Tag Archives: John Spurgeon

SHOPPING FOR THE NEXT AWARD WINNER SCREENPLAY TO SHOOT? 5 QUALITIES TO LOOK OUT FOR

SHOPPING FOR THE NEXT AWARD WINNER SCREENPLAY TO SHOOT? FIVE QUALITIES TO LOOK OUT FOR

The foremost objective in the filmmaking business is to maximise profit. Yes, asides the passion and love for the art of creating movies, every decision we take as filmmakers is guided by the underlying motive of pocketing some extra cash at the end of the day. So from, pre-production – finding a marketable script with a reasonable budget – to the process of turning the script into its finished product, the movie, we are always conscious of the cost and the projected income at the end of the day.

Notwithstanding all this, the need for recognition is a blatant and permanent fixture hanging at a corner which goes hand in hand with the filmmaker’s passion for the art. Hand-in-hand in what sense, you might ask. Emotional responses are often regarded as the keystone to experiencing art, and the creation of an emotional experience has been argued as the purpose of artistic expression. As such, inasmuch as profit making is the major aim of filmmaking from the business perspective, the need to elicit responses in the form of feedback and recognition of creativity is quintessential to the art itself. Even the Christian Bible has it that after creating for the day, God assessed his work and gave himself an emotional response to it.. His creative self needed feedback and recognition. Recognition comes in the form of feedback from your audience and fans. ‘We watched that movie you produced/wrote/shot/directed/lighted/acted in, and we….’ An artist never wished for anything better than positive reviews and rave accolades… Okay maybe something better in the form of award recognition from the art industry itself.

Now, while some filmmakers are okay with ‘popular demand’ and racking up profit, some others are more ambitious, looking for that extra something that would easily set their art apart from the others. The difference between both kinds of filmmakers lies in their definition of the ideal – especially, the ideal ambition of a movie concept. I look at movies like The Refugees, Ayanda, Common Man, Fifty, Tell me sweet something, Timbuktu, 30 days in Atlanta, to mention a few, which are among a few recent award winning movies across Africa. I took my time to review these movies, you’d come to realize that while some of these movies’ concepts falls into the ‘popular demand’ category, they all had that extra edge that put them above their (also recognized and artfully produced) counter parts.

The edge begins in the storytelling. A great concept built into a garden-variety, humdrum script, places the finished work at a disadvantage already. So, what should an ambitious filmmaker look out for while filtering through the myriad screenplays available for shooting? Among the criteria should include;

AMBITION

I keep throwing the word around, right? However, it goes without saying that most award winning movies are backed by stories that takes us out of what what we know and expect into an unlikely circumstances that throws a viewer into a whirlpool of questions and edge-of-the-seat suspense, waiting for reconciliation. Let’s say for instance that the President of the U.S visits an African country and gets kidnapped! Blinks!!! How??? By Who??? To what end??? How would the writer clear the air after throwing up such dust? Such ambition could lead to a riotous feedback, which was its aim in the first place.

2. A WORLD OF ITS OWN

There are two worlds available to a good movie story – one that the audience knows and can relate to, and the other that is unknown to the audience but captivating enough. Award winning stories takes the audience into one of these two worlds, either to show us something about the world it knows that it doesn’t know/haven’t had a close up experience about (eg Common Man, The Refugees etc) on the one hand, or to show it something about the other world which it know nothing about but find captivating and giving it an entirely new lesson from this unknown world which can be of use to us in this world that we know about (eg, Dry, Timbuktu, Refugees etc).

3. AN UNDERLYING PROBLEM

In every good movie script, the protagonist(s) has/have a problem which must be resolved by the end of the story. In even better movie scripts, there is always the secondary problem usually personal which the protagonist must face and resolve – an inner problem aside from the obvious one, which the character might not even be aware of, or is battling privately. This is evident in Dr. Zara’s personal recriminations about her childhood in the movie Dry, and can be seen in every award winning storyline ever written.

4. THE WOW FACTOR

This is also termed THE SUSPENSE OF DISBELIEF in screenwriting circles and refers to the the fact that the best movies show the audience a series of circumstances so appealing or extraordinary that the audience’s average life pales in comparison. A good example is Common Man, which although the award it won wasn’t based on its story line but on its lighting effects, and yet you would agree that the common man depicted in the movie is far less common than the man on the everyday street. He is more fascinating. Great movies successfully walk us through each stage of these increasingly fantastic constructions and make us believe that they are real, when in fact they are far from real.

