TEOTA – Origins

Putting the summer work behind me (whatever we end up doing with it), it’s time to start looking at my projects in more detail. The Eyes Of The Angel is still a film I am willing to take into production, and rest the hopes of a successful final year upon. It’s a three character act, between two convicts and a fallen angel stuck in a forest opening, and deals with a battle of wits and words before the final denouement.

The Original Concepts

As with most of my works, this is simply a revised version of previous works of mine. I’ve been on walks, and attempted to iron out any problems with the story in many a solitary hour. The concept for this film came from two completely different concepts – ‘The Eyes Of The Angel’ was to be an art-house film of about two or three minutes, where a blindfolded female angel stumbled around a giant mansion to the sounds of some classical music score. In the end she points somewhere, takes off the blindfold, and it is revealed that she is pointing to another, male, angel standing in the corner. No words are spoken, words simply appear on the screen ‘Found You’. Then the male puts the blindfold on and the female runs back into the vaults of the house to hide. Agreed, it was very self indulgent.

Shot with the right camera, that little slice of art-house ‘ooh la-la’ may still become a film one day (with a different title now though obviously). It had no real depth or meaning through – it was simply a challenge of technical mastery. The other ‘origin’ though was not a film, but actually a short story that I very nearly finished. ‘Peter Has An Angel’ was the story of a teenager who was en route to throw himself off a bridge. He takes a short cut through some woods and finds a fallen angel tied to a tree. He unties her, just in time for her to save him from a group of hoodies who are lurking nearby. She then tells the main character Peter that she has got just one night to convince him that life is worth living. Ironically, if he decides to live, she will depart for the afterlife in his place.

I’ve never seen ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’, but feedback of this concept drew stark comparisons, albeit that my story was aimed at a younger audience. The character of the fallen angel was an interesting concept – as she was a fallen angel, I was able to challenge the conventions of what an angel should be. She was dark, sexy and lustful. She attacks the hoodies in the forest, and is familiar with violence. She is confident, she takes control of Peter’s night, and talks sternly to him, overpowering his weak personality whilst at the same time trying to bring out his darker side within himself. She’s also seductive, experienced, and has a penchant for trouble. Put simply, she was to some degree every teenage boy’s dream – however, she was also an ethereal force that was definitely not to be messed with. She had no name other than ‘the fallen angel’ (I think she called herself ‘Angela’ in the story at some point, but simply to be ironic), but she was an interesting character, as she wasn’t angelic in the slightest. That was sort of the joke.

Fusing The Good Bits

The imagery of the teenage boy finding the angel in the forest with the sunset sunlight streaming through the trees was an image that theoretically had Power, Memory and Spectacle in equal amounts. Long before coming to university, I was all too aware of how to paint an image in people’s minds using words. Writing and filming share similar principles, and both take some serious work to create. Towards the end of writing Peter Has An Angel though, I began to realise that the story wasn’t holding together as a whole. Once the forest has disappeared, the rest of the story takes place in the depressing setting of a council estate slum. Peter shows the angel his three main reasons for wanting to commit suicide – lack of family, lack of love, and lack of future. Much like the film I’m wanting to make, the angel triggers a battle of words, trying to convince Peter that he actually has all three if he changes his perspective. It becomes a philosophical argument, which did indeed hold gravitas, but simply didn’t gel as a story.

The subject matter was also depressing – I was in two minds about how the story would end all throughout writing it. Ultimately, I think Peter decides to live, meaning the angel goes to the afterlife without him. He is deeply saddened, as over the course of the story, he has become quite fond of her. He changes his perspectives, makes amends for his behaviour, and starts to piece his life together. About two weeks later though, he sees a statue of a fallen angel in a cemetery that looks exactly like the one he met. He crosses the road to investigate further, only to be hit and killed by a car. Despite not killing himself, he ironically only had another two weeks life to live anyway. The audience can however presume that he departs in peace, is re-united with his dark angel counterpart, and goes into the next world in a peaceful and happier position than if he’d topped himself.

Depressing stuff indeed.

It was supposed to be an uplifting ending, but the story just didn’t seem that way. It was just too dark, too serious, and too heavy. I can usually tell upon the re-read whether I’ve put across what I originally intended to show, or whether the meaning in my words has fallen by the wayside. Ultimately I decided to terminate the story, though the original half-finished story is probably lying around the vaults of my Nottingham abode somewhere.

