorism!
BRIAN: I’ll get help!
Brian runs away. He wonders who is supposed to be cleaning the sidewalks in his city, and why they haven’t been doing their job. But he does not get help. This is the end of the second act. (And you know what that means.)
By this point you may have noticed that the narrative seems to be advancing at an alarming rate, perhaps too fast for what Hollywood has come to accept in “viable” feature films. I have three things to say to this. Have you ever heard the expression, “The camera adds ten pounds”? It’s a half-truth at best, invented by Bogart during his “cannoli” period. The camera does, however, add ten minutes. At least. There may be some relation here to the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words.” In any case, filming always takes longer than reading.
Also, I expect that you’re a particularly fast reader.
Primarily, though, this script seems short because it is short. In the business, we call this a “pitch,” or a “rough treatment.” Pitches, in some ways, are like prostitutes (no strangers to rough treatment themselves).
Consider the hooker looking to make a sale. Categorize the parts of the hooker’s body into the following: I would very much like to see, I would somewhat like to see, I am indifferent with regards to seeing this, and I would rather not see this. The forearm, for instance, or the scalp would certainly fall into the “indifferent” category, barring any undisclosed fetishes on your part. The legs, or perhaps the butt, might be “somewhats.” The less said about the “rather nots” the better, lest we venture into the frightening land of inflamed tonsils and prolapsed colons. But the “very much,” oh those sweet “very muches”…
I am, of course, referring to the penis.
And what does the hooker show you through your car window? Not a “very much,” certainly. No, they show you a “somewhat.” They bait you with something tasty, and only once you’ve had a nibble do they set the hook. And then you’re theirs.
I hesitate to complete the analogy between me and the hooker, because not all hookers are artists. But I will say this: what you’re seeing, as titillating as it is, is not a “very much.” It’s a somewhat, or maybe even an “indifferent.” That’s how much better it’s going to get. You’ll know when I hook you. Reading the final draft will be like staring at the sun. That’s right, the sun. You’ve heard of it?
But, for now, let’s continue onto the final act. Things aren’t looking good for Brian. Someone has set foot in his dreams, and it was a disaster. What does the future have in store for the boy? Is this a comedy or a tragedy?
Or perhaps it’s something else altogether…
Uh oh. The beginning of the third act. Things would be bad, natch, but things seem really, really bad now. The residents of the building are giving the patch of horrible lots of attention. How could they not? It is horrible, after all—Brian eats like a homeless fifteen-year-old, and what comes out is at least as bad as what goes in. He doesn’t give up his outings on the balcony, but he waits until after dark, or at least near dusk. The audience feels his conflict, his fear. They will think of the things that allow them to fully realize their potentials: buffets and salad bars, Velcro and snaps, TGIF programming and synthetic insulin. What if they were asked to give these things up? What would be left for them? Trollish life in the forest? Meager survival? Breakfasts of leather, lunches of oak leaves, dinners of god-damned-nothing? No, they’ll understand that Brian can no sooner give up his lifestyle than they could give up their sheet cakes and filthy, tasteless clothing. But what is he supposed to do, with his neighbors poking and sniffing at the growing body of evidence, two hundred feet below?
Brian makes like Jessica Simpson and gets Proactiv.
I’m sorry, but if we could work that line into the final script, I think the payoff would be crazy huge. We can talk about it later, but I’m going to do it either way.
Brian gets proactive. He takes the fight to the enemy. He starts throwing mud while they’re still mixing water and horse shit.
Brian walks through a hallway in his building. He holds a large stack of flyers. Identical flyers are tucked under the doors of each of the apartments behind him. He crouches to slide one under the nearest door. The door opens as he stands up. A man wearing a ridiculous white shirt with an utterly laughable blue tie stands in the doorway, staring at Brian.
MAN: Who are you?
BRIAN, surprised: Hello.
MAN: Who are you?
BRIAN: I’m Brian.
MAN: What’s this?
The man picks up the flyer.
BRIAN: Ah. I wanted to talk to you about…but I wasn’t sure if…
MAN: This says, “Kill the terrorist!”
BRIAN: Well, I was quoting someone else there, but I thought everyone should know that our building is under attack.
MAN: Is this about the shit on the sidewalk?
BRIAN: It is.
MAN: Yeah, that’s a mess. But I don’t think it’s fair to call a homeless person a terrorist. And I really don’t think we should kill him.
