Cinema standardbred: a plot to promote the sport of harness racing – Part 6

by Frank Cotolo

Alternative Actions (AA) continues its series developed to offer the solution that has the best chance to change the nature of the film industry’s ambivalence towards harness racing and perhaps inspire someone to pioneer a project that could be the most successful promotional tool standardbred racing ever utilized.

Part 1 is here.

Part 2 is here.

Part 3 is here.

Part 4 is here.

Part 5 is here.

The process of “re-imagining” a classic tale for the purposes of a screenplay is not academic; in fact, it spews creative opportunities, leaving the author with countless possibilities. Even though the process is ruled by a premise, the execution does not insist using the original’s particulars.

My example of re-imagining Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” with a harness racing “atmosphere” sounds silly at first, but beyond my loyalty to the premise (“vanity leads to self-destruction”), I won’t be held accountable for my re-imagined decisions. Nor will the intended setting be a plant, per se. The harness-racing element and the other elements of strong storytelling are the author’s to devise.

And so the process begins:

I decide to incorporate specific elements of Mary’s tale to benefit my screenplay, though it won’t take place in 1800s’ Great Britain; the time is the present. As in the book, my main character is a male and narrates the story. To start, his adult voice-over monologues are heard over a series of scenes from his youth, where he lives on in a large home situated in a rich, ideal rustic in New York State (my choice). His wealthy parents strongly encourage him to have a future worthy of his heritage and so he feels entitled to such a life.

It is a good setup so far and already I have done a lot of work on my screenplay. Look what I know by trusting my source and my re-imagining. The main character is a male; he is the narrator; early scenes provide exposition (relevant background explanations) about social status and parental influences from where his vanity develops.

Sound familiar? Duh, it’s “Frankenstein.”

As an important benefit of this process, consider a great accomplishment: The re-imagining process eliminates the academic torture of working on an “outline.” In my experiences, no greater burden is placed upon an author than to be strapped with the weight of writing an outline. I still curse writing teachers for making “the outline” an obligation–and it was that way before I became aware of the re-imagining tools. Believe me, your reimagined source is enough. An outline robs the author of magnificent experiences like creating characters that — due to the premise and source’s inspiration — do not betray their literary roles in action or dialogue.

Wait, you may be saying, what about harness racing and Frankenstein? There’s the setting; remember where the narrator grows up? The New York countryside, like on a kind of spread where people breed animals, more specifically for our purposes, horses. The possibilities are exorbitant. For your play, pick a place, any place, as I did. But where exactly? It’s time to name a place.

This is one more reason I adore writing fiction. You could name characters and places to make your play richer. Take the assignment of naming people, places and things by having them reflect knowledge of your source. You must be clever, though, else it cheapens your material.

Here is how I found a name for my untitled screenplay, now in progress:

Shelley wrote the novel in Switzerland, where a lot of it takes place. But I won’t call the setting Switzerland. Instead, my source research helps me create a brilliant name, derived from the Old Norse word “swedan,” meaning “to burn.” Lightning burns; lightning is God’s property, which was stolen in Shelley’s re-imagining of the Prometheus story. Thus, I call my rural setting Sweburn, NY.

Following through, I discover the Greek equal to the name Prometheus is Dionysius, so my main character’s first name becomes Dion. And how about I make that the family name and his given name Percy (Mary’s poet husband’s name) or Pierce (as in Ron). You get the idea.

A generic audience does not read the screenplay of a film and won’t pick up on the depth of our name creating game but trust me: take whatever time it takes you to do it this way. The results subconsciously strengthen the story and professional script readers may catch on, which only helps the integrity of the play, and makes the writer’s work impressive.

The process so far, in my opinion, mocks the academic approach; writing a screenplay goes from being a tedious chore to a delightful recreation that is challenging, demanding creative input.

The process ensues in the next part of the series when we create “dynamic characters” and situations and present how harness racing can work for any re-imagined screenplay.