5. INTEREST

Go ask a Stripper how to keep an audience glued to his seat with unwavering attention and buying drinks for the next hour or so. High concepts, great characters, scintillating dialogue and the best cameras are not guarantees of a great movie. A great movie PIQUES interest. Ever wonder why virtually every alien movie doesn’t show you the alien until halfway through the movie or later? They hook your interest by promising you something out of this world. The best example of this is the original Alien movie which teased the audience with slow yet horrific reveal. We saw the alien’s nest. We saw its eggs. We saw its embryo. We saw its explosive birth. We heard it growing. We saw its tail. We saw flashes of its shadowy form. Not until deep into the movie did we see the actual alien.

A great script undetstands the process of cultivating interest and there are so many ways to do it. The basics are always the same – insinuate what the audience is going to see, play it up as big as you can within the context—action, emotion, sex, horror—then give them one small bite at a time, each taste expanding the promise in the audience’s mind, teasing a bigger taste to come. Create and maintain growing interest in the audience combined with any of the above listed elements and this would result in a potential award winner after production.

Don’t forget, the edge you need begins with the quality of the script you choose to work with.

BLIND EXODUS (Poem)

The gong sound late
To the unknown we blindly march
The unseen smells better
Experience weighed
And found wanting

Bearing cane marks we grope
For better footing on these dunes
Thirsty camels on lifetime’s journey
Mapping for an oasis
Before that final nap catches up

This can’t be the best we can be
Chastised in long suffering
Back bared to chastity’s belt
Pleasure denied in our collective pain
Justice, when shall we see you again

With specks in our eyes
We remain unblinded to the truth
For so long our faces have been held down
Beneath water filled sinks
At log-a-heads with log-eyed masters

No victors, no vanquished, they said
Yet punished for asking they stop the loot
Corruption stinks like empty man-caves
Laid waste by oil spilled crudes
Its indigenes on a blind exodus for better days

© 2015. John Spurgeon.
All Rights Reserved.

Of All The Girls In Lagos (BLURB)

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Luxury Resort, also known as Governor’s Park bragged an artificial lake, a park, a golf course, a restaurant and a museum. The lake was fed from the nearby Oludo River, one of the Atlantic Ocean inlets in the southern part of the city. Two army patrol trucks were stationed at the North and South entrances each and few plain clothed security men walked about unarmed but with walkie-talkies hoping to keep the peace and rules as much as they could.
Lade’s taxi pulled up at the southern gate which was closer to the lake. She’d never been to this part of Lagos ever, in her ten years living in the city. Business never brought her here as Sting’s trade was frowned up in the premises, and she rarely had her own time to explore. As such, she’d been thrilled when Peter’s text message directed her to the resort that evening. She paid her taxi man and alighted in a silver gown and red four inch heeled shoes. She wore the jewelry set Cindy had bought her and her natural dreadlocks were tied to a ponytail behind her. Lade looked around her surrounding to take in the beauty of the place. The adverts she’d seen on cable didn’t do justice to it.
The sun was yet to set that evening and the sky seemed clear enough for an outdoor date. The garden was very tidy and several couples were sitting on blankets on the smooth grass just close to the water. A flock of birds were flying low over the quiet water. The path to the restaurant was slopy, graveled and wide enough for two cars driving abreast. It led to a small parking lot outside the one story glass restaurant building. You couldn’t see inside from outside, but Lade could bet the insiders could view anyone walking outside. The thought of being watched crossed her mind and she looked around and saw Banks sitting on the hood of a Mercedes convertible with one hand poised behind him. He had parked in line of sight of the southern gate and smiled when she spotted him. She smiled back and walked towards him already feeling exhilarated.
Banks’ eyes never left hers as she made her way up to him. The gleam was already in his eye by the time she got it halfway – as if her beauty never ceased to amaze him. She shivered at the thought of being so desirable. Of course she knew she was, but… The hand behind him suddenly appeared with a single stalk of rose flower when she was a couple steps away. The shit-eating grin that lit up her face was one that had not been on her face in a very long time.
“Peter! A flower! Come on!”
“All yours! And don’t start this your forming.” Peter said and handed her the flower.
She took the flower with a smile and. She raised it to her nose and inhaled the fresh rose scent. “No one ever bought me flowers.” She said.
Banks alighted from the hood of the car. “Well, I’m glad to be your first,” he replied alighting from the hood of his car. “I’m glad you could make it.”
“I promised. Besides, I’ve never been to governor’s park.”
“Really! You’ve been in this city longer than I?” He asked, an incredulous look appearing on his face.
“Eight years, yeah, why are you surprised? And whose luxury car have you borrowed to impress me?”
Banks blinked. “It’s not a luxury car! It’s…just a two year old Mercedes benz.” He said shrugging.
Lade scoffed. “A convertible,” she said. “I’m not looking to be impressed by you, PB.”
Banks took out the car remote from his pocket and locked the car with a beep shrugging at her. “F.Y.I. the ride is mine. But I’ll do my best to be modest,” he replied with a mischievously grin at her amazed face. He took her hand. “Meanwhile, here we are. What would you like to do? See a movie? Early dinner at the restaurant? A few drinks? A walk in the park?”
Lade mused a bit, the smile never leaving her face. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d gone out on a date. A real date. “How about…we skip the movie and do the rest in the same sequence?”
“Dinner and a few drinks and a walk in the park!” he shrugged. “Okay. Have I told you what a gorgeous lady you turned out to be?” He asked as he led her towards the restaurant building. “You’re so beautiful, Lade.”
And despite hearing it a million times from a thousand and one guys, Lade looked away to hide the crimson staining her fair cheeks. This wasn’t some guy paying Sting for a few hours with her. This was Peter Bankole, her college crush.

