Thursday, October 4, 2007

Money, money, money

I watched “Dirty Sexy Money” again last night, and enjoyed it just as much as I did the week before. I think this one has staying power. (for the record, though general TV is not the subject of this post, I also really liked “Pushing Daisies”—the aunt’s line, “I can hold my breath for a long time” was classic—and I just can’t get into “Private Practice,” despite being a diehard “Grey’s” fan. Addison without the company I know and love is an Addison I don’t care to follow.) And, to stay a bit more on the general subject of the blog (writing! You probably couldn’t have guessed that, so far), I am learning from it.

You see, long ago I wrote a play about a woman who had the same kind of filthy-rich lifestyle exemplified on this show. The kind of money where helicopter pilots are at your disposal if “traffic is ghastly,” or your staff consists of fifty people who are mostly unseen and unheard, doing all their work in the kitchen or garden. The play I wrote, called “Daughters of Fortune” (I have a problem with titles) centered around a woman who had married into this family, gotten well accustomed to the lifestyle, and was now trying desperately to remake her life—but still had to pay the bills. And when I say “the bills,” I do not refer to Time Warner Cable. I mean taking the Concorde (as I said, “long ago,”) to and from Paris twice a month, staying in hotels ($500-a-night hotels) for two-month stretches because your apartment is being remodeled, and making sure that those hotel rooms are filled—filled—with $300-a-vase floral arrangements. The kind of expenses that require you to take $1000 out of your checking account DAILY, sometimes more than once a day, and still max out your five credit cards each month. I could go on.

Now, this play is on my mind because I recently resurrected it with the intent of turning it into a screenplay. The differences between stage plays and screenplays are many. Stage plays almost always have small casts, budgets being what they are; they are often centered in one physical location, like a living room or a restaurant or an attic, again for practical/budget reasons; and the playwright is allowed to luxuriate in dialogue. (This is a big reason that television is turning into something worth watching again: playwrights are being recruited in droves, and playwrights--an oversimplification, fine, but I'll say it anyway--write killer dialogue.) None of this “The camera pans to her face, which reveals her true feelings of love”—instead you can write what she might say, in a perfect world where people are not tongue-tied, able to speak in beautiful or witty or snappy prose. (I do not inhabit this world. My thoughts come at the speed of my typing, which works great when I am typing and not so great when I’m sputtering out loud.)

So anyway, I am converting my small-cast, one-indoor-location, dialogue-heavy play into a screenplay. I have this family that lives a “Dirty Sexy Money” lifestyle and a character who is trying to get out of it.

The main problem: these people are wretches. Obnoxious, clueless, loathsome people, at least to the average Joe who actually has to work for a living.

So why are we, average Joes ourselves, interested?

In DSM, so far, it’s because our main character is not. Nick is an outsider, a friend of the family but not a member, who (a) has a happy family, (b) is an attorney for poor folk on the side, (c) has a reason to try to be close to the family and their money (trying to figure out how his father died) and, importantly, (d) is taking not only a salary but $10 million a year to give to charity. If that’s not a Way to Ingratiate Your Character To the Audience, I don’t know what is. How can you hate a man who is giving $1m to a nun-founded playground for orphans? How over-the-top this is, I will let you decide.

It is through Nick’s eyes that we watch the Darling family and their excesses—even when Nick is nowhere to be found. We can laugh at them and their self-centeredness and come back, because the show acknowledges how awful these people are. The show laughs at them.

When I showed my DOF script to my writers’ group, they all said the same thing: “These people are all so awful!” One member even suggested I do a send-up of the rich. Hmm. With the advent of DSM, that’s not in the cards; they’re doing it already, and well. But I do have to find a way in. I have to make at least one character sympathetic. Who that will be, and how, I am not yet sure. But...I do have an idea. Good.

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