TEOTA Redevelopment – The Xmas Investigation

In a nutshell, it was like trying to force a square cube into a circular hole.

The Eyes Of The Angel as my FMP idea has been bugging me all Christmas, with the main factor being that the initial script about two convicts on a jailbreak meeting a fallen angel in a forest had too much exposition in order to create a coherent narrative. This has played around with every which way, which I will detail below. It has become apparent though that a major change is needed in the development of this idea, which has ultimately led me me back to the origins of the story that I crafted many years ago.

The main idea was as follows: A jail-breaking convict meets a fallen angel in the forest (at night). The angel needs to do good deeds to get back to heaven, and this convict is her final test. She must convince him to call off his own escape plan so she can return to the afterlife, having proved her worth. Her argument is that the convict is trying to reach a freedom he doesn’t deserve. The problem is, does she deserve to return to heaven?

The Problem With Two Convicts

The initial script was all about the fallen angel preventing a death. Convict 1 was trying to kill Convict 2, and the angel had to stop him. The major flaw with this idea was that if two convicts were on a jailbreak, surely they would escape the police first, and then settle the dispute. If escape is completely cut off anyway, and their only choice is to settle the score in the forest, then I still believe that this was a viable film. But not a short one. As I am aiming for my film to be under fifteen minutes, the explanation of the situation would require more attention than the actual characterization would. Namely, as my lecturer did say, this idea was too complicated, and it needed to be stripped down.

The Problem With One Convict

Another problem that arose from the initial idea was the idea that a not-so-bad convict was locked up with a very-much-bad convict, and yet if their sentences and crimes differed, they’d be locked in different prisons (i.e. a small-time robber would not be locked up with a serial killer, for example). In order for a life sentence (or something worth risking a jail break for), the convict needed to be bad, or have done an unforgivable crime.

One way suggested to me to play this idea was to have the convict as the serial killer who killed the fallen angel to start with. This would sort out the exposition really quickly. However, the two would hate each other, and this would be evident in the script. The audience would not care so much about what was happening, because the convict is evil. This brought about another problem as well – if the angel was therefore the nice character… why was she a ‘fallen’ angel to start with? Indeed, the angel needed to be a badass, or at least someone who – as I originally stated – needed to be against the stereotype of what an angel should be. This meant that the convict needed to bring something new to the table – he needed to have a life sentence, but perhaps not wholly  deserving of it.

The Problem With ‘Nice’ Characters

Nice convicts do not really exist. One idea I had was to scrap the jailbreak concept, and instead change it to a robbery. The context of a robbery would fit perfectly with the times (namely, the recession), and perhaps give the audience a point to relate to. This allowed me to have more flexibility with the character, and create *ahem* a more complex exposition. I made several draft scripts from this approach, but I could tell it was not working. The angel needed to be bad, but a nice convict just didn’t add up. They were both bad guys and we all knew it – regardless of how the criminal or convict justified his own actions. The juxtaposition was still good, but it just seemed like condensing such an idea into a ten minute film was too much to ask with such themes to explore. We needed two bad guys, but this meant that the audience would not care about either of them on a serious level. Thus, I resorted to genre-shift.

The Problem With Black Comedy

To turn the idea into a comedy was a way to keep the audiences attention more. Indeed, there is a certain degree of self-indulgence with this idea of a fallen angel in a forest, yet the visual aesthetic – for the moment – was there. Humour was a sure-fire way to turn this idea on it’s head and make things more ‘bubbly’ between the two leads. Now, you would have one angel and one convict, both bad characters undeserving of the freedom they’re trying to get, yet trying to convince the other to sacrifice their own freedom to get themselves to a better place.

