Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Girl in the Holograph - Part 1 - A Quarky Script

"How can you do both physics and poetry? In physics we try to explain in simple terms something that nobody knew before. In poetry it is the exact opposite."
Paul Dirac, Nobel Prize-winning physicist, to Robert Oppenheimer, physicist often referred to as 'the father of the atomic bomb'

"Pitched as a crypo-scientific yet sentimental satire about perception and reality, it's really just an unfunny, jumbled, Charlie-Kaufman-esque rip-off." Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times.

"Ultimately, it is a movie about big ideas that is simply too constrained by its theatrical staging necessitated by an apparently small budget." Chad Greene, Boxoffice magazine

This is going to be like one of those movies where you they show you the end first and then a title card comes up that says "One year earlier " and they show you how they got there.

Above are two  reviews of a movie I'm calling The Girl in the Holograph*, the latter of which I think is fairer, as the filmmakers were trying to rip-off nothing and no one.  The script was co-authored by the same people who wrote Paper Blood, and deals with a young woman in her twenties, the disappearance of her grandfather and David Bohm's theory later revision of his theory of a holographic universe.

That much I can tell you. After that, the script gets a little obtuse.

Perhaps because of my fascination with zen, I have always had an interest in connection between zen and quantum theory. Trying to sum up quantum theory in a line or two is difficult, but it is basically a theory on how matter and energy work as both particles and waves, and, in the simplest of layman's terms, a theory that challenges our perception of time and space. Yes. Yes. I know it is much, much more than that, but I'll save the science lessons for others more qualified. I'll spare you the thousands of links (though some are offered here) and just say that there is ample information out there if you are interested.

For years I, like many of you, have received those offers for audio books, and I always wondered what the experience would be like. When I finally decided to try the free book, I made the unfortunate choice of Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe (which was later a brilliant Nova series on PBS) and it's explanation of, among other things, String Theory; unfortunate not because it's a bad book,  but because it is much too deep a book to take in casually. Here, we have one of the problems of The Girl in the Holograph.

Movies can challenge viewers,  and on occasion, especially with sci-fi, can take the viewer through complex theory, as long as it's not too complex.

Talented writer - director Raymond DeFelitta (Two Family House, City Island) once said to me that it's alright to be subtle in screenwriting,  as long as you're obvious about it.

The Girl in the Holograph was both too complex a script and not obvious enough in its subtlety.

There are Charlie Kaufman movies like Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and, on the very low-budget side, Darren Aronofsky's Pi and, to a lesser extent, Requiem for a Dream that handle this delicate balance successfully, but they are the exceptions.

JR was a Trekkie, and once told me that when writers on the Star Trek TV series would write a script and get to a part dealing with the science or technology, say, of the ship, other ships, "beaming down", etc, they would write the story part of the script and then insert something called 'techno babble'** Of course, quantum physics, and specifically Boem's theory of a holographic universe, was essential to Star Trek, as it's 'holodeck' and other references made the quantum leaping through space and time possible.***

The point being that the exact science was not as important as the story. In movies and television fiction, the  Prime Directive****, if you will, is not to teach, but to entertain.

Phil and Steve, the co-writer and co-producer, knew their science, and got it pretty much right, but in the process, wrote what many people considered a script that was a bit dense.

They tried to raise money for this, and another script over the years. Crowdfunding was not yet a 'thing,' and raising money for untraditional scripts was never easy, and as we moved out of the nineties and into the new century, it got even harder.

Phil and his wife and partner in film, Donna, had sold Paper Blood, but for not near the amount of money that it cost to make. Phil was director, co-producer, co-writer and editor. Donna was the producer, and the ultimate protector of Phil and his vision. Really, that is always the ultimate role of the producer - what I like to call "protector of the vision" and the director. Directors, when in the middle the challenge that is directing a film, can lose that. The producer must be there for them, even when they disagree.

Phil and Donna were my friends first, and business partners later. As previous posts suggest, working with friends can also be difficult, and it was with Phil and Donna. As line producer, I had to offer tough decisions, and that is hard when these people are intricately involved in your life, and you in theirs, as we were. We would share successes and bemoan the difficulties of the business together, and we had been through some very rough times together.

Others around us would say they were family, but their actions would say differently. At one point they tried to attach an actor who had worked on Paper Blood, who later received some fame on The Sopranos.  Phil and Donna hoped that the recognition he received on that popular HBO show would help them raise money if was" attached," something that could be proven with a letter of intent from the actor. 

As you might understand, actors, and especially their agents, were reluctant to sign such letters, as they knew it was being used to raise money for a project that was not yet funded, and why commit to something that might never happen, or interfere with something more lucrative when the time came.

That star's response?  "Donna, of course I'm on board. We're family. (Pause) Call my agent."

The last sentence was like the traditional mob kiss of death, an ironic act that usually represented love but here, meant the end was near. There was no way the agent would let the actor sign such a letter, and we knew it. It was the polite way of brushing them off.

For years before, and during, the project, those oddly juxtaposed lines -"We're family," and "Call my agent" - would become a running joke between the three of us, representing how family sometimes stops at the bottom line.

After years of attempting to attach "names," imagine our surprise when we discovered that our funding would come with casting of the girl, an actress who had never done a speaking role in a movie. 

Something like that, of course, could only happen in the alternate universe we were about to enter. Warp(ed) speed ahead.

BTW One of this blog's followers Andrew Bellware, has a great blog of his own on micro-budget sci-fi right here in NYC. Pandora Machine is now in our recommended blog list - welcome aboard.

* Followers of this blog know I often use other names to protect people. It in no way was related to or adapted from the Michael Talbot book, The Holographic Universe.

** Techno babble may not be the exact term they used, but somthing like that. I'm sure true Trekkies likely know the answer, and are welcomed to reply below or email.

***Quantum Leap, yet another old TV show that used the technology, used that science pretty much only as a jumping off point (pun fully intended) to send actor Scott Bakula into trouble in various times.

****More fun with Star Trek.

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