The Premise and How to Get It

Good morning. I Gigi the parti poodle must tell you I had one of the most traumatizing experiences of my life this past week. It occurred last Thursday after my novelist posted her previous blog. We had a lovely lunch and then she packed the Maltese and me in the car as if we were going for an outing. I expected it to be like our Mount St. Helens trip, but I was gravely mistaken. My novelist instead drove us to a place we had never been, and it turns out it was a veterinary clinic. Not my usual veterinary clinic mind you. I had been driven to that one a week or more ago, but we were never called inside which probably explains how we ended up here. You can imagine my horror when a nurse came out to the car wearing a mask and escorted the Maltese and I inside. We were alone in this wretched building with no means of escape. They pulled a lot of hair out of my ears and administered drops. I was also injected with horrifying needles. The evening was a blur. Sleepiness and grogginess haunted me. The next day I was better if not a tad sore. All my novelist did was complain about how warm it had been in the car. Have you ever heard of such callousness? Anyway, without further ado here is my malevolent novelist.

When I was studying acting in New York City many moons ago we had to do a one person show. But it was not a normal one person show. We had to do three pieces of our choice which could be anything from dance to song to performance art to monologue. All three parts put together had to support a premise.

A premise is a hypothesis presented at the beginning of a story and then proven by the end. It is the most distilled foundation on which the story is written. A popular choice of argument might be “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” like in Citizen Kane. Or “All paths lead to nowhere” like in Arkansas. The one person shows each of us students did had to show an arc which proved the premise we chose by cutting and pasting piece together from different sources.

Let’s say when I was constructing my show, I wanted to do use a simple premise like Money is The Root of All Evil. I could open with Gordon Gecko’s “Greed is good speech” from Wall Street (1987). Next, I might choose my middle piece to be Corky’s monologue where she plots the heist from Bound (1996) to show the enticement of money. And then I might finish with Marge’s “A Little Bit of Money” speech at the end of Fargo to show the utter destruction money brings about. 

A film which provides an obvious premise and then proceeds to argue it well is Dead Poets Society. Carpe Diem or Seize the Day is the argument which is uttered repeatedly throughout the film. Now, before I get too far let me give you a little-known fact about personality types in schools. If you look at page 155 in, Please Understand Me: Character & Temperament Types by David Keirsey and Marylin Bates you will see they did a study of school staffs. And their data showed educational jobs are dominantly held by Guardians or SJ types. 56% to be exact. And furthermore, because they are so overwhelmingly the majority, they see no reason to change their ways. Not to mention they are the most stubborn unmovable jackasses on the planet. And they always look to the past and tradition no matter how forward thinking they may claim to be.

Now the second most common group of the schoolteacher/administrator population is the Idealists or NFs at a whopping 33%. This is amazing as Idealists take up only 10% of the general population. These happy go lucky folks flock to schools like migrating birds. They are always wearing rose colored glasses and looking to change and the future. Rationals are the only group that can break up this mess if they are in administrative positions. However, they make up only 6% of the schoolteacher/administrator population. And finally, the Artisans who take up a whopping 40% of the world population only take up only 2% of the schoolteacher/administrator population.

So, when we are looking at Dead Poets Society, we are essentially watching a battle between the dominating SJs and the secondary NFs. The headmaster Mr. Nolan and Neil Perry’s father Mr. Perry are glaringly SJs. As are most of the teaching staff. John Keating the new English teacher (new=future), on the other hand, as well as his students Neil Perry, Todd Anderson, Knox Overstreet (young=future in this case) are idealists. Charlie Dalton is the one SP student who takes many tactical risks like bringing the girls to the cave, publishing an article in the school newspaper arguing girls should be admitted to the school and punching fellow student Richard Cameron (an SJ) in the face.

The story is essentially a battle between logistics and diplomacy. And while the futuristic thinking idealist students rebuild the Dead Poets Society club and idealistically attempt to live their lives to the fullest, the power in numbers of the stalwart guardians throw up roadblock after roadblock in their path to glory. And because the idealists are outnumbered whenever they try to seize the day the stakes of the battle rise until an unfixable devastation occurs and then at the very end of the film the student’s and Keating’s mantra of seize the day is put to the ultimate test.

MY BOOKS

You can check out my books Chicane and the first book in my Musicology book series Musicology: Volume One, Baby!  on Amazon both in Kindle and Paperback editions. You can also check out Musicology’s website at www.musicologyrocks.com The second book of the Musicology series, Musicology Volume Two, Kid! is coming in Fall 2020!

SCREENWRITINGU FREE FRIDAY CLASS: Get Paid to Write Screenplays

You can sign up for the teleconference here which is at 12:00 Noon PST.

STREAM OF THE WEEK: MY MAN GODFREY (Amazon Prime) & BLOOD FATHER (Netflix)

Granted these movies have little in common. But I wanted to feature them both anyway this week for different reasons.

The first movie My Man Godfrey is one of the best screwball comedies of all time. And it is one the AFI has not yet put on it’s list of Movies to Watch While We’re Apart. This brilliant black and white film stars William Powell and Carole Lombard who had been married in real life but divorced before making the film together. It is set in the depression era and is based on the 1935 short novel 1101 Park Avenue by Eric Hatch the story is about a “forgotten man” named Godfrey “Smith” Parke (William Powell) who may not be exactly who he seems. He lives in a city dump in New York City down by the East River in a Hooverville and by chance one night is “found” by two socialite sisters the older Cornelia Bullock (Gail Patrick) offers him five dollars to be an object to bring in for a scavenger hunt. Godfrey sees quickly what a brat Cornelia is and turns her down. The younger sister Irene who is a gentler but airheaded creature does persuade him to be the “forgotten man” for the scavenger hunt beating out Cornelia for the win. Irene is so taken with Godfrey she hires him to be their new butler in their house. The story is a wonderfully amusing meditation in how people value people for what they have as opposed to who they are. And it is an absolute must see.

Blood Father is one of those films that for some reason flew under the radar, but it is a riveting action/suspense story. It is based on the book of the same name, Blood Father written by Peter Craig who also wrote the screenplay and directed by Jean-François Richet . Link (Mel Gibson who is great here) is an ex-con and recovering alcoholic on parole living in a run-down trailer in the middle of nowhere where he runs his own tattoo parlor. He is highly skilled at his craft and knowledgeable about what tattoos mean what. This comes in handy when his teenage daughter Lydia (well played by Erin Moriarty II) who is a missing child (he has a whole wall dedicated to finding her) calls him out of the blue. She believes she has killed her boyfriend Jonah (Diego Luna) in a shootout. Her boyfriend just happens to be a member of a powerful drug cartel and she is desperate for help. Link drives to LA to pick her up and the chase begins. The always fantastic William H. Macy plays Kirby, Link’s AA sponsor. An absolute edge of your seat ride. Do not miss it.  

SMART MOVIES FOR SMART KIDS: PHANTOM BOY (Netflix)

This is a wonderful albeit serious suspense mystery about an extremely sick boy who is given a marvelous gift. Leo has a little sister who he likes to read children’s crime novels to. He reads her one last story the night before he must go stay at the hospital for chemotherapy. He tells her he has a secret talent he has acquired since his illness: the ability to leave his body and fly around the city. When he is in the hospital, he meets a real detective named Alex who is trying to stop an evil criminal named The Face who is trying to take over the city. The script was written by Alain Gagnol who along with Jean-Loup Felicioli direct the film. They are the directors for the fantastic A Cat in Paris which was nominated for the academy award for best animated film in 2011.  

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