The idea worked nicely as a comedy with these characters, and I realised I had reached ‘journey’s end’ with the redevelopment process. To have a serious idea would require complex exposition just not possible to achieve in the time frame. If the exposition was not explored, the audience would not care. Thus, what is already a dark subject would become lighter and more entertaining (the purpose of the film being to entertain primarily). The original idea also had the focus of the angel being tied to a tree. Indeed, she must not interfere with free will, and the bondage of her character was to signify this – however, being able to use hand movements and her body allowed her to express her character more. This was to the benefit of the film, so the idea to keep the angel tied up was scrapped.

The Problem With The Visual Aesthetic (Also Known As ‘The Final Blow’)

Comedy is not my forte however. Since this idea is getting pitched in the not-too-distant future, I needed to be 100% certain my idea would hold up. I have already tried my pen at comedy, and all though I don’t entirely suck, I would still say it’s not my strongest script-writing angle. That is why I wanted my FMP to be slightly more serious, and less reliant on laughs. However, since the film did not rely on laughs, there was only one other thing it was hinging on – the visuals.

Filming at night has been a problem with this film since day one. However, after a bit of digging, I found that the way film maker usually get around this is by filming during the day, then making the footage look like night in post-production. This sorted out all my lighting problems literally overnight, but I did acknowledge I have never experimented with this sort of editing technique before. There is still time for me to explore before the presentation is due, but overall, things look more like Sleepy Hollow (i.e desaturated foggy forests), rather than the dark brooding atmosphere I was going for. Simple in terms of practicality, shooting in the day is logically the only way I will be able to get the visual aesthetic in my film to work. And it will not work so well with a jail break.

Hinging the film of a visual style that is untested and unproven, or risking it all on a (very) costly lighting team did indeed provide the final nail in the coffin for this idea. We had the angel, the woods, and the gloomy scenery. But the prison convict, although ironically introduced to makes things simpler, had inadvertently made the film practically impossible to produce given my timeframe. Not a great thing considering the new year had just arrived at this point, and I had about two weeks to the deadline.

Return To Origin (Also Known As ‘The Ace In The Hole’)

As mentioned a little while back, this idea was completely different at the first inception of the narrative. The prison convict was designed to make a complex story simpler, but given that that notion was well and truly over, it was time to head back to the original idea to find the solution.

To re-iterate, the original story was a short little piece of writing called ‘Peter Has An Angel’, and was about a suicidal teenager en route to throwing himself off a bridge when he finds the fallen angel during the his forest through-route. Instead of three good deeds, she decided to sort out the three things in his life that were (what he considered) the primary causes of his misery. And she was not tied to a tree, meaning they took a walk around the forest, then the city. During the story, the boy (Peter) managed to see the happier side of life. Most of his misery was not caused by external factors, but rather by his own miserable personality. He ultimately became a better and more confident person.

The story ended on a hinge though, as he slowly begins to fall in the love with his saving angel. However, now a better person with a happier outlook on life, the angel departs back to heaven, prompting Peter to sink into another depression. He ends up going to bridge with the intent of finishing what he started, only to a find a human on the bridge that was a spitting image of the fallen angel herself. There are references throughout the story and the conversations the pair have that suggest Peter and this woman will be together and have a happy life. After the pair have both died later in life, she will return to him as a teenager to stop him killing himself so they may live a happy life together, in the image of how she looked when they first met. This is all implied though – the story ends with the two seeing each other on the bridge, having never met before, and the rest is open to the interpretation of the reader.

I do not intend to make a film of this complete story anywhere near the current state of my ability, however a simplified version may well make a nice composite for my FMP idea. It will cut out the dependance on moody night-time effects, and will save the need for police and convict / robber outfits. The exposition could (arguably) be simpler to explain.

Why did I not do this in the first place, you might ask. Well, the subject matter is incredibly dark. Murder, freedom and redemption aren’t any lighter topics, granted. Suicide is a very heavy material for a short film, but the comedy element and black humour is something that could make this script into something truly memorable. It will also allow me to ‘write what I know’, as opposed to trying to visualize how a prison convict is feeling, and the like. I am already working through the old plans and concepts – after all, the clock is ticking.

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