*

The date wasn’t a disaster, more like a prolonged visit with the in-laws, with the numerous guarded moments and accompanying awkwardness. Lade had her first plate of steaks and together with Banks, had drained a bottle of 1992 Chartreuse, while they reminisced about college and their teenage years. She had pumped Banks full of questions about his private life and school and learned about his talent and proclivities in art school. However, each time Banks sent the ball to her court and broached the subject of her life, she skimmed the topic off the top and quickly switched the conversation back to him.
By dessert time however, she was a mess and desperately needed a cigarette. She turned down her plate of salad because she wasn’t sure she could hold her cutlery steady enough. The slight tremor on her wine glass hand was noticeable. She was sure Banks was only pretending not to notice. She fled to the bathroom with her purse twice. The first time, she found herself an empty stall and had spilled half the contents of her purse in search of the folded cloth that contained a little quantity of white powder. However she couldn’t bring herself to take a sniff. She’d been afraid he’d notice. She’d been afraid she wouldn’t be lucid enough. She fought her need and succeeded. She splashed water from the sink on her face and dried up. Ten minutes later, she was back at the still vacant restroom stall. She just needed a little relief, she’d convinced herself.
The sun had gone down when they left the restaurant. Lade was as plastered as freshly poured concrete. Her smile was pasted and never wavered. She looked okay, but Banks was sure something was different after her second trip to the bathroom. She seemed high-strung – talking a bit louder and laughing a bit easier.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked for the umpteenth time.
Lade giggled. “I am. Don’t I look okay to you?”
“You do! Just making sure.” Banks replied.
“Dinner was great, thanks,” she said and leaned in to peck his cheek. She giggled at the look on Banks’ face.
Banks began walking in the direction of the bar but Lade pulled at him to stop. “I thought we said…”
“That wine was enough drinks for one night. I don’t want a beer to spoil its taste in my mouth.” Lade said giggling.
Her tongue seemed looser, Banks realized. He looked around them “Well, we’ve got a full moon and no clouds tonight. How about that walk, before we call it a night?”
Lade shrugged. “Of course!” She replied.
The air was cool because of the evening breeze from the lake. They walked hand-in-hand in silence. There were security lights placed at strategic positions to illuminate the walk around the circular lake. Few couples and groups were littered everywhere.
Lade took it all in. “This is the best evening I’ve had in a long time, Peter.” She said.
“My friends always talked about this place. This is my first time here too.” Banks replied.
“It’s beautiful.”
“Yeah? I’m surprised you haven’t taken a picture with your phone yet.”
Lade shook her head but didn’t say anything. Banks pulled her close to him while taking out his blackberry. Lade leaned into him as she felt his arm encircle her waist. Banks opened his camera application.
“Give me your sweetest smile baby,” he said and took an accurate selfie. He looked at the picture and smiled in satisfaction. “Good enough for instagram?” he asked, passing the phone to her.
The picture was perfect. She chuckled. “I wonder what explanation you’d give your girlfriend.”
“There you go again.”
“What! You really want me to believe your cock-and-bull about Jennifer being just friends with you?” At her insistence, Banks had told him about Jennifer albeit reluctantly. She felt Banks stiffen against her and tense up. He removed his hand from around her waist and stopped walking. Lade stopped too and searched his face. His eyes were unreadable. “What’s the matter?” She asked.
“Nothing!” He replied a bit too quickly. “I…” He paused to think. “Well, I don’t seem to have any trouble believing you aren’t avoiding or omitting things about you.”
The smile faded from her face. The truth in his accusation almost stung. “I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s just…your family’s sudden rise to affluence…your art studio…you’re a far more interesting topic than I am.”
Banks wasn’t impressed by her smart reply. They both stared at each other, standing by the lake with the moon high above them. Their eyes spoke volumes. Lade’s wished the ground would open up to swallow her. She hated lying to him but was having fun as it was with him. She wasn’t yet ready for him to judge her.
