Chapter 99: “Thirsty”
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Even before my first days at NESCom, I continuously bugged the staff to offer a screenwriter’s course, and just when I thought that semester would never come, my advisor, John, told me that they would first offer the course in the fall of THIS YEAR, 2012! I jumped onto it as soon as possible considering there were only twelve spots on the roster. Come to think of it, I may have been the very first person to register.
My garden was shaping up to be fruitful, and I had my most-anticipated class locked in for the next semester. Things were going swimmingly. Except, one morning, I awoke from my deep slumber, as thirsty as I was at my bachelor party. I pulled out my nearby jug and chugged a hefty amount of water. Over the next few weeks, I noticed a pattern emerging. I couldn’t properly hydrate my body, and it was causing me some more panic. I debated on calling my primary care provider and instead, searched the devil’s advocate of healthcare: WebMD.
One day while I pulled weeds from my cucumbers, Sue stopped by to say hello. This was a common occurrence, and as a result, we had gotten to know each other quite well. Sue mentioned that her friend, Andrew, was coming into town and that I should meet him. Andrew was a Nichols award-winning screenwriter (the biggest screenwriting competition in the United States) and traveled between Maine and LA often. He would usually stay downstairs, and I wouldn’t have known it if I didn’t work in the garden outside, chatting it up with Sue! Ha! Laugh at me now, Brandon!
I met Andrew, and we discussed the craft. The talk mentally prepared me for the eventual first draft of my first screenplay. But it wasn’t a new idea, by any means.
I planned on using this drama film I devised while working in the hospital. Ever since I began working at the healthcare provider, my hatred and rudeness festered internally, and I became a different person than the innocent boy who was battling Leukemia. I saw these two personalities as two different people and asked myself “What these two would talk about if they met? What would they learn from each other?”
I loved this idea and began to outline the script on my corkboard with index cards. I based the design off of the instructions via the book, “Save the Cat!” I was planning on writing this script for my Scriptwriting 101 class. I was going to blow the socks off of my teacher.
When I finally started the class, our first assignment was to take an image and tell the story behind it. The image I selected from the few available options was a black and white photo of an old man with two identical miniature dogs on separate leashes, one of which had fainted on the hot top.
The teacher, Todd, was surprised at how many of us crafted our stories in a novelistic framework instead of in a screenplay format. To be fair, he never specified either or, and likely, was testing us by letting us decide the format. He then laid out the structure of the class, with each Act of the screenplay due every five weeks, culminating with the finalized script due at the end of the semester.
The only required book for the class was Syd Field’s book, Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting (A welcomed reprieve from the costly textbooks of other classes). The additional assignments in Scriptwriting 101 consisted of reading this book and taking tests on the material. But other than those typical obligations, the class was mostly the actual screenplay. My palms were sweaty, ready to write the hospital drama I had been piecing together all summer while gardening.
Except, the instructor threw us a curveball: “I want you to come up with a new idea. If you use an old idea or a partially-completed script, then you won’t learn the proper method Syd Field laid out in its entirety.” He clearly left the loophole open if we so desired, but this challenged me, and I wanted to see what this Syd Field guy had to offer. So, instead of the hospital drama, I would write a whole new idea. But even that “new” concept wasn’t so fresh.
The idea I chose to write about came from a complete dream that I had experienced in eighth grade. In my dream, I awoke to a cave society full of late 90s posters and memorabilia. Each person had his or her own little nook in which to sleep, and there was one wide beam of light cascading down onto a garden area. Next to the crop, inexplicably, were a few cows. I tried to escape the caves via a narrowing passageway and as it came to a point – like that one room in the movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – I broke through the ground to reveal a tiny beam of light emanating from the surface.
I dug upward and emerged in the middle of a prison yard on a plateau. When I overlooked the plateau, I saw a futuristic city skyline on the horizon. The dream cut to dozens of armed and fully geared soldiers rushing to my location. Then I awoke.