BRIAN: Homeless person? No, I’m afraid the culprit is someone living in this very building.
Why did Brian do this? He was home free with that homeless person bullshit! But Brian thinks that, with a little finesse, he can dig himself out of his hole. He’s too focused on the so-crazy-it-might-work plan to see the it-will-work plan in front of his face. Typical Nicholas Cage Syndrome, really. We can get into it on the DVD commentary, or maybe in a special featurette. (It would be particularly enlightening if we could get some footage of Nick Cage bouncing off the walls of his cell to go with it, but I’ve heard that his family is very protective of that stuff. You might look into it if you really want something to do.)
MAN: You’re kidding! How...how do you know?
BRIAN: I heard a rumor.
MAN: A rumor? From who?
BRIAN: I shouldn’t say.
MAN: Who do you think is doing it?
BRIAN: Well, I don’t know for sure. But I think it might be that old guy who’s always talking about Vietnam.
MAN: Mr. Hoang?
BRIAN: No, I meant…yes. Maybe him.
MAN: Doesn’t he wear one of those bags, though? A, uh—a colostomy bag. You know, for poop and stuff?
BRIAN: Maybe he’s being framed.
MAN: By who?
BRIAN: I’m not sure yet.
The man looks uncertain himself, and he begins to edge back into his apartment.
MAN: Well, ok. Thanks for letting me know. I’ll, uh…
BRIAN: Definitely. I’ll keep you updated.
The man nods cautiously, and closes his door.
Over the following days, Brian makes himself visible “investigating” the horrible situation. He is never seen without a notepad and disposable camera, and yet he can’t shake the notion that his neighbors’ suspicions are directed at him. Scary music builds. Also, tension. Another montage begins.
This point the film is kind of like one of those heroin movies, you know? Like, the earlier montages were all about how great heroin is, but now all the montages seem to communicate is that heroin can sometimes suck. (Heroin=balcony pooping. Po-tay-to/po-tah-to.) What would be an appropriate song for this? I want something that’s like the exact opposite of "Hakuna Matata." If we just used that and played it backwards, do you suppose that would be cheaper? Really, who would even notice? Elton John hasn’t been seen sober since the '90s, and everyone else in that movie was an animal, and therefore unlikely to pursue royalties.
The audience accompanies Brian on his muscial descent into fear and paranoia. To emphasize the dizzying experience, my Brian stunt double will be harnessed into some sort of gyroscope and spun in front of the camera. We’ll edit it so that it looks like Brian is standing still and the camera is spinning! Is Brian spinning into madness, or is it the world doing the spinning?
The spinning Brian/camera returns to stability outside the apartment building. Brian is trying to form some sort of mob around the still uncleaned patch of sidewalk. He shouts about terrorists, justice, courage, and art. In his desperation, he discovers passion inside himself.
A crowd gathers, but they are not looking at Brian. They stare upwards, following the exterior of the building above the fouled sidewalk. Like the dotted lines tracing the path of an uncontrollable, ADHD-stricken six-year-old in a Family Circus panel, an intermittent streak of discoloration runs up the concrete facade, leading right to…
BYSTANDER: Whose apartment is that?!
ANOTHER BYSTANDER: It’s right next to mine! It’s…it’s…
The members of the crowd turn their wide eyes back to the street.
But Brian is already gone. The front door of the apartment building thumps closed. A hunted animal, Brian has bolted for his den. The pack howls and takes chase.
How could it have come to this? In grade school, Brian was told that he was highly intelligent, and now look at him. He stops in front of the elevator for only a moment, slapping the button repeatedly.
BRIAN: How do I make it go faster? I can’t remember!
He slaps the button one more time, and then sprints to the stairwell. His mind is spinning like a tornado, and he runs down the steps toward the sub-basement. A second later he runs back up, heading toward his apartment. He is only three or four flights up when we hear the door below burst in. The stairwell is filled with the snarls and yips of his pursuers. He is only five or six flights up when he begins to lose his breath. The sound of the scene becomes muffled, indistinct. It is replaced with the sound of Brian’s breath as he hears it, huffing, frantic, nearly suffocated. An opera song of aching beauty grows in the background.