“So, what do you want to know?”
Banks went straight for the jugular. “What do you do for a living?” He asked. “And who is Nicky? That ugly guy called you Nicky. Before that, Jerry too.”
The M-moment. To her credit, Lade kept her expression straight above the raging inferno in her head. She even indulged a smile and looked around her as if searching for a place to hide from his quizzing glare.
“I dance,” Lade said. She cringed inward at the lie as she walked away from him towards a stone bench to sit down.
At its best, the lie represented how low she’d truly fallen. The last time they’d been close, she was leaving for tertiary education at the University of Lagos. She had bigger prospects back then, so how had she ended a dancer?
At its worst, the lie stank. She definitely wasn’t the Lade they both used to know – almost the inverse version. Yet the feeling was the same and so he went to sit beside her even though he knew she was lying.
“Dance! How come, Lade?”
“I don’t strip or climb poles and give lap dances or anything of the sort. No. I just dance professionally at CRASH. You know the place?” She gambled that he didn’t. And lost.
Banks frowned. “CRASH! I’ve been there a few times with my friends! My cousin Andy and his girlfriend love the place. I’ve never seen you there before.”
Lade shrugged. “Me neither. It’s a big place you know. And I never said I work every day.”
Banks just sat there staring at her. She returned his stare but looked away first. Banks got to his feet. “It’s alright,” he said in a gruff manner. “It’s not really that much of a big deal anyway. Come, I’ll drop you off. It’s getting late and we’ve got to get going.” He looked at his wrist watch. Lade hesitated and got a glaring stare from Banks. “Hurry up,” he said. “I’ve got other things to do at home.”
Lade was reluctant to get to her feet, but he didn’t wait. He was already retracing his way back to the parking lot. She’d lied so brazenly to his face and she knew he was walking away for good. The thought hurt like a stuck knife twisting in her chest. “Wait!” She called almost breathlessly, but he didn’t stop. “Peter wait!” She called again and hurried after him.
Banks heard her approaching footsteps and stopped, and waited for her to catch up with him. He turned to watch her approach. Fear and anxiety were written on her face like graffiti on a slum wall. What the hell happened to her? Why wouldn’t she just tell him about it? Why wouldn’t she trust him to be objective?
She was sweating reluctance when she arrived and he let her catch her breath. “I lied,” she began. “Almost everything I’ve told you about me is a lie.”
“I already know that,” Banks said, not giving her any quarters.
Lade nodded and looked down to hide the fact that she was blinking back threatening tears. “I am sorry. I’m really sorry.” She said in a quivering voice. “I am torn between my private shame and the fear of… of not seeing you again. The truth…you probably will not want to see me again.”
“Your lies are already making me think like that.”
She looked up at him and noticed his face soften a bit when he saw her misty eyes. She looked anxious. “I am not proud of the person I am. Or what I do for a living.” She continued. Banks regarded her with some curiosity but folded his hands. “But when we are together, I feel… worthy… like… like I can retrace my steps out of this thing…I am on. Like I could clean up my act and get my life back to normal. You used to be proud of me…of our friendship. But I’m not that person anymore and I lie because I’d hate to see you judge me.” She looked down at her feet again.
His heart was beating wildly too. She had all but confessed to his suspicions. What if Vanessa was right? Did she do drugs too? He refused the urge to check her arms for needle marks. “What about your father, and Godwin?” he asked instead.
Did she just stifle a sob? He looked at her more closely. He put an index finger under her jaw and lifted her chin up to see her face. The tears welled up in her eyes and his alarm meter shot through the roof. He knew the answer before she opened her mouth.
“There was an accident.” She said. “The car brakes had been tampered with. They…they…”
She started sobbing. The tears welled up Bank’s eyes too as he pulled her into an embrace. Her body shook with her sobs and he could feel his t-shirt soak up. He hadn’t imagined this. He was shocked to his roots. She had no immediate family anymore. Her uncle who lived up north was a no-brainer. He was one of those fanatic Muslim converts who never came back home. She was truly alone, he realized and his heart went out to her. He ran his hand up and down her back and listened to her cry. “I’m sorry Lade. I’m so sorry. Oh my God! Oh my God!” he kept muttering. He kissed the dreadlocks at the top of her head. She felt so soft and warm in his embrace and in that moment, he wished he could kiss all her troubles away, no matter what it was.