I immediately wrote my dream down and crafted a story around the details of my vision. I then sat on it for years, until that fateful moment in junior year of high school when I decided to be a filmmaker on a whim. That was the second time I thought, “This would be a cool movie.” Now, I was going to finally write the damn thing.
The outline wasn’t as easy as I anticipated. I absolutely LOVED the process, but I found a lot of hang-ups at every turn. It was like an extremely hard puzzle that had blank pieces. You knew what the overall picture should sort of look like, but you were tasked on drawing the image on each piece while assembling it. Then, you’d realize you had drawn a piece for another kit and had to either toss it or draw over it.
God, this was fun. The deadlines were immensely helpful in motivating me to actually get the work done. I began to write the first draft in our office at my desk, but soon, it wasn’t enough. I needed somewhere different to write. I migrated to the dining room table and sat straight (for once in my life) on the edge of my seat, and got to work. The uncomfortable contortion of my usually slumped upper body kept me focused on the writing. I was actually better off when I was uncomfortable. How bout that?
I spent hours a night re-reading the last few written pages, writing new ones, and then tweaking what I had written the night before. My first act deadline came and went without a hitch yet; it was the second act that truly put me to the test. For those of you that don’t know, the second act is longer than either of its bookends, and so, the deadline for this segment didn’t seem fair compared to the prior leg.
I found the dining room table too comfortable and had to find a new area of the house that would properly cause me bodily harm. One night, I came inside from gardening and removed my boots while sitting on the stairs between Sue and our apartments. I decided to take my laptop out here, and that night, I had written two times the number of pages towards my Second Act. And since this entryway was freezing and with it, my back slouch could only worsen, THIS was the perfect spot to write.
My thirst continued to grow in other ways too, as I continuously awoke parched. I didn’t know what to do. I tried to solve it on my own with the Internet. One possible cause was potentially diabetes, and so I had lessened my sugar intake. It didn’t help. I made a costly appointment with my primary care provider.
As December came around, I began to really fear the end of the world. If the Mayans were right, then my whole life as a screenwriter would be over.
I continued to make content that made me happy such as the screenplay and our comedy videos. One evening while shooting said comedy (this one called “Department Store Santa”) at NESCom, we received a knock on the door. Our instructor, Frank, gave us a hushed word that the school had secured rights to a film adaptation of the Harry Potter-verse short story, The Tale of the Three Brothers, for next fall’s short film project, and he asked us to be a part of it. Maybe he wouldn’t have asked us if he watched the very project we were shooting. I shouldn’t link to this…
Brandon, Jim, and I began to contemplate what that would look like while we salivated at the opportunity. The idea was daunting at first evaluation. How could we pull this short film off? Millions of Harry Potter fans around the globe will watch this and scrutinize the end result? Then we realized how much of an opportunity this was and rapidly got to work.
This was the same time that my Third Act was due in Screenwriting. After we handed in the copy and received our grades, Todd mentioned that we could use this book’s format for any medium, even a short film. My “Writer’s Mind” began to wander as I searched my mind for a short idea while we prepped this new, monumental endeavor.
It’s my turn make a short outside of class projects. It’s time to make my own Promises of Pardon.
This is an ongoing story of my personal battle with Cancer. My hope is that it helps others who are currently experiencing their own battles (whether it be for themselves or a loved one) or to help with early detection.
The way I’m doing it is terrifying for a writer. I’m writing a publically available first-draft outline for an eventual book, chapter by chapter in weekly form. The only reason I’m doing it this way is to get the story out as soon as possible for someone out there who needs a survivor to visit them during their own treatment. If you’re reading this and need someone to talk to, tweet at me and I’ll give you a call. No questions asked. This story is for you and I’ll help any way that I can.
Stay tuned, as I will be posting a new chapter every Monday until the story is complete.
And remember if you experience any Anemic symptoms– get checked for Leukemia as well.