Now take off your underwear and try this idea on for size: you can sing the song. It seems unlikely that you would have ever had any formal operatic training, but there are buttons for that now. Look at T-Pain. You wanted creative input, here it is. The only caveat, of course, is that you need to be able to sustain this song for perhaps fifteen minutes. The other twist to this scene (besides the singing producer) is that the camera will follow Brian all the way up the staircase in one continuous cut. Remember, it’s twenty-one floors up, and Brian spends most of his time inside a highway tollbooth, so the effort will be Herculean to say the least. What happens to a person’s body when it is placed under that kind of stress? For the sake of authenticity, I propose that the stunt double be made to do this multiple times before we turn the camera on. Also, I think it might be a good idea to find a double with a pronounced phobia of some sort—to recreate that pursued-by-a-bloodthirsty-mob sense of urgency, a more athletic person, just outside of the shot, could chase the double with a spider on a stick (or whatever it is he’s afraid of. Needles? Eels? We’ll wait and see. I don’t want to get ahead of myself.)
Brian reaches his floor and explodes from the stairwell, utterly breathless. Several members of the mob, having waited for the elevator, have beaten Brian to his front door. But they are only women, and he bowls them over easily.
I’ve never actually tackled a woman (outside of a nightclub), and, in fact, I couldn’t say for certain whether it is “easily” done or not. Unless we can find some sort of consultant for this, we might have to write an explanation into the final script. Perhaps the women are older, their bones spongy with osteoporosis. Or maybe they’re all holding babies. We could take it in a lot of directions, really. Think on it.
Scattering the women like dry leaves and paper dolls, Brian hurriedly unlocks his door and slips into the apartment. He locks, bolts, and chains the door behind him. He looks around the room, but sees nothing that can aid him. His eyes rest for a moment on the telephone, but the police have received far too many “frivolous reports” from this number to help him now. The half-empty bag of crackers (remember the first scene?!) is still on the floor.
He grabs the crackers and pushes a fistful of them into his mouth. There are too many crackers in his mouth for him to chew easily. Crumbs rain onto the carpet. Fists begin to hammer on his door.
BRIAN, spraying more crumbs: Leave me alone!
BRIAN: Go away! I’m not a fighter! Why are you doing this?
Brian knows why, but he’s buying time.
MOB: You’ve fouled our home!
BRIAN: It’s only the sidewalk! It’s city property! You should be talking to the mayor, not to me!
But the mob seems to be done talking. They have apparently found something to use as a battering ram, and the door is shaking on its hinges. The frame buckles.
Brian backs away from the front door and crams more crackers into his mouth. His cheeks bulge.
To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure what the cracker thing is all about. That one’s for your more highbrow critics. It’ll have them chasing their tails for weeks.
The door is suddenly smashed to pieces, and the leaders of the mob crash in like so many Kool-aid men. Brian stumbles backwards through the swinging balcony doors. He backs up to the railing as they run through the small apartment. The loose end of a roll of toilet paper catches on his shoe as he boosts himself onto the railing to put just a few more inches between himself and the mob.
They are at the swinging doors. For Brian, here at the site of his self-discovery, there’s nowhere else to go.
He leans back and lets go.
Do you think we’ve used up our Coldplay-licensing money at this point? Because we’ve got a slow motion, twenty-one-story fall to fill up. It would really be nice to have some dramatic pop to help us rethink our lives here.
Brian plummets face-up, his arms and legs outstretched. A cloud of cracker crumbs sprays from his mouth to mingle in the air with the spiraling toilet paper trailing from his shoe. For a moment it looks like the star-specked arms of a spiral galaxy, and beneath it our angel, Brian, falls toward the earth. He smiles. The pavement glides up to embrace him like an old friend, but, just before they meet, we cut to black. The final few chords of the song play and we think, “Oh, shit! What?”
Cue the credits. Your name is for sure in the first ten or twenty listed.
Why didn’t we stick with Brian until he was all over the sidewalk? Ambiguity. That’s the name of the game these days. Sure, he probably died, but we can’t be certain, can we? We’ve seen Peter Pan and The Boy Who Could Fly. These things are never so cut and dry as they might first appear.
And—this is my little gift to you—it leaves room for a sequel.
There’s more to be said, of course, but there’s always more to be said, so the screenplay must speak for itself. I think you’ve probably been “hooked,” but rest assured, this is the most gentle of metaphorical sex acts compared with what we’ll see in the final film. By the end of this glorious project, you will be paying me! (Well, obviously, but you get the meaning.)
Please, don’t hesitate to email me any notes or preliminary contract documents. (Although, for expediency’s sake, please include “Script Notes” or “Contract Materials” in the subject line.)
I’m very much looking forward to working with you.