“Take your time, okay! I won’t leave you, Lade. I’ll wait. Whenever you want to talk about it…I’ll be here.” he said.
Lade stiffened when her foggy mind cleared enough to understand what he just said. He was taking a chance with her. She pulled out of his embrace and looked up at him with her teary and surprised face. “You’ll do that for me?”
“Yes,” Banks replied nodding. “But don’t ever lie to me again Lade.”
Lade smiled an apology and leaned in to give him a soft peck on his left cheek. She looked at him darting the tip of her tongue to wet her lower lip. Banks looked down at her lips – full and sensuous. The same lips that could part into the prettiest smile he’d ever seen. He remembered he’d always imagined what it’d feel like to kiss them and knew it was about time he found out. She brought her face closer to his and he leaned in to erase the rest of the distance that separated them. He had no more thoughts except one – pleasing her.
Their lips touched lightly and she breathed in the scent of his cologne again, his breath and his very being. Her heart skidded to a halt as the soft brush of her mouth against his turned her senses into a whirlpool. She closed her eyes when she felt his tongue creep out and when it touched her lips, she opened her mouth willingly.
She felt the spark of heat sear through her and her face flamed hot from the emotions that ran over her. She tilted her head and sent her tongue after his invader. She shivered at the first touch and her fingers slid up to grip his arms as she melted into him. Nothing in her experience with men prepared her for the sensuousness of his kiss. Her knees buckled with a strange weakness and she felt like a virgin having her first kiss. His fingers interlaced with her locks to coax her head closer to deepen his onslaught. She shuddered and wondered if she was giving him as good as she was getting.
Their mouths crushed each other’s and their tongues went to full blown war, both wanting to feast on what they had denied themselves. Lade clung to him as her head twisted to the right, then to the left, seeking the perfect angle to send her tongue deeper into his mouth and taste his core. She had her reply when she heard him groan into the kiss. The kiss ended abruptly and she quickly hid her flushed face and swollen lips in his strong chest, and attempted to catch her breath.
“Wow,” came a female voice close by. They both turned to find a voyeur couple with smiles on their faces. “That was hot to watch,” she said and smiled at her boyfriend who mouthed the word “sorry” at Banks and Lade. He tugged his mate after him and both went off in another direction.
Banks took Lade’s hands in his and kissed the back of her right palm. They smiled at each other like they’d just discovered a secret they both shared. Lade’s phone suddenly rang in her purse and the mood was gone. She unzipped her purse and took out her phone. It was Cindy calling. She smiled at Banks.
“My friend, Cindy. I have to take it.”
“Of course. Go ahead dear.”
Lade smiled at the endearment as she answered the call. “Hey Cindy!” Her smile disappeared the next instant and was replaced by a scowl. “Okay, I’ll meet you there on time…no problem…not now, bye.” She ended the call and looked up at Banks.
“Curfew?” Banks asked. Lade nodded. “I have to go, even though I don’t want to.”
Banks shrugged to hide his disappointment. The night was still young. Lade smoothed the crease on his forehead with her thumb and leaned into him for a quick kiss. Then, she rested her head on his chest and felt his hand encircle his waist. So they stood for a full minute.
Were they using each other? Or did a just rekindled relationship take a step closer in the right direction; an old friendship uninhibited this time, and by time. Banks’ head was a quagmire but he sighed in concession and again took her hand in his.
“Come,” he said. “I’ll drive you home.”
“No!” She said in surprise. “I’ll take a taxi. It’s…safer this way.”
Banks nodded reluctantly. “Then, I’ll drive you to a junction where you can get a taxi easier.” Banks said. Lade nodded. There was gratitude in her eyes and she realized that she was right about him. They shared love and passion, and she was the happiest woman alive that night.