Inspiration can come from the strangest places, often unlooked for. Here’s a brief example of how that happened to me this week.
Last night, I returned from a two-day trip to Chicago, which was precipitated by Hellbound? receiving an award from the Raven Foundation. On the train ride to the award screening Tuesday evening, my wife, Heidi, and I arrived at a station called “California.” I was struck by the name, but even more when the train’s electronic voice announced the stop by saying, “This is California.” Immediately, I thought that would make an excellent title for a film. But what would the film be about?
I kept an eye on the neighborhoods we passed, noting several dilapidated houses right along the elevated train tracks, including one with a wheelchair ramp leading inside. I also spotted a young guy on the train, hat turned backwards, Beats headphones on. And then I had the ghost of an idea: a guy from an impoverished background who buys a pair of Beats headphones in order to fit it, but he never actually listens to music. I also had the sense he was trying to emerge from something. But what?
The following morning, we met Ben Eisner and his wife Rebekah for breakfast at the Atwood Cafe downtown (highly recommended). Ben is a good friend, who also happens to be my writing partner and director on The Divine Comedy of Thomas Merton, not to mention my DP on Hellbound? I discussed the idea briefly with him, which is a great way to flesh things out–telling the story to as many people as you can.
The next piece of the puzzle arrived that afternoon when I was waiting for Heidi at the entrance to a mall downtown. I saw a short (maybe 5′ 2″) mall security guard come down the escalator. He approached two young women at an info counter who were selling tickets to Broadway shows. That’s when I knew I had my guy: a diminutive security guard who is in love with a girl at the mall but doesn’t know how to approach her, and the Beats headphones turn out to possibly be his ticket. I also knew he lived with his grandmother (who turned out to be morbidly obese and verbally abusive when I actually fleshed her out in the script). That explained why he kept riding the train in and out of downtown (something I intuitively felt he needed to do). I still couldn’t see the complete story yet, but I felt like I finally had enough pieces to begin writing.
On the flight home yesterday, I pulled out my itinerary (pictured below) and began sketching out possible scenes on the back. This is standard operational procedure for me when I become impregnated with a new idea. I do most of my best work on planes, typically on the back of scrap pieces of paper.
As I sketched out the story, I realized this wasn’t going to be a feature after all (which was my initial instinct). It worked much better as a short script. Seeing as I still had a few hours to kill, I decided to see if I could knock it out on that flight.
I banged out a reasonable first draft and then let Heidi read it. She gave me a few notes, which were really good, but I still didn’t feel like I had quite nailed it. So I had a brief nap, during which my ending came to me out of the blue–pretty much right as I was waking up. (For those of you who actually read the script, below, it was the problem of what is inside the paper bag at the end.) So I quickly made a few revisions, and the story was complete.
You can read the script here. I hope you enjoy it!
Perhaps I can even convinced Ben to direct it for me one day…