Recently one of my instructors of yesteryear reached out to me, as he had just started following my public Facebook page. Mr. Nichols, my Graphic Arts instructor for two years at Portland Arts & Technology in Portland, Maine, sent me a PDF scan of his copy of a screenplay I wrote called Sixteen Stories, which ended up being my first movie (produced my senior year of high school). Just like the scripts I produce today, this script included the name of his particular character on the front cover, in this case it was TELEVISION PRODUCER, with all of his dialog highlighted. What I found fascinating were the corrections he made to the narrative, my grammatical errors and what not, but that he also changed any curses (or offensive non-curses) to words an instructor can actually say in a student film, as exampled by the screenshot I have posted here:
Aside from the grammatical errors and overuse of curse words, it’s really not a bad script. For a first time endeavor I realize that I’ve kept to some of the same approach and rules now as I did then. For example, writing locations that I knew, which I continue to do today, in an effort to make the execution of the production as stress free as possible. What was interesting though were all of the characters – they were not people I knew or even wanted to know. In fact, they’re not the kind of people who would ever function in any area of Maine, not the way I presented them in the story. In retrospect, what occurs to me as I write this, is that the people in this story were intended to be very cosmopolitan (despite their serious psychological issues), but were clearly portrayed by people who did not live in a metropolitan area of the scale that I was envisioning (or believed my city at that time, to be). However, what is constant with the characters in this script, as in the scripts I continue to draft today, is that there are a lot of them from a variety of professional backgrounds. Then, just like today, I am obsessed with what people do for a living, how they ended up there, and whether or not they have an exit or are stranded in their paths indefinitely Although the script wasn’t intentionally separated into acts (as I had no education at that point on actual screenwriting), the story does flow, at least on paper, in a three act structure. The only element missing that I would put a lot of thought into today is the character arcs. Not a single character in the story has an arc whatsoever. Nobody changes for the better and I suppose this was my teen angst taking over at the time. The last thing to note about this script is that I actually wrote it on a typewriter. In the year 1999 when I “penned” it, I did not have access to a computer at home. They were still relatively expensive for my family. What we had was a Brothers typewriter that allowed the writer to type paragraphs into a digital screen and then “print” it all at once. This is how I wrote the narrative, with the dialog being typed up in normal type-writer mode. Just thinking about it throws me back to the moment of excitement when I finished this first script (all in one sitting between 4PM and 8PM on a school night).
Things about Sixteen Stories to note:
Upon writing this article I did a quick Google Search for Sixteen Stories, in an effort to locate supplemental material to include. I found a tab for a song, 16 Stories High, which I wrote the music and lyrics for. It was meant to be placed in the end credits of the film. It was performed and recorded by one of my neighbors, Jeff Cusack, who had also produced original score for the movie. You can check out the guitar structure on various “tab” websites:
Another interesting fact: two local celebrities (in my eyes) agreed to make cameos in the film. The first is Brian Hines, a local Maine actor who I had seen in two films from the only indie filmmakers I knew of up to that point. The second was Kyle Rankin, who was that indie filmmaker I knew of. He went on to win Project Greenlight.
The trailer for the film can be seen on IMDB: