Apr 232013

I still have no title for the series we filmed a test scene for last week – a working title, but not one I want to commit for posterity.

Watching the scene I realized even more than I did while writing the script that the series is playing around with the idea of a buddy film. Wikipedia defines the buddy film as “a pairing of two people of the same sex, historically men.” It goes without saying, though Wikipedia mentions it, that women in these films are decidedly peripheral. No wonder I didn’t think too much about my intentions. Films about men, unrelated to women, tend to bore me. A film about male relationships is a real sedative. But something basic about the genre, minus the male focus, really fascinates me, and I realize now that reacting against those rules probably does too.

Wikipedia continues: “A friendship between the two people is the key relationship in a buddy film. The two people often come from different backgrounds or have different personalities, and they tend to misunderstand one another. Through the events of a buddy film, they gain a stronger friendship and mutual respect.” That definitely interests me. In the case of the series we’re filming, the male/male template has been perverted in a way even the few female buddy films I’ve seen haven’t ventured: the buddies are a gay man and his best friend, a woman. In this scenario, male bonding itself, as well as the hetero men who populate the typical buddy film, whether the buddies are male or female, are, for a change, the peripheral parties.

Some of my favorite films, or scenes in films, have hinged around the friendship between women in ways that could be identified as buddy film fodder.  I like a good fight between friends on film, and for me it’s most powerful to see that happen between women, not because I fetishize the “catfight” but because I think women value and understand friendship openly in ways men just don’t, or at least don’t verbalize. Seeing them fight is more compelling to me – and seeing them make up more moving. There seems to be so much more at stake between people who don’t have to labor under the tedium of not being in touch with their feelings. And in a world full of the men who populate the buddy film, it’s clear that women have, ultimately, first and foremost each other. The risk of losing that is a lot more daunting to me than the risk of losing a drinking, gambling, touch football, or bank heist pal.

Growing up, I remember seeing the fight scene between Shirley Maclaine and Ann Bancfroft, staged in front of Lincoln Center:

It’s probably had a lasting impact on me and this series would have to be a way of working out the feelings it gave me. I realized, watching the scene we filmed, that even female buddy films don’t satisfy a need I have, and I guess that need is to see truly disenfranchised people working out their differences when all they have is the support and encouragement of their friendship, which is made even more fragile by its rarity and privacy. The scene we filmed shows these friends at their most relaxed and intimate, and the feeling I get from it is that it’s only when they’re alone together that they can truly be themselves – not among other women, not among other gay guys. Not among anyone else at all. It’s understandable that losing this refuge, as they eventually risk doing later in the series, would be an event of major proportions for them.

Pictured above: Stills from the scene we shot. Top, Savannah Bearden. Bottom, me. Real life friends exploring (the fiction of? certainly the friction of) friendship.

 Posted by on April 23, 2013
Apr 052013

A week from Sunday, I start filming an as yet untitled new series I’ve been working on for I guess about two years now. It sat on the back burner all that time, germinating. I thought it was just stagnating. I guess these things can work with more stealth than you realize.

I wanted to have some fun with less pressure. A feature film is such a microclimate – a really intense period of shooting, usually less than a month, and a very long haul in terms of post production. You can seize serendipity while in that microclimate, thinking on your feet, but there’s not a lot of time or room for a more expansive process of reflection. An ongoing series, especially one you film over a more relaxed period of time, allows very different kinds of engagement. You get to think a lot between each shoot, revising in a more organic, less stressful way. Your concept of the project changes over time and you change with it, and all of that, or a lot of it, finds its way into the work.

For a feature length film, you have to know who your characters are and where they’re going. All those decisions are made ahead of time, and anything new you discover about these people during the shoot and the edit must conform in some way to your established conception. The series I’m working on involves two friends. They’re small town misfits – partly by choice, partly not. When they become convinced that aliens have infiltrated their social circle, such as it is, they band together to…make fun of them. After writing the first ten episodes, which I’m regarding as the first season of the series, I have a very good idea who these two people are.  On the most basic level, they’re very smart, maybe too smart, and protect themselves with humor and detachment. Beyond that and the events of this initial season, I have no idea where they’re going, and I don’t have to think too much about it right now. So during the shooting I’ll get a better understanding – through performance, serendipity, reflection, and mistakes – can hopefully listen well, and when it comes time to shoot the next ten episodes I can implement some of those ideas to keep rounding out these characters.

The influences for the series are a little all over the place. It’s a mash-up of things as superficially dichotomous as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (strictly the 1978 remake), The Stepford Wives (strictly the original), Bridesmaids, The Thin Man, The Late Show (with Lily Tomlin and Art Carney), and Sixteen Candles. All of those stories have to do with misfits and the alliances they make with each other, as well as the pressure put on that kind of fragile, combustible friendship. I’m fascinated with friendship – with what makes it work, and what makes it fail.

A few months ago, I was talking to a friend about the shows we watch and like. We were discussing the current spate of series television. Episodic programming has been around forever, but it feels a lot more expansive now than ever before. Narrative just sort of metastasizes across these episodes, branching out in ever more elaborate ways. The way character arc has evolved feels slightly different, and these stories (on every network, on the internet, even in the theaters) recall the serialized programming of radio days and monthly magazines more than anything. Your understanding of the characters is so much deeper as things move along. It keeps building and remapping. At the end of a show like the Sopranos, you’ve literally lived something of a lifetime with the people inhabiting the story. In some ways you’ve inhabited it with them.

 Posted by on April 5, 2013