As for the art house film idea, it only spurred me on to create a film that had the imagery of an angel, and how you could make them as fun or as serious as you wanted them to be. Fallen angels could be cute, or deadly. They were a fun concept to take forward, and as I’ve always loved alternative styles and fashions, it was an ideal image to use as a mascot for my film. I seemed to have imagery covered, but the rest of the story needed to be re-vamped. In the summer of 2011, before my romps around Tenerife, I decided to re-write Peter Has An Angel. This time it would not be a story though – this time it would be a film script. A film hybrid of two previous efforts, titled ‘The Eyes Of The Angel’. The whole film could be filmed in the forest. This would keep costs down, and make the most of the iconic image that I would be trying to convey. I tried again and again to write a young teenager into the story. Even one who wasn’t trying to kill himself – a student in the forest doing a science project was one idea. But nothing hung together, meaning I had to take several steps back down the production line, and totally re-invent the other characters in the narrative.

Turning ‘Peter’ Into ‘John’

At this point, we have an angel tied to a tree in a forest. She is a fallen angel, and a general cocky-mouthed seductive intellectual badass. To keep the story in the forest, we simply keep the angel tied to the tree. What we need to do now is trap another character or two in the forest with her. As aforementioned, the idea of a student studying her for his own sadistic pleasure – although very Quentin Tarantino – didn’t seem to gel either. I did  a mind map of many different alternatives, the raw form which you can see below:

———–

–> A man finds an angel in a forest tied to a tree.

–> Who is the man? Why is he there?

-A loner, taking a walk

Pros: Believable, realistic, sweetly odd circumstance

Cons: No exposition, boring character, no real narrative setting

–> Too many cons, too dull, too boring, not enough structure

-A depressive, en route to suicide

Pros: Believable, ‘gritty’ idea, sympathetic lead

Cons: Depressing subject, revised idea, much exposition to explain

–> Very complex exposition, dark and depressing subject

-A scientist, on a project

Pros: Sweetly odd circumstance, academic, possible humour

Cons: Complicated exposition, complicated circumstance, odd setting

–> Surreal, humourous, very lighthearted – almost childish

-A pilgrim, following a philosophy

Pros: Powerful, philosophical, challenging

Cons: Controversy risk, lack of empathy, lack of believability

–> In-depth knowledge of religion needed, heavy subject matter

-An escaped convict, hiding from police

Pros: Believable, ‘gritty’ idea, simple yet effective exposition

Cons: Complex situation, down beat narrative, possible extras + night shots

–> Edgy narrative, good use of conventions, easily exciting

-Asylum patient, escaped and wandering

Pros: Believable, possible surrealism, possible humour

Cons: Complex situation, complex exposition, lack of empathy with lead role

–> Surreal, a lot of complexities (including exposition), hard to convey meaning

———–

This is what my average textual mind-maps look like. I throw everything on the table, and try and make sense of it all. I did the same for the angle character, but ended up not really changing her character one bit – I like ‘Angela’ just the way she was. What I needed was an interesting character for her to communicate with. From the above set of ideas, one glared out from all the rest more or less straight away.

The idea of an escaped convict was simple enough to convey – all you needed was a prison overall and a couple of flashlights, and we were on a jailbreak. This added tension and excitement for the audience before we’ve even started with the exposition (which I wanted to keep to a minimum, as I know from watching the film 127 Hours that taking the audience out the forest could lose the claustrophobic atmosphere I was trying to create). We also immediately had another interesting conflict in the play – the angel and the convict were both prisoners, but in different situations. Maybe the angel could try and convince the convict to hand himself into the police, but in doing so he would grant her freedom.

At this point, I introduced the ‘three good deeds’ idea – that the fallen angel has done something suggested as being bad or sexual-related in the afterlife, and has been brought back to Earth to do three good deeds, and thus prove she is worth keeping in the clouds. She will have already achieved two of them – this film will be based around her third test (can add a little more tension that way). Can she convince the convict to turn himself in, granting her freedom to a peaceful heaven whilst condemning himself to a hell on Earth?

Of course, a film like this could not have a simple ending. I needed to create a twist that would leave an image in the audience’s minds. I decided the twist needed to be rather simple, and usually the best thing to do is play with the setting you’ve already created – is the convict really a convict? Is he on the run because he’s innocent of his crime? It goes back to the original heading at the top of my mind-map – Who is the man? Why is he there? The audience (and the angel) can safely assume he’s on a jailbreak, and that her good deed will be to stop him from running and turn himself in. Thus a fairly easy one to set-up – assumptions are the mother of all… well, you know how the saying goes!

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