Posts Tagged ‘buster keaton’
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The Tears of a Clown is a feature length script that I wrote about ten years ago. (Read it here or here.) I had liked Burton’s Batman, but felt it lacked something, mainly thematic ideas. So as part of my second semester writing class in Film School, I began a re-write or re-visioning of that film’s story, using my own characters. It was also partly based on my own experience around the age of 12 trying to be popular by memorizing and telling jokes.
Here’s the initial proposal as written in that class:
A couple of semesters later, in November of 1991, I attempted to do a scene based on the characters. Unsurprisingly, the production was rushed and the result was not entirely satisfactory largely because there was no real script. We had developed a routine during the rehearsal, but one or two weeks later when we shot it, no one remembered what the routine was. The “actress” who played Stoneface was not an actress, but one of my housemates who I somehow convinced to play the part. She usually wore a cape and I had hoped she would wear it in the role, but she refused, saying that it was part of her true identity or something like that. She arrived dead tired because she had had a test that day for which she had done an all-nighter. (She had not told me about the test until it was too late to reschedule.) She was so tired that she was sleeping on the hard floor of the hallway outside the classroom where we were shooting. I was lucky that she kept her commitment, but she did not speak to me again.
Here is the scene:
( I was intrigued to learn that there’s a scene based on a similar setup in the 1995 made-for-TV version of Bye, Bye Birdie which can be viewed here. In a way, Tears is a feature-length version of this scene.)
A few years later, there was a script. I had a devil of a time getting agents to read it. I even went so far as to stand in line for three to four hours to meet Tim Burton, who, after me, I figured would be likely to like it.
With the help of a friend, I even made a T-Shirt (you can buy one here):
Here’s what he signed (or scribbled on). Henry Selick and two other crew members added their signatures a few years later:
Of course, Burton told me to contact his agent. (A few years later my wife and I tried this longshot tactic again at another signing. When she asked Burton if he would be interested in a script about clowns, he said, “wa-wa-wa wow!!!” Nothing came of that, either.)
Probably the best shot for the script came thanks to the help of Barry Purves. I had been impressed by his films, especially Achilles, and had contacted him in the hope that he would be interested in making the film. (Tim Burton was apparently also similarly impressed. The Martians in Mars Attacks! were originally meant to be created using stop-motion and Barry was doing just that until a decision was made to go with CGI. Read more here.) I was pleasantly surprised when Barry liked the script and his recommendation led to someone at Fox taking a look.
Someone else who was very helpful was Larry Stuckey who had been in the class at Film School in which I had made Shadows on the Wall. He liked that film a lot. He was kind enough to provide detailed comments on Tears, some of which can be read here.
It’s not the fact that some of my ideas may have been borrowed that bugged me the most. What bugged me the most was that ideas that I came up with ended up, one way or the other, in a Pixar film, yet I couldn’t even get an agent to look at the script.
My script features several supporting characters played by classic comedians such as Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Arnold Burovs, a Latvian filmmaker, made several short films with these “characters.” Although too dark for ClownWorld, the image below may be the closest we’ll get to what Tears could have been.
You can view the script for Tears here.
So what does it mean? What do all these clowns running around add up to? Or, as my friend Andrew would say, “Explain it in a nutshell.” Directors tend to be coy when asked that question. I heard a woman ask Wim Wenders to explain The American Friend. He said something like, “If I could explain it, I wouldn’t have made the film.” He has a point. If a film can be reduced to a few words, or a “meaning,” why make it in the first place? But at this point in time I do not have the luxury of being coy.
So what is Tears about?
Let’s call these signposts pointing the general way, rather than a detailed map.
- It’s about a bunch of clowns running around.
- It’s about ClownWorld, a world of clowns that’s more exciting than our own.
- It’s about a Utopian world.
- It’s not about a land of clowns, it’s about our own world.
- It’s about us when we act like clowns.
- It’s about being a misfit.
- It’s about feeling you are alone because while everyone around you acts happy, you feel sad and think, “What’s wrong with me?”
- It’s about finding a community to belong to.
- It’s about politicians because politicians act like clowns. (Yes, I had in mind one politician in particular. Hint: he was an actor.)
- It’s about being upstaged.
- It’s about losing your job.
- It’s about acting older than your years.
- It’s about acting younger than your years.
- It’s about how The Joker with his happy face and Batman with his solemn, serious face, are really the same person.
- It’s Jekyll and Hyde played by a whole society.
- It’s about how I wanted to be a clown.
Who would be the best actor to play The Clown? Krusty the Clown, of course. I actually sent a fax to The Simpsons production office saying that I had a script for Krusty in which he would be the President of a land of clowns. A few years later they made “Mr. Spritz Goes to Washington.” Coincidence?
Someone over at Flickr has been kind enough to take the time to put clownfaces on a large group of contemporary American politicians, calling the set a Clown College. Despite being unfortunately limited to politicians from just one side of the aisle in Washington, this group would fit right in among the clowns of ClownWorld.
If you are interested in a script based (partly) on the notion that politicians are clowns, The Tears of a Clown is waiting for you.