Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Emperor of Mars

I've mentioned my screenplay Emperor of Mars several times in this blog and since it's part of my "3 film package" as they say in Hollywoodland, which includes Travel Day and Casualties of Love,  both of which were explained in the previous three blogs, I would like to explain it a little more in detail.

Emperor of Mars, or (EOM as the trend is now to abbreviate your movie title which might have originated with T2 (Terminator 2)) was the screenplay that got me into virtually every studio and production company in town when I moved here in 1990.

Emperor was written in 1989 with the financial assistance from Superchannel, a Pay-TV channel in Canada. Networks in Canada have funds mandated by the Feds to assist screenwriters by offering a loan, repayable only if the film is made, to help writers pay the rent. I got $13,000, again repayable only if the film is made.

The story is based almost totally on my childhood in a small town of 500 people in Manitoba. As with most writers or even people who want to write, I wanted to tell my particular story of growing up in a prairie town. 

Except that my story was pretty boring.

Really boring.

Until I found the Emperor.

I had waited over 10 years to write my story because I realized I needed more than the day-to-day events of my life at 12 years of age. I had written Ghostkeeper, a suspense-thriller that I directed and had done a few other cheapie movies.

But writing about your life is harder because while one thinks their story is distinctive, heart-warming and inspirational, chances are it's the same as most of the population.

In 1956, someone calling himself The Emperor of Mars left a tape recording at a Los Angeles radio station proclaiming he would be coming to Earth to tell us all the secrets of the universe as well as the lies our governments were telling us.

This recording spread through-out both the US and Canada,  mostly in the western parts of each country. For the next 2 weeks there were hundreds of flying saucer reports that accompanied stories of this nature, and most if not all were probably nothing.

I had discovered this incident in an old copy of a newspaper in Calgary and upon checking other newspapers, found that it was quite a big story at the time. The only problem was that the Emperor never came to Earth and was never heard from again. 

But now I had a story.

It wasn't just about a kid on the prairies and his friends. It became about a kid who hears the broadcast on his radio at night and believes the recording and fears for the life of his mother and him and the entire town of 500 people.

And then I created another character, a somewhat enigmatic figure of a man who had gone to war and returned a damaged veteran. And he was the first to notice crop circles outside of town and when other odd signs began to show he believed too that the Emperor was coming to the little town.

Now I had what was lacking in my attempts to write the story before. I had a narrative, or through-line, or spine or whatever term you want to call it. Now my characters had goals and obstacles, something lacking from my previous attempts.

I screened Stand By Me, that great movie about kids about the same age. While the narrative was about the 4 boys looking for a dead body, the story was more about the kids themselves, their lives, their demons and their fears.

Emperor of Mars translated into the exact same storyline. I wrote it in 2 months and turned it into Superchannel for their opinion and the last half of my loan. The woman in charge was Tara Twigg and she loved the story except that she didn't like the title which was originally called Incident at Elm Creek.

Tara said "why don't you call it Emperor of Mars"? 

I did.

The next year I moved to Los Angeles and had an agent set up to start me in Hollywood. Except he never really did. I got a few meetings with second-rate producers who looked more broke than I was. When my 2-year contract was up, I left and got another agent.

That's when things really kicked in.

(Fri: Emperor makes the rounds)

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