Monday, April 20, 2015

The Emperor of Mars - Part 1

Over the week-end I met an old writer friend whom I hadn't seen for a few years. We got to talking about all the screenplays we either wrote or wanted to write, the ones that nobody bought. I have written a lot of specs, actually around 35 currently on the shelf.

Meaning nobody bought them.

Then he asked me about the Emperor.

Here we go... a long story about a screenplay that was written in 1989, some of you weren't even born. Or maybe most of you.


If you've followed this blog you might have heard a lot of Emperor of Mars, it's been with me since 1989. It was that year that I wrote a story about a 12-year old boy in a small town in the middle of nowhere.

Of course it was me. Who else?

Every writer always wants to write the story of his life, mostly around the age of 12 or so, maybe more. And I always wanted to write mine. You will almost assuredly want to write yours too, so you should listen.

My story was this; I lived in a small town, there was some ethnic discrimination and a beautiful 19-year old teacher who I fell in love with at 12 years old. 

Miss Mazure.

There was only one problem; there really wasn't a story. Pay attention if you're going to write your story.

You need to have an idea first. What I had was some scattered ideas that really didn't have a story. I lived in a small town, the teacher was fresh from teacher school or whatever it's called, I had a buddy who was overweight and that was it.

I went to school, I went home.

There's no story there, is there? You need a narrative, as some people say, or in plan words. I needed something else, a maguffin as Hitchcock called it. It's something that brings all the other pieces to the table and connects them. 

In other words, a plot.

What was my plot? Following the teacher in the small town, dealing with discrimination, and an 11-year old girl who followed me, bent on getting married some day.

But I needed something else. Something that connected all these pieces.

I had my idea probably since I was a teenager and it wasn't until 1989 that I found exactly what I needed.

The Emperor of Mars.

I was working at a TV station in Calgary, Alberta and one day I opened a newspaper and saw my answer.

There, in bold letters was The Emperor of Mars.

Actually it was a reprint of an event that happened during the late 1950's. It began with someone who called himself by that name, and that he was coming to Earth to tell all of us the secrets of the universe.

And this speech was recorded on radios all over the western United States and Canada. I knew I had my movie.

The Emperor was coming to my hometown. (By this time I was living in a city far away from my tiny home town of 539 people).

The Emperor was what was going to paste the individual stories together. This was the narrative, or the plot, or the storyline or any word you want to use. 

Once I had that story, it literally wrote itself and it took me maybe four weeks to write. I usually write a screenplay in that time, it's not a judgement on anyone else, I just happen to write fast. I can do it for about three hours at the most, from 8am to 11am. After that I'm completely exhausted and spend the rest of the day looking for more work and dozens of little projects I throw myself into.

Right now, for example, I am writing this blog. Once I finish it I'm starting work on a screenplay that was commissioned for a network.

Anyways, I also found some money to write it. In Canada the government and pay channels offer some money for writers to carry them over the long term of writing a screenplay.

And yes, I wrote this in four weeks as mentioned. I didn't tell them it took that little time. But what did they care. They gave me $15,000 overall. And that was 1989! I could live on that for a year back then. Okay, maybe six months.

But if I had known what Emperor of Mars would do for me, I would never have believed it.

Stick around for Friday to catch Part 2  for the rest of the story. It gets way better when Hollywood greets it.

And you can see the book under the Materials on the left hand side of the blog.

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