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A Screenwriter Reveals Where She Gets Her Ideas

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Screenwriting Tips

I’m an actor, screenwriter and indie filmmaker. When I meet people not in the biz, they always ask me, “Have you been in anything I would have seen?”

I hate that one. How shall I respond? “Only if you’re actually educated enough to go to the theater or see non-commercial indie films.” That might be rude, no?

The second question usually is, “Have you kissed anyone famous?”

Since I often blur the lines between fantasy and life, to that question I reply without a blink of  conscience, “Yes, I have kissed George Clooney, Sean Penn, Johnny Depp and Annette Bening, but the scenes were cut from all those movies. Damn!”

If the conversation goes on, these people-not-in-the-biz ask, “So, do you make a lot of money?”

I smile mysteriously.

And then, I often hear, “Where do you get your ideas for screenplays?”

To that I can reply truthfully: the ongoing movies in my mind.

Here’s a story that came to me not in a dream, but in a waking moment sitting in a meeting at my day job.

… a woman who has a hard time getting along with people.

 People make her agitated.

Decides to have relationships only with versions of herself. 

 Makes hundreds of self-images; casts them in resin from a mold she made of her body with plaster-impregnated gauze, using Vaseline for a mold release; and then a mold negative from rubber. 

 At first she talks calmly to her masks; strokes them gently.

 Later, strange sex scenes with plastic half-women. She hangs (or mounts, if you will) the plastic selves on the wall and releases her lust onto them.

The plastic half-people start talking, start getting off the wall.

Complaining.

They become very hard to control. Doing their own thing, not what the woman fantasized they would do. 

Out of control.

Multiplying. Reproducing themselves. 

But the new ones are ugly, not pretty like the first castings. 

They are running faster. They are hard to catch and almost impossible, once caught, to pin back on the wall because they are so slickery, so plasticky, so slidey.

They fling plastic fishes at her. Oh, well, maybe not fishes; maybe bits of plaster gauze.

The plastic people try to eat the flesh person for dinner. Their teeth are frightening (though flexible).

She tries putting them up against the wall, laying them down on the work table, turning them upside down, covering them with scrims, changing the lights, calling “Cut,” nailing them to the work bench, pouring nail polish remover on them.

Nothing. Nothing works. 

The only way to control the plastic people is for her to wear them all — as chest pieces — one on top of the other. All stacked and piled and clicked into spoon-place onto the original woman, on top of her fleshen self.

 It works. They become calm. 

 She can’t walk very well with all that weight. Her breathing slows down.

She can’t move at all. 

She tries to lift her hand to tear off her conjoined plastic selves. She cannot lift her arm. The plastic shells melt into her flesh; become a part of her. They cannot be removed. 

She is in layers. 

The layers merge into one thick layer.

The layer fuses with her epidermis. 

The shape of her body has morphed. She is now huge, lumpy.

But at peace with herself.

Will this story ever make it into a movie? Perhaps. It hasn’t yet; it’s still on the page as several disconnected scenes, but it could be an entire short film or it could be expanded into a full-length horror script.

And that’s where I get my ideas for screenplays — from absolutely nowhere and absolutely everywhere.

This column originally appeared in Reel Grok.

Michelle Shyman is an actor, comic, screenwriter, filmmaker, corporate video producer and film journalist. She’s appeared in 35 films and stage plays and has won regional acting awards. One of her screenplays placed in American Gem Screenplay Competition and Script Nurse Screenplay Competition, and she’s produced or assistant-produced a number of independent films, three of which won festival awards. Michelle executive-directed the Lake2Sound Youth Film Festival and serves as a judge for several student film festivals nationwide. She coaches actors, teaches directors how to work with actors, and presents seminars on directing actors. She’s a former Board member of Women in Film Seattle chapter. Michelle also consults on product strategy for entertainment startups. In addition to her Reel Life With Jane column, Michelle writes “Balancing Act,” a weekly column for Reel Grok, named one of MovieMaker Magazine’s top sites for working filmmakers. Follow her on Twitter @michelleshy.

Michelle Shyman has written posts on Reel Life With Jane.


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2 comments

  1. The questions people ask, it’s part of the biz, right? :-)

    Wow, those are some ideas for screenplays… I can’t say I’ve ever had any thoughts like that. It’s interesting how and where one comes up with ideas for books, screenplays, poetry, etc… fun.

    That would be a very different movie, that’s for sure! Good luck.

  2. Hey Kim,

    You are right on–it’s just part of the biz to get questions from people. Sometimes I’m grouchier than I should be, ha, ha! I should just be glad people are engaging in a conversation.

    Yeah…where do the weird thoughts come from? And why do they sometimes seem to be so elusive? This month I had a really hard time writing a pitch for a sitcom because my mind was filled with weird sci-fi ideas. :-)

    Michelle

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