Thought some of you screenwriters out there might want to see my journey from page to screen. Even when you direct your own work, things change onset due to budget, time, and reality. Cuz real life is a bitch; not nearly as malleable as imaginaryland.
Anyhoo, here are the first two pages of THE COMMUNE screenplay, and how it matches the first two minutes of the film. Yup, I'm "Mom":
INT. SONOMA HOSPITAL - DAY
CU on a GIRL’S eye, blinking. (Polanski’s “Repulsion”)
Pull back to reveal
JENNY CROSS (16) stares out the window, her feet dangling off the hospital bed. A POMERANIAN sleeps contentedly on her.
CU a WOMAN’S hand with a large turquoise ring, holding Jenny’s. She pats Jenny reassuringly.
Medium: The woman drops Jenny’s hand and goes back to her chair beside the hospital bed. Picks up her knitting. This is Jenny’s MOM (30s), worn down and haggard.
“Covers the eternal blessed land”
A NURSE (40s) enters, calling Mom away. But we stay on
JENNY, still, looking out the window, face placid...
Her eyes shift to the duo on the other side of the room, arguing in hushed tones.
Make it possible. You don’t realize who her father is. Know what he will do to you?
Jenny’s eyes narrow on her Mom’s flailing arms - empty:
No knitting needles.
Jenny’s dead eyes spark.
In that flash, she is across the bed and to the chair, her bare feet skidding on the cold linoleum.
The women turn to her in panic, but it is too late:
Jenny holds the knitting needles out like weapons, threatening, the colorful yarn dangling.
The DOG dances around her feet, YAPPING SHRILLY.
Jenny. It’s alright. Your family loves you so much. He’s not worth it.
(Reaching out to her)
Fuck you, Mom.
With a sudden, violent stab, the needles are in her own eyes.
Jenny gouges them deep, fighting past her own horrible, primal SCREAMS as she guts the sockets, BLOOD and GELATINOUS ORBS pouring down her face, down her patient gown, pooling on
HER SHELF-LIKE BELLY...pregnant, third trimester...
The knitting project soiled, irreparable...
The dog barks as the women’s screams join Jenny’s.
BEGIN CREDIT SEQUENCE
Paintings and statues of ancient gods fade upon another.
Mythical depictions of nude heathens and creatures in the forest. Leda coupling with the swan. Prometheus bound and eaten by crows.
Sumptious whirls of color by masters Klimt, Da Vinci, Waterhouse, Canova, Carvogio, Picot, Munzer, Rembrandt.
Tableaus of our ancestors: Zeus, Pan, Nehkbet, Judith, Trivia, Shiva, Baphomet, Tara, Green Man.
END CREDIT SEQUENCE
The biggest difficulty was in conveying her pregnancy. We accidentally didn't get the shot that day. We'd gone over the day before doing the big third act climax scene and had to go back to that shooting location for half the day, cutting our time in half at the mental hospital. The DP swore he remembered getting the shot, but it wasn't there on the hard drive, and because it's indie film the director and the script supervisor are IN the scene. Oops. Glamorous indie film!
Also, the fucking needle snapped in Chauntal's hand like a twig on the first take, so if you look closely we never stay on her and the knitting needles long because the stage left one is half the length...she's palming it to hide it. Fuck. That sucked. And yes, I know to buy two of everything...the first pair had broken either when we were rehearsing or when Heidi was knitting...I can't remember the details at the moment. Siiiigh. Oh, and we were in the middle of haunted deserted hospital in the middle of a town we didn't know, so it wasn't like "Hey PA Mike, we've got this leisurely schedule where we can wait for you to drive to find us replacements..." No, that was one of our "we have to shoot 6.5 pages today" days. You know, the shots to open and close the movie. Double siiiiigh.
Todd the editor did an amazing job making the first minute work, considering how little we gave him. He had to get really daring with the quick shots and the extra surveillance camera positions, but I think the overall feeling works and is scary as hell. The test audiences have definitely been shocked.
Heidi, Chauntal and I actually went back last June and did a reshoot insert shot of Jenny's belly and the blood dripping from the booties...and dammit, it just didn't read on camera. You couldn't tell what it was. DEFINITELY couldn't tell she was pregnant, no matter how we had Chauntal contort in that gown. Soooo...about half the audience will get that she's pregnant, and the other half will discover it in the third act and be horrified then. C'est la vie!
I REALY wanted the baby booty shot; I was so proud of the way it was written and thought it would be so horrifying.